User Centered Design in Open Data

Hello all,

For most of my professional life, I’ve been doing user-centered design for complex software. Also, I follow Open Data a bit, so naturally, I’m wondering how to bring these two together.

When creating software, two things have proven to be economically reasonable: User research and hypothesis-based prototyping. In user research, we take elements from scientific research methods to reliably determine what the users need. With prototyping, we validate whether a feature helps the users, using a prototype that’s only as good as needed to test the hypothesis. Nothing full-fledged gets built unless we know it’s the right thing for the users. This helps, because:

  • Developers are expensive, so if we don’t need to build a feature, we can save money.
  • For products, knowing which value you provide to the user is required so that the product is viable from a business viewpoint.

With Open Data, there seem to be many prototypes around, but I’m wondering:

  • Would a more user-centered approach make sense, or are things already as user-centered as they can be?
  • What kind of user research is being done, eg. data publishers researching the needs of data consumers?
  • If not, what seem to be the obstacles and who would have the necessary resources (budgets, among other things)?

Any inputs and opinions are appreciated.
Thank you! Best,


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Welcome to the forum Timo! In a nutshell: YES, a user-centered approach goes hand-in-hand with open data, LOTS is being researched (though we don’t know about most of it), and yes there ARE obstacles (which we don’t consider leaping over often enough).

Your extremely valid and interesting question is clearly going under the radar of everyone here. I’m very sorry for you not getting a response sooner. In fact, we are just relaunching a project today to improve community platforms - especially the ones used for sharing results of prototyping activities such as hackathons - and in this context I am strongly advocating a user centered approach.

It would be really great to hear more of your views on the topic. Let me just leave you with a waypoint, from something I’m reading:

Kitsios, Fotis, and Maria Kamariotou. ‘Beyond Open Data Hackathons: Exploring Digital Innovation Success’. Information , vol. 10, no. 7, July 2019, p. 235. MDPI, doi:10.3390/info10070235.

There’s also a conference on right now where taking a user-centered approach is the backdrop of a superb talk by Selassie David Opoku: Low-Income Data Diaries - How “Low-Tech” Data Experiences Can Inspire Accessible Data Skills and Tool Design. He talks about understanding your users, and being successful with the primary mission of any true Open Data project: upskilling in data literacy, even in low budget situations.

Tune in for free at

Hi Oleg,

Thank you for your response and the pointers. The paper you mentioned has a few good points, like doing follow-up activities after a hackathon to see what happens to the products.

The reason I’m asking the question about a user-centered approach is that, at least from what I know from software development, it can save a lot of resources. I think that, in general, you can either start by building or by researching, but if you start by building something, you need a feedback loop in place. I’m new to open data, and I must admit that I’ve never been to a hackathon (might need to change that), so I don’t know which one of these is the more popular. But I think an approach based on more active user research might help:

  • For data providers, to allow them to prioritize better. I suspect that most data providers are publicly funded, and I think that „open by default“ is a great idea, but at some point you need to prioritize, especially if you’re spending taxpayer’s money :slight_smile:
  • For data consumers, to allow them to make the most use of it and to be able to express what kind of questions they want to answer with data, and what’s missing for them to build products upon open data.

I guess that it would be mostly the data providers who would be in the central position to analyze how „their“ data gets used, but that’s just my two cents.

Anyway, I’m keeping this in the back of my head. Also, you said that you’re relaunching a project to improve community platforms. What improvements do you have in mind, and is this something in the open where I could have a look?


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