Municipal open data: risks, illusions and opportunities in a Growing Field

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


In the last years, many municipalities started to embrace the potential of open data, who envision open data as a mean to substantially enhance transparency and accountability towards citizens, restore trust in public services and increase citizens’ participation and engagement. However, the flip side of open data rarely surfaces when municipalities report on their open data successes. This paper attends to the dark side of open data by examining open data extracted using the FixMyStreet (FMS) API, a mobile-city application used in the Brussels region (Belgium) to report incidents of urban disorder, nuisance and minor crimes in the streets, by visualizing the aggregated data through a dashboard and making it searchable to gain in-depth knowledge on specific areas. Our approach illustrates that the open data has a highly malleable character and breaks with several of the eight ‘Sebastopol principles’ of open data: (1) Only a fragment (45%) of reported data is available as open data; (2) The data is not primary, since information on the handling of incidents is sometimes added by third parties; (3) Interventions are not always added in a timely fashion, with standard responses provided automatically, with little to no information on the handling of the incident. This results in inaccurate data; (4) Reasonable privacy restrictions are lacking. The open data pose a risk to citizens’ and municipal employees’ privacy, and non-compliant with GDPR regulations. Given these limitations, we argue that there are serious risks of misinterpreting or misusing this fragmented and – at times – inaccurate data, leading to misinformed citizens and policymakers. These risks underpin what we argue is the need for a clear and transparent data policy that allow open data initiatives to deliver on their promises, and enable citizens to meaningfully engage with the urban environment and its complexities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSTS Graz Conference
PublisherSTS Graz
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventSTS Graz Conference 2022 - Graz Technological University, Graz, Austria
Duration: 2 May 20224 May 2022


ConferenceSTS Graz Conference 2022


  • open data
  • mobile city applications
  • transparency
  • urban governance


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