Jam Session for Open Data in Hamilton #ODJAM2014

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In Hamilton, Entrepreneur Week was capped off with Open Data Jam 2014: a celebration of collaboration to build a better city. The weekend event brought together public servants, developers, and citizens to utilize open data to enrich the lives of fellow citizens. The presence of all 3 of these parties are essential in achieving success with open data: public servants provide data, developers translate it, and citizens consume it.

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I had the pleasure of being the host for the Friday portion of #ODJAM2014 which kicked off with a mini #OGT14 event hosted by Richard Pietro. We learned about the difference between Open Data and Open Government. Much like the car and driver: Open Data (car) is the technology that will change government and Open Government (driver) is the willingness to use that technology. I believe there is also a third element that needs to be included to have the ideal governance ecosystem: Open Dialogue and willingness of government to take feedback and act on it in a timely manner.

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The message from the all-star panel of David Wrate (DataBC), David Rauch (Open Data Edmonton), Renee Higgins (Open Data Sudbury), and Sameer Vasta (MaRS Data Catalyst) was clear: embrace citizen engagement to make open data effective. A culture change within government is required — there are definitely folks out there who understand our (government) data.

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Outside of Hamilton, there have been a lot of traction with Open Data: from Heritage and City Planning in Toronto to GIS in Grey County. Open Data has helped enhance government services. Lauren Archer encourages public servants to “Be Lazy, Be Better”. Use Open Data and web tools for communication to avoid drudgery, save time and increase productivity. Dan Fusca and Toronto City Planning team are simply motivated by improving customer service — engaging citizens and receiving feedback is critical.

Ashleigh Weeden from Grey County reminded us to remember that public servants and elected officials are human too. They do the best they can within strict limits. Citizens can help government find ways to do what they need to do — “push us when we need it, but offer us patience and understanding as we learn together“. Don’t focus on negatives all the time, it is also important to remember to congratulate government when they do things right (ie. open up a dataset).

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Jay Adams from City of Hamilton has been leading the transformation of the city’s web platform that includes the digital innovation strategy. There is an attitude that data must be perfect before it becomes open — much like how every inch of the house must be dusted before guests arrive. Unfortunately, this attitude hinders the fostering of big innovative ideas. It is OK that the data is not perfect, collaborate with the community to cleanup the data! Re-iterating Ashleigh’s point about everyone being human.

Key message for public servants: you are not alone, other municipalities have gone through or are going through the same Open Data growing pains. It’s perfectly OK to engage the community for feedback.

Key message for developers/citizens:  Be OK with imperfect data, collaborate with the city to clean it up. In turn, we will receive a lot more open datasets.

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In Hamilton the developers have the appetite for Open Data led by Open Hamilton and Software Hamilton. Hamilton has released over 60 datasets on their portal and we loaded all their datasets onto our community-driven Canadian Federated Open Data portal to help you visualize the information. Throughout the weekend, developers dove into datasets to produce apps such as NFC reader for bus stop information, waterfall guide for hikers, and an app to provide citizens with status of beaches in the area. The appetite is definitely there for Open Data — developers showed up even though it was a big weekend of football (Ticats won their playoff game to reach the Grey Cup).

What’s next for these developers? Fittingly, #ODJAM2014 was on the tail end of Entrepreneur Week. Hamilton has an incredible innovation ecosystem with McMaster Innovation Park and Innovation Factory to help create a viable startups with Open Data. Keith Loo and Microsoft Canada are committed to Open Source and Open Data in Hamilton — “together with Open Hamilton, we can provide training, technology, and tools“.

Special thanks to the folks that made #ODJAM2014 possible: Make Web Not War, Microsoft, Open Hamilton, Hamilton Economic Development, McMaster Innovation ParkSoftware Hamilton, and Innovation Factory,. I also have to give a shout out to Bianca Wylie from CODI for her support behind the scenes.