Open data in Canada is gaining momentum, and ODI Toronto certainly reflects this energy and excitement. Since joining the Toronto Node in Summer 2015, I’ve been privileged to meet many engaged members of the open data community and to work on a number interesting projects, including a two-part Data Jam at the Ontario Nonprofit Network Conference and the first-ever hackathon and open data workshop at the Toronto Public Library (TPL).
For the Data Jam, which took place in October 2015, Bianca and I worked with Geoff Zakaib of Calgary’s Data for Good chapter to create a hands-on introduction to the concept of open data for our nonprofit audience. Since I work in the nonprofit sector when I’m not open data-ing, this was an especially interesting opportunity for me. There is a lot of potential for the social good sector to be using open data, but most nonprofits, charities, and social enterprises lack the financial and human resources to capitalize on the increasing wealth of socio-economic and other data that’s available. In our session, we introduced some ideas for how organizations can best use their limited resources to capture and use their own data, and where partnership opportunities with the broader open data community exist. We’ve made the first part of our Data Jam presentation available, so take a look if you want to learn more.
Delivering an open data workshop at the Toronto Public Library in November 2015 was also an interesting (and rewarding!) experience. Bianca and I were tasked with creating an offline workshop about a very digital subject, for an audience that had widely diverse levels of data literacy. I think we met the challenge: the workshop, which again took the form of an open data 101, sparked lots of discussion, questions, and comments from our audience of about 25 Torontonians (from all walks of life). I was especially excited to see many of our workshop participants connect the ideas of city building and community participation to open data sets available from the City of Toronto.
A week or so after our workshop, we also participated as mentors in the Toronto Public Library’s first hackathon. Participants were asked to create projects the aligned with TPL’s new strategic plan. If you’re interested in all of the details about the hackathon, organizer and all-round awesome TPL data champion Ab Velasco wrote a great blog post summarizing the event — and discussing the winning project.
In addition to all of the creative projects, one of the best outcomes of the event was a meeting that connected two of the teams from the hackathon with the planning department of the TPL (ODI TO and the City’s open data team were also there). During the hackathon, these two teams had focused on the quality and quantity of the TPL data available at the event. Because TPL was actively developing its open data policy at the time (it went before their Board of Directors in February), the feedback from these individuals was helpful in contributing to what TPL’s data collection priorities and opportunities might be. This dialogue between citizens and institutions is critical to the open data community; without it, there is the danger of releasing data simply for the sake of releasing data. A virtual high-five to Ab and the planning team at TPL for convening this meeting and being open to feedback from Torontonians.
So that was 2015. But what about 2016? For the coming year, we’ve shifted gears a little at ODI Toronto to focus more on a projects and connecting people and resources, and less on events (although we do have a few of those lined up as well.) You should also see more regular blog posts from us, and we’re excited to continue the open data conversation here, on Twitter, and in person, of course.
(Photo credit: Eric Fischer via Visual Hunt)