Meet John. John leaves his house at 8.20am on the Southside of Glasgow, drives north on the M77 then the M8, gets off at exit 15, parks on Wishart Street and arrives at work around 9am at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

If he were real and not a fictional character

Only his close family would know about his commute, and perhaps his colleagues with whom he commiserates on the delays they experienced that morning. His commute leaves traces in the city – like footsteps in the sand.

That’s where city data comes in

Although John created the original data by driving to work that Monday morning, what is of interest to the city is not his morning commute but the invisible patterns we draw when we interact with the city:

  • X cars join the M77 at 8.30am
  • Y cars travel on the M8 between exit 22 and exit 15 around 8.50am
  • Z people look for a parking space at the Royal Infirmary at 9am
  • N people find that driving is the easiest way to go from area A to area B

At this point, the city doesn’t know who is in the car or how many people are in the car. This general yet detailed data is key to understanding how the city runs. It helps plan services: how often the road might need resurfacing, how to plan responses to traffic disruptions, or whether a new public transport service would be beneficial.

City data is the invisible patterns we create as we interact with the city

By capturing this data in the first place and opening it up, we give the city an opportunity to understand and respond to citizens’ needs. City data is the evidence in ‘evidence-based’ decisions.

For this data to be truly useful, it needs to be detailed i.e. granular. For example, scheduling road works at a time that minimises disruption would require daily and hourly data, not monthly aggregates.

The three facets of city data

  • capture data: for example, track how many cars use a road at a given time on a given day
  • open data: publish it and make it discoverable and re-usable
  • promote innovation: the experience of other open cities and organisations shows that innovators use this data to create novel solutions

We don’t always know what the innovation might be but we should not underestimate the potential benefits. Open data is an opportunity to widen the range of people keen to improve life in the city, reduce its environmental footprint and create economic opportunities.

Could you be one of them? Participate in the conversation about data? Help open your organisation’s data?