SAINT JOHN – As IT experts converge on the city for the Big Data Congress on Thursday, a discussion has resurfaced over whether the City of Saint John should implement an Open Data policy to make internal collections of information public.
“I believe the concept is really all around making sure that information that isn’t private is being released. Maybe its’s mapping information for the city, maybe it’s locations of bus stops, maybe it’s fire hydrants,” said Shawn Peterson, an ICT professional who will be attending the conference.
“I think it’s a different mind-set. Municipalities and governments aren’t necessarily used to sharing raw data with people,” he said.
Open data policies have been adopted across the country – most notably by Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Toronto – as well as by the federal government. They release a variety of data sets, including lists of public amenities, statistics on city services, or budget reports.
City councillor Greg Norton said there can be many advantages in making that information public. “If we do share the data that we have in a municipality, there’s going to be huge potential for our city to overcome challenges,” he said. “Open data reveals all of those essential elements that would allow the outside, the private sector in particular, to establish themselves not as outsiders but as equals in creating solutions for provinces.”
He said Saint John is in an especially strong position in that respect because of its thriving ICT sector, “which to me is a gold mine, something that we need to embrace,” he said. “We need to give protective license to allowing them access to information that can allow us within the city’s framework solve some of the hurdles that we struggle with, provide efficiency that we may not have realized if we didn’t share data.”
Norton said it’s a matter of finding a strong leader to bring the idea forward to council, and be willing to invest the time to make the project work. “The quicker we buy in to open data, the quicker we’re going to create efficiencies, the quicker we’re going to see growth in economic sector. At the end of the day it’s working in collaboration,” he said.
At Thursday’s conference, a hackathon will allow people to see the direct results of making data available to the public, said Michael Whelton, a school principal. Several of his students from St. Malachy’s High School will be joining in with their teachers, playing with data provided by the City of Saint John.
Peterson said the data includes Saint John transit numbers, as well as data sets relating to flooding and snow clearing.
Brian Woods, the city’s manager of information technology, said
“What the hackathon is looking for is people who are passionate about questions and passionate about data,” he said. “If you find passionate people, then you’ll get really engaged activity, and the information that comes out and the knowledge that comes out – they’re going to go that extra mile.”
He said before making it public, city staff have to go through the data sets and remove private information, and spend time formatting it. That can take time, and staff.
“If release a data set that has been cleaned, and is opened, and from that we depose some questions and people come up with some answers, maybe the next step in my mind is we can take that and apply it to our data proper,” he said. “That’s the power of open data.”
He said the four Canadian cities leading open data are much larger than Saint John, and can devote more time and resources to the project. He said some of the city’s data – mainly the GIS mapping software they use – is sold to private industry, making it part of the city’s revenue. As well, much of the data is already available on the city’s website through council minutes. It’s just not as easily accessible.
“This open data is not a new thing but with the way it’s starting to get used and the answers coming out of it, it’s really exciting,” he said.
via telegraphjournal.com (written by Carolyn Thompson)