It's time for Open Government Open Data in #HamOnt

Do you want to see what the election results look like poll by poll?

[![]( "Open City Workshop - Edmonton")]( sign from the Open City Workshop in Edmonton, AB says it all. (Mack Male (mastermaq) / Flickr)

Are you interested in learning how to participate in making Hamilton an Open Data City?

Do you want to be more informed?

Are you interested in contributing your skills online?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, join us this Saturday, 11am, at the Mulberry Cafe as we take the next step towards making Hamilton an Open Data city.

Everyone can contribute, you don’t have to be a web programmer or computer nerd.

RSVP on Facebook

What’s Open Data?

Open Data is the philosophy and practice of providing public data in an accessible electronic format that is free from copyright, patents, and other restrictions. The principles of open government data are best summarized in the Eight Principles of Open Government Data developed by the Open Government Working Group.

Government data shall be considered open if it is made public in a way that complies with the principles below:

  1. Complete: All public data is made available. Public data is data that is not subject to valid privacy, security or privilege limitations.
  2. Primary: Data is as collected at the source, with the highest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms.
  3. Timely: Data is made available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data.
  4. Accessible: Data is available to the widest range of users for the widest range of purposes.
  5. Machine processable: Data is reasonably structured to allow automated processing.
  6. Non-discriminatory: Data is available to anyone, with no requirement of registration.
  7. Non-proprietary: Data is available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control.
  8. License-free: Data is not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulation. Reasonable privacy, security and privilege restrictions may be allowed.

How will mapping old data help to open new data?

Transferring electoral data into an open format and using that data to visualize the results will show City Councillors and the Mayor what’s possible by allowing citizens to access public information in real-time. By using data that’s of interest to both the entire general public and especially elected officials, we significantly increase our chances of getting City Council to pass a strong motion adopting an actual Open Data policy.

At present, we have a concept that is difficult to explain with words alone. A visualization combined with citizen delegations will give Councillors a full picture of what Open Data means and prevent the idea from being dispatched into the abyss of bureaucracy.

What can we do with these maps moving forward?

The City of Hamilton’s voting location application did not include many addresses. The limitation was it didn’t use geographic data to calculate voting location – it used an old table not much different than a paper telephone directory.
We can use our maps to provide the City a comprehensive voting location application that operates on every platform. To not have any electoral data in mobile format in 2010 was disgraceful. To think the City will continue using an outdated table on an outdated website in 2014 leaves me without the words.

What else could we do with Open Data?

The possibilities are endless. We could track traffic patterns, and have a map that informs people of accidents and delays. We could map the demographics of the city to improve public policy to better address poverty. We can use the same demographic information to attract new businesses to open in Hamilton.

My idea:

Getting access to the data from the City’s electronic voting system in Council Chambers and have a record of every single vote taken by Council. Imagine knowing where your Councillor stood on any issue.

Every time a Councillor speaks, a command is sent to start counting down their five minutes of speaking time. (Not that they actually keep to their time.) The system logs which Councillor is speaking and notes if its their first, second, or third time speaking to the issue.

This data can track who speaks most often at Council, how long they speak, and what issues they speak to.

On the Internet, Council could be streamed with live voting results provided on the same webpage. You want to know how Council votes on a decision but don’t have access to cable or the Internet? You can sign up for mobile text message alerts for every vote, or just the vote you’re most interested in.

The possibilities with Open Data are endless and cost-effective.

Ryan McGreal offered up a great idea last year on RTH:

One Idea to Get Started

My own contribution to such an ecology of open government applications must necessarily be modest, not only because of the nature of open source development but also because there are a lot of programmers out there who are a lot smarter than me. 🙂 Nevertheless, here’s one obvious idea that shouldn’t be hard to implement: a live HSR bus map.

The city is purchasing new GPS systems for all its buses and will have them installed by the end of the year. If the city provides real-time GPS data for its bus fleet in a web-based API, someone can create a Google Maps mashup that places the buses on the map in their actual current position and lets users click on a bus to see its identity, route and schedule.

Again, the city could hire a consultant to produce such a tool. It would probably end up costing a lot of money, not working very well and having extremely limited responsiveness to the feedback of the user base.

Why pay for second-rate software when the city can encourage its own citizens and residents to create and improve a similar application simply out of a joy for creation, sharing and participation in the public weal?

Imagine our City Council making its first Act of the new term the implementation of an Open Data policy.

Let’s stop imagining and make it happen. December 1st is only a month away.