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Open Data and Civic Apps: First-Generation Failures, Second-Generation Improvements

Open Data and Civic Apps, illustration

On his first day in office in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the "Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government," asking government agencies to make their data open and available to the public.4 The aim was to provide transparency in government and improve provision of services through new technologies developed on the backbone of civic open data.5 Transparency was achieved through a public data catalog that was the most comprehensive at the time, providing such information as real-time crime feeds, school test scores, and air-quality metrics. However, as of May 2010, only one year later, few citizens had make the effort to comb through the more than 272,000 datasets they had been provided.6

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In response, leaders of the open data movement sought to engage code developers to make the information not only more digestible for greater transparency but also incorporate it into applications, services, and businesses that could better serve the public and foster economic growth.


Spiros Nikolopoulos

Another very intriguing potential for acquiring more context in non-emergency issue reporting applications, is to harvest the opinion of social users and combine this with open data provided by the municipality. Given that a non-trivial number of the submitted issues/suggestions/initiatives maybe of general interest, it may be likely that a relevant discussion is taking place among the users of social networks. Thus, it could be an interesting additional source of information if we could spot the relevant discussions and analyze them with respect to their sentiment or prevailing topics. The analytics component of ImproveMyCity ( relies on the contextually-rich nature of foursquare data, that are used establish the connection between a certain issue/suggestion/initiative and a set of user contributed discussions in an implicit manner. The foursquare application, apart from checking-in and categorizing a venue, offers also the option of providing “tips” (i.e. opinions) about a certain venue. Thus, if the issue/suggestion/initiative that has been reported by the citizen can be tightly linked to an existing foursquare venue (e.g. geographical proximity, or explicit reference of the venue name), then the “tips” that have been contributed by the foursquare users to characterize this venue can be consider to form a set of discussions related to the initial issue/suggestion/initiative. Based on this implicit interlinking we have been able to harvest the opinion of social users by performing sentiment analysis on the venue “tips”. A prototype version of ImproveMyCity-Analytics that is able to combine in a spatio-temporal setting the issues submitted by citizens, with open governmental data and foursquare data is accessible at

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