Tag Archives: open data

Shared IT Services across the Canadian Government – three opportunities

Earlier this week the Canadian Federal Government announced it will be creating Shared Services Canada which will absorb the resources and functions associated with the delivery of email, data centres and network services from 44 departments.

These types of shared services projects are always fraught with danger. While they sometimes are successful, they are often disasters. Highly disruptive with little to show for results (and eventually get unwound). However, I suspect there is a significant amount of savings that can be made and I remain optimistic. With luck the analogy here is the work outgoing US CIO Vivek Kundra accomplished as he has sought to close down and consolidate 800 data centres across the US which is yielding some serious savings.

So here’s what I’m hoping Shared Services Canada will mean:

1) A bigger opportunity for Open Source

What I’m still more hopeful about – although not overly optimistic – is the role that open source solutions could play in the solutions Shared Services Canada will implement. Over on the Drupal site, one contributor claims government officials have been told to hold off buying web content management systems as the government prepares to buy a single solution for across all departments.

If the government is serious about lowering its costs it absolutely must rethink its procurement models so that open source solutions can at least be made a viable option. If not this whole exercise will mean the government may save money, but it will be the we move from 5 expensive solutions to one expensive solution variety.

On the upside some of that work has clearly taken place. Already there are several federal government websites running on Drupal such as this Ministry of Public Works website, the NRCAN and DND intranet. Moreover, there are real efforts in the open source community to accommodate government. In the United States OpenPublic has fostered a version of Drupal designed for government’s needs.

Open source solutions have the added bonus of allowing you the option of using more local talent, which, if stimulus is part of the goal, would be wise. Also, any open source solutions fostered by the federal government could be picked up by the provinces, creating further savings to tax payers. As a bonus, you can also fire incompetent implementors, something that needs to happen a little more often in government IT.

2) More accountability

Ministers Ambrose and Clement are laser focused on finding savings – pretty much every ministry needs to find 5 or 10% savings across the board. I also know both speak passionately about managing tax payers dollars: “Canadians work hard for their money and expect our Government to manage taxpayers dollars responsibly, Shared Services Canada will have a mandate to streamline IT, save money, and end waste and duplication.”

Great. I agree. So one of Shared Service Canada’s first act should be to follow in the footsteps of another Vivek Kundra initiative and recreate his incredibly successful IT Dashboard. Indeed it was by using the dashboard Vivek was able to “cut the time in half to deliver meaningful [IT system] functionality and critical services, and reduced total budgeted [Federal government IT] costs by over $3 billion.” Now that some serious savings. It’s a great example of how transparency can drive effective organizational change.

And here’s the kicker. The White House open sourced the IT Dashboard (the code can be downloaded here). So while it will require some work adapting it, the software is there and a lot of the heavy work has been done. Again, if we are serious about this, the path forward is straightforward.

3) More open data

Speaking of transparency… one place shared services could really come in handy is creating some data warehouses for hosting critical government data sets (ideally in the cloud). I suspect there are a number of important datasets that are used by public servants across ministries, and so getting them on a robust platform that is accessible would make a lot of sense. This of course, would also be an ideal opportunity to engage in a massive open data project. It might be easier to create policy for making the data managed by Shared Service Canada “open.” Indeed, this blog post covers some of the reasons why now is the time to think about that issue.

So congratulations on the big move everyone and I hope these suggestions are helpful. Certainly we’ll be watching with interest – we can’t have a 21st century government unless we have 21st century infrastructure, and you’re now the group responsible for it.

Calgary Launches Business Plan and Budget App

So this is interesting. The City of Calgary has launched a Business Plan & Budget app for free from iTunes.

It’s a smart move as it creates an easy, “one button” option for citizens to participate in and learn about the city’s financial planning process. You can read (a tiny bit) more at the City of Calgary’s blog.

Looking more closely at the app, it doesn’t offer a huge amount but don’t dismiss it too quickly. Consolidating all the information into a single place and making it available to people on the go is a great starting point. Secondly, it is worth remembering that this is just a starting point – there is obviously lots to be learned about how to engage citizens online – especially using mobile technology. If this is done right, Calgary will be learning these lessons first, which means their 2nd and 3rd generation versions of the app and the process will be more sophisticated while others are left catching up (think of Apple and the iPad).

So while the app is fairly light on features today… I can imagine a future where it becomes significantly more engaging and comprehensive, using open data on the data and city services to show maps of where and how money is spent, as well as post reminders for in person meet ups, tours of facilities, and dial in townhall meetings. The best way to get to these more advanced features is to experiment with getting the lighter features right today. The challenge for Calgary on this front is that it seems to have no plans for sharing much data with the public (that I’ve heard of), it’s open data portal has few offerings and its design is sorely lacking. Ultimately, if you want to consult citizens on planning and the budget it might be nice to go beyond surveys and share more raw data and information with them, it’s a piece of the puzzle I think will be essential. This is something no city seems to be tackling with any gusto and, along with crime data, is emerging as a serious litmus test of a city’s intention to be transparent.

The possibilities that Calgary’s consultation app presents are exciting – and again it is early days – so it will be interesting if developers in Calgary and elsewhere can begin to figuring out how to easily extend and enhance this type of approach. Moreover, it’s nice to see a city venturing out and experimenting with this technology, I hope other cities will not just watch, but start experiments of their own, it’s the best way to learn.

 

The Curious Case of Media Opposing Government Transparency

My gosh there is a lot going on. Republicans – REPUBLICANS(!) who were in charge of America’s prison system are warning Canada not to follow the Conservatives plan on prisons, the Prime Minister has renamed the government, after himself and my friends at Samara had in Toronto the Guardian’s Emily Bell to talk wikileaks and data journalism (wish I could have been there).

It’s all very interesting… and there is a media story here in British Columbia that’s been brewing where a number of journalists have become upset about a government that has become “too” transparent.

It’s an important case as it highlights some of the tensions that will be emerging in different places as governments rethink how they share information.

The case involves BC Ferries, a crown corporation that runs ferries along critical routes around the province. For many years the company was not subject to the province’s Freedom of Information legislation. However, a few months ago the government stated the crown corporation would need to comply with the act. This has not pleased the corporation’s president.

To comply with the act BC Ferries has created an FOI tracker website on which it posts the text of FOI requests received. Once the records are processed they are posted online and some relevant listservs. As a result they can be read by an audience (that cares).

Broadly, journalists, are up in arms for two reasons. One bad, the other even worse.

The terrible reasons was raised by Chad Skelton (who’s a great reporter for whom I have a lot of respect and whose column should be read regularly).

Skelton argues that BC Ferries deserves part of the blame for stories with errors as the process lead news agencies to rush (carelessly) in order to beat each other in releasing the story. This is a disappointing position. It’s the news media’s job to get the facts right. (It’s also worth noting here that Skelton’s own media organizations did not make the mistakes in question). Claiming that BC Ferries is even partly responsible seems beyond problematic since they are in no way involved in the fact and error checking processes. We trust the media (and assess it) to get facts right in fast moving situations… why should this be different?

More interesting is the critique that this model of transparency undermines the ability of journalists to get a scoup and thus undermines the business model of traditional media.

What makes this so interesting is that is neither true nor, more importantly, relevant.

First, it’s not the job of government to support the business model of the media. The goal of government should be to be as transparent as possible about its operations. This can, and should, include its FOI requests. Indeed, one thing I like about this process is that an FOI request that is made but isn’t addressed starts to linger on the site – and that the organization can be held to account, publicly, for the delay. More importantly, however, I’m confident that the media will find new ways to exploit the process and that, while painful, new business models will emerge.

Second, the media is not the only user of FOI. It strikes me as problematic to expect that the FOI system should somehow be tailored to meet needs alone. Individuals, non-profits, businesses, opposition politicians and others all use the FOI process. Indeed, the policy strengthens many of these use cases since, as mentioned above,  delays in processing will be visible and open the organization up to greater pressure and scrutiny. Why are all the use cases of these other institutions somehow secondary to those of journalists and the media? Indeed, the most important use case – that of the citizen – is better served. Isn’t that the most important outcome?

Third, this form of transparency could make for better media. One of my favourite quotes (which I got via Tim O’Reilly) comes from Clayton Christensen in a 2005 Harvard Business Review article:

“When attractive profits disappear at one stage in the value chain because a product becomes modular and commoditized, the opportunity to earn attractive profits with proprietary products will usually emerge at an adjacent stage.”

So BC Ferries has effectively commoditized FOI requests. That simply means that value will shift elsewhere. One place it could shift to is analysis. And wouldn’t that be a good thing to have the media compete on? Rather than simply who got the fact fastest (a somewhat silly model in the age of the internet) readers instead started to reward the organization with the best insights? Indeed, it makes me think that on superficial issues, like say, the salary of an employee, it may be hard for one individual or organization to scoop another. But most often the value of these stories is also pretty low. On a more significant story, one that requires research and digging and a knowledge of the issue, it’s unclear that transparency around FOI requests will allow others to compete. More interestingly, some media organizations, now that they have access to all FOI requests, might start analyzing them for deeper more significant patterns or trends that might reveal more significant problems that the current scattered approach to FOI might never reveal.

What’s also been interesting is the reaction stories by journalists complaining about this issue have been received. It fits nicely in with the piece I wrote a while ago (and now published as part of a journalism textbook) about Journalism in an Open Era. The fact is, the public trust of opaque institutions is in decline – and the media is itself a pretty opaque institution. Consider these three separate comments people wrote after the stories I’ve linked to above:

“I wonder over the years how many nuggets of information reporters got through FOI but the public never heard about because they didn’t deem it “newsworthy”. Or worse, that it was newsworthy but didn’t follow their storyline.” (found here)

“And the media whining about losing scoops — well, tough beans. If they post it all online and give it to everyone, they are serving the public –the media isn’t the public, and never has been.” (found here)

“The media’s track record, in general, for owning up to its blunders continues to be abysmal. Front page screw-ups are fixed several days (or weeks) later with a little “setting it straight” box buried at the bottom of P. 2 — and you think that’s good enough. If the media were more open and honest about fixing its mistakes, I might cut you a little slack over the BC Ferries’ policy of making your life difficult. But whining about it is going to be counterproductive, as you can see from most of the comments so far.” (found here)

While some comments were supportive of the articles, the majority have not been. Suggesting that at the minimum that the public does not share the media’s view that this new policy is a “controversial.”

This is not, of course, to say that BC Ferries implemented its policy because it sought to do the right thing. I’m sure it’s president would love for their to be fewer requests and impede the efforts of journalists. I just happen to think he will fail. Dismally. More concerning is the fact that FOI requests are not archived on the site and are removed after a few months. This is what should get the media, the public and yes, the Information and Privacy Commissioner, up in arms.

Canada ranks last in freedom of information

For those who missed it over the weekend it turns out Canada ranks last in freedom of information study that looked at the world’s western Parliamentary democracies. What makes it all the more astounding is that a decade ago Canada was considered a leader.

Consider two from the Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault quotes pulled from the piece:

Only about 16 per cent of the 35,000 requests filed last year resulted in the full disclosure of information, compared with 40 per cent a decade ago, she noted.

And delays in the release of records continue to grow, with just 56 per cent of requests completed in the legislated 30-day period last year, compared with almost 70 per cent at the start of the decade.

These are appalling numbers.

The sad thing is… don’t expect things to get better. Why?

Firstly, the current government seems completely uninterested in access to information, transparency and proactive disclosure, despite these being core planks of its election platform and core values of the reform movement that re-launched Canadian conservatism. Indeed, reforming and improving access to information is the only unfulfilled original campaign promise of the Conservatives – and there appears to be no interest in touching it. Quite the opposite – that political staff now intervene to block and restrict Access to Information Requests – contravening the legislation and policy – is now a well known and documented fact.

Second, this issue is of secondary importance to the public. While everyone will say they care about access to information and open government, then number of people (while growing) still remains small. These types of reports and issues are of secondary importance. This isn’t to say they don’t matter. They do – but generally after something bigger and nastier has come to light and the public begins to smell rot. Then studies like this become the type of thing that hurts a government – it gives legitimacy and language to a sentiment people widely feel.

Third, the public seems confused about who they distrust more – the fact is, however bad the current government is on this issue, the Liberal brand is still badly tarnished on this issue of transparent government due to the scandals from almost a decade ago. Sadly, this means that there will be less burden on this government to act since – every time the issue of transparency and open government arise – rather than act, Government leaders simply point out the other parties failings.

So as the world moves on while Canada remains stuck, its government becoming more opaque, distant and less accountable to the people that elect it.

Interestingly , this also has a real cost to Canada’s influence in the world. It means something when the world turns to you as an expert – as we once were on access to information – minister’s are consulted by other world leaders, your public servants are given access to information loops they might otherwise not know about, there is a general respect, a soft power, that comes from being an acknowledged leader. Today, this is gone.

Indeed, it is worth noting that of the countries survey in the above mentioned study, only Canada and Ireland do not have open data portals which allow for proactive disclosure.

It’s a sign of the times.

Hello 2011! Coding for America, speaking, open data and licenses

Eaves.ca readers – happy new year! Here’s a little but of an overview into how we are kicking off 2011/

Thank you

First, if you are a regular reader…. thank you. Eaves.ca has just entered its 4th year and it all keeps getting more and more rewarding. I write to organize my thoughts and refine my writing skills but it is always most rewarding to see others benefit from/find it of value to read these posts.

Code for America

I’ve just landed San Francisco (literally! I’m sitting on the floor of the airport, catching the free SFO wifi) where I’ll be spending virtually all of January volunteering to help launch Code for America. Why? Because I think the organizations matters, its projects are important and the people are great. I’ve always enjoyed hanging out with technologists with a positive agenda for change (think Mozilla & OpenMRS) and Code for America takes all that fun and combines it with government – one of my other great passions. I hope to update you on the progress the organizations makes and what will be happening over the coming weeks. And yes, I am thinking about how Code for Canada might fit into all this.

Gov 2.0

I’ll also be in Ottawa twice in January. My first trip out is to present on a paper about how to write collaboratively using a wiki. With a little bit of work, I’ll be repositioning this paper to make it about how to draft public policy on a wiki within government (think GCPEDIA). With luck I’ll publish this in something like Policy Options or something similar (maybe US based?). I think this has the potential of being one of my most important pieces of the year and needless to say, I’m excited and will be grateful for feedback, both good and negative.

Open Data and Government

On my second trip to Ottawa I’ll be presenting on Open Data and Open Government to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Obviously, I’m honored and thrilled they’ve asked me to come and talk and look forward to helping parliamentarians understand why this issue is so important and how they could make serious progress in short order if they put their minds to the task.

Licenses

So for the last two years we’ve been working hard to get cities to do open data with significant success. This year, may be the year that the Feds (more on that in a later post) and some provinces get in on the game, as well as a larger group of cities. The goal for them will be to build on, and take to the next level, the successes of the first movers like Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa. This will mean one thing. Doing the licensing better. The Vancouver license, which has been widely copied was a good starting point for governments venturing into unknown territory (e.g. getting their toes wet). But the license has several problems –and there are several significantly better choices out there (I’m look over at you PDDL – which I notice the City of Surrey has adopted, nice work.). So, I think one big goal for 2011 will be to get governments to begin shifting to (ideally) the PDDL and (if necessary) something more equivalent. On this front I’m feeling optimistic as well and will blog on this in the near future.

Lots of other exciting things going on as well – I look forward to sharing them here in the blog soon.

All in all, its hard to to be excited about 2011 and I hope you are too. Thank you so much for being part of all of this.

An Open Letter on Open Government to the Access to Information, Privacy & Ethics Parliamentary Committee

The other week I received an invitation from the Canadian Standing Parliamentary Committee on Access to Information, Privacy & Ethics to come and testify about open government and open data on February 1st.

The Committee has talked a great deal about its efforts to engage in a study of open government and since February 1st is quite a bit away and I’d like to be helpful before my testimony, I thought I draft up some thoughts and suggestion for the committee’s strategy. I know these are unsolicited but I hope they are helpful and, if not, that they at least spark some helpful thoughts.

1. Establish a common understanding of the current state of affairs

First off, the biggest risk at the moment is that the Committee’s work might actually slow down efforts of the government to launch an open data strategy. The Committee’s work, and the drafting of its report, is bound to take several months, it would be a shame if the government were to hold back launching any initiatives in anticipation of this report.

Consequently, my hope is that the committee, at is earliest possible convenience, request to speak to the Chief Information Officer of the Government of Canada to get an update regarding the current status of any open government and open data initiatives, should they exist. This would a) create a common understanding regarding the current state of affairs for both committee members and witnesses; b) allow subsequent testimony and recommendations to take into consideration the work already done and c) allow the committee to structure its work so as to not slow down any current efforts that might be already underway.

2. Transform the Committee into a Government 2.0 Taskforce – similar to the Australian effort

Frankly, my favourite approach in this space has been the British. Two Government’s, one Labour, one Conservative have aggressive pursued an open data and open government strategy. This, would be my hope for Canada. However, it does not appear that is is presently the case. So, another model should be adopted. Fortunately, such a model exists.

Last year, under the leadership of Nicholas Gruen, the Australian government launched a Government 2.0 taskforce on which I had the pleasure of serving on the International Reference Group. The Australian Taskforce was non-partisan and was made up of policy and technical experts and entrepreneurs from government, business, academia, and cultural institutions. More importantly, the overwhelming majority of its recommendations were adopted.

To replicate its success in Canada I believe the Committee should copy the best parts of the Australian taskforce. The topic of Canadians access to their government is of central importance to all Canadians – to non-profits, to business interests, to public servants and, of course, to everyday citizens. Rather than non-partisan, I would suggest that a Canadian taskforce should be pan-partisan – which the Committee already is. However, like the Australian Taskforce it should include a number of policy and technical experts from outside government. This fill committee would this represent both a political cross-section and substantive knowledge in the emerging field of government 2.0. It could thus, as a whole, effectively and quickly draft recommendations to Parliament.

Best of all, because of step #1, this work could proceed in parallel to any projects (if any) already initiated by the government and possibly even inform such work by providing interim updates.

I concede such an approach may be too radical, but I hope it is at least a starting point for an interesting approach.

3. Lead by Example

There is one arena where politicians need not wait on the government to make plans: Parliament itself. Over the past year, while in conversations with the Parliamentary IT staff as well as the Speaker of the House, I have worked to have Parliament make more data about its own operations open. Starting in January, the Parliamentary website will begin releasing the Hansard in XML – this will make it much easier for software developers like the creators of Openparliament.ca as and howdtheyvote.ca to run their sites and for students, researchers and reporters to search and analyze our country’s most important public discussions. In short, by making the Hansard more accessible the Speaker and his IT staff are making parliament more accessible. But this is only the beginning of what parliamentarians could do to make for a truly Open Parliament. The House and Senate’s schedules and agendas, along with committee calendars should all be open. So to should both chambers seating arrangement. Member’s photos and bios should be shared with an unrestricted license as should the videos of parliament.

Leadership in this space would send a powerful message to both the government and the public service that Canada’s politicians are serious about making government more open and accessible to those who elect it. In addition, it could also influence provincial legislature’s and even municipal governments, prompting them to do the same and so enhance our democracy at every level.

4. Finally, understand your task: You are creating a Knowledge Government for a Knowledge Society

One reason I advise the Committee to take on external members is because, laudably, many admit this topic is new to them. But I also want the committee members to understand the gravity of their task. Open Government, Open Data and/or Government 2.0 are important first steps in a much larger project.

What you are really wrestling with here is what government is going to look like in an knowledge economy and a knowledge society. How is going to function with knowledge workers as employees? And, most importantly, how is it going to engage with knowledge citizens, many of whom can and want to make real contributions beyond the taxes they pay and don’t need government to self-organize?

In short, what is a knowledge based government going to look like?

At the centre of that question is how we manage and share information. The basic building block of a knowledge driven society.

Look around, and you can see how the digital world is transforming how we do everything. Few of us can imagine living today without access to the internet and the abundance of information it brings to us. Indeed, we have already become so used to the internet we forget how much it has radically changed whole swaths of our life and economy from the travel and music industry to the post to political fund-raising and to journalism.

If today our government still broadly looks and feels like an institution shaped by the printing press it is because, well it is. Deputy Ministers and Ministers still receive giant briefing binders filled with paper. This is a reflection of how we deal within information and knowledge in government, we move it around (for good reasons) in siloes, operating as though networks, advance search, and other innovations don’t exist (even though they already do).

How our government deals with information is at the heart of your task. I’m not saying you have to re-invent government or dismantle all the silos and ministries. Quite the contrary, I believe small changes can be made that will yield significant benefits, efficiencies and savings while enhancing our democracy. But you will be confronting decades, if not centuries of tradition, culture and process in an institution that is about to go through the biggest change since the invention of the printing press. You don’t have to do it all, but even some small first steps will not come easily. I share this because I want you going into the task with eyes wide open.

At the very least we aren’t going first, our cousins both across the Atlantic, the Pacific and our southern border have already taken the plunge. But this should add urgency to our task. We cannot afford to stand by while others renew their democratic institutions while simultaneously enhancing an emerging and critical pillar of a new knowledge economy and knowledge society.

Opening up parliament and getting government IT right

Last week I received two invitations to present.

The first was an invitation to present to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. They are preparing a report on Open Government and would like me to make a short presentation and then answer questions for a couple of hours. This is a ways out but obviously I’m treating it with a significant amount of seriousness – so if you have thoughts or comments on things you think I should share, please feel free to ping me or comment below.

(Speaking of parliament… as an aside, I want again to let developers there know that through some engagement I’ve been having with the parliamentary IT staff they’ve informed me they will be releasing a number of data sets in January including the Hansard.)

Second is, next week, I’ll be at the United Nations as part of the Expert Group Meeting on the 2012 e-Government Survey: Towards a More Citizen-Centric Approach. My main goal here is to stop getting governments to compare themselves to one another on how “successful” they are in delivering services and information online. With a few notable exceptions, most government websites are at best functional at worst, unnavigable.  Consequently, comparing themselves to one another allows them to feel like all is okay, when really they are collectively trapped in a world of design mediocrity.

Yes, they aren’t pretty words, but someone has to say them.

So any thoughts on this subject are welcome as well.

More soon on the hackathon and the census.

Launching Emitter.ca: Open Data, Pollution and Your Community

This week, I’m pleased to announce the beta launch of Emitter.ca – a website for locating, exploring and assessing pollution in your community.

Why Emitter?

A few weeks ago, Nik Garkusha, Microsoft’s Open Source Strategy Lead and an open data advocate asked me: “are there any cool apps you could imagine developing using Canadian federal government open data?”

Having looked over the slim pickings of open federal data sets – most of which I saw while linking to them datadotgc.ca – I remembered one: Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) that had real potential.

Emitter-screen-shot

With NPRI I felt we could build an application that allowed people and communities to more clearly see who is polluting, and how much, in their communities could be quite powerful. A 220 chemicals that NPRI tracks isn’t, on its own, a helpful or useful to most Canadians.

We agreed to do something and set for ourselves three goals:

  1. Create a powerful demonstration of how Canadian Federal open data can be used
  2. Develop an application that makes data accessible and engaging to everyday Canadians and provides communities with a tool to better  understand their immediate region or city
  3. Be open

With the help of a crew of volunteers with knew and who joined us along the way – Matthew Dance (Edmonton), Aaron McGowan (London, ON), Barranger Ridler (Toronto) and Mark Arteaga (Oakville) – Emitter began to come together.

Why a Beta?

For a few reasons.

  1. There are still bugs, we’d love to hear about them. Let us know.
  2. We’d like to refine our methodology. It would be great to have a methodology that was more sensitive to chemical types, combinations and other factors… Indeed, I know Matt would love to work with ENGOs or academics who might be able to help provide us with better score cards that can helps Canadians understand what the pollution near them means.
  3. More features – I’d love to be able to include more datasets… like data on where tumours or asthama rates or even employment rates.
  4. I’d LOVE to do mobile, to be able to show pollution data on a mobile app and even in using augmented reality.
  5. Trends… once we get 2009 and/or earlier data we could begin to show trends in pollution rates by facility
  6. plus much, much more…

Build on our work

Finally, we have made everything we’ve done open, our methodology is transparent, and anyone can access the data we used through an API that we share. Also, you can learn more about Emitter and how it came to be reading blog posts by the various developers involved.

Thank yous

Obviously the amazing group of people who made Emitter possible deserve an enormous thank you. I’d also like to thank the Open Lab at Microsoft Canada for contributing the resources that made this possible. We should also thank those who allowed us to build on their work, including Cory Horner’s Howdtheyvote.ca API for Electoral District boundaries we were able to use (why Elections Canada doesn’t offer this is beyond me and, frankly, is an embarrassment). Finally, it is important to acknowledge and thank the good people at Environment Canada who not only collected this data, but have the foresight and wisdom to share make it open. I hope we’ll see more of this.

In Sum

Will Emitter change the world? It’s hard to imagine. But hopefully it is a powerful example of what can happen when governments make their data open. That people will take that data and make it accessible in new and engaging ways.

I hope you’ll give it a spin and I look forward to sharing new features as they come out.

Update!

Since Yesterday Emitter.ca has picked up some media. Here are some of the links so far…

Hanneke Brooymans of the Edmonton Journal wrote this piece which was in turn picked up by the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, Canada.com, Leader Post, The Province, Times Columnist and Windsor Star.

Nestor Arellano of ITBusiness.ca wrote this piece

Burke Campbell, a freelance writer, wrote this piece on his site.

Kate Dubinski of the London Free Press writes a piece titled It’s Easy to Dig up Dirt Online about emitter.ca

Lots of great reading

So with summer having now sped by I haven’t done a reading update in quite some time… here’s a quickie:

1. The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

For a subject that sounds like it should completely bore you – the history of finance – this book is brilliant and, frankly, fun. It’s also timely. The financial system is so old that we often forget that it actually emerged out of something. Money, bonds, stocks, all that good stuff, it hasn’t always been around. WE of course know this, but it is great to actually be walked through how it all emerged, especially when its so wonderful told. It’s also nice to take a look at an old system, like finance, which we are now as comfortable with as the air we breath (even, when at times, it turns toxic and crashes our economy) as so much of my time is spent looking at relatively newer systems – digital networks and the internet. Lots of lessons could be drawn, especially around trust networks (something here for Shirky while he’s at Berkman?).

One additional point. I initially started watching the PBS series by the same name which is based on the book and also hosted by Niall Ferguson but was not really riveted by it. It was somewhat slow moving and lacked the historical depth and arc the book has… so if you saw the TV documentaries and were turned off, not to worry, the book is definitely working picking up.

2. How Government HR Processes are Broken

Check out this fantastic post by an anonymous public servant in Gatineau. It’s a deadly piece about how broken hiring practices are in government and how it’s unsurprising some would be driven away. It would make you laugh if it weren’t making you cry. Got this from a public servant, then after tweeting it, a bunch more noted to me how painfully true it felt to them. Sigh.

3. David McCandless: The Beauty of Data Visualization

It’s hard(er) to do visualizations without open data. Here’s some beautiful ones from England.

We are going to make a better world, nudging and learning

4. An interview with David Mahfouda and Alex Pasternack, creators of a new app for booking/sharing rides in New York

A fantastic interview about how we can share resources to get around more quickly, cheaply and efficiently by using technology. A riff off of Robin’s Chases’ ZipCar idea but its not about sharing cars, but sharing rides. This is the future of urban transportation. That is, of course, if Ontario’s bus companies don’t try to outlaw it.

Links from Gov2.0 Summit talk and bonus material

My 5 minute lightening fast jam packed talk (do I do other formats? answer… yes) from yesterday’s Gov2.0 summit hasn’t yet been has just been posted to youtube. I love that this year the videos have the slides integrated into it.

For those who were, and were not, there yesterday, I wanted to share links to all the great sites and organizations I cited during my talk, I also wanted to share one or two quick stories I didn’t have time to dive into:

VanTrash and 311:

Screen-shot-2010-09-09-at-3.07.32-AM-1024x640As one of the more mature apps in Vancouver using open data Vantrash keeps being showing us how these types of innovations just keep giving back in new and interesting ways.

In addition to being used by over 3000 households (despite never being advertised – this is all word of mouth) it turns out that the city staff are also finding a use for vantrash.

I was recently told that 311 call staff use Vantrash to help trouble shoot incoming calls from residents who are having problems with garbage collection. The first thing one needs to do in such a situation is identify which collection zone the caller lives in – turns out VanTrash is the fastest and more effective way to accomplish this. Simply input the caller’s address into the top right hand field and presto – you know their zone and schedule. Much better than trying to find their address on a physical map that you may or may not have near your station.

TaxiCity, Open Data and Game Development

Another interesting spin off of open data. The TaxiCity development team, which recreated downtown Vancouver in 2-D using data from the open data catalog, noted that creating virtual cities in games could be a lot easier with open data. You could simply randomize the height of buildings and presto an instant virtual city would be ready. While the buildings would still need to be skinned one could recreate cities people know quickly or create fake cities that felt realistic as they’d be based on real plans. More importantly, this process could help reduce the time and resources needed to create virtual cities in games – an innovation that may be of interest to those in the video game industry. Of course, given that Vancouver is a hub for video game development, it is exactly these types of innovations the city wishes to foster and will help sustain Vancouver’s competitive advantage.

Links (in order of appearance in my talk)

Code For America shirt design can be seen in all their glory here and can be ordered here. As a fun aside, I literally took that shirt of Tim O’Reilly’s back! I saw it the day before and said, I’d wear that on stage. Tim overheard me and said he’d give me his if I was serious…

Vancouver’s Open Motion (or Open3, as it is internally referred to by staff) can be read in the city’s PDF version or an HTML version from my blog.

Vancouver’s Open Data Portal is here. keep an eye on this page as new data sets and features are added. You can get RSS feed or email updates on the page, as well as see its update history.

Vantrash the garbage reminder service’s website is here. There’s a distinct mobile interface if you are using your phone to browse.

ParkingMobility, an app that crowdsources the location of disabled parking spaces and enables users to take pictures of cars illegally parked in disabled spots to assist in enforcement.

TaxiCity, the Centre for Digital Media Project sponsored by Bing and Microsoft has its project page here. Links to the sourcecode, documentation, and a ton of other content is also available. Really proud of these guys.

Microsoft’s Internal Vancouver Open Data Challenge fostered a number of apps. Most have been opensourced and so you can get access to the code as well. The apps include:

The Graffiti Analysis written by University of British Columbia undergraduate students can be downloaded from this blog post I posted about their project.

BTA Works – the research arm of Bing Thom Architects has a great website here. You can’t download their report about the future of Vancouver yet (it is still being peer-reviewed) but you can read about it in this local newspaper article.

Long Tail of Public Policy – I talk about this idea in some detail in my chapter on O’Reilly Media’s Open Government. There is also a brief blog post and slide from my blog here.

Vancouver’s Open Data License – is here. Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto use essentially the exact same thing. Lots that could be done on this front still mind you… Indeed, getting all these cities on a single standard license should be a priority.

Vancouver Data Discussion Group is here. You need to sign in to join but it is open to anyone.

Okay, hope those are interesting and helpful.