Explained in non-technical terms, Open Data is the concept the information is available without restriction in the most usable format.
2. Can you provide an example or two where open data has had a positive impact?
During the approach of Hurricane Irene towards New York City, local NPR station quickly created an evacuation zones map with existing open data posted by the City. (http://project.wnyc.org/news-maps/hurricane-zones/hurricane-zones.html)
In Toronto, there are many examples of applications made using real-time transit data. Rocket Radar (http://www.rocketradar.net/) is one of the first apps launched. Built by a university student, the application uses GPS to inform you when the next streetcar or bus is schedule to arrive. The student is now employed as a developer in good part because of open data apps. In the Boston area, there is a bakery that uses transit open data to take bake goods out of the oven just in time for commuters arriving on the train.
If Hamilton had open data, we could map our city and create applications for such things as nearest water fountain, cooling centre, available parking spot, routes to avoid traffic congestion, or nearby restaurants without recent inspection violations.
3. How do you mitigate against the risk of people mis-using data either intentionally or by virtue of failing to do proper analysis or matching up data with other data. In other words, to the extent that there may be a risk of mishandling data, doesn't it follow that data can be used to mis-inform as well as to inform? How do you respond to that?
Yes, information can be used to misinform. There’s nothing stopping misinformation from spreading at the present time and, in fact, those who wish to stop misinformation are prevented from doing so by the existing lack of factual data.
Wikipedia could be the world’s most misleading website. Anyone can post anything to the site. Vandalism happens and it’s quickly (within seconds) corrected because the community has the power to quickly stop and correct misinformation.
Open Data gives those of us who value the accurate rational exchange of information the ability to use facts to further civic life.
4. Is there a business case for Open data. If so, what does that look like?
The City of Hamilton spends millions of dollars each year responding to queries and calls for basic information, information that should be available on the city website or in open data powered applications.
The City of Toronto, by opening data including real-time transit information, has saved millions in development costs by allowing the open data community to use public information for public good.
An app like Rocket Radar appeared only days after the TTC opened the data. Under a traditional in-house development project, this would’ve taken at least a year and millions of dollars to replicate.
5. What has the reception been by the city to the concept of open data. How far are we along the continuum of making data available in this way, and what next steps are required?
The reaction from the City government is mostly positive. The challenge is that we are so far behind technologically at City Hall that we can quickly implement open data, look at our city website. I can get data from the City, but it requires numerous emails, negotiations, and plenty of frustrating moments. The City Manager is telling staff to open data, but it takes time for the culture to change.
Where we need to be is proactive disclosure and opening of data. The question to be asked at City Hall is not - “why should I release this” but “What legal, privacy, or financial justification is there for withholding this information from the public?”
The open data report will be presented to Council in the fall. Once passed, they’ll need to fund staffing to start releasing data and to support the creation of open data applications to improve civic society in Hamilton.
6. How would the city, for example, regulate the deployment of open data. Not from the perspective of deciding how data is used, but from the perspective of ensuring that applications that call upon data are returning accurate results? Or do you foresee that the data, once made available, is unchecked, in terms of its accurate usage?
Open Data applications should be able to call on city data in real-time. Open data removes middlemen and middle steps. Data is available for both download and for real-time access. For example, a real-time transit app calls the data from the City server and then displays it for the user. As long as the city is publishing accurate data, the application provides an accurate output. As many apps are open-source, other developers can verify the application is calling data from the City server, thereby ensuring accuracy.
7. How can Hamiltonians learn more about Open Data and how can they get involved?
Visit www.openhamilton.ca and join us Google Group for the latest updates about Open Data in Hamilton. When you see your City Councillor this summer, let them know this is an initiative that’s important to you, and most importantly, start thinking about the information you want available this fall.