16 April 2012 ~ 0 Comments

Milton Open Data Report: Gets the Costs & Risks, Misses on Benefits

The Open Data Report by Milton city staff is ready for council!

At 2 pages long, it’s crisp, quite balanced, and does take into consideration costs & risks of an open data initiative by the town. Understated is the focus on CITIZEN VALUE of Open Data –  particularly when the minority of those “software developers and tech savy citizens” turn Data into Citizen-Ready Applications used by the majority of residents (web, mobile, etc).

For Milton where median age of residents is 34, an open data initiative can provide a powerful platform to extend and augment the services provided by the town. Think services like looking up a bus route from Milton to Burlington via Oakville Whole Foods, i.e. a Halton Transit web and phone app — one of OpenHalton’s Planned Projects, or perhaps a better way to engage with council via social media provided by apps like WardRep.ca.

The benefits of open data are not ONLY on the transparency and accountability side of things, but ALSO on practical uses by Miltonians in their every day activities: transit, driving, parking, recreational activities, etc. There is still an opportunity for Milton Council to recognize that there is tremendous value in hundreds of applications ready to be used by residents of Milton, if only the data from the Town could were made open data!

Report ends with a recommendation (contingent on council’s approval) to run an Open Data Pilot Project…

…with a limited data set including but not limited to: transit routes, transit stops, ward boundaries, Town facilities and park locations. This will give staff an opportunity to develop a process for posting the data and evaluate the level of public interest…

This is a typical move adopted by almost every municipality that embarked on an Open Data initiative. Particularly exciting is TRANSIT data — as well as Town facilities & Park location information. On the heels of Parks & Facility Data released under the Burlington Open Data Pilot, the Town of Milton could take advantage of apps & visualizations like Burlington Parks and Milton Splash almost immediately!

One area that needs to be challenged in the report is that:

City’s new website, Milton.ca, is not physically able to host some of the open data formats

Really? Which formats? Certainly Burlington, Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor, Region of Waterloo, and many others in Canada do just fine with their existing Content Management Systems (CMS) making the data available. Certainly for  the pilot there’s no technical reason that I see not to use city’s existing infrastructure, particularly after the website re-development. Can anyone point to reasons I’m missing here?

Of particular interest is the reference to other Canadian cities’ open data projects, and specifically likely adoption of the UK open government license — a good move.

The report is well done. Perhaps a closer look at costs of publishing raw data in the existing web/CMS infrastructure and a better articulation of benefits around citizen value?
But overall — not a bad start!!