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Smart cities

3.3 An open data revolution

A graphic of a globe with the image of an open door.
Figure 8 Data as an opening into the world.

The drive to make data openly available creates unprecedented possibilities for transformation of our cities. The shift to make increasing amounts of government-generated data available to citizens is resulting in greater accountability and transparency, improved policymaking and increased public participation, as well as the generation of economic value.

A global movement to make government ‘open by default’ was given a boost in 2013 when the G8 leaders signed an Open Data Charter, promising to make public-sector data openly available without charge and in re-useable formats. In the following year the G20 largest industrial economies pledged to advance open data as a tool against corruption and the UN recognised the need for a ‘data revolution’ to achieve global development goals (Web Foundation, 2015).

Many countries are now creating open data portals and OpenDataSoft have published a list of open data portals from around the world [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

The Open Data Barometer aims to uncover the true prevalence and impact of open data initiatives globally by analysing global trends and providing comparative data on countries and regions.

There is even an International Open Data Day, a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to show support for and encourage the adoption of open data policies by the world’s local, regional and national governments.

But despite this activity, there are questions about why so few citizens are using the available data. Code for Africa believes the answer lies in an issue of supply versus demand. There is little open data freely available in Africa. Government data, where available, is often incomplete or skewed. Priorities for Code for Africa are to digitise and liberate data and to empower citizens to articulate their wants and needs. Designed and co-funded by citizen organisations and with the help of mass media, Code for Africa also works to strengthen civic watchdogs in an effort to help government improve its services.

Further reading

Read about founders of the Open Data Institute, Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and see just how far back the use of shared open data reaches in the following: Obama to Berners-Lee, Snow to domesday: a history of open data.


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