Data Catalyst - OpenThis summer I will be travelling across Canada (twice!) on my motorcycle— approximately 20,000 kilometres in total—to bring attention to the open government and open data movements, which are based on transparency, accountability and engagement.

The open government tour will put into practice the theories that make up these movements.

Open Government Tour Motorcycle

My view on open data

I like to say that open data is the technology that will give us a more accountable, transparent and engaging government.

Open government is the willingness to use that technology. It is the culture change required both within our government and our homes that will create a much more collaborative and productive relationship between people and their government, to build trust between people and their government and to create collaborative environments where we can work together.

Open data and open government can be compared to a car and driver

Open data sets are like Lego blocks

You can build anything with Lego blocks—Star Destroyers, full-sized Volvo SUVs, and superheroes—and the only thing stopping you is the type of Lego block and your own imagination.

Open data sets are just like Lego blocks. You can build anything with them, as long as you have access to the right data sets and have a lively imagination. That’s why I never really have an answer when people ask me “how much impact do you think open data can have?”

Who can say? It could be a passing fad like the Macarena, or a culture-shifting movement that will redefine how we engage with government and operate businesses. I can tell you this, though: open data has already massively changed at least one sector, and that sector is transit.

Transit apps exist in most large urban centres (like Toronto, San Francisco and Paris) and many smaller ones too (like Halifax, Denver and Bordeaux). These apps give users real-time updates on when their buses/streetcars/subways will be arriving at their stop. This is made possible because the governing transit agencies chose to release (we sometimes use the word “liberate”) their data instead of keeping it inside the walls of the bureaucracy.

Thanks to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) releasing their data sets, there are approximately 20 transit apps in Toronto on the Android platform. And I argue that if the TTC had chosen to not release their data, then there would only be one TTC app (maybe), and it wouldn’t be very good. Now, people get to choose their preferred transit application.

Using this example, we see that open data and open government allow people to customize their government services. What a novel idea!

Now, just imagine what else it could do.

This summer, I’ll be riding across the country trying to explore those ideas with people all across Canada. Come join me.

Richard Pietro

Richard Pietro is a recovering politician who is now an active member of the open government and open data community. His current project is a cross-Canada motorcycle tour that will show Canadians how open data can turn civic engagement into a rock concert. See more…