Several major cities are moving forward with open data. Open data is getting to be a catchphrase in government. It's all about getting information out to citizens, in the interests of transparency and accountability. But opening up data goes hand in hand with choosing data standards. Naturally, these city authorities are also looking to open standards.
Andrea Reimer, a city councillor at Vancouver, which decided for open data in 2009, was reported as saying: “The local online community was all very, very happy, and now we just have to look forward on implementation and figuring sort of the order with which we do that.” Is there a hint here that maybe the way ahead was a little fuzzy? I guess a councillor doesn't need to have a view on the implementation details. The city's staff will be able to figure this out.
Now San Francisco is to hire an open data officer. Every city department will also nominate someone responsible for open data, and common data standards will be established. Perhaps it's just the way this news has been reported, but there's a feeling here that standards are being tacked on as an afterthought. Also, there's an assumption that open standards are available to cover all this data.
I think there may be some more work to do here. I'd love to think existing open standards are going to be up to the job. But I'm struggling to identify those open standards. I hope the leading cities, by working together to share the load, will fill the gaps they are bound to find. It would be a tragedy if we see a proliferation of incompatible standards.
Does it matter? I think so. First, there's the unnecessary cost of developing different standards. Second, there's the matter of comparison. A citizen of one city should be able to compare services, costs, priorities, outcomes and quality with those of another city. In this context, IBM's City Forward initiative looks interesting.