This is a big week for open data in British Columbia. On Tuesday, 120 people gathered at the Simon Fraser University Segal Graduate School of Business in downtown Vancouver for the B.C. Open Data Summit. Organized by the Open Data Society of B.C., the event drew app developers, librarians, not-for-profit researchers, right-to-know advocates, university students, IT consultants, and representatives from municipal governments and provincial ministries and agencies.
The opening remarks were provided by B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. Commissioner Denham spoke about how open data has brought new voices to champion the right-to-know, and the importance of increasing data literacy, so everyone has the opportunity to participate.
As the day progressed, the need for data standards was a theme that cut across many presentations. In his key note, Stephane Guidoin, the Transportation Director of Open North, pointed to the success of the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), a standard for transit data developed by Google and the City of Portland. In cities around the world, you can easily find information on buses or trains using Google Maps or other transit apps that use the same data. The GTFS makes this possible by requiring that all transit authorities who release data on their routes and schedules follow the same standard, making your experience using transit apps consistent and reliable whether you are in Vancouver or London. Many other presenters picked up on the need to adopt standards for other kinds of open data.
What other data would benefit from standards? How about traffic data? Open North is working towards a data standard for traffic data, such as accidents or roads closures, with Open511. In B.C., many travellers depend upon DriveBC to find out about road closures or weather conditions. The goal of Open511 is to make a traffic data standard that would be adopted by jurisdictions around the world, so your experience getting information on road conditions or closures is consistent from B.C. to Arizona.
One of the most positive developments of the Summit was the presence of such a wide range of participants. The open data community shares the same ethos as the open source software communities; a critical and diverse mass of people working on the same problems will lead to better solutions. Just as the success of open sources software like WordPress and Linux is driven by large communities of people all contributing code to make a better product, the open data community needs continued growth and the addition of new perspectives.
If you are interested in learning more about open data or joining the community, there is no better opportunity then this weekend.
The big week continues with International Open Data this Saturday, February 23rd. In cities around the world, citizens will be attending hackathons – collaborative events where anyone can participate and work together on projects that use open data to create applications visualizations, and research. The work they do will demonstrate how open data can be used to solve problems. Some of the proposed projects that will be tackled at this year’s event include helping not-for-profits use open data, developing an introductory, online course for Open Science, and inputting municipal budget data into Where Does My Money Go.
Currently, there are will be hackathons happening in over 90 cities. In B.C., hackathons are happening at City Halls in Vancouver and Victoria. The event in Victoria includes a Webmaker Hackjam where volunteers will teach youth to become makers, not just consumers of the web.
The work of the Mozilla Webmaker community is a great example of how we can address the issue identified by Commissioner Denham – increasing data literacy. Youth today are already sharing immense amounts of data about their activities through social media, such as Facebook. Providing opportunities similar to the Hackjam for kids to play with data in a collaborative setting with their peers would teach them not only to be savvy about how their data is being used, but also how to analyze and understand data, and create their own data products.
The importance of data literacy was also raised at the Open Data Learning Summit for librarians last September as well. Here are DataBC we are working with the Ministry of Education and the Open Data Society of B.C. on pulling together some resources for educators and librarians interested in hosting hackathons for youth. We will be talking about these resources at the upcoming Data Camp hosted by the BC Libraries Cooperative.
We will also be attending the hack this Saturday in Victoria. Hope to see you there.
By Loren Mullane on behalf of the DataBC Team.