After being interviewed by the Hamilton Spectator for an upcoming article (I was interviewed recently as well), City Manager Chris Murray has issued an Information Update to Mayor Bob Bratina and City Council to explain the concept of Open Data and how it would apply to City activities. RTH has obtained a copy of the update.
Describing open data as "structured, machine readable, public data ... that is accessible, reliable and openly shared", Murray calls it "part of a transformation agenda" that will impact how the City makes decisions, manages information, deploys resources and sets organizational priorities.
Noting the traditional relationship between information and power, Murray argues that an open data policy "means sending a message within the City administration that this is the public's information and not ours to control." He adds that an effective commitment to open data "requires strong leadership and a culture change" in the City. He adds that much of this information is already available, but not in an accessible or usable format.
Murray concluded that City staff are still "working to understand the implications and our organizational state of readiness" and seek direction from Council on an open data plan.
Here is the text of the Information Update:
I was interviewed today by the Hamilton Spectator for an article that will appear in tomorrow's paper on open data in public sector organizations.
I wanted to provide you with a brief overview in advance of the article and note that there is a movement by the citizens of Hamilton who will be putting forward a motion asking for the City's data sets to be open and accessible to the public (http://openhamilton.ca/).
What is "Open Data"?
Open data is defined as structured, machine readable, public data (e.g. transit and recreation class schedules, food inspection records, budget documents, garbage schedule, rezoning and development permissions, parking locations and meters, etc.) that is accessible, reliable and openly shared. In most cases, the data is already available to the public, just in a format that is inaccessible and therefore unusable to the community that wants to use the data for its purposes.
Why are governments opening their data?
Open data is part of a transformation agenda. Our learnings from other communities is that this process requires strong leadership and a culture change in how we currently share information, manage data, deploy the appropriate skills and resources required and make decisions and prioritize in the organization. Information is traditionally seen as power, and opening it up means sending a message within the City administration that this is the public's information and not ours to control. Opening data is just one means to demonstrate and strengthen value for the citizens' tax dollars.
Open Data is not just about transparency - it's also about improving service delivery
Open data is more than about enhancing government transparency - it's also about stimulating community innovations in service delivery. Just like the roads, neighbourhoods and code of laws create a platform for businesses and communities to innovate and thrive, information is an asset and a platform upon which innovation and development can occur.
Cities across North America have seen entrepreneurs, community developers and even students create mobile and web-based applications using open public data to plan inter-city travel via public transit on a smart phone, create mobile text reminder notices for garbage/leaf/yard waste schedules and report through online applications to fix streets, report potholes and other road problems to their city government. This is just scratching the surface of what could be possible when governments open their public information.
Next Steps at the City
I mentioned to the Spectator that we are currently working to understand the implications and our organizational state of readiness and will look to Council for direction before we implement a plan for open data.
As part of our learning process, we recently opened our transit schedule data. This is data that we had already released to Google Transit, which means our internal processes to provide the proper format for Google's use already existed. Last summer, the City was approached by staff and students at Mohawk College to open this data to allow its students to develop student focused mobile applications to access public transit among other data. This was done by creating a location on the City's website for data that would be publicly accessible, www.hamilton.ca/Open. We are similarly investigating how to open up garbage collection schedule data.
These learnings will be brought to Council as part of an overall organizational assessment. We are doing similar work and responding to similar issues related to the City's website, call handling management and a service delivery review process that will requires us to improve our organizational readiness for those impending changes as well.
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