14 September 2016

The future of Australian cities and towns lies in open data

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At its most basic, open data refers to our ability to access and reuse information from our government as freely as possible. It’s a concept long grounded in our public records and freedom of information laws. However, the term itself is only has only become known within the last 6 years or so. In that time, we have seen explosive load of buzzwords like big data and high value data but very little open data. In addition, as millions of dollars are poured into government IT budgets, the barriers to data access are not just technical, they’re cultural.

Although much of our political activism is focused on national issues and our identities, there’s an ever growing gap between the Federal government and the rest of us. Of course, the federal government has a profound impact on our lives but that impact is remote, separated by kilometres, media and layers of bureaucracy.

Our days and nights are spent living, working and sleeping in the reality of cities and towns. Cities and local governments present us with unparalleled opportunities for us to see our needs, frustrations and ideas recognised by our government and act. To see our values made visible in the society that surrounds us.

In 2014, local information freedom fighters not only got DC’s neighbourhood association online, they also liberated the legal code behind the city itself. Before the local freedom fighters took on this challenge, DC residents in order to read their laws had to navigate their way through a complicated, proprietary web experience or pay $800 plus tax and shipping to get access to information. Today, anyone can read DC’s laws online - for free. Increasingly smaller communities are trying to democratise their data. For example, in 2014, South Bend Indiana with population of 100 000 people became the smallest city in the America to pass an open data policy.

This is the transformative power of open data. It is the restoration of civic capability – that feeling that we as individuals cannot only learn everything about the world that surrounds us, we can also contribute to the quality and the completeness of this knowledge.

Our cities are drivers of commerce and innovation. Municipalities are at the heart of our culture and society so that it makes sense for them to be at the heart, driving vision for what it means to have an open government. If you are a policy maker, you need to work with your city to create policy and plans for open data and technology that have a long view so that these things don’t die with every administration change.

It is a new era of increased transparency and democracy where data is no longer in the hands of private and commercial companies. The future of Australia’s cities lies with open data. 

The best part of my job as an Assistant General Manager – Production is to create and manage my own conferences from concept to delivery, identify future conference topics as well as giving me a chance to expand my business card collection. Having a bit of a sweet tooth, you will always find me having lollies on my desk or you will catch me browsing on fashion sites during lunch breaks.

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