Eindhoven Chooses Socrata to Spark Citizen Engagement
The City of Eindhoven in the Netherlands boasts a long history of tech-savvy, educated, and hard working citizens. The birthplace of electronics giant Phillips and home to several universities, the town’s current leaders want to engage the broader community in as much civic activity and problem solving as possible. How does it plan to do so? By offering one of the most robust and comprehensive open data programs in Europe.
“Eindhoven is into all kinds of interactive instruments to talk to citizens and stakeholders. We think co-creation is a way to proceed and become a smart city. Open data is the next big instrument all smart cities should use. We see it as a tool to do something,” says Eindhoven Vice Mayor Mary-Ann Schreurs.
A longtime technology leader in the Netherlands, Eindhoven picked up on the open data trend early on. The IT team there started researching open data more than three years ago. Schreurs says she saw it as a “participation instrument” and predicted that it would transform how cities run and how citizens engage with their governments.
“We had a hunch it could be something and we worked hard to promote it,” says Schreurs.
The team first considered using open source software to build out its own, customized open data platform. Then, city leaders heard that many large cities in the U.S. were on the Socrata platform and decided to do a side-by-side comparison between Socrata and the open source software, using the same datasets to upload into each system.
The six-month contest was over within a number of weeks. “When you buy open source software you get what you pay for, it’s free. It was built by academics to share information not by people who want to solve city problems,” says Schreurs.
The team found that the effort and expense involved in hosting, building, and maintaining an open source solution felt unreasonable when compared to the simplicity of Socrata’s pre-built solution.
“The Open Sources products in themselves are quite okay", says Joop Bruurs. “That's not the issue. The real issue is the time, attention, and effort you have to put into the tools to get, and keep, them working. All that time and effort is lost and cannot be spent on more important issues such as collecting data, doing meaningful things with the data, keeping in contact with the open data community, and so on. And, we found out this not a one-time only phenomenon. As time goes by you want to focus on new features, but with Open Sources, as the number of datasets grow you have new technical issues. Your attention is constantly drawn to the wrong corner of the spectrum,” Bruurs finishes.
They also consider being on the same platform as many American cities an advantage, despite feeling a pressure from the European community to be open source.
“When I met Socrata, I liked our meeting and I felt a sense of trust. All the negative feelings I had were gone because I really see that [Socrata is] working hard to further open data. Everyone in our open data team has the same feeling. We made a connection with Socrata,” says Eindhoven Strategic Advisor Gaby Sadowski.
A Productive Future Ahead
With their Socrata open data platform up and running, Eindhoven plans to focus initially on geographic datasets. The city recently won an award for offering the best public geographic data in the Netherlands. Eindhoven plans to do some innovative work with 3D data and city maps. They will also offer finance and crime data that will be updated automatically and be API-enabled so that useful applications can be built on top of it.
“We are an intelligent city and we want to be on the cutting-edge of open data in Europe. We’ll be hosting more hackathons to encourage people to build apps with the data so we can showcase what’s possible,” says Schreurs. “I want our open data program to really improve life here,” she says.
Once Eindhoven’s open data program is established, it will offer a dashboard about city programs and their performance. The dashboard will be fed automatically with data from the open data portal, making it near-real time. This level of transparency, where information on government progress is available without any edits or filters, establishes a high bar of transparency and collaboration with citizens.
“We want to give citizens and researchers the best tools and data to get involved with the government, understand our decisions, and participate in making life in Eindhoven better for everyone. Socrata gives more opportunity and tools for the end user, citizens, and developers. That’s why we prefer Socrata,” says Sadowski
The Eindhoven team hopes to see a variety of residents use and play with the data. They will be hosting a series of hackathons with specific challenges and themes. And, they plan to make citizen education about open data technology a large part of their program.
“We don’t want to reach the usual suspects who are already engaged, but we want to go broader so that there are many useful apps and services created to improve lives,” says Sadowski.
The Eindhoven team plans to host a digital conference in the coming year. They believe their open data platform and open performance dashboard serve as a model of transparency, designed to gain citizens’ trust.
“It’s showing them, not telling them,” says Schreurs. “We hope to see more people join in to create a larger open data community.”