24 June 2013

Thoughts on Canada's Open Data Commitment

Last week our Canadian government made several valuable steps toward increased commitment to open data in Canada. First, Canada has launched a new open data portal. I have had a quick look, downloaded some very intriguing datasets, and have subsequently registered on the site. The portal needs more data, and more high quality data, but as a place to find, download, rate and learn about open data I think the new Canadian site is excellent. It's state-of-the-art as far as open data portals go. The second major step was to present their new open data license called OGL Canada v2.0. This license is a huge improvement over its predecessor and although yet to be formally tested for conformance to the Open Definition, I think it will be found to conform. I can't overemphasize how important I think it is to data consumers to have a legal framework that makes it clear, explicit and easy to understand that the data being published is in fact "open". The third major thing that the Canadian government did for us last week, which I frankly was not expecting, was that they signed us on to a new agreement called the G8 Open Data Charter. This document is a declaration that lays out principles, rationales and commitments in some detail that show positive support for and recognition of the value of open data and the promise that it represents. As a long-time open data enthusiast, advocate and advisor this is the kind of support for open data that I have wanted to see but didn't think I would see this soon. So, what's the impact? Well, now that we have a world class data catalogue and publishing platform and a license that makes it clear the data is to be used, we can start to really think about the question I often pose in hackathons and workshops: "If you could create anything you wanted with open data, what would you create?" The number one deterrent I find that stops people from using data, investing capital, and creating economic value, businesses or jobs using open data is the legal framework. In other words, people are not truly convinced that they have the government’s blessing to exploit the data, or that the government isn’t going to change its mind. It has been a risky environment for investment. I think the actions taken by the Government of Canada last week are going to go a long way toward putting that notion to rest.

13 February 2013

BC Open Data Summit

photo credit idigit_teddy
A paradigm shift happens when your point of view or perspective in a given framework changes.  When the change happens, it happens in an instant, but for each of us it happens at different times.  As a result, it can take some time for the new point of view to become pervasive.  

The new way of thinking fundamentally transforms the basic assumptions about the status quo such that it no longer appears the same.  In the new paradigm, ways of creating value and solving problems that formerly seemed impossible emerge.

As a community we have spent the last three years figuring out what open data is and what Tim O'Reilly meant when he coined the term “government as platform”.   We have been involved in a lot of activities, hackathons, learning sessions and presentations.  We now have a host of examples to demonstrate what open data is and how it can be made more useful.

One point of view about open data is it’s just the right thing to do.  Public data belongs to the public that pays for it so they should be able to use it.  Another point of view is it’s just a natural extension of a well functioning democracy.  Another is it allows innovation and efficient industry.  Still another point of view is it’s a fantastic tool for engagement, collaboration, education and increasing data literacy, a skill that is becoming more and more important as we transition to the digital age.

Ultimately, however, open data is a means to an end.  And as great as we think the particular means is, it is the ends that are most important.  The promise of open data is that it creates value.  Moving forward, I think the challenge is to think outside the box and determine how we can define desired outcomes and find ways to measure the value being created by open data.  And to foster entirely new areas of innovation and to address some of our toughest challenges such as job creation, health care, the environment and education.

What causes a paradigm shift in the first place?  I think it happens when people take a stand for a future that is unpredictable if one merely looks at the past.  Somehow, they make a connection with what’s possible and make exploring, thinking about, and brainstorming about what’s possible worth more than settling for what is likely.

Next week on February 19, 2013 the Open Data Society of BC is hosting the BC Open Data Summit at the SFU Segal Graduate School of Business in Vancouver.  We will be discussing some of the challenges as well as exploring the possibilities for open data in creating value for all:  the public, innovators, businesses and folks that are interested in publishing open data.

You can register for the event here: http://opendatasummit.ca/

I hope you’ll join us.