Ald. Ceci and Ald. Pincott’s notice of motion regarding open data becoming the standard at the City of Calgary passed this morning with only a couple amendments. One amendment was regarding cost of making the data available and another was asking for the City’s legal departments input. Both very good amendments in my opinion. The motion asked for a report on the feasibility of opening up the City’s data to the public from Administration to be completed and we should see it in December 2009.

I suggested the open data project to Ceci and Pincott in the first place is because it is one very simple way for the City to open up and become more transparent. This is what Open Government is all about.

In this day and age where we see dropping percentages of people who vote, and fatigue over partisan bickering, it strikes me that it is time to remind citizens who’s in charge and why the City exists in the first place.

Cities were of course created for one reason only: to make the lives of their citizens better.
So a group of engaged citizens in the 19th century stood up and said ‘if you wish, we will set the direction for how our City can make our lives better’. The rest of the population responded by holding an election to determine which citizens best characterize the direction they would like to see their city go, and the result was a group who immediately got to the business of making their city a better place to live.

They did this by hiring people to work projects on behalf of the citizens. They set policy and safety standards and generally did the job they were elected to do. Citizens watched and judged their accomplishments – letting them know when they agreed and when they disagreed. Every few years the population got a chance to change their representative if they felt it was necessary. And the building continued.

However at some point in time the elected individuals as well as the people they hired ended up hidden in the shadow of the behemoth organization they created in the name of making the lives of citizens better. Issues became more and more complex as more and more issues fall to their plates for solutions. More and more people were hired, more and more details were added. The entire undertaking became incredibly hard for the average citizen to follow, to judge and provide input on. This, unfortunately, is the government we have today.

Open Government is about using new technologies to shine the light on what is happening on our behalf. It is meant to turn back the clock and give the average citizen a way to be involved again.

Open Data is one small step in that direction; because, it is important to note, the data in our government’s possession is collected on behalf of us with a goal of making our lives better.

We, the citizens, own that information and we have every right to access it.

This brings me to today’s motion. I was hopeful that all aldermen would see this motion as a positive step toward opening up our government and not allowing individuals to live in the shadows – either on purpose or by accident. I truly thought we would see a unanimous vote of approval for looking into the practicality of open data for the City of Calgary. So I was surprised to see two aldermen vote to keep the citizens they supposedly represent at bay. Two aldermen who wanted to keep the City’s work in the shadows.

I’m extremely disappointed in Ald. Chabot and Ald. Connelly for not even entertaining the possibility of allowing the citizens of our city to better know the work they – and those they’ve hired – are doing on our behalf.

Security, privacy and legality concerns are all real need to be looked and more than likely addressed. This report will do that. So why not just SEE what the possibilities are instead of regressing back into the shadows?

Today’s motion was just the beginning of shining the light on the shadows and it shone directly on Chabot and Connelly. They have been exposed.

And just like my opinion of open data in general: what the citizens might do with this newly exposed information is what really excites me.