Objective open data

19 October 2021

“You can’t have an open government without open data,” says Councillor Angus Millar, serving as Glasgow’s Council Digital Champion and Chair of the Digital Glasgow Board. Wanting to extend the principle of a transparent government to its data, Glasgow committed in 2015 to its data being ‘open by default’. “Open by default is an aspiration that underpins the idea of transparency and openness in terms of how a city government operates,” continues Millar.

“That’s really where our open data journey began,” says Stephen Sprott, Data and Innovation Project Manager for the Glasgow City Council. Glasgow sees open data as critical for the city to improve citizens’ services and break silos between departments. “We want to promote data sharing and a culture of collaboration across sectors and departments,” completes Millar.

Filling data in

To achieve their objective, the team has launched in May 2021 the Glasgow Open Data Hub. The hub currently has 35 data sets available in its catalogue, including city infrastructure data – such as schools, community facilities, CCTV and broadband coverage – and mobility data like traffic, footfall and cycling. Some datasets are being collected in real-time.

Councillor Angus Millar, Glasgow Council’s Digital Champion and Chair of the Digital Glasgow Board

“So far, the focus was getting the platform up and running and getting the backlog of content onto it,” says Millar. “Our current focus is inviting other content from our partners because, to get the most out of it, we need buy-in from the private sector, the academic sector. They need to feel ownership over the platform by populating and by contributing to it.”

“The platform is not meant to be only for the Council. Let’s get lots of city data to enhance it and increase the interest and usefulness of the data hub,” completes Sprott. Getting other stakeholders, especially businesses to contribute their data to initiatives like the data hub in Glasgow is a challenge many cities face and find their solutions to while waiting for a more specific EU legal framework.

Tips to get stakeholders on board

For example, Florence’s Smart City Control Room brings together service operators, service providers, and platform companies who share data based on a combination of contractual obligations and mutual data sharing agreements. The idea is that all actors benefit from being within the sharing system.

Rennes’ RUDI urban data platform prototype was developed similarly, offering a ‘Social network of data’. The local government, businesses, organisations, and residents all contribute to the platform and participate in managing the data. Users of the platform can choose one or more of three roles: data producer, who can publish data and describe the conditions for access and use; data re-user, who agrees with the producer on the terms of use of data; and citizen, who have full access and control of their data.

Glasgow. Image credit: kamyq via Pixabay

“We’re hoping in the next few weeks to put on some private sector data which relates to private sector rental costs in the city,” says Sprott. “If we make it available at the small neighbourhood level, we think that’s the sort of thing that has a very practical use to our citizens, and that drives interest to the data hub.”

Understand what you see

Examples from other cities have also inspired Glasgow to make data visualisation and storytelling one of the main components of their open data hub. “The best cities that manage their data are those who give it meaning and bring it to life for all their citizens,” says Sprott. “Putting data out there alone doesn’t work. But behind each dataset, there’s an everyday story about what services the city is providing and the impact for citizens.”

For example, explaining to people that the traffic data the city released tells them

Stephen Sprott, Data and Innovation Project Manager for the Glasgow City Council

about congestion in their neighbourhood and safety or pollution issues shows them the relevance of data for them as community members. Through Apps and Dashboards, the city can present data in ways that people can understand and play with themselves.

“Through stories, we are trying to get people’s interest, and ultimately their involvement in a dialogue and conversations,” explains Sprott. Engaging with other stakeholders in a dialogue is the next step of Glasgow’s plan.

People discuss, collect and act

“The ‘Premium Hub’ is the fourth part of our ambition by using the platform to create communities of interests,” says Sprott. “For example, colleagues from urban planning have been keen to use this function because they want to have a dialogue with citizens and developers around developing particular parts of the city. Of course, it can be used in many more areas, like for example opening a dialogue around cycling infrastructure.”

Citizens can also become data collectors. Like many other cities, Glasgow has experimented with citizens science initiatives. “We asked people to collect data around some environmental issues in the local neighbourhoods and share it via the hub,” says Sprott. “The citizen contributes to creating an evidence base, and data can help citizens to realise their part of responsibility and impact on issues such as the environment.” A particularly timely issue in view of COP26 in November.

Reaping what you sow

Here’s where the power of data comes full circle. “We don’t see open data as being an end in itself. It’s an enabler to improve services,” says Millar. “I’m interested in how we use this information to respond as an administration.” For example, data can analyse the concentration of deprivation in specific neighbourhoods and decide to make an investment based on the results. Data will also be instrumental in Glasgow to study the economic impact of the covid health crisis on the city centre and plan for its recovery.

The hub is in its early stages, and the team in Glasgow is busy populating it and promoting its use. “We will monitor the engagement and interest in the hub because that’s what will determine its success and also help us determine which content is most useful,” says Sprott. The ambition is that the new open data hub will help Glasgow make the most of its digital agenda.

Main image credit: Adam Nowakowski


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer