HELSINKI, Finland — If there’s something you’d like to know about Helsinki, someone in the city administration most likely has the answer. For more than a century, this city has funded its own statistics bureaus to keep data on the population, businesses, building permits, and most other things you can think of. Today, that information is stored and freely available on the internet by an appropriately named agency, City of Helsinki Urban Facts.
There’s a potential problem, though. Helsinki may be Finland’s capital and largest city, with 620,000 people. But it’s only one of more than a dozen municipalities in a metropolitan area of almost 1.5 million. So in terms of urban data, if you’re only looking at Helsinki, you’re missing out on more than half of the picture.
Helsinki and three of its neighboring cities are now banding together to solve that problem. Through an entity called Helsinki Region Infoshare, they are bringing together their data so that a fuller picture of the metro area can come into view.
That’s not all. At the same time these datasets are going regional, they’re also going “open.” Helsinki Region Infoshare publishes all of its data in formats that make it easy for software developers, researchers, journalists and others to analyze, combine or turn into web-based or mobile applications that citizens may find useful. In four years of operation, the project has produced more than 1,000 “machine-readable” data sources such as a map of traffic noise levels, real-time locations of snow plows, and a database of corporate taxes.
A global leader
All of this has put the Helsinki region at the forefront of the open-data movement that is sweeping cities across much of the world. The concept is that all kinds of good things can come from assembling city data, standardizing it and publishing it for free. Last month, Helsinki Region Infoshare was presented with the European Commission’s prize for innovation in public administration.