Apps that Rock the Public-Data World in Canada

By Saadia Muzaffar

What do the apps  Rocket Radar, Traffic Ottawa, and Vancouver Public Library-Amazon search have in common?
They’re all Canadian, all leverage data from public sources, and are all created by civic minded hackers/web designers.

Rocket Radar is an app that quickly tells the user the arrival times of the next few TTC streetcars by Geolocating where they are standing. It was created by the trickle-down effect of TTC’s very cool move – ‘TransitCamp’ – that sought the public’s input to find creative ways to improve TTC’s service.

Traffic Ottawa lets you plug into the city’s traffic cameras and instantly decided what route to take to work.

VPL-Amazon piggybacks’s terrifically robust search engine when you’re looking for a book and tells you if its available through Vancouver’s library system, so you can mind your book-dollars.

All of these creative collaborations are possible under the concept of open data sharing just like OpenSource software, essentially allowing users to customize and expand already available source fodder. Being able to use the innumerable reams of data that is collected in our public systems like transportation, healthcare, and education to name a few seems like natural progression, as it is deemed public property by law. Though it seems like a no-brainer to invest in enabling this data to a realm of tangible meaning and purpose; some government agencies pose bureaucratic hurdles in making this public data ‘mine-able’ by disallowing automation of real time feeds (unlike the TTC, who made their schedule and real-time GPS data available for the city’s programmers). The resistance or lack of support only shows lack of foresight in fostering public engagement.

The Minister of Research and Innovation, Glen Murray, envisions Ontario’s economy as the “the world’s first wiki-mobile-digital-economy” whereby he will support initiatives to nurture an environment where data sharing will be conducted voluntarily in both public and private spaces, driven by the shared value derived by transparency and openness. We hope that our regional players share Minister Murray’s inspired sagacity and proactively enable their citizens to be stakeholders and change-makers, walking the talk of making Ontario’s economy being driven by a passion for innovation and civic engagement.

Taxes, childcare, census, transit, healthcare, education, election, innovation – what cool app would you create using public data?

Saadia Muzaffar joins the RIC team as the Operations Coordinator responsible for building and execution of activities that fulfill RICC’s mandate. She brings several years of relationship management, corporate communications and operations experience mainly from the financial services industry.

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