The City of Vienna is currently spearheading an interesting development towards the open source city. Vienna has done what many public servants would be uncomfortable with: Under an open data programme they have released enormous amounts of city data, invited programmers and developers to make apps and web services based on the data, and provided a forum for developers to share ideas. The types of data that the city provides are virtually endless: From the historical location of water pipes, over current registered defibrillators, and to the projected urban planning; it is all there. Statistics, geographical reference data, and city budgets – everything but personal data is available, and the list grows every day.
The result is more than 60 apps and web services, most of which have been developed by amateurs and all free or low-cost. One of my favourite services is called “Fruit Fly”. Quite simply, it is a map with all fruit trees on public ground in Vienna. The user views fruit trees on a map with colour coded pins – a new colour for each type of fruit. The result is an excellent overview for those craving a free piece of fruit. A walnut, sir? Those little snacks are apparently all over Vienna. Care for a pear? Hard to find without the app, but head towards western part of the city, and you should be able to find a few. Of course the web service shows if the fruit should be ripe for eating.
While this example may seem marginal to the big picture, it is only scratching the surface. The European Commission estimates that the unrealized potential in open data is worth 40 billion € EU wide. What is interesting about this, however, is not so much the potential of innovation of making public data available. The point is rather that we are witnessing a radical new way of doing government. Most obviously, it marks a relationship of co-creation between citizens and government, where government is not the sole provider and developer of services, but rather via platforms for development facilitates a range of different initiatives. This requires new skill sets not readily available in public organizations, but most of all it requires the courage to accept the loss of control. And the lesson from Vienna is that with the right amount of courage, there are endless opportunities ahead.