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Finnish Open Data Highlights

June 13th, 2011

More and more data sets are being released as open data throughout the world and Finland is steadily following pace. The principle decision by the Finnish government in March 2011 that governmental data should primarily be open, machine readable and for free will contribute to more and more data sets being released during the oncoming years. Indeed, the Finnish Parliament itself is preparing to release data in phases during 2011 and 2012.

While a solid case can be made for opening up data from parliament, ministries or local governments in the name of openness and democracy, many government officials will still ponder “what is in it for them” when they open up data sets as open data. While openness of information and grass roots democracy are honorable and very important foundations in the functioning of democratic countries, tight budgets and financial priorities can dictate against opening up governmental data sets due to a lack of direct beneficial impact for these institutions themselves. Yes, the local citizen may benefit from more information, as might benefit the journalist, interest group or application builder. But as mentioned before: how does the one releasing open data benefit?

The best Finnish example of direct benefit from releasing open data has been so far the Helsinki Region Transport, which released their “Reittiopas” journey planner as open data a few years ago in an exemplary manner. Their recent mobile competition showed that developers picked up the data with eager enthusiasm (over 60 entries were made) and the success of applications such as ReittiGPS, with thousands of downloads can only be seen as beneficial for HSL: even though they did not create nor own the application, it certainly encourages people to use regional transport through apps like these.

Another prime example of Finnish open data pioneers is the Helsinki Region Infoshare project, which has been releasing dozens and dozens of (mainly statistical) data sets concerning the capital region since early 2011. Despite the many praises HRI has received so far, the direct impact for the Capital Region (Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen) is still to be fully determined during the oncoming years. However, opening up the data in easy to access formats certainly allows politicians and government officials – local and national – to make better informed decisions about the Capital Region’s future. I was very pleased to hear in May from officials of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy that they regularly used the HRI visualizations created by Flo Apps for gathering data about the Capital Region concerning their decision making.

Judging from how developments have gone in the UK, it will only be a matter of time before the Capital Region will also have Fix My Street -like applications that benefit both the local councils as well as the ordinary citizens. The forerunner of this has been Fillarikanava. The symbiosis of HRI’s open data sets and citizens’ eagerness to contribute to a better city will likely only grow during the next few years, repaying the investment in HRI in many ways, some of which are yet to be discovered.

So what is next? Time will tell but judging from the above examples a lot of good is still to come.

 

 

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