8. Supporting data users
This step can be implemented as follows
The person promoting data sharing in the organisation together with the communications unit
- Support data use by providing user-friendly feedback channels.
- Collect feedback from data users.
- Organise various events in which data published by the organisation is utilised to promote data usage, including hackathons.
Supporting data use
This part describes the type of user support the organisation could provide to data users and how user satisfaction could be measured.
No official recommendations exist on user support and measuring user satisfaction.
The mere opening of data does not always lead to its use. In order for the information to be re-used, it is important to
- actively communicate about its existence,
- support its use in different ways and
- collect feedback.
Supporting data users and collecting feedback are important as they improve interaction between the organisation and users and are likely to promote the use of the data. For example, feedback can help improve the quality and usability of data. While the quality and volume of external feedback may vary, it may contain some very good insights.
Organisations that have already opened their data have usually attempted to prepare for responding to feedback or questions from data users. Users must be able to trust that their wishes are listened to and that the data will be developed user-centrically.
As far as possible, open feedback channels should be favoured in user support. This means that everyone can see the feedback submitted by other users, enabling all of them to benefit from it. Such channels help create an open data community and promote data use. They also improve efficiency, as there is no need to respond to the same messages and feedback several times. The organisation should select the feedback channels that suit the organisation and users best, also considering the organisation's resources.
The general experience is that very little feedback is given on open data. The City of Helsinki’s purchase invoice data was a dataset that triggered some of the largest volumes of user feedback and questions.
Ways of providing user support
Smoke test interview
In software testing, a ‘smoke test’ is conducted to find out roughly if the program works to begin with. In the same way, data can be reviewed by a developer who is able to quickly tell if something is fundamentally wrong with the dataset to be published. This means that easy-to-spot errors in the publication process can be corrected quickly. It is often a good idea to have a new dataset to be opened smoke tested by data users and ask them to use the data experimentally.
E-mail is a simple feedback and support channel which does not require specific development work or technical expertise to implement. It is important to ensure that responses to feedback are given fast enough and that their quality is adequate. It may be advisable to set up a dedicated e-mail address for the organisation’s open data, for example in the format opendata@[organisation].fi.
In the opendata.fi service, for each opened dataset an administrator can be specified who is responsible for the content of the dataset and the feedback received on it. Dataset users can send a message to the administrator's e-mail address given in its metadata if, for example, they encounter problems with using it.
Many data portals have a forum where users can comment on datasets and discuss other similar topics. The discussion forums are intended as an accessible channel for discussions between data openers and users. All comments are public, which means that all data users can see each other's comments. This facilitates the work of both the data administrator and the user, as the need to ask and answer the same questions several times is eliminated. The data administrator can also report on any changes made to the dataset on the discussion forum.
Open source examples of data usage
One of the most effective ways to support data use is to give an open source example of how the data has been used. An open source example can be published concerning API use, for example, which often saves time for the interface user.
Examples of API use
If you publish your data through an API, it is a good idea to offer data users an example of API use. An example helps the developer to make progress even if the documentation is inadequate. By presenting the functioning of the APIs to application developers, you can receive feedback on API functionality and help for their development.
Measuring user satisfaction
The organisation should periodically measure user satisfaction with the published datasets. Based on the results the organisation can consider possible development measures. This also provides the organisation with information about how the data it has shared has been used.
For example, user satisfaction can be examined by publishing a social media survey in which potential data users are asked which data they have used and for what purpose, how often, and if using the data has been straightforward. If the organisation knows some of the users of its data, user satisfaction can also be investigated by means of interviews.
Helsinki Region Infoshare’s user satisfaction surveys
Helsinki Region Infoshare has conducted user satisfaction surveys that have included questions about which open data offered on the HRI service the user has used, and in which format they would prefer to access the data. This survey has provided the HRI service with valuable feedback that will be taken into account in further measures. Read more about HRI’s 2021 user satisfaction survey results (in Finnish).
Other support channels
If users need a great deal of support, a helpline may also be useful. The contact information should be easy to find on the organisation's website, making it easy for users to get in touch if they have problems. Sometimes setting up an FAQ page may be necessary if the same questions come up repeatedly.
Cooperation with developers
This part describes how an organisation can advance cooperation with data users and the developer community.
No official recommendations exist on cooperation with developer communities.
The needs and skills of data users vary. For example, some data users or developers might like to work together with the parties opening their data, while others do not need this type of collaboration and prefer to use the data independently. The organisation can respond to any cooperation needs by organising events for data users or by designating in the organisation a coordinator who engages in dialogue and cooperation with the user community. Chapter 2, Networks that promote cooperation, describes open data ecosystems and networks, of which there are many.
The organisation should work closely together with developers and be active on their channels. Developers and data science experts are in great demand and highly employable in Finland and around the world. Information about open datasets and the cooperation possibilities associated with them is often communicated through multiple channels, and in some cases information has spread effectively through informal networks and meetings.
The goal of developer cooperation is to facilitate data re-use and to enhance the impact of communication activities aimed at supporting it. In the developer community, different actors support each other.
Examples of user cooperation
Different hackathons are an example of events that can be organised to attract interest in the opened data. In addition to hackathons, it is advisable to also arrange activities that support data use over longer term.
Ultrahack and Junction hackathons
Ultrahack and Junction were organised for the first time in 2016. Both Ultrahack and Junction events have also been held in Finland. Both hackathons have included challenges related to open data several times. The amount of various prizes in Ultrahack totalled EUR 1 million, and more than 20,000 people from 107 countries have participated in Junction.
Industryhack was aimed at up-and-running companies, to which the hackathon gave an opportunity to showcase their expertise to large companies and similar actors. Dozens of Industryhack events were organised in 2017–2021, and some of them also included challenges related to open data. Industryhack was bought out by Spinverse in 2021.
Hack4OpenGLAM is an open cultural hackathon, a co-creation event that promotes open access to cultural heritage. GLAM stands for the English words Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. The event brings together content producer communities, GLAM professionals, advocates of open cultural heritage, digital media creators and developers of tools and platforms to learn, work and create together.
The event was organised for the first time in 2020 as part of the Creative Commons Global Summit. AvoinGLAM, which works together with Open Knowledge Finland, Creative Commons Finland and Wikimedia Finland, also organised an event in 2021. The local creativity-oriented event became a global success.
Helsinki Region Infoshare’s cooperation with developers
Open data is used by many parties, and not all of them can necessarily be engaged in dialogue and cooperation. Some users get actively involved, however, for example by giving feedback on data and participating in events related to open data. Users can follow communication related to open data in newsletters or on social media channels, among other things.
Open data events can be organised as conventional events with physical presence or virtually on different platforms. The benefits of virtual events may include more extensive opportunities to participate and less cumbersome arrangements, while taking part in discussions may feel more natural at physical events.
For example, HRI organises HRI Loves Developers meetings focusing on datasets relevant to a certain theme (either datasets that have already been opened, or the opening of which is being planned). Read more about HRI’s developer cooperation.
HRI also offers different instructions for data users and data publishers.
Online training for data users
P2PU Data opening course (in Finnish) looks at the background, societal changes and practical steps related to open data from the data owner's perspective: how, in practice, should data be opened and published to benefit as many parties as possible.
P2PU Data user’s course (in Finnish) approaches the topic from the perspective of those who use open data. On this course, the participants are familiarised with the entire process from finding open data to assessing its reliability, cleaning it, and publishing conclusions and results. Those who have completed the course are able to use open data to describe phenomena or in application development.
Datademo funding experiment for developers
In 2014, Helsinki Region Infoshare Service of the cities in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area created a funding model called Datademo in cooperation with Open Knowledge Finland and Sitra. The report on the Datademo experiment (in Finnish, Google docs) describes the process and its outcomes. The purpose of the experiment was to inspire developers to create new solution models that, using open data, promote democracy in some way. Datademo funded the implementation of the best ideas with a total of EUR 48,000. During the year, funding was granted to a total of 24 different proposals in a transparent process.