MODDH – Bringing Public Data into the Open

Audience
Yorkdale Microsoft visitors learning about the power of Open Data.

 

It hadn’t been done before.

Generally, when you walk into a store, you can expect to get a hello and mention of the latest special from one of the staff.  You might even get a special notice from a friendly marketer from the store’s corporate team.  It’s somewhat unusual to have public servants from two levels of government pitch you on the value of Open Data.

That’s exactly what happened Friday, at Microsoft’s  Open Data Demo Hours at the Yorkdale Microsoft store.  As part of Toronto’s celebration of International Open Data Day, members of the Open Community got together to connect with and share their optimism about All Things Open with everyday folk going about their normal lives.

MODDH featured brilliant presentations from cutting-edge start-ups successfully turning Open Data into powerful tools to improve public access to healthcare, to politics, to the tools people can themselves use to generate entrepreneurial success of their own.

Open Data is a natural resource, like water or wood.  Like any public resource, we all have a stake in how it is harvested, who has access to it and how it is used.  What makes Open Data unique is that the same information can be used and reused by as many people want to play with it and craft a unique contribution with it.

There was understandable skepticism from some of the visitors in the store wondering what, exactly, they were being pitched on a Friday afternoon.  Government stuff tends to be a closed-door, downtown thing, removed from our day-to-day lives.  Given the cynicism many feel about the state of our democratic institutions, there are plenty of folk who’d rather keep it that way.

MYP presentation
Devin Tu explains the possibilities of Map Your Property

This is a misconception, one the Open Community is committed to fixing.

Our Legislatures and City Halls are places where our elected representatives meet to debate and pass laws, but democracy lives wherever the people are practicing it.  This means getting informed about the issues, getting engaged with neighbours and our politicians and collectively making this society of ours be the best it possibly can be.  When we do that we can all make a difference.

We believe that people want to be active participants in our democratic system – the success of Ontario’s Budget Talks backs this up.

This is why, despite initial skepticism, many of the visitors in Yorkdale’s Microsoft store ventured to the back to see what we were up to.

One gentleman wanted to learn more about how Map Your Property could help him maximize the value of his home.  A young couple were enthusiastic about iamsick.ca’s unique ability to improve healthcare access. Caitlin Blundell wowed the crowd with the potential of QGIS mapping while Richard Pietro inspired citizens to be bridges as only he can.  Think Data Works introduced the world to Namara, a platform that makes Open Data more accessible and easy-to-use than ever before.

It hasn’t been done before – people aren’t used to the basic resources from which public policy (and entrepreneurial opportunity) is made being brought to us, rather than us having to fight for access.

Starting with Microsoft Open Data Demo Hours, that’s changing.

If you, your office, your school or community are curious to learn more about Open Data and how it benefits you, let us know.

Tweet a query to @OpenTOCommunity, or @WebNotWar and we’d be happy to connect.

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Special thanks to the Volunteers, Open Data demonstrators, Microsoft Team (looking at you especially, Jimmy!) for making Microsoft Open Data Demo Hours possible.  Let’s do this again soon!

Group shot
MODDH participants celebrating All Things Open.