I keep running into this frustration, to the point I’m simply going to stop being polite about it.
When I started at the Expositor, I was left with the impression city hall was doing its darndest to move the behemoth that is Brantford’s administration towards the light of open-data principles. I recognize large ships don’t turn on a dime, so I was patient. I’m increasingly not.
For newbies, open data means all the information the city collects and stores (and there’s plenty of it), offered in “aggregate” form, stripped of personal information, on a website portal. Importantly, it’s offered in formats (ex: not PDFs) where the data is accessible and can be analyzed. Or, hell, just making it available in accessible formats on request.
Most every person working for this city inputs information into a computer as some part of their tasks. Those computer files contain lots of amazing data. Data that remains locked down because of outdated notions of “ownership” and “control.”
Recent examples? The list of city owned vacant properties— released in print to Ward 1 councillors, that took *two* weeks for me to receive. The copy I received had the same number of properties, but the information about each property was pared down. When I mapped that list, I used the copy included in a subsequent council report that was identical to what councillors had initially been provided.
Second one? The number of recent arsons / intentionally set fires — a list released two weeks ago by the Brantford police service and fire department. Go back to April, we were asking both emergency services for a complete list, rather than just the ones that were too big not to notice. The response? Caginess and a reluctance to share data that might compromise an investigation. Releasing the address of all of those fire calls in April, instead of June, likely would have helped more than hindered. When you want to control data, this logic doesn’t appeal to you. Plus, I could have made a hell of a better map that what’s below.
Here’s the deal— government data is public data. Its collection, storage and use are paid for by the public. We own it. The technology exists and is more than accessible to free that data without compromising individual privacy or personal information.
And increasingly, if the city won’t release in an accessible form, then I will. And when a journalist earning less than your average municipal IT employee can do it in a day, who will look embarrassed?
It’s time to stop being polite about those who bogart public data.