Usually, a tale starts with a sentence like « A long time ago, in a world far, far away ». But the one I am about to tell you unfolds today, in your world. And it tells how open data is re-shaping how we conceive our role in the society.

It wouldn’t be shocking to assume that a few amongst us participate actively in civic activites like law-making, voting or administration controlling. Not that we don’t care, just that we don’t know what to do exactly and how.

But here comes the tipping point : open-data. From now on, you, me, us, will be able to change the way our political system works and, as a result, become hackers, activists, empowered citizens…You name it !

Sounds like a joke ? It is not ! Here are 3 examples of initiatives using open-data that empowered citizens

Air Louisville : 1,147 citizens to improve asthma for everyone

Air Louisville

People with asthma spend their time wondering where an attack will occur : on the bus ? at work ? during a lunch ? home ? Everytime, everywhere, they keep wondering.

So, smart entrepreneurs in Louisville (USA) ask themselves : what if we had a way to build a map that would spot where asthma crises occur frequently ? what if an asthmatic could know where he should take his inhaler ? Wouldn’t that change his life ?

What they did was to put a GPS device on 1,147 asthmatics’ inhalers and everytime they had an attack, they would press a button that would send their GPS data to a database. With these data, they made a heat map, where danger zones are delimited.

As a result, in Louisville, the daily incidence of asthma attacks decreased by 65 %. And that result was triggered by only 1,147 citizens willing to share their data.

Red Cross Hurricane App : help rebuild after catastrophy.


Different context but same logic : data friendly citizens can make a big difference. The Red cross understood it by creating an app, that would use citizen’s ability of sharing data to help cities recover in the aftermath of a catastrophy.

Through the app, people stuck in a hurricane can collect data on what is happening around them : who needs help, what road can be used, where tree fell, etc. Plus, they can let their family know if they are okay.

Before open data, it would take months before NGOs and government could gather that much data, today, it only takes a few hours.

When hurricane Sandy hit the United Stakes, the app was downloaded by 700000 people over 1 night. And when the sun rose in the morning, people knew what they had to do, where they could go, who they had to help.

The ingredients of such a success was : 1 app, data and citizens eager to use it. That’s it.

Be a Martian

Here it is NASA who asks citizens to help them in solving problems. And a big one : the structure of Mars’ surface.

NASA has hundreds of thousands of high-resolution pictures of mars but no way to make them stitch together. So, what they did was to release these pictures and geological information on mars’ surface.

With it, they designed a game that would enable every citizen to participate in stitching the images together. Thousands of people played the game and today, NASA has a clearer idea of where they could send spacecraft.

In a word, data friendly citizens helped us move forward as humanity. Just that !


I like happy endings, and open data lead us to one. With open data, we might « live happily ever after ». The one and only conditions is that we start learning about data, how to use, re-use, transform it to improve the lives of people around us.

Here, here and here, you will find examples of application made possible by open data, and that requires you, and your ability to create, master and transform data.


Ces histoires sont dérivées de mes recherches sur l’Open-data, menées dans le cadre de mon doctorat sur l’innovation de services issue de l’Open-data, financé par le programme ARC de la Région Rhône-Alpes.

Suivez l’avancée des recherches en suivant ce blog (ci-dessous) ou en me contactant sur Linkedin.