Province of BC launches Open Data Catalog: What works

As revealed yesterday, the province of British Columbia became the first provincial government in Canada to launch an open data portal.

It’s still early but here are some things that I think they’ve gotten right.

1. License: Getting it Right (part 1)

Before anything else happens, this is probably the single biggest good news story for Canadians interested in the opportunities around open data. If the license is broken, it pretty much doesn’t matter how good the data is, it essential gets put in a legal straightjacket and cannot be used. For BC open data portal this happily, is not the case.

There’s actually two good news stories here.

The first is that the license is good. Obviously my preference would be for everything to be unlicensed and in the public domain as it is in the United States. Short of that however, the most progressive license out there is the UK Government’s Open Government License for Public Sector Information. Happily the BC government has essentially copied it. This means that many of that BC’s open data can be used for commercial purposes, political advocacy, personal use and so forth. In short the restrictions are minimal and, I believe, acceptable. The license addresses the concerns I raised back in March when I said 2011 would be the year of Open Data licenses in Canada.

2. License: The Virtuous Convergence (part 2)

The other great thing is that this is a standardized license. The BC government didn’t invent something new they copied something that already worked. This is music to the ears of many as it means applications and analysis developed in British Columbia can be ported to other jurisdictions that use the same license seamlessly. At the moment, that means all of the United Kingdom. There has been some talk of making the UK Open Government Licenses (OGL) a standard that can be used across the commonwealth – that, in my mind, would be a fantastic outcome.

My hope is that this will also put pressure on other jurisdictions to either improve their licenses or converge them with BC/UK or adopt a better license still. With the exception of the City of Surrey, which uses the PDDL license, the BC government’s license far superior to the licenses being used by other jurisdictions:  – the municipal licenses based on Vancouver’s license (used by Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and a few others) and the Federal Government’s open data license (used by Treasury Board and CIDA) are both much more restrictive. Indeed, my real hope is that BC’s move will snap the Federal Government out of their funk, make them realize their own licenses are confusing, problematic and a waste of time, and encourage them to contribute to making the UK’s OGL a new standard for all of Canada. It would be much better than what they have on offer.

3. Tools for non-developers

Another nice thing about the website is that it provides tools for non-developers, so that they can play with, and learn from, some of the data. This is, of course, standard fare on most newer open data portals – indeed, it’s seems to be the primary focus on Socrata, a company that specializes in creating open government data portals. The goal everywhere is to increase the number of people who can make use of the data.

4. Meaty Data – Including Public Accounts

One of the charges sometimes leveled against open data portals is that they don’t publish data that is important, or that could drive substantive public policy debates. While this is not true of what has happened in the UK and the United States, that charge probably is someone fair in Canada. While I’m still exploring the data available on one thing seems clear, there is a commitment to getting the more “high-value” data sets out to the public. For example, I’ve already noticed you can download the Consolidated Revenue Fund Detailed Schedules of Payments-FYE10-Suppliers which for the fiscal year 2009-2010 details the payees who received $25,000 or more from the government. I also noticed that the Provincial Obstacles to Fish Passage are available for download – something I hope our friends in the environmental movement will find helpful. There is also an entire section dedicated to data on the provincial educational system, I’ll be exploring that in more detail.

Wanted to publish this for now, definitely keen to hear about others thoughts and comments on the data portal, data sets you find interesting and helpful, or anything else. If you are building an app using this data, or doing an analysis that is made easier because of the data on this site, I’d love to hear from you.

This is a big step for the province. I’m sure I’ll discover some shortcomings as I dive deeper, but this is a solid start and, I hope, an example to other provinces about what is possible.

9 thoughts on “Province of BC launches Open Data Catalog: What works

  1. Guest

    The Township of Langley, BC, has been publishing Open Data under PDDL for months.

    Winnipeg transit has been publishing their GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) data under PDDL for some time as well.

    These municipalities as well as Surrey, BC, are getting it right, while the Feds, and BC take half-measures.  Writing a license variant hurts Open Data compatibility every time. 

    1. Jason Birch

      PDDL is a great license, but depending on which lawyer you talk to you’ll get different answers about the level of risk you’re accepting by using it.

      I for one home that the BC Government license becomes one of the standard options (along with PDDL, ODC-BY, ODC-ODBL) available for governments looking to publish their data.  It looks like it will be more palatable to conservative lawyers, and anything that allows more data to be published openly is a good thing.

    2. David Eaves

      Guest – I’d heard of the Township of Langley’s opendata portal and am remiss for not mentioning it. I had not heard that Winnipeg was sharing their GTFS data under the PDDL. That is great! I also agree that the Feds have taken a half-measure regarding their license, but feel that charge is unfair against BC. No one accuses the UK government of taking a half-measure, indeed, most people cite them as the leader in the space, so given that the BC government has adopted the same license, and given the progressive nature of that license, I believe this to be very much a step in the right direction and not a half-measure at all.

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  3. Hugh Stimson

    They provide a .csv version of the DataBC Data Catalogue Content itself:

    That’s handy if you want to scan through quickly, or filter or sort by type.

    I notice that most of the school data you pointed at has the names of the schools stripped out, although the school district names remain. I suppose there could be some justification for that, but it does make it less “meaty”.

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