Apps for Amsterdam

A City Opening Up

Governments as well as companies collect enormous amounts of information about our society, from criminal records to garbage collection routes, and from the quality of schools to traffic statistics. These data have a huge potential value and can stimulate both economic growth and transparency. More importantly, society as a whole can progress by using the available information well. One of the conditions for this to happen is that Open Data is available and accessible for all to (re-)use, and is interpreted, combined and visualized useful ways.

To stimulate the availability and use of Open Data and to demonstrate the possibilities of applications based on Open Data, the Apps for Amsterdam Contest was born. Participants could win prizes to further develop their applications and make them suitable for a large audience. The Apps for Amsterdam Contest was a collaboration between Waag Society, the department of Economic Affairs of the City of Amsterdam and Hack de Overheid (Hack the Government). It ran from the 16th of February until the 25th of May 2011 and was made possible by Open Cities, Service Innovation & ICT Innovation Programme, EU Seventh Framework Programme and Agentschap NL.

Apps for Amsterdam consisted of a website, a kick-off event, a hackathon and a prize ceremony. During this period, 48 apps where developed and 20 of these received prizes. Based on these results, the City of Amsterdam has decided to take Open Data on as one of it's primary challenges.

Over the course of just a few years, open data moved away from the avant-garde to the heart of public policy development. After the striking example of the US’s portal, quickly followed by the UK’s, more countries started to experiment with open data. The European Union Public Sector Information directive gave a legal backing and its inclusion in many national Digital Agendas provided a solid ground for further development. However, in many countries, gaps continued to exist between legal possibilities and actual practice, which meant that bottom-up players needed to put pressure on the system to get the access that they wanted – and deserved. This has worked strikingly well.

With data becoming readily available, more attention was given to making use of that data. After the successful Apps for Democracy contest, organised by iStrategyLabs in Washington, there was a well-documented model for others to follow. However the city of Amsterdam has it's own challenges. Together with the municipality we set out to open up data sets, educate the civil servants, engage the community and produce meaningful apps.

The case for open data is almost universally appealing: it is said to foster innovation and economic growth, transparency and democracy and an efficient government, all in one easy to grasp concept. Left, right, and centre politicians and civilians agree that these should be strengthened. However, for serious benefits to be reaped, a less ad-hoc and more structural strategy on open data needs to be implemented. If we don’t make our efforts sustainable now, open data will soon peter out as yet another promising but unsustainable hype.

To prevent this from happening we created the Apps for Amsterdam contest that focussed on two important things: 
- We had to set out to deeply embed open data in the rules and regulations of our bureaucracies. Open Data is not an optional add-on, but should be the default for handling (semi-) public data, anywhere & anytime. 
- We needed to embrace and encourage developers as the new Civic Innovators and entrepreneurs. Help them to organize, engage with the public and make it easier for investors to step in and grow new businesses.

The potential gains are high, both in societal and in economical terms. As well as opening a new field of serendipitous encounters and application-based creativity, we’ll build a new marketplace when business models start to back up inventions to become innovations, and change the lives of people in the city we love. 

Contest results
• 22 data sets made available by city of Amsterdam 
• Total of 48 Apps submitted 
• Nearly 60,000 unique visitors on the website in contest period 
• 2,076 votes through the website from 822 unique IP addresses

The contest has set in motion a shift in policy that makes new data available tot developers in a sustainable way, which will lead to new apps, new businesses and new innovations.

At the end of the Apps for Amsterdam contest we counted 48 entries by developers, some as young as 15 years old, hobbyists entering for fun, small startups but also large companies like Logica. We asked the participants how they got the idea for their app. Most developers were inspired by the actual data, browsing the datasets, which stresses the importance of making available as much data as possible in a well structured manner.

Citizens of the city of Amsterdam have seen an increase in apps available to help them in their everyday lives: select a school by using the "OCO Scholenzoeker" app, better access to the ferry using "Snelste Pondje" and so on. And the more data that comes available, the more useful apps will be created and the easier it will become for people to navigate through their city life.

The Apps for Amsterdam contest focussed on opening up all possible data sets available within the municipality. Energy was one of the fields in which data sets were opened, like the 'energy labels buildings' file that showed energy use of buildings and houses in the city. But also soil pollution, green roofs and city sanitation data became accessible to developers.

The information enabled the community to create apps giving citizens more insight in environmental information and become more informed. The more data is opened up, the more we will see smart apps being created that not only inform, but also engage and empower citizens to take control of their own environment when it comes to climate and energy efficiency issues.