The Queen’s Printers Association of Canada is meeting in Charlottetown this week, and Mike Fagan, Queen’s Printer for Prince Edward Island, who is hosting the meeting, asked me to be the keynote speaker, speaking to the conference theme of “Open Government – Open Information.”
And so on Monday morning I joined Queen’s Printers from most of Canada’s provinces, along with their federal counterpart, for an hour long session I called “A Cook’s Tour of Open Data from a User’s Perspective.”
My focus was not on policy and portals – often the terrain when open data is on the agenda – but, rather, on real world examples of how I’ve consumed, created and written about open data over the last decade.
Right off the bat I used the example of the association’s own agenda, distributed to attendees as a PDF file with, I suggested, the information “imprisoned” inside it – unable to be used, for example, in a desktop or mobile calendar app, unable to have alarms attached to it, unable to provide driving directions. I showed how with some cutting-and-pasting, the calendar could be freed from its PDF prison and recreated as an open iCalendar file that could show up on my phone, my tablet, my desktop, or any other device or service that could speak iCalendar.
I then proceeded to tell a series of open data “war stories,” each designed to illustrate an “open data principle,” an arbitrary (rather than universal) list that dervices simply from my own experiences. The projects I discussed were:
- Electricity load and generation data for Prince Edward Island
- New Brunswick System Operator open(ish) data
- CBC Spark interview about my “turn energy flow into music” project
- Archiving and visualizing electricity load and generation data
- Mobile app displaying PEI energy load and generation in real time
- The PEI Energy Thingy (a prototype of a device to provide in-home feedback)
- Making a Charlottetown Building Permits Map
- Making the Charlottetown Zoning and Development Bylaw easier to read
- Creating an interactive public transit map for the City of Charlottetown
- Supreme Court Reasons for Judgment (archived)
The 7 “open data principles” that emerged from these projects, which I discussed in more detail in light of these examples, were:
- You have no idea (at all) what open data might be used for.
- PDFs are where data goes to die.
- Sometimes “open” can simply mean following rules of design.
- Open data is a conversation.
- Sometimes your users will create open data for you.
- “Opening” changes the audience.
- “Opening”allows for new connections.
There was a good question-and-answer session after the presentation with some of the audience relating their own “war stories,” and we were able to pick up the conversation over lunch and delve into some additional areas.
It was clear that Queen’s Printers, as a group, are already well-versed in this area, and keen to learn more about how they can leverage the data and information they oversee the distribution of to increase citizen engagement through greater openness. I left the meeting enthusiastic that we’ll see great development in this area across Canada in the months and years to come.
In addition to the opportunity to speak with Queen’s Printers, the meeting also afforded me the opportunity to meet Krista Grant, Assistant Deputy Minister for Communications PEI, newly housed in Executive Council Office. Krista demonstrated a great understanding of the benefits of an open data philosophy, and indicated that there’s a strong will within government to move in this direction. Another reason for optimism.
Here are the slides I presented to Queen’s Printers (also available as a PDF):