30 January 2012 ~ 0 Comments

Fighting Flu with Open Data

Happy 2012! Things have been busy on the Open Data front in the Halton Region – with Burlington, ON open data pilot announced and launched in the fall, and even some apps & visualizations of Parks Data built by open data hackers like Matt Down. Right before the holidays, I also heard from the Milton councilor Rick Di Lorenzo about his plans to draft an Open Data motion to put in front of council in early 2012. Good stuff!

42-21991798However, not much is still happening with the Halton Region, despite a variety of great data already available. A good example is the Flu Clinic information, including dates and locations, published on the Halton.ca site (as an HTML list and PDF). While there was clearly a lot of effort put into creating the web page listing, and into creating a nicely-formatted PDF, it is a shame that the source data was not released in a spreadsheet format. If it were open data, it would be trivial to create and share map all of the clinics and not just links to each location.

The Halton Flu app is intended to be exactly that kind of map. It’s just a simple site for web & mobile devices, with a clinic list on the left, a filter by city, search, plus an interactive map on the right – in a map layout & format that most folks are used to.

imageThe objective: making it easier for residents to find nearby Flu Clinics in Halton. But there’s more!! Why not then add a way for users to geo-locate themselves on the map, and a way to get directions to the clinic of your choice? Done, and done!

The credit for the work on the site goes out to Johan Säll Larsson, a developer behind the JQuery-bing-maps framework, who saw my attempts to use his code on the Milton Splash project and offered help to add some dramatic (and much needed) improvements. Johan and I worked together to liberate & scrape Halton’s Flu data – into a developer-friendly dataset and made it citizen-ready via our Flu Clinics app.

The code is open source (contact me if you need the code right away), and could be used and re-used over and over for other similar application needs in Halton & our municipalities: think finding Battery Recycling centers, Hazardous Waste, Tire, Electronics disposal, etc.

My hope is that Halton, and in the very near future Burlington, Milton & others will start releasing open data that could power similar citizen-ready applications.