Articolo

Message in a bottle from Helsinki: “Face-to-face engagement for data that do not market itself”

The Infoshare Helsinki Open Data project is one of the most consolidated open government initiatives in Europe: hence, what Ville is telling us can be regarded as the “wise man counsel” to the youngest open data newbies in the cities.

Not surprisingly, Ville is mainly focusing his tale on communication with open data consumers, which as we’ll see happens to be a critical success factor.

One of the things that worked best with communication was material such as blog posts and articles about open data that people found very useful, together with the Infoshare open data application showcase gallery now featuring over 50 apps based on open data.

Their engagement with citizens particularly was conjugated with developers, or just people with technical skills or understanding the data. According to Ville, success cases have been where developers gave them feedback on the data, helped them to understand how to publish the data, how it could be used and when they used it.

Ville divides HRI data into two main categories: data that is so interesting to “market itself”, for which a simple engagement through Facebook or Twitter just worked well, and more complex data, for which the face-to-face engagement with workshops worked better. To this extent, the “apps4finland.fi” contest was held on a regular basis, being co-oganized by Forum Virium Helsinki and Verkkodemokratiaseura.

This event helped a lot in networking the ecosystem, and improving awareness on open data among the general public. This is also another interesting issue: the hype around an open data contest, which may seem to be addressed only at developers, can have – as a side effect – even a more expanded public in the city. However this is still not enough: Ville would have liked to receive more feedbacks on data compared to how much they received so far.

From his experience of such a large open data project, Ville tells us that engagement with developers and data consumers revealed to be much more hard to cope than planned at the beginning. This confirms that the relationship with final users – as in many other areas of digital government – appears to be the hardest part even when compared to the technological efforts.

Apart from “apps4finland”, having a "nationwide" scope, Ville is reporting several other interesting meeting activities, such as workshops, and one-to-one meetings with SMEs.

Such events were mostly organized by Forum Virium Helsinki or the City of Helsinki IT-department or the City of Helsinki Urban Facts ("home of HRI"). Departments participating in addition typically were the Public Works department or City Planning department or City Library. Recently also the Economic Development unit of city of Helsinki attended these events.

Therefore, in Helsinki we see an interesting mix of participation from different departments of the City: regarding the participation of the City Planning and Public Works dept, it confirms that our Finnish friends understood well how the open data issue can be very rooted to the deepest and most material assets of the Administration. Such offices of the City can collect important feedbacks during those meetings with open data users, then exploiting these feedback to better plan and structure the future Public Works in the city.

Another critical issue that was met by the Helsinki Infoshare project was to obtain open data from public agencies, which required much more time than planned before. However, their efforts were rewarded since they also obtained data published via standard APIs, which is almost the best to ask from a city-wide ecosystem of data-producers and consumers. However, still many data categories need to be opened up by Public Utilities, mainly those regarding companies that are “for profit units”. This pressing will require more efforts and even stronger political commitment at the City level.

Thus, even after three years of “data opening” activity, the City high-level commitment seems to be still a very important critical success factor, which must be exploited first to force Administration offices to open up their data, then to convince Public Utilities to follow.

Anyways, a handful of SMEs or startups are currently using Helsinki Infoshare open data, and Ville and his colleagues are watching at the window what is going to happen in the business marketplace: they occasionally are interrogated by SMEs regarding some specific questions on their data, but most of the time private companies are autonomously using this large amount of data, and – as Ville says - “it is yet early to say what is going on in the private sector with this data, and how much new business they are creating”.

The main thing that Ville recommends when dealing with SME is to meet them, in one-to-one or dedicated workshop: this is the way that works best to understand how to be better useful to companies.

An astonishing conclusion for us Italians is that in Finland, where there is a more consolidated startup and IT culture, our open data colleagues started some years ago their project while expecting a much simpler and smarter usage of their data from SMEs to start their business ideas, than actually they did find out during their experience.

This consideration must force us in Italy to reflect, having we a younger innovative-startup regulation, that great effort must be put in order to plan and design the open data process as building a ramp, an easy-to-climb ramp, for local private companies. “Data can be a key element in a good product or service but it alone does not guarantee success” says Ville, and even in Finland “it has proven to be hard from SMEs or startups to devise the best way to exploit the open data value for creating business”.

A very important remark that Ville tells us is that “it is not just a case of opening public sector data but opening companies data as well to some extent in order to enable really good data driven services”.

The Finnish open data project was held in a specific context where a great partnership between other cities and government was structured in a systematic way. Information exchange with other cities and governments was very useful for the project success.

Finally, Ville tells us the most curious usage with their data: a game using the financial data from the City of Vantaa: https://sites.google.com/site/od4games/.

The last question to Ville is very helpful for those wanting to get into the open data arena:

What are the three most important lessons learned from your Open Data experience with respect to engagement with stakeholders?

1. Need both high-level support and agency internal buy-in to get data open and published on an on-going basis.

2. Need lots of footwork and marketing of the benefits and idea of open data, and need very concrete instructions how to do it and what it means, need to make it as easy as possible and work with the agencies first that feel the most keen on doing it.

3. Need to work with developers to encourage concrete usage of open data which in turn helps with points #1 and #2.


HELSINKI INFOSHARE ID-CARD

http://www.hri.fi

Referring person

Ville Meloni

Date of birth

March 2011

Number of opened dataset (to date)

Over 1000

Number of geo-referred dataset

Approx 20 dataset/APIs available

Number of dataset published through APIs/OGC WS

Approx 10

Open Data platform composed of

Customised OSS: CKAN+Wordpress

Number of dataset in Linked Data format

Approx 1-2

 

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