GO Open Data Conference

As a long time user and proponent of Open Source, it probably won't surprise anyone to hear that I'm also a big fan of open data. So - as I do occasionally - I went to an open data conference, in this case "GO Open Data 2016: Better Living Through Open Data" held at Seneca College on May 6th (I didn't attend the Hackathon on the 7th).

Everybody there thinks open data is a good idea - and yet some speakers think this is a message they need to deliver. And some talked about privacy being an issue (another shocker). Several of the people who got up to the podium used the opportunity to proselytize: a clear sign of a sector that's both new and unsure of itself. You're preaching to the choir: we wouldn't be here if we didn't believe. I was amused to hear the Mayor of Markham in his short speech saying that open data was wonderful, but also "you understand some things need to NOT be public ..."

One point that hit home for me was one that's blatantly obvious in hindsight: policy does not equal implementation. Toronto Public Library (my employer) recently proudly trumpeted our new Open Data Policy. It's a great thing, and we put some data out there a few months back, which is also great. But now, no one has time to generate or publicly post new data sets, so ... we have policy but no implementation. I got the sense that a lot of other entities are in much the same space: we all think it's a great idea and many have implemented policies ... but the rewards for actually carrying through are approximately nil so getting momentum is a big issue.

It was appropriate that the conference was held in the window for filling out the Canadian Census (we did get a cheer for the return of the Long Form) which ends May 10.

The problem I had with this conference, as with the previous open data conference I attended, is that it's painfully dry. When they talk about government policy, or someone explains that they're doing data sets about data sets ... woo. That's excitement, that is. Don't misunderstand me: I understand the importance, even the interest others have in this, but I can't muster the enthusiasm that might be more appropriate. I guess I need to start working wit the data myself to develop more of an interest and understanding.