This Saturday sees the 8th annual International Open Data Day and we thought it only right to celebrate a few outstanding examples of open data work we’ve seen from our grantees over the last few years.

This year’s event will focus upon four areas: open research data; tracking public money flows; open mapping; and data for equal development. We’ve seen some great developments in each of these areas over the years and are excited about what the future holds for each of them. But we know that not every initiative will be successful and not all open data fields are created equally, making open data work an area of experimentation and trial and error. For every successful open data project that has gone on to achieve impact, there are others whose hypotheses have been proven incorrect or that have led to little impact. But each of those unsuccessful projects adds to our knowledge about what works and under what conditions, so let’s take a moment to remember the failures and the not-quites of the open data world. As for some of the most successful projects we’ve seen, however, it was difficult to whittle it down. But here are four of the best:

Open research data

By its very nature, any open data is (or could be) open research data. The UK’s very own 360Giving initiative is one example. 360 supports organisations to publish their grants data in an open, standardised way and helps people to understand and use the data in order to support decision-making and learning across the charitable giving sector. Dozens of charitable organisations now publish their grants data in this way and because it’s structured data it means that people can use it to make comparisons and to look at charitable giving as a whole, rather than simple individualised cases. Additional sites and tools have been built to make use of the data – Beehive, for example, allows charity fundraisers to find potential funders based on previous giving, making the process of researching funding leads simpler than ever.

Tracking public money flows

There are plenty of organisations around the world using open data to track public money flows. It’s one of the best established fields with various organisations and data standards in existence for just this purpose. Consider Open Contracting Partnership – which uses open data to monitor public procurement – or the International Aid Transparency Initiative, which monitors aid flows around the world. Both are global in scope and cover billions of pounds of transactions.

But one of the most exciting interventions we’ve seen in this area came from Connected Development (CODE) in Nigeria. Since our first grant to them back in 2013, CODE have launched several initiatives which aim to improve the lives of ordinary Nigerians by tracking public spending data and putting pressure on government. #SaveShikira, for instance, targeted the problem of lead poisoning affecting Shikira in Niger State. The poisoning had cost the lives of 28 children and it was clear that the community needed an urgent clean up, before hundreds of other cases developed. Although the government of the country set up a committee to quickly solve the problem in Shikira, the year was going to an end, and nothing had happened.

CODE started its community outreach work, stakeholder meetings, Twitter and Facebook campaigns and several press releases  to amplify the voice of the people of Shikira. In January 2016, the Ministry of Environment included US$ 839 million (256 million Naira) in its budget to clean up Shikira. CODE kept the campaign ongoing, and by end of June 2016, funds were released for the clean up of Shikira, while in August 2016, the treatment of children started in Shikira.

This is but one example among many of how open spending data can be tracked to bring about real, positive change in communities around the world.

Open mapping

Maps have been used (and abused) for millennia, but despite that large swathes of the world remain un- (or under-) mapped. The Missing Maps project aims to use the open platform, OpenStreetMap, to create maps of these undermapped areas. In humanitarian disasters, disease outbreaks and myriad other instances, NGOs, governments and others lack reliable maps of the communities they are trying to help. Without this map data, directing scarce resources is transformed into a matter of guesswork and hunches. That’s why we funded Medecins sans Frontieres to carry out a mapping project in South Kivu, DRC. Before their project, much of South Kivu was a blank on the map – despite being home to millions of people. Now, thanks to MSF’s work, almost 15,000km of roads have been mapped and in one area alone, 275 villages, 90 health facilities and 589 water points have been accurately mapped for the first time. MSF staff in the region can now use this data to plan for vaccination campaigns, water chlorination and mortality studies. And because it’s open data, anyone else in the area can use it too. In time, MSF hope that this can become a valuable resource for all different sorts of agencies and organisations working to improve life in the region.

Data for equal development

Open data can be used to better target scarce resources and facilities and to ensure that global development takes place more evenly. This is one of the ideas behind Global Water Challenge, the group behind the world’s biggest open data platform for sharing water point data. The idea behind this relatively young initiative is to provide all involved in water and sanitation provision with access to timely, reliable and usable data to enable greater coordination of efforts. Over the coming year, they’ll be working with different partners to increase uptake and use of the data for the purposes of planning future water points, directing precious resources to fixing broken ones and ensuring water and sanitation facilities are more equitably distributed.

One thing underlying all the open data projects here is their multi-purpose nature. Precisely because they are open and the organisations behind them have little or no say over how others use the data they create, open data projects are often hard to categorise. Global Water Challenge’s work is about promoting equal development, but it’s also a tool for researchers and the geographic data makes it, in part, a mapping effort. That such projects and organisations defy easy categorisation is not something to fear, but to celebrate. It’s what makes open data an area ripe for exploration and experimentation, so happy Open Data Day!