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.