Open Data

Today’s Close-up, Open Data

“Today’s Close-up” can tell you the things about what is happening in Japan right now. Sometime it picks up a bright topic, and sometime it talks about a dark topic. My estimate is 20% of the bright ones and 80% of the dark ones. That doesn’t have to make you feel so pessimistic about our society in Japan. In another word, if the society has lots of problems, should there are a bud of a chance to change our society for a better future. If individuals who are aiming for social entrepreneurs, “Today’s Close-up” is about a program that gives a chance to find the seeds of the business.

If you say, there are entrepreneurial opportunities in eliminating the frustration of our customers; I think social entrepreneurs should notice that it is frustrating that society suffers. And social problems have been recognized by many people once, individuals or NPO, even private companies providing a method of solving those issues have been presented in our society, we, society, municipality, and country, should support and continue to operate by applying.

Japan is a country of improvement and reform. Individuals, who are thinking even if there are any problems, exist and try to find out the solutions. We will be aware of such individuals! Cheer such individuals! “Today’s Close-up”, is providing so many hints to improve the Japanese society.

Open Data: Treasure Trove Or Pandora’s Box?

A huge amount of data collected by national and local governments. Companies using the data had been springing up one after another. They’re drawing attention as lucrative businesses. Behind this is the digitization of administrative data.

This service uses data released by Japan’s health ministry to search nursing care facilities suitable for the elderly who need such care. It is sharply reducing the burden on those in the industry. “The services brought about a big change. It’s free up our time and made our job much easier.”

The US government has adopted an open data policy. Data made available under the policy have led to the creation of new businesses. They even include those predict what kinds of crimes are likely to occur and where based on police data. “We were experiencing around 300 to 400% year-over-year growth. There’s no way that we could do what we do without open data.”

How will all this data made public by administrative bodies change society. We (Today’s Close-up) will look at the possibility.

Active Use Of Open Data

Diverse data from the national and local government is drawing attention as a means of solving community problems and launching lucrative businesses. Public institutions are making data easily available. Governments are focusing on ideas and business born from such information. More than 1600 are pursuing other data policies.

For example, if municipalities disclose their real-time bus operation data, new apps could be developed so that people waiting at bus stops could check the information on their smart phones.

Government entities possess all sorts of information, including census results, household survey data, and statistical record. By analyzing such data and adding value to them, new services could be created to help improve safety and convenience while reducing government cost. Active use of open data promises vast opportunities. Yet Japan has been slow to adapt to this trend of opening and using public data. Let’s first take a look at how government held data sets are spawning new services.

Nursing Care Venture Firm

Yayoi Nagata is a nursing care manager in Fukuoka city in western Japan. Her job is to find out the needs of the care recipient and their families and match them with the most suitable service providers. Nagata could easily obtain phone numbers and other basic information about care facilities, but to get more details she had to contact them one by one. Sometimes it took her three days to find the right facility.

“I had to check everything myself by calling people and getting the necessary information. It was analog work.” said Nagata.

A nursing care venture took note of the hassle and developed a new service. The company decided to use the health ministry’s open database of the nations’ nursing care providers. The basic data of addresses and service options were not convenient for their own. So the Company incorporated the ministry’s data into its own software and added 180 new Items of information.

One of the items was service reservation data. The company asked care providers to register with the site and update information in real-time. Using a search function, the care manager can now easily find a facility that offers the necessary rehabilitation service information on a given day.

Yusuke Kano, CEO, nursing care venture firm, WELMO INC

By using a private sector capabilities, public information can be remade into ideal databases that could help resolve various social issues. The new services have changed the way Nagata does her job. “I’m looking for a local facility with rehab service. A place with bars for walking. Enter.  We got five matches.”

The time spent looking for care providers has been drastically reduced from three days to 30 minutes. The quick search also helps ease the burden on family caregivers. “It is a sea change. It saves a lot of time. We can now deliver the necessary services much more quickly. Thanks for the photos and other information on the website, we can discuss which services to choose in a realistic way.” said Nagata.

Crime Prevention

Efforts to tap, a little use of government data for new services were slow to take off in Japan. But in the United States, the race to use open data for business is heating up. The US government began disclosing administrative data five years ago. Now 400,000 types of data are publicly available for use in business or for social purposes.

“What’s happening is entrepreneurs and business owners are now using that data, the people’s data to create jobs and solve problems the government can’t solve by itself or can’t do as efficiently.” said US President Obama.

One notable use of open data came in the field of crime prevention and investigation. US police forces continuously disclose crime data including the type, location, and time. IT venture, called Predpol, used the data to develop software that predicts the occurrence of crime. Each police force is said to possess millions of items of crime data.

The IT venture developed an advanced mathematical method to analyze data from the past several years. The program comes up with suggestions on what crimes could occur and where. The system is constantly updated with the daily crime data. It can then predict what types of crimes are more likely to occur on a given day in areas measuring 150 m². As soon as the program was launched, police across the United States introduced it to improve patrol. Police in Britain and other countries have also signed up.

Larry Samuels, Chairman and CEO, Predpol

“We were experiencing around 300 to 400% year-over-year growth. Next year is likely to be even more than that because we are expanding into international markets very progressive. And the open data is the key to allowing us as an entity to be able to utilize all of this through everything else that we do as a company and become successful.”, said Larry Samuels.

Police in the Alhambra in the state of California began using the crime prediction program two years ago. A Red Square, where robbery is predicted is highlighted on a patrol map. This allows the officers to focus on the area during their patrols. The city’s police say patrols have become more efficient and safety has improved with the annual number of burglaries dropping over 20%.

Mark Yokoyama, Chief, Alhambra police department

“We really believe that our basic policing mission is to prevent crime. And through Predpol, we are able to make a high visibility assignment of police officers in certain areas and if criminals will see police officers in where we believe crimes are more likely to occur, there’s a higher chance of the crimes won’t occur because of high visibility in particular areas.”, said Mark Yokoyama.

Extensive Use Of Open Data

New businesses are appearing one after another. Insurance firms have come up with new policies for farmers based on 60 years of data from the Department of Agriculture and the National Weather Service. The plans are designed to ensure farmers’ income if crops failed due to poor weather conditions. More than 500 companies that use open data have sprung up in the United States. The trend is likely to accelerate.

In the US real estate industry, companies offer housing information based on extensive use of open data. The agent showed us information on neighborhood residence, including their income, marital status and level of education.

“This shows said in the neighborhood 93% of the population has a high school education or higher 34% of four-year degree.  27% had a graduate degree. And it is a desirable area. So I feel very confident with the community.” said a real estate agent.

The aim of the service is to add value to neighborhood property by using open data to highlight resident’s living standards. If the customer asks, the company offers more private information it has obtained on its own, such as registry data and property prices.

“In terms of exposure, I think the great tool that we actually have this to enable ourselves to make decisions in wise choices.” said a real estate client.

Mosaic Of Effect

But as new businesses continue to expand, the US government last year issued a warning regarding the use of open data. It’s cited the need to consider the so-called mosaic of effect which allows users to identify individuals by combining multiple data sets

Joel Gurin, senior advisor, GobLav, New York University

Joel Gurin of New York University, leads research on open data, just caution concerning what data to combine. Public services open up their data on the premise that personal information, including gender and age will not be disclosed. This is to protect people’s privacy. But Gurin says combining various open data sets and adding information from blogs and other sources could pose the risk of identifying individuals.

“By this means is that when the government or anybody else who holds data decides to release a data set they have to not only take the identifying information out of it, they have to be sure that it can’t be combined with some other data set to reidentify the people whose data it is.”, said Joel Gurin.

Personal Information

In Japan, discussions are underway on how to safeguard privacy law making valuable data available to the public. Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture has been pushing its open data policy. Two years ago, the city disclosed the locations of fire hydrants and began allowing people to search for routes to bus stops.

Officials are now considering releasing another database. Green dots on the population distribution map show where city residents live. Vacant homes and the number of household members are readily apparent. The map can be used to offer a range of services and to start new businesses. But the question is how detailed should release data be.

City officials consider dividing the city into squares and disclosing the number of residents in each one. If the squares are made smaller, more specific data will be available. But if the map is combined with another, showing locations of homes, it will reveal the number of the members in each household in some squares. It would also give a big idea of the addresses of these households and their family structure.

The officials have been soliciting views on the issue directly from local residents. The database could give away personal information on households in areas with very small populations. “It could be misused by thieves and other criminals. It’s important to open up data in a way that will not lead to identity disclosure.” said one of the residents.

Some residents say detailed information is more effective and revitalizing the local economy. “Detailed information will help businesses decide where to open shops because it shows where their target customers live.” Discussion on how to protect privacy opening up data is still in the early stage.

Yasushi Motojima, Information policy division, Aizuwakamatsu City

“The public services in the prefecture have to discuss the extent to which they will release the data and make it available to the public on a trial basis. After studying what will happen next, we should hold meetings with local residents to discuss the issue.” said Motojima.

Conclusion; where are we going from now?

Japanese society utilizes vast active Open Data, but there is still one remaining question. The majority of the Japanese elderly can command those services? I indeed doubt it. They think about a moment of everyday life, not much about the convenience after adapting those technologies. Also, Japanese Government tends to think vested interests as a first priority. If they manage to innovate of vast Open available data for the Japanese society, that is almost a miracle to me.

Public services by utilizing the open data should be used for those who tend to be incoming and outgoing information underdog. That way we could reduce the social costs such as public transportation, daily services, and medical facilities, and etc. Nursing care venture firm is a good example.

How about crime prevention? That example in the US is a typical use of active open data by the Police department. Can open data technology use as crime information targeting the Japanese elderly, such as “It’s me” fraud. During the crime scene, what kinds of conversation they had? About what time the criminal tends to attempt the fake phone call?  The ratio about the population density how many elderly are living in the particular area. Once again, the elderly must learn to utilize such open data into their daily activity with their comfort.

The real estate example in the USA also predicts about how the Japanese society will become. Definitely the Japan will be a society where to buy safety information about where to live. The region one living is how safe it is. Is there a good school in the same area? What income levels of people are making this community? In that case, are we going to give up a private life for gaining the convenient public? Or we live in an analog manner by protecting our personal information. At this moment, I am not sure about how many people know the possibilities of Mosaic of Effect.

In The Long Run

We have the possibility that social cost will be down if we manage to utilize active Open Data. That has a great impact, especially in the local government with financial difficulties. Public services should also set up in a public area such as a bus stop or a subway station platform. People will have an access to Guerrilla heavy rain information and criminal information such area. Our society is just at the beginning of utilizing public open data for our society in Japan.


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