Devon Hopkins

The 4-Step Framework for Open Data and Smart City Initiatives

In the age of global technopolis, open government data reigns.

In 2016, 70 countries participated in the Open Government Partnership, a big increase from just 7 in 2011, and 52 countries hosted their own open data portals.


Most citizens around the globe probably aren’t aware that they use open government data every day. From asking Google, “what’s the weather?” to deciding which bus or subway route to take, many of our daily actions are made possible by open government data.

Yet, according to The Open Data Barometer, a comprehensive international survey of 92 countries, evidence of open data’s impact still remains limited to a handful of countries.

Open data policies, often related to smart city initiatives, claim to be the missing component for enabling government transparency. But is open government data really improving the quality of life for citizens?


It’s true: stand-out examples of open data initiatives have dramatically changed citizen engagment and civic tech innovation.

Why, then, is it so hard to find statistical evidence that open data creates measurable global impact? And what can we do to speed up the process?

The history of open data

Conceptually, the free use, reuse, and redistribution of data came about in the late 1950s during the Cold War scramble to establish World Data Centers, hubs designed to minimize the risk of data loss, and maximize data accessibility.

Fast forward 50-plus years to the emergence of data wranglers and manipulators, passionate souls willing to clean and re-issue raw data for popular use. These “hackers” opened the door to a new kind of engagement, civic hacking. Cities and local governments embraced this citizen participation, and began to leverage local volunteer developers to assist in building new and interesting municipal applications.

The untapped potential of open data

At the global level, most government datasets go unused, and over 90% of government data still isn’t even open.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of datasets released by tens of thousands of government agencies every year, only a handful make their way into a consumer experience in any meaningful way.

The leaders of open data

The civic tech landscape continues to grow with new tech companies (like us!) leading the way.

At CARTO, we believe in building an ecosystem where open data becomes the raw material that drives more effective decision-making, spurs economic activity, and empowers citizens to take an active role in improving their own communities.

We’ve worked with many leaders in the open data and smart city movements, including New York City, Mexico City, and other nonprofits and corporations.

What do all of these leaders have in common? They put location intelligence at the center of their open data initiatives.

Here’s what that means:

  1. They enrich their data with geospatial information


    GROW.LONDON was developed by JLL and London & Partners to show what types of businesses citizens may need in different areas. The project uses information from open data such as population growth, economic output, and property prices to identify emerging market clusters for potential investors.

    Helping businesses choose the right location to expand and grow creates more economic opportunity for citizens and helps cities plan for future expansion of services in those areas.

  2. They visualize location data to discover hidden patterns and correlations

    The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project created an easy-to-understand map that revealed correlations between foreclosure rates, racial demographics, and redlining policies that denied services to residents of certain areas of San Francisco based on race or ethnicity.

    Until now, it was difficult for cities to easily show the dramatically negative impact that redlining policies have had on the housing market, especially for traditionally marginalized communities. By visualizing location data, urban policy advocates working with city government agencies now have new evidence, insights, and tools to use in their efforts to improve urban living for all citizens.

  3. They analyze location data in real-time


    Location data provides the most value to cities when decision makers and city hall employees can analyze it in real-time. The New York City Mayor’s Office created a real-time dashboard showing a wide variety of city indicators, from up-to-date crime statistics and 311 data, to infrastructure project updates. City officials can now, in real-time, translate insight into action.

    Residents of New York are positioned to benefit from these improvements massively, as the city can now identify and act on important situations in specific parts of the city unlike ever before. The dashboard allows for easy monitoring of changes to these indicators across both spatial and temporal dimensions.

  4. They radically reduce time-to-insight to respond to citizens’ needs

    San Diego’s Performance and Analytics Department created StreetsSD, an interactive data visualization allowing city residents to track progress on the Mayor’s infrastructural pledge to repair 1,000 miles of city streets by 2020.

    This location analysis tool informs residents about a host of concerns such as street rankings, the type of scheduled repair, and the status of repairs.

To learn more about smart cities current and future best practices download our Smart Cities white paper


The future of open data

The time is here to finally deliver on the promise of open government data at a global level.

Open data is not an empty promise; it is a movement going global.

It’s time to make the workings of governments transparent, accountable, and responsive to citizens. It’s time to deliver on the ideals of democracy, public works, and civic engagement.

Here at CARTO, we’re excited to be at the forefront of this movement.

Happy Data Mapping!

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