Congratulations to Vancouver for taking the first steps into a new pattern of cooperation and information sharing with its citizens.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 17, 2009
Right now, the catalogue features mainly geographic data - locations of schools, parks, drinking fountains, fire halls, libraries and so on - and the data formats reflect this, featuring GPS coordinates and easy integration with Google Maps.
This is clearly still in an early stage, but the real win is in the permissive licence under which the city has released the data:
This is broadly the right approach: defining data as public unless otherwise required for legal reasons, and asserting the right of citizens to use, modify, combine and distribute that data in a way that encourages further openness and sharing.
But the city isn't just dumping out the data and wiping its hands. It also maintains an open wiki in which citizens can collaborate, share methods and best practices, and organize events, like the First Vancouver Open Data Hackathon taking place today.
That is, the city is helping to provide a platform in which citizens can use public data to build added value.
Many cities are now starting to think about ways to leverage data networks creatively, but Vancouver, pushed by a strong campaign from active citizens, may be the first in Canada to commit so explicitly and comprehensively to sharing "the greatest amount of public data possible" using open data standards, open source software and public collaboration.
The city has even committed that "data upplied to the City by third parties (developers, contractors, consultants) are unlicensed, in a prevailing open standard format, and not copyrighted except if otherwise prevented by legal considerations".
This is especially important, since cities contract much of their analysis to third party contractors, who usually end up possessing the data and only providing summary reports to staff and council.
Congratulations to Vancouver for taking the first steps into a new pattern of cooperation and information sharing with its citizens. The cultural shift will be significant but the end result will be a more open, more responsive government that better serves its citizens.
The writing is on the wall for cities that try to cling to old, closed, proprietary ways of doing business. Cities like Hamilton can commit early to openness and get a lead, or we can hold back until we're finally dragged into the light after everyone else has already gone.