Have you ever wondered why council is making some decision? Have you questioned why photo radar is deployed in a particular location? Why bike lanes were chosen for downtown, instead of somewhere else?
City Council makes informed decisions based on data to shape the future of the City of Edmonton. But how can you hold them to account if they have more data than you? Without being able to see all the information your councillor used and being able to come to your own conclusions, the relationship will forever be imbalanced because feedback you give might be invalidated by certain data, that you could never know about.
This is where open data comes in. Simply put, Open data is information that the City owns, released freely in a usable format for anyone to work with, remix, and report on. In April of 2015, Council adopted City Policy C581 (pdf) which states that city data should be open by default. This is a great policy decision, but some of the implementation has left a bit to be desired. We need to put priority on removing all barriers and getting all our old and new data opened up, as soon as possible. This should also apply to our software, which I argue should be Open Source.
When data is collected part of the process before collection begins should be considering how this data will be opened up for use by citizens, city staff and journalists; this should not be just an afterthought! If there exist privacy implications, those should be noted causing the data goes into a review/redacting process immediately so the parts that can be released, are released quickly.
The benefits of this extend further than just increased transparency via sharing data, there are also significant cost savings associated with this change. In 2016, more than 2/3 of all FOIP requests were routine disclosures. That's data that the City "routinely" releases - what if all of these could become self-serve? Not to mention inter-departmental communication at the City of Edmonton. Instead of requesting other departments build PDFs and spreadsheets summarizing data, at significant staff expense, data can be found in the open data catalogue in many different easily usable formats.
All work should include a strategy for putting the data generated into the Open Data Catalogue
In order to enable the public to engage with city processes in a meaningful way, we need our modus operandi to shift - we should share all data, immediately. Any release that reflects badly on the city will only serve as a benchmark to know when we've improved. One cannot improve what one doesn't measure and analyze.
Let's target a truly open city, not just apply an openness band-aid to a closed city.
Elect Troy Pavlek to Edmonton City Council in Ward 11.