Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[LINK] "How Canada became an open data and data journalism powerhouse"

The Guardian's Simon Rogers surprised me with the news that Canada's a great place if you want to map publicly available information. He started by interviewing Patrick Cain, author of the project mapping Toronto's Second World War casualties that I remarked about today.

Patrick Cain works by doggedly pursuing datasets, often from official sources which don't want to know – but bolstered by a powerful freedom of information system:

If something is uncontroversial (like dog licences by postal code) there are often no issues about releasing it. On the other side, we have the sex offender database, which I've been trying to get access to since the spring in 2008. Sometimes there is ineffective resistance, like the landlord and tenant appeal board that tried to get me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Mostly I get things in the mail as the law demands … Everybody (including me) likes the rage-against-the-machine stories, but in the majority of cases the system works more or less as intended.

Cain is one of the most established of the new breed. Names mentioned by those in the know include Chad Skelton on the Vancouver Sun, Rob Cribb at the Toronto Star; David McKie at CBC and Glen McGregor at the Ottawa Citizen.

Toronto's open data intitiative is run by a small team of enthusiasts in the city authority's web department. Led by Trish Garner, the unit updates the site every day with raw datasets from local election results to detailed boundary mapping. And all in addition to their day job of keeping the city's tech running. She's inspired by the worldwide open data movement.

I think there's a large community of developers in Toronto and across Canada which is inspired by what's going on in the UK and in the US under the Obama administration and want to see change here at home. A good majority have registered with us and are quite avidly following what we're doing.

Politically, she says support is growing:

There has been solid support from the very top - our Mayor - and from the City Clerk and the CIO. Indications are that the mayor-elect [Rob Ford was elected earlier this month] will also be a champion. This is key for us. I have to say, too, that it wouldn't be possible to carry on without the constructive feedback and support we've received from the developer community and the dedication and enthusiasm of a bright, highly motivated, energetic team. They love what they do and they have fun.
Tags: blogs, democracy, links, maps, second world war, toronto
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