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Breaking down open data barriers

2014 May 25

Breaking down open data barriersDuring a recent EuroSDR meeting I had the privilege to share a few thoughts on open data and the progress we are making – in the Netherlands. Open data is considered a hot topic and the idea of open data fits nicely into an open innovation framework, hence my personal interest.

EuroSDR is the linking pin between European National Mapping Agencies and their Academic counterparts. This meeting was hosted by Kadaster and on the programme were topics like ‘the Geo-information Science focus in the Netherlands’ by NCG and ‘upcoming location relevant policies, legislation and other developments’ by Geonovum. My contribution was about the “Digital Agenda for Europe and Open Geo-data”.

Open data

In order to make sure we were on the same page about open data, I started my presentation by referring to the Open data definition by the Open Knowledge Foundation. I then made a short reference to why the European Commission is interested in Open data: “focussing on generating value through re-use of a specific type of data – public sector information, sometimes also referred to as government data.”


Open data can be a lot of fun as well!

Open data is a multi-perspective topic (e.g. transparency, economic, political) and these perspectives do not necessarily overlap. I tend to look at open data from an (open) innovation and value–add perspective. For that reason I shortly discussed the open innovation model (Chesbrough) and the value chain model (Porter). These models and their authors normally do deserve a bit more attention then I was able to give them.

In business

In order to improve the knowledge and possibilities of information technology, the Dutch Cabinet has defined ten ‘break through projects’ with a clear goal to contribute to economic growth and to make a noticeable impact on entrepreneurs and citizens alike. The projects are a co-op of government, research institutions and companies. GeoBusiness, the Dutch society of companies working with geographic information is representing the company side in the break though project on Open data.

Mark Herbold was appointed as the figurehead of that initiative (full disclosure: Mark is my colleague at Esri Nederland). The goals of the Open data project: to align open data supply and demand and to enable the availability of a continuous stream of high-quality open data. The opportunity is clear: discover that real value of open data for society as a whole. That can only be a true team effort.


The top three barriers identified by this team are the government / market balance (where and how do you draw a line between their activities), continuity of the data stream (one time open data release is not interesting for building new applications) and privacy (always a top priority in our government, and rightfully so). The project group aims to overcome these barriers by first identifying them (…), by publicly addressing their needs and by helping the data owners to make the data public.

There is a clear focus on the demand side of (open) data. Themed open data relays (events with themes like agriculture, water management, sustainable energy) stimulate the open data ecosystem to get started, using the data in a new context. I have also seen a few app contests and prizes, which are also a good way to attract attention and interest in open data.

zonneatlasPractical perspective

In the last part of the talk in zoomed in to the actual benefits open data can bring. At Esri Nederland, we consume open data from a variety of sources and create new basemaps. This means that the users of these services do not need to load the data into their own systems anymore. We also assist users with making their data open data, e.g. by providing an open data app.

A good example of progress with open data is the recently released national elevation data set of the Netherlands. With a max error of five centimeters, this is a very good source to e.g. calculate the slope of objects, in order words: a national solar panel map is now within reach. An obvious next step is a national 3D map to be freely available to existing and future map-users, as well as app developers.

Too important to just leave up to government 

About the several quotes in the presentation: I used them to get a discussion going – on purpose they can easily be understood out of context. As for the quote “Open (geo)data is too important to just leave up to government”: it simply refers to the fact that enterprises have an important role to play when it comes down to the practical use of open data in society. Not just by contributing their knowledge of how open data can work, but also by releasing some of the value they are able to capture thanks to open data. Before we know it, enterprises will have their Chief (open) Data Officer too!

Although there is still enough open data progress to be made, I am happy with the national datasets which have been released. Not the least unimportant: working with open data can be a lot fun as well. Just as presenting about Open data at an EuroSDR meeting!


Breaking barriers for open data from Jan Willem van Eck

NB: a thank you to Sebastiaan for his photographer’s talent.

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