A hunch doesn’t make for a good argument. Kuopio’s successful city bike acquisition is one of many projects to benefit from factual information derived from open data.
Jouko Miettinen, head of the Kuopio Living Lab project, works to think up new ways to make use of open data. He wants to create a development environment, uncoupled from the city’s own information network, which businesses might use to gather useful information for their own R&D purposes without compromising on privacy and data security.
– But what data, and in what form, should be made available online in open formats, accessible to all? What kind of data can businesses really make the best use of, asks Miettinen.
Juha Hartikainen, head of product development at Suonentieto, has made a hobby of analysing open data over several years. He has distilled some of this data into several reports on the use of Kuopio’s Vilkku-fillari city bikes, which he’s been submitting to Jouni Huhtinen, development manager of the city’s mobility services.
– One finding in these reports has been that about half of all the bikes get moved to Savilahti every morning, leaving all the other stations short, says Huhtinen.
Hartikainen’s observations have helped Huhtinen make the existing city bike system more usable, as well as plan out future city bike acquisitions.
– The statistics seem to show that Kuopio’s most hilly areas, like Männistö, Puijonlaakso and Neulamäki, are the most active Vilkku-fillari areas. That means we need more bikes in those areas.
Hartikainen says one of the great challenges of open data analysis is the local nature of the available data, often presented in different formats for each area.
– When publishing open data, people should try to make it accessible in as common a format as possible. That would enable those who analyse the data to not only make local observations, but to compare data between cities and make analyses on a national scale.
Säde Rytkönen, Coordinator of Wellbeing Promotion working on a wellbeing report for North Savo County, makes the same wish.
– The wellbeing report is founded on comparisons between municipalities and counties. Data analysis allows us to create statistics that help us detect local wellbeing deficits, and intervening to fix those deficits helps us develop wellbeing policies that benefit the region as a whole, says Rytkönen.
Aside from the disparate data formats, another challenge has been privacy questions. Not all existing data can be directly transmitted to the public as open data in public databases. Caution must be exercised to prevent the identification of individual persons through the analysis of open data.
– I live in the hope we can, in the future, come up with a solution that enables us to make more of the existing data public, open for everybody to use. That would enable us to merge all our databases into one large pool, which would allow anyone to get any data they need and to analyse it.
Rytkönen and Miettinen share a desire to see open data sources pooled, and the same aim of public benefit. However, increasing amounts of data are cropping up, and manually analysing them is an ever-growing and -slowing job. Rytkönen hopes automated analysis of the data through a purpose-designed computer system will be possible in the future.
– One challenge in the development of automated system has been the format disparity between two open databases we’d like to compare.
Automation would also be a key aid in data selection, as the need to limit the size of the data set to be analysed would be eliminated.
– The present situation is that as we limit the open data set to do analysis, we might miss something crucial.
The Kuopio Living Lab has accepted this challenge and is working on ways to develop open data offerings in the ways Hartikainen and Rytkönen suggest.
– We’re currently engaged in mapping out what kind of wellbeing data is being recorded for the North Savo wellbeing report, in what formats, and where it’s located. We’re also looking into ways to automate the data collection, open up more data and combine sets between the city’s internal databases, all the while keeping privacy and information security in mind, says Miettinen.
These questions are still waiting for their answers, but it’s certain they will eventually be answered. To Miettinen’s original question about what kind of data businesses need for their R&D work, Hartikainen can already offer an answer.
– All of it, because only once the data exists can the innovations making use of it happen, says Hartikainen.
Text and photo: Maiju Korhonen
The Kuopio Living Lab project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the North Savo Regional Council, the City of Kuopio and the Kuopio University Hospital.