As of 6:04 pm on 20 February, opendata.swiss housed 8,527 data sets. This portal publishes open data from the federal government and the cantons for the use of the public – and more data is being added to it on an ongoing basis.
‘Open data, freely available data makes our society more open, more innovative and fairer,’ says Florin Hasler, Director of opendata.ch. He adds: ‘This focuses on data to which society is entitled or that is needed to overcome societal problems, such as the climate crisis.’ By this, he is referring to data from the state, in particular. However, he is also talking about data from private bodies, such as mobility data, meteorological data or topographical data. The collection of this data is funded by taxpayer money. In his eyes, making it accessible goes hand-in-hand with a fundamental understanding of open, participatory government.
It goes without saying that sensitive data, such as security-related data or personal data, is not to be found on open data platforms. The federal government, cantons and other organisations have countless pieces of data of relevance to society and, even today, a huge volume of this data is freely available via opendata.swiss. As of 20 February, the platform was home to 8,527 data sets – a number that is continually increasing. For instance, the Federal Statistical Office provided data on COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic, the city of Zurich has shared data from the emissions sections of its road traffic noise cadastre and the canton of Valais has contributed data from its gamekeeping department. Evidently, it is not always easy for users to find the data they need – as shown by the findings of a survey with which the nonprofit association Opendata.ch was commissioned last year: a third of users would like to see improvements made to the search function. Opendata.ch has been collaborating with the Federal Statistical Office, the operator of the platform, for more than two years. ‘The measures derived from the survey are intended to help boost the publication and use of open government data, while also underpinning dialogue between providers and users,’ explains Florin Hasler.
Florin Hasler thinks open data has something to offer the foundation sector, too. Foundations have reams of data that does not need to be protected or that can be anonymised. ‘Information about their funding activities can be made transparent,’ he says. ‘This would be of interest to other foundations, potential applicants and the general public, as well.’ The sector as a whole could benefit from this – as could society. He thinks the technical outlay needed to make data freely available is comparatively small, with one prerequisite: that the data is already available in a clean form. ‘If someone has already structured the data clearly, provided the necessary infrastructure and adhered to good governance, they’ve taken a small step towards making this data accessible,’ he says. As a result, he also believes that taking this step towards publication will have a positive impact on the organisation itself. While an organisation does have to focus on its own data, it also receives external feedback, which, in turn, improves the quality of this data. Open data forces organisations to clean up their own data and store it in a structured way. However, for data to be used in the best possible way, it doesn’t just need to be made available: it is also crucial for it to be machine-readable and standardised. This enables data to be evaluated and combined with data from various sources – which enhances its value. PDF format or proprietary formats that can only be read by a Microsoft program, for instance, hinder the open data approach. To get the most out of data, it first needs to be made retrievable and machine-readable. In itself, this would be a desirable outcome. Florin Hasler: ‘Freely available data boosts transparency, collaboration and innovation within our society.’