Calgary takes first steps toward becoming an Open City

A motion will go before Calgary’s City Council next week that outlines the first steps in the process of making Calgary an Open City. Calgary follows in the footsteps of Vancouver, which passed a similar motion back in May. DJ has all the details on the Calgary motion here. I think it’s pretty cool that the news is first announced on a blog!

Calgary’s motion will result in a report from City Administration to be presented to Council no later than December 2009, outlining the overall strategy for making Calgary an open city. In particular, the report will identify “opportunities to make more of The City’s data open and accessible while respecting privacy and security concerns , and ensuring that data is available through use of open standards, interfaces and formats.” Other aspects of the strategy will include increasing online citizen participation, procuring and supporting open source technologies, and increasing the number of City services available online.

This is exciting news for developers and other creative professionals in Calgary and elsewhere. I’ve been pushing for open data in Edmonton recently, and I really hope we’re not too far behind our southern neighbours on this issue. There are a number of advantages to making data available in open standards and formats:

  • Citizens can subscribe to data that is of interest to them
  • Data can be mashed together in new ways, revealing new information
  • Visualization of data can help citizens make better decisions
  • Citizens can work together to organize data
  • Government can learn more about its data from citizen contributions

Additionally, using well-understood, open formats such as XML or CSV helps to “future-proof” the data. You don’t need proprietary technology to read a CSV file – any programming language or software platform will work.

One issue that isn’t mentioned in Calgary’s motion but which is very important, is licensing. It’s important that when Calgary does make data available, that it does so in the least restrictive way possible. Either public domain, or creative commons, or something similar. It would be a shame if they made a ton of data available and then had ridiculous terms of use around it.

Open data is about empowering citizens to work with their governments. I’m encouraged by the recent interest among municipalities in Canada, and I hope the trend continues.

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