ARCHIVES: This is legacy content from before Sustainable Cities Collective was relaunched as Smart Cities Dive in early 2017. Some information, such as publication dates or images, may not have migrated over. For the latest in smart city news, check out the new Smart Cities Dive site or sign up for our daily newsletter.

9 Examples of What Happens When Authorities Make The Data They Own Publicly Accessible

What ripple effects occur when authorities make the data they own publicly accessible? Since Cape Town launched its open data policy, we found these 9+ examples of open data used effectively.

1. When will there be load-shedding?

When will load-shedding hit? Websites Gridwatch and EWN load-shedding will tell you, as will Sharenet's email notifications and Android app, and the amusingly named EskomSePush app, which provides push notifications of load-shedding.

Using the schedules issued by the municipalities of Tshwane, Joburg, Ethekwini, Cape Town and Eskom, Gridwatch and EskomSePush display expected load-shedding periods for the whole of South Africa, while EWN shows the Cape Town and Gauteng region. Sharenet offers a free subscription service to notifications specified by you.


A screengrab of the EWN loadshedding website, showing how the Cape Town suburb of Sea Point is affected. Main image above: GoMetro creator Justin Coetzee, photo by Ian Landsberg courtesy of Small Business Connect.

2. Where is my train?

Hundreds of thousands of commuters rely on a train ride to work. Unpredictable departure and arrival times created a gap in the market for an app that tells them where their train is, and if they're going to be late. The GoMetro app displays user-friendly train schedules for Cape Town, Durban and Gauteng, and when things don't go smoothly, live announcements from the rail authorities are pushed. App features allow commuters to indicate delays to others waiting for trains using the same railway lines as well as sending a late note to your boss.

See the screengrabs of the app below and download it using Google Play.




3. Why is the traffic so bad?

Traffic congestion in Tanzania's Dar es Salaam, the most populous eastern African city, are so severe that it limits the economic development of the city, with some residents noting that to get to work on time they leave home at 4am. Open and reliable data available at OpenStreetMap allowed researchers for Habitat International to better understand the "need for more efficient transport planning and implementation of plans".



4. How much should you be paying for medicine?

Code4SA discovered that it was a difficult question to answer in South Africa and so created a simple website to help. The medicine price registry website allows users to type in the name of their medicine and see what they can expect to pay when they get a prescription from their doctor.

It also allows them to find possible generic alternatives to the branded medicine, which often do the same job at a lower price. Take a look and see for yourself.

Code4SA routinely ask interesting questions and try to empower others by providing the open data that give the answers. See the answers to:

5. Where are the public toilets in Khayelitsha?

The plotting of the location of public toilets in Khayelitsha on Google Maps by the Social Justice Coalition wasn't as a guide to local community members – who would know full well where the toilets are – but as an illustration of how far residents have to walk to access them. During the social audit, photos of the toilets were also taken to record their condition at the time.


6. Am I registered to vote?

Registering to vote in Kenya became a lot easier in 2013 when Code4Kenya created GotToVote, a website designed to help locals find their nearest voter registration centre so that they could enroll themselves and be eligible in the 2013 election.

In 2014 CodeforAfrica partnered with the Malawian Electoral Information Centre to enable Malawians to SMS their national identity number to a specific code and as part of an SMS voter verification system. This means the public didn't need a smartphone or to take a trip to a large city to check if they were registered.

7. Can road traffic encourage business?

ANZ truckometer research

The correlation between traffic flows and economic growth is well known. In New Zealand, where a large proportion of freight is by road, this reveals a timely indication of economic momentum.

The New Zealand Transport Agency traffic volume data is used by ANZ Bank to track business confidence, help guide choices around business investment and even estimate road user charges per six months for the transport authority.

8. What can farmers, lawyers and home buyers do with land data?

Another fine example from our friends in New Zealand shows how transparency across a government department – Land Information New Zealand, which holds 40 data sets – can further public, private and civic interests.

Some examples include land-mapping specialists providing better field-mapping solutions to local farmers, an online business supplying maps and property information that enable faster property conveyancing by lawyers, local municipalities giving residents insight into nearby utilities and services, and giving other government offices swift and uniform source information to populate sector-specific maps.

9. Can advertising actually become useful?


Combining open data and big data, London's Transport API processes data feeds from a variety of transport operators and package them for further development into specific applications – like booking a dentist (check out Toothpick) or displaying a hyperlocal advert only applicable to commuters waiting for the next bus (as seen right), reminding chilly Londoners to turn the heating on at home.

Access and processing of this reliable data has enabled the Digital Out Of Home (DOOH) advertising sector to grow at 30% a year, and during the period April to June 2014, 25% of all outdoor adverting in the UK was spent on DOOH.

  • Do you have great examples of how open data is being used? Please share them in the comments section.


Read more about how cities can leverage open data