In the News re: Open Data Ottawa

March 11, 2011

One of the side projects I have been working on is helping the fine folk at Open Data Ottawa with their advocacy and logistics work. It’s a super great cause with super great people behind it. Part of my ‘portfolio’ in the organization is to do some public relations. I was recently featured in a local newspaper.

Interview behind le jump.

Local group works to make Ottawa’s data open
Posted Mar 10, 2011 By Andrew Sztein


EMC News – A local group of self-proclaimed tech geeks is working with the City of Ottawa to make lives of residents easier through technology.

Open Data Ottawa is an association with six or seven local members and another 150-200 remote members. They work (essentially) as a lobby group to continue to nudge the city into not only providing data publicly, but to make them available with licenses that give users the ability to use, merge, modify and re-distribute the data.

“Open Data Ottawa is taking what the city already has and giving it to citizens to make things for other citizens,” said Alex Lougheed, a member of the Alliance of Students Associations, and a member of Open Data Ottawa.

“Open Data Ottawa is a loosely organized collection of developers, librarians, engaged citizens that really believe in the idea of open data. The goals of open data are to get governments to be more open with their data.”

Lougheed said that there are “three laws” by which the organization wants governments to release their data.

“First, when a government has a data base or is collecting information on anything, that it is released to the public in a way that can be spidered or indexed, so computers or machines can find it or search through it,” he said. “The second law would be that it is open and machine readable so we can automate computers with applications so we can use the information. Third, the data is released in a legal framework that allows it to be repurposed. So an example of that is that there are a number of licenses out there which allows systems to really take that data and use it for any purpose, even for profit.”

For the most part, the city has taken a policy stance that it is in favour of the open data project.

Recently however, a winning submission of the people’s choice award for the city’s Apps4Ottawa contest called Where’s My Bus? had trouble with the supposed open data. The iPhone app was rendered useless when OC Transpo pulled public access to their live GPS data. Open Data Ottawa is working closely with OC Transpo to make the data available again, although no firm time frame was given.

“OC Transpo’s IT department is run by the city, which creates an interesting dynamic,” said Lougheed. “What happened is since our community has a strong working relationship with the city, in particular their IT department, they got in touch with us and told us about a trial stream and to feel free to use and tinker with it to make it better down the road. All of that was without the knowledge of OC Transpo. they discovered what was going on, looked at their long term plan, and what was going on at the time didn’t really work well. We’ve since been in touch with OC Transpo, and they reaffirmed they are super committed to open data and are working to get another, more secure and reliable stream online that more coincides with their long term goals can get to the community.”

No timeline was given, but Lougheed expects it will happen within the year.

Open Data Ottawa also gives back to the local development community by hosting local Hackfests.

“Anyone can come to these events that we host at city hall,” said Lougheed. “It’s an opportunity for anyone to come to a session where citizens come into a room and we present all the data that’s out there. Then people start working on brainstorming and actually developing applications for stuff that’s out there. A lot of the apps we saw at Apps4Ottawa were born out of these Hackfests. We’ve been the voice of the community while supporting them and participating in the creative process.”

Lougheed believes that Open Data Ottawa is simply a natural extension of the city working for its citizens, and that the organization is necessary to maintain open data in a way that’s consistent with modern technology.

“I think what open data does is what citizens have always expected from their cities,” said Lougheed. “Citizens expect their cities to be forthcoming, honest, accountable, and to be working for them. Open data achieves all those goals. Citizens can take this data and draw their own conclusions and produce things for other citizens.”


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