Who are the users of the national data portal and what do they want?

mars 8, 2017

Study on user needs

As a part of our ongoing work at the Swedish National Archives with promoting efforts of the state authorities to create access to digital information and open data, we will carry out a survey on user needs. This survey will be about publication and use of open data available through national data portal, öppnadata.se, and it will be conducted in the next few months.

Who are the users of the data portal?

There are many different kinds of users of the data portal. When thinking about data users most often we consider them being developers of a new services and products, but in fact there are different types of users. In order to meet their needs we need to be aware that they are no longer individuals searching information in a search field of the data portal, but nowadays there are also machines performing searches of machine-readable data as well.

What kind of information do users actually search at the data portal and why? Companies are looking for information relevant to their businesses. Educators and researchers might use open data in education and research, and people might also be looking for data provided at the portal with particular interest to their work, education or leisure activities. Searches can range from information about air quality, water quality at various bathing areas or newspapers from one hundred years ago.

It is easy to understand the benefits of creating a service such as Asthma Watch, an app that has been developed within the framework of the Open Stockholm Award, to provide a support to asthmatics to avoid places with unhealthy air quality, but sometimes open datasets are also used as inspiration to a new and unpredictable products. Some examples of such applications could be seen at Rijksmuseeums Studio Awards 2017  where contemporary artists present new perspectives on museum collections that are available as open data.


Photo: Flickr, EPSI Platform, Europeana Hackathon #eurohack , CC-BY 2.0

Photo: Flickr, EPSI Platform, Europeana Hackathon #eurohack , CC-BY 2.0

It is important for us to identify needs from different kinds of users, and also to see what users currently search for and how.

A survey will be carried out as a questionnaire to get insights from two main user groups: users of national data portal that are providing data for re-use and end-users of data who are searching and using information for creation of innovative services, etc. Those two user groups are sometimes overlapping and sometimes there are, of course, other direct and indirect users of the data portal. A state authority providing data can be producer of data, data collector and also user of open data from other authorities. Analytics tools are providing analysis of how individual metadata sets on the data portal are performing. However, it is difficult to measure exactly how much data sets are used when they are built into different products and re-used in different ways.

Data for humans or machines?

A few days ago there was an interesting discussion on Twitter about user needs and data formats. There is an overall assumption that developers are the main target group for open data, but there are also other user groups looking for information in a human-readible formats. Researchers can for example, prefer Excel file format before the machine-readable RDF format. On the other hand, it is also important to see those needs as a part of a broader process, as the machine-readable formats opens up opportunities for the development of services making it possible for researchers to find also visualized and adjusted data, easier to use in other ways.

Demands and need driven challenges

This weekend the National Archives will participate in Hack for Sweden, a competition where the participants solve societal challenges with the help of open data. The challenges concern society planning, smarter environmental information, tourism and recreation as well as  an open track.

Example on challenges to be solved has even been discussed in the Facebook group OpenGov. In Helsingborg, for example, there is an initiative in May, True Challenge, to find solutions answering to concrete needs of elderly and people with disabilities.

Currently, we are also setting up a national reference group for open data & public sector information, where a user-analysis will be discussed among other issues.

Have you been working with open data user analysis? We would be grateful to take part of your experience and views! Please comment here below or send an e-mail to vidareutnyttjande@riksarkivet.se, at latest on March 21st.

We hope that this survey will help us to create a deeper insights and understanding of the needs of the data portal’s users, which information is serched for and how.


Sanja Halling, project leader