I’m here today to talk about Nanaimo’s Open Data Strategy.First I’m going to talk about the Problem we are facing, the strategy we’ve implemented, and then talk a bit about the results.
Back in the stone-age of the internet (early 90s)…when it was just a foreign and potentially useful tool, Nanaimo was one of the first cities in Canada to offer a municipal website providing information and services over the internet.
Over the subsequent years, we gradually evolved these services, adapting to new technologies based on experience and feedback. By the end of 2007, it had become clear that, despite our continual evolution, we had failed to account for a sea change in the way that the public interacts with technology.
businesses have moved towards a more data-driven decision making approach, using tools like GIS and CAD for planning and operations.
Previously people would use search engines to find the site that they wanted and then have to navigate that site to find the information that they needed. Over time the search engines became more intelligent, providing answers to more and more specific queries.
Commercial websites quickly took advantage of this, restructuring themselves to return actionable results, allowing customers to purchase individual products or services on the first page that they come to. In sort of a “survival of the fittest”, businesses compete with each other to make their sites and products more easy to find, and people became used to finding the specific information they wanted with basically one click.
But when trying to find government information they feel like they are back in the stone-ages.This affects each of our target audiences in different ways.
For businesses, interacting with government is often seen as a source of friction. Actually obtaining information can require on-site visits which are time consuming and inconvenient, or it requires the expertise to find the data in specialized applications on local government websites. Both of which can be incredibly frustrating. Person to person interactions are often required.This is costly to both the local business and the local government in terms of time and often service fees.
Individual citizens suffer many of the same frustrations and inefficiencies. Local governments are the authoritative source of a lot of information that is relevant to day to day life, Garbage CalendarsPool schedulesService organization lists, and so on…but this information is not always easily discoverable on the web.Citizens end up either having to interact directly with City staff Or getting the information from more easily findable 3rd-party sources, which are often inaccurate or biased.At the same time, citizens often have expert local knowledge and a willingness to improve their communities, but are not given the opportunity to contribute to local government operations and initiatives.
Potential visitors are another group of people to consider. When researching travel options, they are often looking for information that we are in an excellent position to provide. Every time somebody is unable to easily find this information, it’s a lost opportunity for us to showcase our communities.
Over the last couple of years we have identified 4 open data principles that allow us to address these problems and narrow the gap between citizen expectations and our service delivery.
We have a history of making our information available through web applications like building permit searches, online mapping and google earth. Raw data downloads are an extension of this tradition, taking information that we already have and allowing people to access it in its native format.Thisreduces over the counter requests for information,and allows businesses and residents to integrate municipal information into their decision support systems.
Open Data Catalog is a central location that provides pointers to our existing data sources.Citizens are able to search for Nanaimo Data on web.This was modelled after the US Governments Data.gov site and it cost us nothing, and was created in just a few days.
Another example is our Engineering GIS Data. The public can download our core cadastral and infrastructure data at no cost.This provides local builders and developers with a framework that allows them to perform initial suitability analyses with far fewer resources than having to collect the data themselves.
The idea here is to make information findable and indexable by search engines by publishing each object or record as a webpage.
An example of this is our Public Art Inventory. We have a traditional web application on our website that showcases public art in Nanaimo. People are able to browse art pieces, or search by location, artist, category, keywords, etc to find what they are looking for.However, if someone happens to be walking through the park, and sees a statue that they would like to know more about, they can just type the name of the statue into Google and access the same information without having to go to our website, navigate to the public art inventory application (if they even know it exists) , and perform a search to find the statue. They get to bypass the web app altogether.
Access the same info regardless of how they got there.Individual art pieces and specific search results are available in a downloadable formats.
Another example is our Business Licence Search.Residents can find information on all business licences in the city directly from search engines.Or, similar to the Public Art Inventory, there is also a traditional web app that can be used to perform advanced queries if they are interested in specific categories of businesses.We recently redeveloped this web app and this search engine optimized publishing was integral to the redevelopment, and there were no additional costs.
When we developed NanaimoMap, We took the opportunity to create search engine optimized property reports.This allows individuals to access zoning and property information for every address in Nanaimo, but just typing the address in a search enginewithout having to find their way through our web apps. GeoREST (free and open source), no extra programming required to do this!
The idea here is to get individuals more active in contributing and enhancing their communities
A great example of this was the Google Model Your Town Competition.City Planners had been using 3D modeling tools on project specific basis, but coverage was incomplete and internally developed models often only included the facade required for street level visualization. This meant that for most projects they had to perform a considerable amount of additional modeling.When Google announced the model your town competition, Nanaimo’s planning department saw an opportunity to both raise the profile of Nanaimo’s downtown and enhance planning capabilities and efficiency.This project took advantage of the genuine desire of our citizens to better our community. We provided training and the opportunity to build 3-D models of downtown buildings and they picked up the reigns and ran with it.We started with 30 models… and had 126 by the end of the competition.
This allowed us to showcase our community in Google Earth where it’s available to everyone. And also in the short term, allowed us to take advantage of the media attention around the competition both in traditional press and in social media such as youtube.It also built local competencies with technology, and one of the citizens involved has gone on to form a business around providing 3-d modelling services.
Our council meetings are broadcast live on our website, and then archived allowing citizens to access these meetings from their computers, wherever they may be.Between 5 and 30 people attend the meetings. There is small group of regular attendees and then others who attend due to a specific topic. Current statistics show between 10 and 20 people watching the live stream and between 50 and 200 people watching the recorded meeting the following day. Implementation of the Live streaming has increased the number of people who are able to view our council meetings by about 10 fold.This application includes the ability to share and post desired sections to facebook and twitter. We have notice that a number of citizens have used these features to share their presentations with others who might be interested.The entire cost of implementing this was $2100 in COTS and one month development.
Facebookhas been a great tool to improve our interaction with the community. It makes our communications with residents more immediate and collaborative. Conversations that would have previously been held one-on-one, if at all, are now visible for all to see and participate in. We get immediate feedback on the information we provide and often citizens share information with each other about events and activities.
This component of open data sharing is still in fairly primitive stages, there are no standards for consistency in data APIs, ontologies, or other areas that would allow developers to write applications which work against multiple jurisdiction’s APIs with minimal effort.
It’s basically sending a complex query through a Standard API to get Machine Readable Results in return.
There are several initiatives which seem to be gaining some traction, but we’re still in the stone age of open data APIs and will need to pay attention as this area evolves to make sure that we continue to meet our residents needs in ways that work best for them. This is an important principle, but standards of practice have not yet matured.
The beauty of theseopen data best practices is that they incur little, if any additional cost. When we apply these principles during the development of new services or when existing services require enhancements, we are able to radically improve access to the city’s data over time with little overhead.
Professionals and businesses experience increased efficiency in their operations. Easily accessible data enables better and faster decisions to be made, which enhances local economy and that benefits the community as a whole.
Individuals are able to search and receive information at their fingertips, saving valuable time by eliminating the need for person-to-person contact and reducing frustration
Potential visitors are able to find out more about our community’s unique culture and natural attractions, and make better informed decisions when choosing a destination. (The obvious choice is Nanaimo).
These principles are easily transferable to any local government. Low cost and easy to implement incrementally. We believe that the benefits are clear and we are happy to work with others in implementing similar strategy. So if you have any questions you are welcome to contact us, or come and find me this week. Also, for those using the same technologies as us (so that would be mainly Microsoft... asp.net, sql server) we are committed to sharing our internally developed applications and code bases.
As for the future, hopefully as we all continue on this evolutionary path of open data, the possibilities are exciting and perhaps unexpected!Thanks very much for listening, feel free to contact us or come and find me if you are interested.
City of Nanaimo's Open Data Strategy
Nanaimo’s Open Data Strategy<br />Jessica Maple<br />Applications Analyst<br />email@example.com<br />
Open Data Principles<br />Open and free access to <br />raw data<br />Search engine optimized <br />publishing<br />Citizen involvement<br />Open APIs<br />
Open and free access to raw data<br />“<br />In the 21st century, data is at the heart of economic activity; it is what drives innovation, efficiencies and productivity.<br />”<br />- David Eaves<br />
Citizen involvement<br />“<br />When the people become involved in their government, government becomes more accountable, and our society is stronger, more compassionate, and better prepared for the challenges of the future.<br />”<br />- Arnold Schwarzenegger<br />