Last week the Liberal Party of Canada launched their Open Government Initiative. There's been a bit of buzz in the blogosphere about the Liberal initiative. I'm delighted that we're moving towards open government. I'm looking forward to the Conservative government agreeing that this is really important and declaring that all (appropriate) data will be available.
But what if we launch into this "open" thing and it all goes horribly wrong? Let's assume that only appropriate data is made publicly available. Let's assume that all privacy and security concerns are met. There's still two very important points that need to be met before data is "open":
- What's the license? Because bad licenses can make data less usable.
- What's the format? Tim Berners-Lee talks about the importance of format.
I've been using a lot of the freely available government data from elections.ca and StatsCan and the Community Information Database for my campaign. But freely available information isn't the same as open data. Freely available information is like the reference section of your public library. You can read all the books for free. But you can't take them out of the library. And you most definitely cannot highlight the really important passages, rip out pictures for your scrapbook, or otherwise convert the information into a format that's useful to you. Freely available information can only be used as-is.
Open data, on the other hand, is released into the public with the intention of it being remixed by other people. A license is applied to the data that allows other data nerds (scientists, geographers, map makers, etc) to copy and paste the bits they need. The remix could result in new maps--or in the case of science: new revelations about the world around us. Open data can make it easier for government departments to work together too--with open data anyone (especially bureaucrats) can grab a copy of publicly licensed information and get to work. There's no chain of command and there's no wasting time waiting for the person who's on vacation to give you permission to use data from the department down the hall. The data comes with a built-in permission slip via its license.
Sound interesting? I sure think so! I have started collecting information to create a new policy for open data and open access to information for the Green Party. The policy will include a way towards open government that includes:
- opening data sets created by government
- opening data sets created by publicly funded research
- appropriate licenses for public data
- appropriate formats for maximum re-usability
Are you interested in making data sets freely available and reusable too? Please leave a message after the beep. I look forward to speaking with you about it.
Originally published at: http://greenparty.ca/blogs/16080/2010-10-25/interested-open-data-you-should-be