OpenDataBCN: giving Barcelona access to standardised, up-to-date public data (OpenDataBCN)

Published on: 09/12/2015

OpenDataBCN is an initiative by Barcelona City Council that gives citizens complete access to a massive amount of important online information in formats that are open, digital and standardised.

Anchor The OpenDataBCN initiative was developed by the Barcelona City Council Open Data Commission. It has many goals, one of which is to achieve the transparency required for any public administration. All the information gathered by the public sector is searchable and can be accessed through this service. The data is free of charge, free from legal restrictions and can be accessed and used freely, although some terms of use apply. For instance, there are restrictions to avoid privacy violations, use of data for illegal purposes, libel of people or entities, and attacks on the actions of public authorities. A dedicated web page explains the terms of use for the information and the licence applicable to the reuse of data obtained from OpenDataBCN.

Policy Context

The site’s reuse policy is set out in the BOE Standard (Norma BOE de reutilización de datos), which refers to the terms of Spain’s Act 37/2007, November 16. This Act implements Directive 2003/98/EC of the European Parliament and also the Spanish Act 29/2010, August 3rd. According to this Act, every public administration and institution collects, generates, replicates and spread documents, and the Directive 2003/98/EC states the reuse of those documents. That information can be reused for commercial or non commercial purposes, created with added value thanks to this input. Public administrations manage data with great value and interest: social, economic, geographic, tourist, legal, meteorological, and also about private companies, patents and education. And it can be used to facilitate the creation of information products and services, thus based in public sector information. On the other hand, transparency and publicity are essential instruments to develop the right-to-know practise in democracy, and the digital, open source spread of these documents help to this goal.

Description of target users and groups

Information from the OpenDataBCN website can be used by citizens in general, but also by private companies and other public entities. This project, which started operating in February 2011, is an important part of Barcelona City Council’s eGovernment policy. Any company can create and improve its own projects using the information obtained from OpenDataBCN.

One of the main reasons behind OpenDataBCN is to facilitate the reuse of public data and to make sure that this data is updated automatically. The reuse of information collected by the public sector serves as a payback to citizens, who thus turn from data providers to data users. In this way the service also provides added value for the social and commercial fabric of Barcelona.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The project has had two phases since it started in 2010:

  • Phase 1: Kick-start (2010–2011)
    • Design of the service. Analysis of information sources, criteria for classification, data dictionary, creation of an open data protocol, processes for data replication and standardization.
  • Phase 2: Expansion and consolidation (since 2012)
    • Design of the main work plan to establish which data will be published and when. This work plan also sets criteria for social benefits, and the availability and the estimated cost of the project, in order to make the service sustainable in the future. A massive expansion of open data resources is planned.

The design and creation of the website had a budget of EUR 300,000.

Technology solution

To facilitate the reuse of data, the information is available in Resource Description Format, RDF. The website offers a comprehensive guide to this format and how to use it. When possible, the information is also available in standard vocabularies, for example DCat for the dataset catalog and VCard for the equipment listing. The OpenDataBCN initiative scores Level 4 in the W3C criteria, 4 being RDF and 5 being Linked Data. The use of RDF is actually previous to the Linked Data stage, because the RDF data-structure is used to create interoperable data. And Level 5 defines Linked Data as data which contains links to other datasets, currently in RDF. The initiative also follows the principles of the Open Government Working Group, which emphasises the need for automatic and repeated updates to the information, and the need to publish information directly from its source. One of the most useful applications is to supply traffic information, collected from the sensors deployed across the city and other up to date data sources.

OpenDataBCN can work as a source for data journalism. It can also supply information to new applications set up to complement public services, because it eases problems of interoperability between different public entities. As a result, there is an important feedback with this kind of service: institutions can use information about the requests made to OpenDataBCN to analyse and respond better to society’s need for open data. Finally, there is a desire to universalise data access. Many similar websites and services have achieved universal access to public documents; services like OpenDataBCN aim for the same goal, but with public data, so that citizens can understand and reuse it. Some of the available formats are: CSV, DGN, DWG, KML, XLS, XML.

Although users can search via a number of proprietary formats, once they have found the data they want they can download it in RDF to ensure the use of a format that is both open source and easy to share. Even the entire catalog can be downloaded in RDF. The OpenDataBCN website is available in Catalan, Spanish and English.

Technology choice: Standards-based technology, Mainly (or only) open standards

Main results, benefits and impacts

The main body of the OpenDataBCN website is a catalog of contents, with the following broad categories for navigation and search:

  • Geographic: housing, town planning and infrastructure, information on official street names, postal data (with privacy restrictions), cartography, georeferencing, and statistics.
  • Economy and business: employment, science and technology, trade, and public contracts.
  • Population: demographics, education, society and welfare; population distribution by sex, age, home structure, district, and nationality; information on the relationships between citizens and territory.
  • Administration: legislation and justice; the public sector.
  • Urban environment: culture and leisure, environment, security, sport, tourism, transport. In this category users can find information gathered by the online sensors of the SmartCityBCN project, such as noise, traffic, public transport, parking, and environmental issues.


There is also a search engine that finds data by keywords, topics, tags, frequencies and formats.

The information is accurate and up-to-date. For instance, users can easily find public Wi-Fi access points using a list that is updated monthly. More sensitive information such as traffic, accidents and construction work is updated more frequently, and in some cases immediately. Using the hashtag #opendatabcn users can find many tweets with links to the newsletter or information obtained from the OpenDataBCN website.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

Users can contact OpenDataBCN via social networks like Twitter (#opendatabcn, @opendatabcn) and LinkedIn. There is also a contact form, and within every resource ticket is a comments section where users can post questions related to the contents. The catalog webpage includes FAQs and guides on browsing and using the information. The 'Today' section has links to portal updates and user comments, plus a newsletter.

The extended VCard vocabulary covers 35,000 equipment items used in restaurants, hotels, student lodgings, hospitals, ambulances, and social services facilities. The RDF datasets are also used in Barcelona streets maps and job applications.

The administrators reply quickly to users’ questions posted on the site.

Lessons learnt

Applications of the data stored in the OpenDataBCN website are easy to find, and the information has proved to be useful, especially in reports and memos. One example can be found in a report about the impact of information and communications technology (ICT) in the Barcelona tourist sector. OpenDataBCN seems to be a fast and reliable source of information, particularly when the data is combined with other services and applications – for example, a user-made map in CartoDB that shows public parking spots in Barcelona.

This initiative has various local antecedents and sources of inspiration that are not simply starting points for the OpenDataBCN project; instead, all those services, old and new, interact within the City Council website today. The Barcelona City Council started implementing free, open source data search solutions in the mid-1990s, when the very first versions of its website provided information about cultural activities and public facilities. Other open data services started by this administration are GeoPortal and CartoBCN.

Public sector transparency inspires OpenDataBCN and other similar projects, like Infocarretera, which provides free traffic information in the Basque Country, Schoolscope in England (this project is now closed, but the background info is still provided at schooloscope for data about the quality of education, and ¿Dónde van mis impuestos? about budgets and taxes in Spain. The OpenDataBCN initiative is particularly inspired by Tim Berners-Lee’s Five Stars of Open Linked Data. From the OpenDataBCN website users can access many other similar projects, following the spirit of collaboration and interoperability between local, regional and national open data services.

Scope: Local (city or municipality)


Type of document
General case study