Chapter 1.1: The age of open and big data

This chapter talks about data governance in the context of big and open data.

New players in the data market

The way governments obtain and use data for policy making has changed in the past decades. An almost complete government monopoly on policy-relevant data that prevailed in the early 21st century was shaken up in the smart city era as many new data owners and service providers have entered the market. 

With the advent of Web 2.0 and smart electronic devices, much information about people's behaviour is collected and held by private companies e.g. floating car data (Waze, Google, TomTom), exercise data (Strava), origin/destination data (Vodafone, Deutsche Telecom, Telefónica), energy consumption data (EDF, E.ON). All this information is also very relevant for policy making purposes.

From e-government to smart cities

Traditionally, governments used data for the day-to-day city management and to follow up on municipal activities/responsibilities such as garbage collection and public transportation. With the introduction of e-government, public administrations were able to provide more convenient services to the public, but that often required direct access to information on citizens and their activities. The shift toward Internet-of-Things and smart cities has broadened the scope of data requirements from individual- to city-level. 

While these changes have been broadly positive, governments need more than just data from sensors to inform policy making. A truly data-driven policy making increasingly relies on a data mix comprising local, regional and national government datasets, private-sector datasets, as well as data provided by citizen scientists, scientific organisations (ESA) and international governmental organisations (UN, OECD). Open data principles are key to ensuring this data mix.

Open data

Spurred by the supranational legislation (PSI Directive, Open Data Directive), cities and regions in the EU member states have made a lot of their data public through open data portals. PoliVisu pilot cities are no exception. Examples include

At the European level, the EU Open Data Portal provides access data published by various EU institutions, bodies and agencies e.g. European Parliament, Council, European Commission, Central Bank, Eurofound, Cedefop, GNSS Agency. Besides increasing transparency and accountability of EU institutions, the portal is used as a means to drive growth, competitiveness and innovation across Europe. 

Big data

The abundance of sensors in modern cities delivers a constant stream of useful data that needs to be managed to become useful for policy making. The combination of data volume (scale), variety (different forms of data), velocity (analysis of streaming data) and veracity (data uncertainty) differentiates IoT data from other, more traditional data types.

Dealing with big data streams is new for many governments. It creates demand for new specialisations in fields such as data storing, management and analysis. In the next chapter, we’ll look more closely at the different data challenges that cities are facing and what steps they are taking to address them. 

But first, we would like to hear about your experience with big data. 

▶ Sharing your big data experience