Open Data, Maternity, and the Value of Datasets​

When I realized, in March 2023, that I was going to join @momademia (the community of academic parents), I optimistically thought that being a data-driven person would have helped me in some way. 



Image credit: @momademia on X 

Note: I was unable to contact @momademia for direct permission. If the owner of this image has any concerns about its use, please contact me, and I will address the issue immediately. 


Reading “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” (Perez, 2019) had warned me that the infrastructure of data collection and sharing is not designed for people engaged in care work at any stage of their lives. Nonetheless, I approached this new phase of my life with an open mind. As a researcher, I believed that all I needed to do was collect data and interpret them. However, my personal case study led me to conclude that not all data are equally valuable. 


Here is what happened. Maternity leave in Belgium lasts 15 weeks for mothers and 20 days for fathers. This means that working parents need to arrange for childcare as soon as possible. To assist with this daunting task, the Office National de la Naissance (ONE) provides useful lists of nurseries that can be selected based on distance and other criteria. Despite the relatively easy system to navigate, parents soon realize that the system is not as friendly as it appears. While it is clear that finding a spot would be hard (there is ample indication of this in the many informative materials), there is no hint on how or when you could possibly find a place for your little one. 


Although open data on the total number of spots are available and provided by, the system is regulated by some invisible administrative rules. For instance, in the maze of numerous municipalities, you might not get a spot if you are from a different neighborhood, even though you live closer to the daycare than those who have ‘the right address.’ Thus, the number of places you are entitled to is not the number you see. 

Furthermore, while it is possible, through, to retrieve open data on the number of spots in daycares per municipality, such data do not reveal much about accessibility. How accessible by public transit are these places? While most daycares are potentially accessible through public transportation, it is a known problem that strollers do not easily find space on buses, and even less so on high-floor trams. 


One strategy to increase the value of available data on daycares is to integrate them with mobility data. This would achieve three goals. First, the availability of spots in daycares is only theoretical, if they cannot be easily accessed. Integrating data would facilitate knowledge of inequities in access to public services. Second, combining datasets can highlight how to make public transport a preferred option for parents. A recent survey conducted by the Ligues des Familles showed that 8 out of 10 parents were open to using public transport for daycare trips, if stroller-friendly source. This would lead to a third positive spillover: a potential reduction in car use, much needed in Brussels, as well as in other cities. 


This story prompts the question of what the value of open data is. How can we suggest a policy-oriented use of open data to solve societal issues? This question is topical and can shape what an open data ecosystem looks like by indicating what high-value datasets are.