Open data and its potential – free information for all

What do we mean by open data? It is material which is created by public administration, organisations, companies or private persons and which is freely available and free of charge for the use of others. I attended a morning coffee event held by the Urban Academy, where launching of the open data of the City of Helsinki and its scientific implications were discussed. The Urban Academy´s main partners are the City of Helsinki, the University of Helsinki and the Aalto University. The Urban Academy brings together officials, policymakers, students, researchers and residents to share their experiences, knowledge and opinions with one another.

Tanja Lahti, Open data advocate and Project manager at City of Helsinki, Helsinki Region Infoshare

Tanja Lahti, Open data advocate and Project manager at City of Helsinki, Helsinki Region Infoshare

Tanja Lahti, an Open data advocate and Project manager at the City of Helsinki, gave an inspiring speech on how open data takes us towards a more democratic Helsinki. She stressed the advantages of open data: more effective public administration, improved transparency and democracy for residents and last but not least broader trade activity and more innovation for enterprises.

Mrs. Lahti talked also about one of the most important data openings this year – the Ahjo Explorer which is a free App providing residents with data on the political decision making of the City of Helsinki.The App is in a machine-readable form and brings openness and transparency into municipal politics and can be used in many different ways. The App allows the political decision making to be followed wherever and whenever with updates once a day. I found it very interesting when she spoke about an application that uses open data – the Blindsquare, which is the world´s most popular accessible GPS-app for the visually impaired and blind to help them move around the city using their smartphones. The app describes the environment and announces points of interest and street intersections.

If you go to http://www.hri.fi/fi/sovellukset, you can find an app gallery. I liked the Eventmore app where you can look up events by choosing the venue, date, category and theme. There are also apps with which you can search purchases made by the City of Vantaa, City of Espoo or City of Helsinki , statistics like accidents that occured in Helsinki, public transport navigation (making public transport easier to use), geographical information like no-parking zones, difference in salaries according to metropolitan area quarters, or track the location of snowploughs (I loved that one!). There is even an app with which residents can report directly to the city places that nee repair or improvement, such as dangerous intersection for bikers or a broken fence in a dog park. The Helsinki Region Infoshare pages at http://www.hri.fi advance data interoperability and interaction of the parties involved. Later on Lahti talked about meetings called “Helsinki loves Developers”. It´s an open bureau for open data, and the participants meet at Think Company every other Thursday. Interested? Check it out at http://www.facebook.com/groups/heldev.

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There are some competitions going on  – Open Finland Challenge, Smart City App Hack and Ultrahacks – in which you can still take part! Your entry can be in English, too, and the deadline is November 9. Do you remember the app I liked earlier in this blog? It was Eventmore and it won the Helsinki Smart City App Hack competition! Check it out at http://www.openfinlandchallenge.fi.

Then Mrs. Lahti was wondering aloud: “Will we manage to fulfil our service promise?” The city is moving towards new operations models which is expected to lead to an operations cultural change. It´s going to be a learning process for everyone – the city employees can take advantage of related training to strengthen their skills, for example how to access the data, how to utilize the data etc.

Roberto Corsini, Open Data Community Manager

Roberto Corsini, Open Data Community Manager

The next speaker was Roberto Corsini, a Community Manager at the City of Helsinki Information Centre. The first thing he talked about was a search engine for the Internet of Things called Thingful, which I found really interesting. The search engine provides unique geographical information on objects all over the world, like airplanes, ships, radiation, air quality equipment, energy, animal trackers, seismographs, etc. You can even follow a shark on a weekly basis as it moves in the ocean! Or check the flood monitors around the house you want to buy before you close the deal! And if you suffer from asthma, check the air quality monitors near your home!

Next, Mr. Corsini moved on to introduce Pikhaya Smart Street, a service that can help you figure out where to open your new business. Let´s say you want to open a new hair saloon, so what do you do? You consult Pikhaya Smart Street which calculates the right place and street for your new business on the basis of the number of houses and their purchase price, the volume of traffic and so on. Voilà!

The third thing he mentioned was Vainu – a predictive lead scoring software, which enriches company databases by analyzing enterprise data and external signals from the web. Find out more at http://www.vainu.io. The next eye-catching innovation was Sickly, a webpage that helps schools manage, maintain and maximise attendance. It collects information on children’s diseases from both schools and parents to prevent and avoid epidemics.

Tuuli Toivonen, Reader, Helsinki University

Tuuli Toivonen, Assistant Professor, Helsinki University

The next person to take the stage was Tuuli Toivonen, Project Manager at the MetropAccess initiative. What caught my eye in her slides was that Helsinki has become the most successful open-data city in the world. The slide pointed out, that Helsinki has always had a top-notch statistics bureau. Now, it´s bringing that data online, making it regional. I also enjoyed her remark: “In the past we were reading articles, nowadays we are reading data.” And that´s what the future and new innovations bring us! Just two years ago, more than 1000 data sets were published in the Helsinki region as open data.

Robert Eriksson, 6aika.fi, City of Helsinki

Robert Eriksson, http://www.6aika.fi, City of Helsinki

The last speaker was Robert Eriksson who introduced an initiative called 6Aika which is a project of the six biggest Finnish cities – Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Turku and Oulu – and an open data top initiative. The main objective  of the project is to strengthen Finland´s competitiveness, obtain new know-how, promote business opportunities and create jobs. 6Aika develops innovation and enterprise ecosystems, improves the understanding of companies’ needs and operations logistics, supports new undertakings coming from universities and universities of applied sciences, strengthens the openness of the City of Helsinki , advances working life interconnections among international degree students and researchers, brings EU funding to the region and improves the operational conditions of key industries. There will be an info meeting on 6Aika in Pasila on November 30. So go check it out!

Written by Jana Arhio, Laurea

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