Event Review: Speed dating on open data

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The past few weeks have been very active in the open data community. One event in particular stands out - the open data speed dating event which took place two weeks ago on the sidelines of GTEC.

The “speed dating” concept was first used last year during a Ottawa hackathon: city employees discussed open data for five minutes with hackers and developers in rotation. For the GTEC event, 19 tables were set up to receive as many enthusiasts and curators from across the country. Participants included members of the federal government (StatsCan, NRCan, Environment Canada, etc.), provinces (Ontario, Québec, BC), cities and regions (Toronto, Region of York, Montréal, Québec, etc.) It was an impressive line up!

In total there were two hours of intense, almost non-stop discussion about open data. As a result, at the end of the event, I felt as though my brain was about to melt! Nonetheless, there was a very positive vibe and a lot of energy. For anybody who wanted to dig deep into the open data world, it was a perfect setting. The event also demonstrated what I have repeatedly discovered over the last two years: governments have a lot of open-minded and very accessible people. Two weeks after the event, I am still following up with the new connections that I made. Overall, this event was much more rewarding than a regular conference, even when participating as a speaker.

We would like to thank the organizing team who was able to bring together a fantastic line up, including a Skype session with British Columbia and Vancouver. We have definitely moved on from the time where we had to work for months in advance to have someone in government hear about the open data movement in Canada.

This event also confirmed something I believe about the relationship of government to their data: they see themselves as mere providers. I started 80% of my five-minute discussions with something like “Why are you here? What do you expect from your data?” and the answer was invariably: “We do not expect anything. We are here to help people use our data.”

Having open data is already an immense step forward. Some of the curators at the event explained to me how, in their case, extracting the data from internal business software containing sensitive data was difficult and time consuming. I feel, however, that governments are losing out on an opportunity to increase the value of their datasets even for themselves.

Some will ask, “What kind of expectations can a data owner have?” Several things are possible: They could anticipate that some of their data could help solve some challenges and even though government employees cannot do the work, they could be willing to support anybody who wants to do it. They might predict that their data could be reused by other government agencies. They could look for researchers to work on it, together. These examples are just a few of many.

I am convinced that open data has an incredible potential to foster collaboration among governments, agencies, and with external players (academics, NGOs, companies) with positive outcomes from everybody. Once again, it is already incredible to have so many people from government accepting to discuss their open data. But I am also convinced that we can take this a step further.

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