Looking at the detailed responses, it is clear that even most of the candidates who agree with open public data don't really understand what the concept means.
By Ryan McGreal
Published October 21, 2010
this article has been updated
The Open Source City is a new approach to democratic oversight and governance. The model is simple and powerful: governments endeavour to provide public data in a format that is findable, sharable, human-readable, and machine-readable.
The data becomes a platform on which citizens can engage in more detailed analysis, identify opportunities, share ideas and information, and foster a culture of greater public participation in the political process. It also provides an anchor around which developers can collaborate, create new tools and build value.
More broadly, the open data movement aims to bring the values of open source development - open standards, mutual sharing of information and resources, direct accountability through peer oversight, non-hierarchical organization - to governance.
The open public data movement is already gaining traction is cities like Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, as well as various levels of government in the UK and USA.
Last year, I wrote an essay calling on Hamilton to embrace open data. A follow-up sketched out how we might realize this opportunity. It generated a lot of interest, but the prevailing culture in City Hall is still largely opposed to sharing data.
As part of its election coverage, RTH posed the following question to candidates:
Of the 83 active candidates, 59 or 71.1% responded. Of the 59 respondents, 56 or 94.9% agree. The rest disagree or are undecided or ambivalent.
However, looking at the detailed responses, it is clear that even most of the candidates who agree don't really understand what the concept means.
Most candidates seem stuck on the narrow notion that open data means the city posts reports on its website. Only a few demonstrated a real understanding of the open data concept in their detailed responses.
Mahesh Butani, a candidate for Mayor, argues that Hamilton needs leadership that "implicitly understands and inherently values 'open source' thinking."
Andrew Haines, a candidate for Mayor, sees open data as a step toward collective governance in which citizens vote directly on policy issues.
Brian McHattie, a candidate for Ward 1, notes that public data "will allow for more community-based data crunching and interpretation which can be shared with Councillors as they make decisions and used in the community for purposes deemed important by citizens."
Matt Jelly, a candidate for Ward 2, argued that open source data "sparks innovation by making information accessible", "enhances communication, opens opportunities for service delivery improvements in true partnership with the business and citizen communities", and allows citizens to "use City data to provide feedback to Council on key community issues."
James Novak, a candidate for Ward 2, proposes a pilot project in his ward to let residents actively engage public information, discuss issues in an online forum and vote directly on proposals.
Paul Tetley, a candidate for Ward 3, says open data will "allow software developers to create applications that serve and benefit the needs of the city, and residents" and "release large of amounts of the information generated by the city, which can then be presented in a searchable and usable format." He adds that this could "stimulate Hamilton's software development industry through application development."
Ed Pecyna, a candidate for Ward 6, argues that "Better informed citizens make better decisions" and "Easily accessed and well organized public data provides impetus for potential innovation" that can enable "more cost effective and better delivery of city services."
Brad Clark, a candidate for Ward 9, advocates "Proactive Disclosure" and a policy of "Access by Design", "where City held information is proactively released to the public as opposed to the current policy of reacting to freedom of information requests."
While most candidates assumed "open data" means "transparency" in the sense of making reports available, a few were ambivalent, skeptical or plain confused.
Marvin Caplan, a candidate for Ward 2, seemed stuck on the word "pledge" and spent his response referring to nuclear submarines, feeding pigeons, and second-hand smoke. He wrote, "I could spend a few days reading about and discussing the open source issue with proponents and opponents", but it's clear he didn't.
Ian Deans, a candidate for Ward 2, admitted, "I'm not sure what the phrase "open source city" means in the context of municipal government." He promised to "carefully review it".
David Mitchell, a candidate for Ward 11, responded, "I thought it was" and noted times when releasing information "can create huge lawsuits against the City".
Lloyd Ferguson, a candidate for Ward 12, responded, "I believe we are already an 'open source city'."
Neil Bos, wants "to hear some discussion about the issue before I decide to take a stance." He believes some information "can be explosive" and that the city could achieve "improved transparency over the next decade, but it will be a long haul."
Update: this article originally stated that Marvin Caplan is a candidate for Ward 1. He is actually a candidate for Ward 2. (Thanks to UrbanRenaissance for pointing out the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.
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