Data refers to information and facts about a specific topics . For example, population data could include information about the population such as age, location, income or education.
Open data is a relatively new concept. According to the Open Data Handbook, it is defined as data that “can be freely accessed, used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose” . In other words is it information that anyone can obtain, use and share for whatever purpose he/she chooses.
Open Data is often used by governments who want to give the public better access to information about the city. Governments already collect high-quality data and making this information publicly accessible has huge benefits.
It is an extremely useful tool for people that would benefit from having access to high-quality data. Students, for example can use open data to do research on certain municipalities. They can use this information to visualize population data, such as income or education either through maps or tables. Certain professions, such as urban planners, social scientists or entrepreneurs, also commonly use open data to help them make decisions or provide evidence that supports their work.
The City of Toronto is one of many governments in North America that has contributed to the Open Data concept. The City of Toronto’s Open Government is about giving the public information about services and making things within city hall accessible in order to build trust among the public and confidence in government .
There are a total of 215 data sets available on the City of Toronto website in various forms. The data is free to use, re-use and re-distribute. The type of data that is available includes, Business, City Government, Community Services, Development and Infrastructure, Finance, Health, Parks and Recreation, Public Safety, etc.
Some of the other municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area also have open data databases including, York Region, Peel Region, City of Hamilton, City of Burlington, City of Oakville, etc. However, since it is a relatively new concept, some of these sites are more accessible than others.
Open Government Data has already contributed to positive impacts including:
Some of the limitations to Open Data include:
Open data is an extremely unique and useful concept and with improvements it could be universally beneficial in decreasing the ‘digital divide’. The digital divide is defined as a social issue regarding the amount of access between those who do and do not have access to the Internet . Does increasing access to high-quality information through the government increase the social gap between those who have access to Internet and those who do not? This debate is not only important to the digital divide between developed and developing areas of the world, but also within the developed world.
Some of the following improvements could be used to potentially close the gap between those who do and do not have access to Internet as well as close the gap between those who do and do not understand the available data.
The City of Toronto’s open data is easily accessible and steps to access this data are as follows:
Jenn Ormiston is currently a graduate student at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning working toward her Masters in Planning. She graduated with an Honours Bachelor’s Degree from Wilfrid Laurier University in Geography and Global Studies. She is interested in housing, particularly affordable ownership and mid-rise developments. She enjoys traveling and has been to over 20 countries and 4 continents. Connect with her on her blog, Instagram or LinkedIn.