As every year passes, more and more jurisdictions around the world are joining the Open Data movement, which in its essence, is an initiative that began with the idea that certain types of non-personal government-held information should be made freely available to everyone to use and republish. The ubiquitous nature of the Web, and accompanying technologies, has driven dramatic new increases in public demand for government-held information, providing a new dimension to civic participation, and redefining the significance of freedom of information legislation.
With so much data now available, and in so many different formats, individuals, community groups and researchers now have the power to use public information for a variety of purposes — for example, to spot inefficiencies in government services, and make recommendations directly to the offices responsible for those services. Further, our economy also benefits by giving businesses access to a wealth of new information from which to improve, or create new products and services, thus driving the potential to create entire new products where none existed before.
In 2011, the Government of Canada joined a number of other nations when it launched its own Open Data Pilot website as part of a commitment to Open Government with a vast array of datasets covering topics such as immigration, forestry and transportation.
There are also a number of municipalities in Ontario featuring Open Data portals with the City of Toronto setting a world-class example. DataTO.org is a clean and efficient one-stop website where anyone can find and download datasets that cover an unbelievable amount of information covering almost every subject matter relevant to the city.
At the provincial level, British Columbia launched Canada’s first provincial government Open Data site known as DataBC. This data portal not only offers a large number of datasets, but it also provides computer apps and other programs featuring information ranging from environmental data, court services and demographics.
While Ontario still lacks a centralized data portal, there has been much discussion about it over the last year. I believe that Ontario needs to establish its own Open Data portal so that we may continue to demonstrate that we are a world leader in access to information.
The main focus of Government 2.0 is to engage citizens, and it is time for Ontario to enter the 21st century by providing Open Data and the right to open government for all its citizens. I am optimistic that the Government of Ontario can have a centralized Open Data site up and running by the end of 2012, and urge it to meet this goal. The use of tools such as wikis, blogs, online mapping sites and other apps is moving governments to provide data to their citizens in a manner that is efficient and useful. I believe this is completely possible. We can start with readily available data and continue to add more and more datasets as time goes on, creating an Open Data site that can be the envy of the world.