Open data - what we did and what we learned during the Open Data Week 2019

April 13, 2019

Open Data Week was held for the second time in Serbia, from April 1 to April 7, 2019, with an almost doubled volume of activities compared to last year. With 17 events and 21 partners - workshops, a hackathon, panels and lectures were focused on a broader group of users of open data, outside of the narrowly interested technological field - for pupils, students, owners of small and medium enterprises, as well as the media.

Open data can be viewed as raw material that enables the creation of practical solutions in the public and private sectors and forms a new generation of entrepreneurs and social innovators. Open data is recognized as a nursery garden of ideas in the project name itself: "Open data - open possibilities".

Why is it important to open as much data as possible?

Public institutions in Serbia have a legal obligation to publish data in an open format so that they are accessible to everyone for processing and further use. Compared to 2018, the number of open datasets in the new, redesigned National Open Data Portal jumped from 85 to 137, and the number of institutions and organizations that opened data from 22 to 28. However, it is necessary to continue at an accelerated pace. "The situation is improving, but the climate is such that we are still in the initial stage of development of open data ecosystems," said Slobodan Markovic, technical advisor for digital governance in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Serbia, summarizing the impressions from the Open Data Week:

"Most of the existing programs are dedicated to education – the more the community recognizes the importance of analyzing and cross-referencing open data, the better. The missing part is a larger number of business models and examples of the specific use of open data, and that is why the Open Data Week is very important."

During our conversation, we imagined that the citizens of Serbia who are buying an apartment could have access to an application that could, through combining different open datasets, enable them to see, apart from the traditional advertisement for the apartment, the average value of real estate at that location, the quality of land and air, security, proximity to schools, kindergartens, parks and places for sports activities. If such applications would exist in Serbia, one could make important decisions based on a great number of real metrics, rather than on assumptions.

A reference that shows the importance of open data for every segment of modern society is the quantity and quality of datasets: 180,000 sets of open data are available to the broadest public on the US national portal, while that number is 40,000 on the British portal. In our far neighborhood, the Ukrainian portal offers over 8,400 datasets. On the other hand, the quality of open data almost indisputably points to the economic strength and development of a system.

It is necessary to understand that opening data is a process

The open data initiative is relatively unknown to sectors that do not have much contact with the IT industry. However, open data comes from all industries and its release is a good way to communicate, operate and make decisions transparently, based on real parameters. Also, Markovic pointed out, it is necessary for all involved in the initiative to understand that it is a process that lasts. When they make data open and accessible, it's just the first step. In order for data to become interesting to representatives of various industries, they need practical applications and examples. Education for adequate use of data processing tools and their application in business provides the opportunity for different stakeholders to see open data not only as information, but also through the prism of new business opportunities they carry.

During the Open Data Week, the program took place simultaneously in 8 cities in Serbia - in Niš, Bor, Cacak, Kragujevac, Belgrade, Novi Sad, Kikinda and Subotica indicating that local governments, organizations and businesses have become aware of the importance of open data for growth and development. A large number of workshops for learning data analysis (for example, using the R programming language) as well as a hackathon during which open-source applications were created have contributed to the concrete results during the Open Data Week, such as the application from Kikinda, for improving and localizing the search for human resources. Marko Kažić, the launcher of Zamphyr and the Hackathon organizer in Kikinda, believes that open data is crucial for better tailoring of the strategies and public policies at the local level.

"The hackathon in Kikinda was an excellent combination of joint innovative work and the use of open data, both existing and creating new open data sets. During the two days, the teams had the opportunity to discover the value of open data and develop the Košnica, a human resources register for Kikinda, a unique project that uses open data to solve the problem of accessibility of labor in small environments."

Company Logikka organized a practical training on the use of open data for small and medium-sized enterprises in three cities in Serbia called Data for more successful business. Within the Open Data - Leaders of the Future workshop participants were introduced to data science and using scientific methods in business development. The workshop focused on the specific processing and analysis of data, as well as their visualization. According to Manja Bogićević, who was one of the lecturers at the workshop, open data is also one of the key elements for the innovations that are coming in the near future:

"Machine learning and artificial intelligence will drive us to work and completely transform everything we know about our money, identity and security."

Open data - conclusions and next steps

From the data analysis workshops on air quality to the CINS panel on use of open data in investigative journalism, the Open Data Week 2019 once again showed that the fast open data release of a large number of data sets in a machine-readable format, and then its analysis, would make "smarter" not only our cities, but also public policies and business decisions, as well as contributing to the fight against corruption and improving infrastructure. In addition to the lack of capacity within the institutions, it is necessary to overcome the fear of misuse that appears as a real obstacle to the release of open data. According to Marija Kujačić from the Office for IT and eGovernment, at the CINS panel held within the Open Data Week:

"Most of the institutions, as a symptom of caution, but genuine caution when it comes to open data release, fear that someone who is not competent in their area will interpret the data incorrectly. We had this case with the Ministry of Finance and the budget proposal, and with the Batut Institute on the topic of health data."

The Open Data initiative does not end after the Open Data Week, as new datasets will arrive at the National Portal, and additional educational activities are planned, new Data Innovation Challenges that will result in use cases, and many other activities, which will continue throughout 2019.

➡️ Check out interesting examples and use cases from Serbia:

Project Safe paths in Bor

Application Mediately for search of medicines

Open Data Week 2019 was part of the project Open Data – Open Opportunities, implemented by Unites Nations Development Programme and Office for IT and eGovernment, with the support of the World Bank and UK Good Governance Fund. Open Data Week was part of the initiative Serbia Digital Week.