Another article today on Open Data, this time in Toronto Standard. It makes some great points on how open data can help transform our cities, but I think misses an opportunity to highlight how making information accessible to citizens does not translate to the data being available as open data.
The article uses the example of the Toronto Wellbeing site to support the point that the city has made strides to open data, :
Is Toronto’s data accessible? The city has made some definite steps toward open data. It recently launched its Toronto Wellbeing site, which lets you see how your neighbourhood fares for a variety of factors…
What it really shows is the city’s move to make information more accessible, but as pointed out by David Eaves in his overview of Open Data projects in Canada it’s a GREAT site, but not quite open data.
Bottom line, making data useful to citizens does not automatically mean the data is open (i.e. available as raw, machine-readable format for others to take & use in a different project or to be mashed-up with another dataset).
Too often government projects miss an opportunity to not only make information accessible, such as visualizations, interactive maps, aggregated data tables, etc. but to also make the underlying raw data available as open data. While that doesn’t bother most citizens who don’t care about open data, it prevents the few that would like to use the data to build their own applications or visualizations.
What’s curious is how the public (or some journalists) react when the data is made available, but information is not, as the recent article in the Toronto Sun highlighted. The irony is that open data initiatives are fundamentally a platform, for others to build upon. Herb Lainchbury of OpenDataBC has a great comparison of open data to road infrastructure: you government builds and maintain roads, but do you also want them building cars and bikes, and be responsible for drive us around?
Of course, there are scenarios where some assistance is needed, which is the point articulated by James McKinney on OpenDataBC group and in response to my earlier post here. But truly, we can’t expect the government to be held responsible for providing all or even most of information, applications and visualizations to meet the needs of all citizens.
That’s a greenfield opportunity for communities, journalists, students & developers who can take the data and shape it into information, i.e. their interpretation of the raw data. Then we can let the government focus on facilitating that process and only supplement the work of community where the need exists.