Let us explain a little bit about the project…
Over the last decade, data have come into fashion: Companies use Big Data for business intelligence; governments and public institutions provide Open Data for the benefit of citizens and the economy; and almost everyone creates publicly available data on social networks – if sometimes only by “liking”, “favouriting”, or sharing content.
While Big Data often remains proprietary (for better or for worse), Open Data and a great portion of social media information can be used freely for the common good. How-ever, the mere availability of data as such is not really helpful. Data comes to life only once humans engage with it in a meaningful way: Sort, clean and process it; find ways to visualise huge amounts of it; and – most importantly – ask it the right questions.
As yet, the open data ecosystem is not mature enough to achieve this. In many cases, only dedicated data specialists have the capacity to make sense of the available infor-mation. In turn, the data experts might not know what kind of answers society is actual-ly looking for.
Moreover, data comes in many shapes and sizes, many of which do not mesh well with each other. Therefore, it is hard to compare different data sets, to enrich the information of one data set with another, or to provide context. And finally, data tend to be updated in fits and starts – sometimes too rarely and sometimes too often, so people lose track.
YourDataStories, or YDS in short, is a platform that helps make sense of open and social data. It answers your specific question by turning data into the substrate for stories that human beings can comprehend and act upon. YDS addresses professionals in government, public administration, business, and journalism, but it is also made for citizens.
YDS starts with the definition of a topic. It then collects pertinent data from a variety of sources and, where useful, across borders: Government open data, social networks, crowd-sourced information, and business open data (proprietary data can be tied in by their owners). Figuratively speaking, YDS pours these data into a big melting pot and watches as they coalesce with each other. (For experts: The concept behind this is Linked Open Data.).
But this is not a one-time process. To the contrary, YDS focuses on continuous data streams. It automatically updates and integrates new information directly from the sources as it becomes available. Thus, the YDS database becomes richer and deeper over time, while giving historical context to the topic as it develops.
Main idea in an example
You might be worried about the deteriorating state of the roads in your community, and curious what the municipality is doing about it. You can now use YDS to harvest publicly available information about road maintenance budgets, specific plans, and orders placed with construction companies.
And then you add the social, crowd-sourced dimension: You, other citizens, public offi-cials, maintenance workers, and companies, may comment on the municipality’s plans, point out places that need to be fixed, perhaps help the administration to realign priori-ties, and report actual progress – all by posting messages and pictures, which YDS uses automatically to update the dry data it is receiving from the municipality.
Since the software of YDS is doing all the heavy lifting behind the scenes, all you need to care about is the story, the narrative of what is going on with respect to your local roads. YDS provides you with summaries, visualisations (such as maps and charts), and easily digestible updates, but of course you are free to drill deeper and look at any details that might be of interest.
Within a short time period, you will be sitting on a treasure trove of previously unavail-able, inaccessible, or incomprehensible information that is now becoming ever clearer and more tangible. Or, in other words, just what your local newspaper was waiting for. Journalistic coverage of the evidence-based news will spur local politicians into action, motivate even more citizens to contribute, and render the newspaper even more popu-lar on its local beat.
Think of your personal YDS project as an app, like the ones on your smartphone. You may be able to put together simple apps on your own, using the tools provided by YDS. For more complex tasks, you might need expert help, either from the YDS developers, or from an independent programmer. But once the app is up and running, it becomes self-sustainable machine that actually creates new information and new stories on its own.
A case such as local road maintenance is just a beginning. Over the next three years, YDS will run three pilot projects – or sample apps – in concert with the development efforts for the platform. The pilots will serve to align the software with the users’ needs, to identify and address any conceptual or technical issues, and to get YDS as a collection of re-usable, smart, and interlocking building blocks ready for the market.
In summary, YDS will enhance the transparency of public finances and the scrutiny of the conduct of public administrations, boost citizen participation and ownership of polit-ical processes, and help achieve real-life impact. At the same time, it is open for adoption by entrepreneurs who will be encouraged to create new business models based on the added-value data processed by the platform.