The Ontario government recently committed to an open government strategy. As part of this strategy, it is taking steps to make some of its government data sets “open”. “Open” in this context means that the data will be made publicly available, in a re-usable format (no pesky pdfs), at no charge, and under an open licence (no limits on reuse of the data). Open data has obvious benefits over “closed” data. For those who use government data in their research and advocacy work, having key data sets made open means that it will no longer be necessary to request this data under access to information laws, with the attendant costs and delays. The re-usable format of the data will also make it much easier to analyze, plot, or map the data, or to combine it with other relevant data sets. Of course, governments are not permitted to release confidential or personal information as open data, so not all government information can or will be made available in this way.
As part of their strategy, the Ontario government has launched a web site which allows the public to “vote” for the data sets they would like to see opened.
Champions of the open data movement have tended to be developers who are keen to gain access to government data in order to build useful apps. This is a fine thing, but it does mean that interest in open data may be skewed towards the kind of data that has obvious popular or commercial applications. If you are a researcher or a member of an advocacy group that seeks other kinds of data – whether it is related to health, housing, correctional services, employment, poverty, and so on – this is the opportunity to vote for this type of data to be made open.