Last Saturday, December 4th, the international Open Data Day took place in conjunction with Random Hacks of Kindness. In 73 cities around the globe groups of people came together to work on open data. In the Netherlands activities took place in Amsterdam and my home town Enschede.

Open Data Enschede

How it came about
In the last days of October David Eaves (open data advocate from Vancouver) first gave voice to the idea of doing local open data events around the world on a single day. Others quickly picked this up. Mid November the Open Government Data Camp in London, hosted by the Open Knowledge Foundation, brought together people from 30 countries, and that was a good opportunity to increase momentum for the international open data hackathon, as we all got to meet face to face. A little over two weeks ago a few civil servants from Enschede, a student and me met up to discuss if we could take part. We had originally met during the Open Innovation Festival in Enschede in June this year, and were looking for a way to take the next step for open data in our city. Previously we boldly had announced a local open data event, but then over the summer organizing it stalled. We agreed that this international open data day might be the trigger we needed to actually do it. Over lunch we settled on a location: the one we were having lunch at, a meeting lounge in the city center with wifi. That afternoon we also brought a website, Open Data Enschede, online announcing our plans. Two of the civil servants involved, Patrick Reijnders and Peter Breukers started asking their colleagues inside city hall for data sets that could be released.

Visualization of cities tweeting about #odhd

Open Data Day
A few days before the event we knew that the work of Patrick and Peter paid off, and that we would have about 25 data sets to work with. The data covered amongst others neighborhood statistics, street names, house numbers, but also the sewage system, geographic height lines, and the location of bus stops and bus routes. We didn’t know how many people would be coming though. As it turned out we had 9 people there for the entire day, entrepreneurs, students, civil servants and an IT-savvy member of the city council, all with coding skills. We were joined for part of the day by about another 10 people. Some of them civil servants involved with information management and geo-information in the city, others from the ITC (international cartography university), as well as the head of the statistics department from the neighboring city Hengelo. This meant lively conversations throughout the day, along with real work being done with the data.
We ended the day with video sessions with the Open Data Day groups in Helsinki (video) and Vienna, talking about the outcomes.

The video session seen from both ends, in Helsinki on the left (photo Irmeli Aro), in Enschede on the right (photo Patrick Reijnders)

For Enschede the Open Data Day was a great success for two main reasons. First of all it meant that a first wave of data sets now has become available. Second, and more important, we have brought together almost 20 people interested in open data, who weren’t aware of each other before (see photos). This is a significant step in creating more momentum in Enschede. A next, more informal, meeting will take place in January 2011 to explore what ideas exist for open data in Enschede, and how to make them reality. The Dutch Data Drinks that Alper started to bring together open data enthusiasts in the Netherlands will get a local chapter, Enschede Data Drinks.
But, of course, like in other participating cities, we also built a few things on Saturday, both currently not more than alpha / demo material though. One is a map of all building permits in the city, with the possibility of accessing the underlying drawings of the building plans, which reuses the building permits data as it is available on the Enschede municipal website. This was build by Robin Janse and Maarten Brouwers, of the Bean Machine.
The other demo maps out companies that went bankrupt for any given post code in the Netherlands, by getting the data from the API of which in turn re-uses the Dutch trade register. This demo was build by Roy van der Veen.

Photo by Patrick Reijnders, Open Data Hackers at Work

I certainly came away from the day with a lot of energy, and am optimistic about moving open data forward in our city. To help stimulate that I offered the city 11 days of my time in 2011, to work with them on open data and figuring out ways how open data can be of benefit to local government as well. In exchange I don’t want money, but the release of data sets to the public. Let’s see if the city takes me up on my offer!