Four Open Data Initiatives to Inspire: Melbourne, Australia

Four Open Data Initiatives to Inspire: Melbourne, Australia

If you’re looking for some inspiration about what applications and services can be made available with the power of local data, look no further than the city of Melbourne in Australia. Voted the “World’s Most Liveable City” five years running, the capital city of Victoria has beautiful scenery, a highly skilled workforce, and proactive local government open data team in the form of the Smart City Office.

The Smart City Office has a “learn by doing” philosophy that encourages exploring ideas and developing rapid prototypes. They operate on the principles of being inclusive and people-centric, and sharing their knowledge with the citizens of Melbourne and other organizations around Australia and the world. On August 27, Socrata sat down with members of the Smart City Office to hear more about what they’re doing with open data now, and what they plan to do in the future. Below are some of their most interesting data applications and uses, created both internally and by local developers.

Getting Media Attention With Parking Data

Kieran McLeod, Business Analyst with the Melbourne Smart City Office, knows that sometimes local governments can be hesitant to make their data public because they feel “the media will jump all over it,” but in his experience the interaction has only been positive. Take the release of Melbourne parking data in 2014: the city installed sensors in parking spots downtown and let local media outlets take a look at the resulting data collection. The story was a wild success! The media used the information to fuel human interest stories such as the most ignored parking sign in Melbourne. The stories that resulted from media information not only created a great relationship between the press and the Smart City Office, but also provided a friendly way for citizens to learn more about the inner workings of their city through the application of open data.

Examining Parking History


The Smart City and Innovation Program Manager, Lorraine Tighe, says that their parking data has become one of the city’s key datasets. While the data is not currently available in real-time — although the Smart City team is working on that — the entire history of 2014 is available for citizens to browse on the Melbourne site or to download for their own use. Local developer Luke Butler did the latter, and turned the data into a Github application that vizualizes the ebb and flow of city parking over time. Users can “replay” the parking data for each day and see how parking needs change by time of day and where people overparked. Externally this information could be useful to a Melbourne resident who wants to know where they’re most likely to find an available parking spot downtown, and internally this visualization could be paired with parking fine history to determine if the city is missing out on any revenue potential.

21st Century Tree-Hugging


One of the Smart City’s own open data initiatives is the Urban Forest Visual. This map shows each of the 72,000 trees that live in Melbourne’s 32 square kilometer radius. The trees are colored by how many years they have left to live, and it’s obvious to even the most casual observer that a large number of the trees are in their final years. Melbourne suffered through a massive drought in the early 2000s, and the result is still being felt in the urban tree population. “Through this program we’re having a dialog with our community,” Tighe says, “so they understand the challenges that the city is facing. We’re increasing the ability of citizens to engage with our work.” The Urban Forest Visual also allows visitors to email a particular tree in a “21st century version of tree-hugging.” Occasionally, the tree even emails back with statistics about its growth and health.

A New View of Data


The Melbourne Data Explorer might look complicated at first, but it’s an incredibly useful tool for the Smart City Office and other local Melbourne government employees. Matthew Willcox, Innovation Coordinator, explains that the Explorer was created for internal use so staff can better understand Melbourne’s data practice. The Explorer is sorted by the different data personas that the Smart Office team developed in the past, and shows clusters of data to ensure that it’s properly organized. The Explorer also shows the half-dozen main categories they use on their Socrata open data portal and displays every keyword that is related to it. Staff can see a visual representation of a data set, making it easy to point out where keywords are still missing or where data might still need cleaning up for greater use. To learn more about what the Smart City Office in Melbourne is working on, and what they see in the future for Australian open data, watch our August 27 webinar on-demand.