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The dream weekend at #ODDTO14

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I had the pleasure of being part of the Open Data Day celebration in Toronto as one of the organizers this past weekend. International Open Data Day was on February 22, 2014. Over 110 cities around the world celebrate by unleashing the potential of open data through awareness, building apps, creating visualizations or analyzing open data to provide insights to problems we face as citizens everyday. In Toronto, we celebrated the happy day with ALL of these activities. Open Data Day Toronto 2014 (we call it ODDTO14) was truly a community driven event that included the CitizenBridge and Canadian Open Data Institute (CODI), Make Web Not War, Province of Ontario, and City of Toronto. I would like to thank all the groups and  individuals (See the list here) that helped make this happen.WP_20140221_09_57_57_Pro

Bringing together the public, technologists and government

The 3-day event kicked off with 360 people brought together to learn about how Open Data can solve some of the problems we face in the community. ODDTO14 was special because it brought together 3 groups:

  • Data Owners: Province of Ontario and City of Toronto who create and work with the data everyday
  • Data Transformers: Developers/Technologists who can transform the data into useful information to be consumed by the public
  • Problem Owners: Advocacy groups who represent the public to inform us about the problems we face as citizens. They give us a reason to use open data.

Typically, we only have two of the groups speaking to each other — it just doesn’t give us a complete picture of the problem and solution. Bringing all 3 groups to the table for a conversation is critical in utilizing open data to solve some real problems, we are making it relevant to the end user:  the citizens. Mark MacDonnell from Sela Canada called this the triangle of communication that enables open data to be effective. WP_20140221_10_12_28_Pro

Starting the conversation

Instead of having the usual format of open data leaders giving a lecture on how wonderful open data is, ODDTO14 took a more interactive approach. We had five advocacy groups on better budgets, affordable housing, cycling, education and accessibility present their issues citizens face to the thought leaders of open data including: Ron McKerlie – Ontario Deputy Minister of Open Government, Lan Nyugen – Toronto Deputy Chief Information Officer, Heather Leson – Open Knowledge Foundation Community Engagement Director and Keith Loo – Make Web Not War/Microsoft Canada Open Platforms Lead. This led to a conversation between the thought leaders and the advocacy group about solving the “real” issues — open data can provide the insights and evidence required to drive change.

The message was clear — we have work to do. We as citizens, can become data makers. How many of us would attach a device to track our cycling habits if we knew it would help save lives? Take the problem we face, see how other open data cities/countries are addressing the same problem. Learn from their mistakes and make our government services more effective.

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Digging into the root of the problem

The conversation continued further into the grassroots level as the audience participated in two activities:

  • Open Data Speed Dating – Data enthusiasts got the opportunity to speak with the data stewards from the different ministries from Ontario and Toronto. These are the folks that work with the data everyday and bring perspective on how to interpret the information.
  • Creating ideas for the Hackathon – Based on the 5 problems presented by the advocacy groups earlier, the audience participated in creating ideas and generating specific requirements for the Hackathon/Work Session the next day. New problems were introduced by the TTC Riders advocacy group.

By the end of the day, something magical happened. As the groups presented their ideas for the hackathon, we had the audience jump in to contribute to the ideas. The discussion was focused on ways to solve the problem. Have you looked at the open datasets in Vancouver? We could use this as a standard for Toronto to publish its data. Data stewards from the government were also contributing by suggesting possible data sources.

Making real progress

The momentum carried over to the Open Data Day Hackathon on the Saturday. Things were different this time. The government is serious about the open data and open government initiative — to the point where the team from Ontario and Toronto participated in the Hackathon, on a Saturday! The hackers were astonished to see the Ontario and Toronto Open data portals for the first time.

Make Web Not War also introduced the Canadian Federate Open Data site at data.www.webnotwar.ca powered by Socrata. The goal was to enable non-techies to analyze and interpret the open datasets. We achieved this goal when the affordable housing team started building up heat maps to identify problem areas in Toronto.BhGhEi7CIAAm4le

The city of Toronto announced that they just released the dataset for locations of defibrillators in the city of Toronto. By the end of the day, these locations were mapped and we can now see how we can better distribute these devices.

It was really amazing to see how every just worked together — we didn’t care whether you were tech, non-tech, advocacy group or government. The spirit of openness and collaboration was evident throughout the weekend. As a government data steward, you learned that people use the data for good initiatives — keep on releasing data/information. As a citizen, you found out the government is serious about open data/open government this time — they are listening and willing to work with you drive solutions for a better society. And what about the tech geeks? With a direction and goal, it will be a lot easier to build applications people want and use.

#ODDTO14 #HackGoesOn

The ideas and solutions do not end here. We are having subsequent hackathons/work sessions to bring back the same teams to continue their work. The goal is to solve the issue of sustainability that most hackathons face, we will continue to cultivate an environment that will make the solution a success by bringing the appropriate support from government, technical experts, and marketing to drive up user adoption. We have one coming up on March 1, just one week after Open Data Day!

You can see all the details at opendataday.ca/toronto