Visualization of Open Data — The future of decision-making in the public sector

Enabling data via interactive visualizations leads to smart policies and decisions

For the first time in history, data is worth more than oil and each year there is double the amount of data of what there was a year ago. Nowadays, data science is the most sought-after profession in the world, perhaps because of the ever so growing need for analysis and presentation of Big Data.

It’s challenging to find the right way to analyze and visualize data in order to come to the correct insights and conclusions. Many times, organizations and companies are faced with the need to present their data in a report, whether in a numeric or pivot chart format. This usually offers little to no options of scenario building or digging into segments of data and looking for particular correlations. However, that is precisely what companies and public institutions need for their decision-making and marketing strategies.

Together with SmartUp, we have been working on finding practical solutions for this problem, more specifically, to represent data in a way that is easily comprehensible and visually appealing to the human eye, data that tells a story and draws a decision. Here is where we say “Hello”!

Before we share our experience with data-visualization, we’d like to point out the benefits of open data.

The homepage of #SkopjeSeZagreva(

Open Data is available information which can be accessed by anyone at any time, improving individual and collective decision-making. A concerned citizen, who wants to find out how many trees there are in their city, a statistician who wants to compare his findings to the available data, or a local government which wants to create new strategies based on given information.

In Estonia, for example, the city of Tallinn has created a mobile and web application from the open data available for public transport. With the local institutions’ ready-to-use information, citizens can view delays in traffic, as well as live progress of buses, trams and trolleys on the map. Moreover, there is an official web map of Tallinn, which shows the most detailed and up to date information about developments in the city space. Even the city’s traffic cameras are available for viewing at any time of the day!

The advantages of open data are immense — from improving governance, empowering citizens, creating economic opportunity, to solving public problems. Open Data is beneficial for the whole society, initiating collaboration, participation and social innovation.

Let’s take a look at a UNDP study on How Skopje citizens heat their homes, and our approach for its data-visualization!

In January 2017, UNDP, in collaboration with the City of Skopje and the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, implemented a field study about the way households are heated, based on a sample of 5044 homes in the region of Skopje. These findings indicated that heating is the largest air polluter in the Skopje Valley, whereby heating of households is the largest contributor. As a product of this study, #SkopjeSeZagreva was created, with the goal of representing the data visually, with open access for everyone.

After the field study, SmartUp started creating interactive data-visualizations of different scenarios gathered from the data, making #SkopjeSeZagreva what it is today — an open source access to the data, available for anyone to see. For the visualization of the data, PowerBI by Microsoft was used.

What is Power BI and how do we incorporate it in our work?

In short, PowerBI lets users visualize open data and share insights across organizations, or embed them in apps or websites. With Power BI, users are able to connect to hundreds of data sources and bring data to life with live dashboards and reports. The powerful tool enables you to click on any image, bar or word making the charts change based on your selection. Users can have collected open data together from hundreds of different sources and then have a wide range of visually rich reports that the user can distribute to both internal and external counterparts.

What opportunities does this visualization offer?

Say we wanted to find out how single parents in the municipality of Aerodrom heat their homes. With the use of this data-visualization tool, we can gain more insight into this question, and many more — we can learn how many hours per day they heat their homes, how much they spend every year for heating, whether they have insulation etc.

A preview of the data-visualizations on #SkopjeSeZagreva

With the help of PowerBI, this data-visualization offers specific analysis of data for the needs of the experts, as well as the citizens. All this precise data is being used to gain insight into the socio-economic factors which influence the consumer habits of people.

This is in truth what’s necessary for the current situation Skopje is in. As one of the most polluted cities in Europe and the world, the local government is faced with the challenge to find the most effective and practical measures. What better way to equip and empower a local government to take action than by providing them with important insights for their citizens. Taking the socio-economic insights gained from the data-analysis into account, local governments can decide, for example, which subsidies would be most effective for a certain neighborhood in Skopje.

Another insight (published on which was discovered through the open data analysis on #SkopjeSeZagreva was that the elderly, especially women are most affected by climate change, since they face the challenge of providing proper home heating, considering the high heating costs. The open access to this kind of data enables everyone to take action and make fast decisions for mitigating and adapting to climate change, as well as minimizing pollution, based on real evidence provided from open data.

With this insight, and many more, #SkopjeSeZagreva and its data-driven, visualized information, can help all of us make Skopje a clean, sustainable and energy efficient city.

We at Orion are devoted to solving emerging challenges by finding creative solutions across all disciplines!

To sum up, this data-visualization tool can help us:

  • Gain insights into consumer behavior
  • Aid the formation of new policies in public institutions
  • Easen the decision-making process, based on evidence from data
  • Develop an evidence-based plan for subsidies

Data-visualization is a necessity nowadays since it helps organizations thrive in the data-driven culture of today. Development of various scenarios with included graphic elements, as well as translation, manual preparation and marketing for the tool, are some of the many reasons why Power BI is essential and why we at SmartUp are using exactly this tool.