Open Data Use Case: Using data to improve public health

Chris Willsher at ODX: “Studies have shown that a large majority of Canadians spend too much time in sedentary activities. According to the Health Status of Canadians report in 2016, only 2 out of 10 Canadian adults met the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Increasing physical activity and healthy lifestyle behaviours can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, which can decrease pressures on our health care system. And data can play a role in improving public health.

We are already seeing examples of a push to augment the role of data, with programs recently being launched at home and abroad. Canada and the US established an initiative in the spring of 2017 called the Healthy Behaviour Data Challenge. The goal of the initiative is to open up new methods for generating and using data to monitor health, specifically in the areas of physical activity, sleep, sedentary behaviour, or nutrition. The challenge recently wrapped up with winners being announced in late April 2018. Programs such as this provide incentive to the private sector to explore data’s role in measuring healthy lifestyles and raise awareness of the importance of finding new solutions.

In the UK, Sport England and the Open Data Institute (ODI) have collaborated to create the OpenActive initiative. It has set out to encourage both government and private sector entities to unlock data around physical activities so that others can utilize this information to ease the process of engaging in an active lifestyle. The goal is to “make it as easy to find and book a badminton court as it is to book a hotel room.” As of last fall, OpenActive counted more than 76,000 activities across 1,000 locations from their partner organizations. They have also developed a standard for activity data to ensure consistency among data sources, which eases the ability for developers to work with the data. Again, this initiative serves as a mechanism for open data to help address public health issues.

In Canada, we are seeing more open datasets that could be utilized to devise new solutions for generating higher rates of physical activity. A lot of useful information is available at the municipal level that can provide specifics around local infrastructure. Plus, there is data at the provincial and federal level that can provide higher-level insights useful to developing methods for promoting healthier lifestyles.

Information about cycling infrastructure seems to be relatively widespread among municipalities with a robust open data platform. As an example, the City of Toronto, publishes map data of bicycle routes around the city. This information could be utilized in a way to help citizens find the best bike route between two points. In addition, the city also publishes data on indooroutdoor, and post and ring bicycle parking facilities that can identify where to securely lock your bike. Exploring data from proprietary sources, such as Strava, could further enhance an application by layering on popular cycling routes or allow users to integrate their personal information. And algorithms could allow for the inclusion of data on comparable driving times, projected health benefits, or savings on automotive maintenance.

The City of Calgary publishes data on park sports surfaces and recreation facilities that could potentially be incorporated into sports league applications. This would make it easier to display locations for upcoming games or to arrange pick-up games. Knowing where there are fields nearby that may be available for a last minute soccer game could be useful in encouraging use of the facilities and generating more physical activity. Again, other data sources, such as weather, could be integrated with this information to provide a planning tool for organizing these activities….(More)”.