Open Data at ChangeCamp Edmonton

Tomorrow morning local politicians, bureaucrats, and ordinary citizens will gather at the University of Alberta for ChangeCamp Edmonton. I’m encouraged by the number of people that have registered, and by the conversations that have already started. That’s what tomorrow is all about: getting people together to discuss ideas and solutions.

I don’t know exactly which topics people will want to discuss tomorrow, but I know for sure that open data will be one of them. There’s significant momentum building for the concept, and we’re starting to see progress on making it happen throughout Canada (and elsewhere).

Open data here in Edmonton received a nice boost this week from Councillor Don Iveson when he submitted a formal inquiry to City administration:

In local, national and sub-national governments around the world there is a trend toward making up-to-date government information freely available on-line in generically accessible data formats as so-called ‘Open Data’.

  1. What level of awareness does the City Administration have regarding Open Data in municipal government?
  2. What current initiatives are underway within City Administration that might qualify under the spirit of Open Data?
  3. What further initiatives are under consideration within the city, and on what basis are they being evaluated?
  4. Is Administration monitoring any successes and or challenges with this trend in other jurisdictions, especially large Canadian cities, and if so what can be shared with Council?
  5. What would City Administration’s recommendation be on next steps regarding Open Data plans or strategies?

I know there was already some things going on behind the scenes at the City of Edmonton, but Don’s inquiry should expedite and give credibility to those things. This is an important step.

I’ve been pushing for open data in Edmonton for a while now, along with many others. I think ChangeCamp will be a great opportunity to further discuss the concept and next steps. I generally think about open data in the context of a municipality, but there’s room for discussion at the provincial and federal levels too. Here are some of the key things I think we can cover:

  • Let’s make sure everyone (citizens, politicians, City administration) is on the same page about what we mean by “open data”. This could be high level (what kinds of data are open) and low level (what formats are considered open).
  • What is the City working on? What are citizens working on? Let’s get a status report from both sides.
  • What kinds of data could be made open? Which data is most in demand by citizens? What data has been made available in other cities, such as Vancouver or Toronto?
  • Licensing is vital for open data to work. We need to ensure data is licensed as permissively as possible, otherwise we’re restricting its utility. Which licenses make sense? What have other municipalities used?
  • Often lost in the discussion about what data to make available is how to be notified of changes to that data. RSS feeds, email subscriptions – how should citizens be notified when data is updated or otherwise changed?
  • Another aspect that we need to consider: the creation of data. There is lots and lots of data that our governments can start making available in open formats, but there’s even more data created on a daily basis. What can we do to ensure that it is open data also? How about APIs or other mechanisms for citizens to provide input/data? Open 311 comes to mind.

Here are some links that might be useful tomorrow:

See you in the morning!