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Canada: Toronto's Open Data Surprise
Source: itworldcanada.com
Source Date: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government
Country: Canada
Created: Nov 06, 2012

VAUGHAN, Ont. -- In 2009, Toronto’s mayor made a dramatic announcement: The city was immediately adopting an open data policy. Not only that, it was going to start posting data on the Internet in a month.

The announcement was made “to the surprise of staff,” Daphne Gaby Donaldson, Toronto’s executive director of corporate information management services, told a municipal open data conference here Tuesday.

Fortunately, she added, the IT department had been talking to developers about the idea and were somewhat prepared.

Three years later the city has published some 100 data sets that citizens can use to create apps, and a process for encouraging staff to look at data their departments hold and get more online.

It’s not perfect, Donaldson said – in fact, she said, it’s still a “huge challenge” to break down some of the silos of data that departments have erected. But she said that with the public demanding online service delivery and to participate more in the decision making of governments, its clear open data is one tool Toronto uses to keep pace with the digital world.

More Canadian municipalities, provinces and federal departments are embracing the global open data movement, which takes as its principle that non-personal data held by government belongs to the public.

Speakers here generally cited British Columbia and Quebec as the provincial leaders, with Toronto, Vancouver and Nanaimo, B.C., among the leading municipalities. The federal government has only just issued its action plan.

Tuesday’s conference, organized by the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario (AMCTO), was aimed at encouraging local governments in Ontario to get moving on their own open data plans. Of the 32 municipalities across the country that post open data, a dozen are in Ontario.

There are a number of challenges, speakers outlined, including getting staff behind the movement. One municipal IT worker told the meeting that his department pulls in $400,000 a year from selling certain data from his municipality to the private sector. “I have a great deal of trouble releasing data for free,” he said.

Another noted that paper versions of Ontario’s property assessment lists are available to the public. But the not-for-profit agency that compiles the list forbids it being put online.

(By Howard Solomon)
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