Open Data for City Planning and Policy

In Australia and internationally, governments at the local, state and national level are embracing ‘open data’: the publication of previously restricted anonymised data sets on freely accessible (usually online) platforms for use by businesses, entrepreneurs, journalists, researchers and citizens.

Governments and advocates of open data argue that data is more socially and economically valuable when it is free and open rather than sold privately. They contend that it increases government and industry transparency; improves efficiency of public services through data analytics and visualisation software; encourages citizen participation in planning, policymaking and advocacy; and stimulates innovation and economic growth through start-ups, app development and business initiatives that utilise the data. On the other hand, critics of open data raise concerns about the potential for people’s privacy to be compromised through hacking of servers or cross-referencing datasets to identify individuals’ personal information.

These accounts of open data are a useful starting point for considering the opportunities and challenges that open data presents to governments, businesses and citizens. But they are also often based on assumptions and rhetorical claims aimed at either promoting open data as an inherently positive and progressive policy agenda; or raising concerns about ‘information anxiety’ and the growing threat to personal privacy.

This research project aims to move beyond the rhetoric and critically evaluate the practical implications of open data at the level of city planning and management.

It focuses on three cities – Melbourne, Geelong and Singapore – which are embracing open data as part of their local and national governments’ strategies for future development. These cities vary in size, geography and political governance but have each invested substantially in open data platforms: Singapore as one of the top-ranked cities for open data in the Asia-Pacific; Melbourne as one of Australia’s key ‘global cities’ currently investing heavily in ‘smart’, digital infrastructure; and Geelong as a former manufacturing stronghold transitioning to a ‘smart city’ future.

Through interviews, site visits and a symposium event held at the University of Melbourne, the project will bring together scholars and government and industry professionals from these and other cities to discuss the key issues, challenges and possibilities that open data presents for city planners, businesses and dwellers.

Drawing on the expertise of an interdisciplinary team of scholars from the fields of law, media and communications, political science, urban analytics and urban planning, this project will evaluate current approaches to open data in the selected cities; highlight cases of ‘best practice’ around open data in Australia, Singapore and internationally; and contribute to scholarly and policy debates about open data.

The planned outputs of this project include:

  • Interviews with government and industry professionals in Australia and Singapore that will inform scholarly publications and a white paper/report outlining the project’s findings;
  • A symposium held at the University of Melbourne bringing together academics and professionals to workshop ideas and issues around open data;
  • An application for an Australian Research Council-funded project examining open data at the city planning level internationally, in the form of a Linkage or DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) grant

Research Team


Seed Funding 2016 with contributions from the Research Unit for Public Cultures at the University of Melbourne.