Technology & Science

City of Vancouver embraces open data, standards and source

Vancouver city council has endorsed the principles of making its data open and accessible to everyone where possible, adopting open standards for that data and considering open source software.

City videos could be more widely available soon: Reimer

Vancouver city council has endorsed the principles of making its data open and accessible to everyone where possible, adopting open standards for that data and considering open source software when replacing existing applications.

Text of the central portion of Coun. Reimer's motion:

Be it resolved that the City of Vancouver endorses the principles of:

  • Open and accessible data: The City of Vancouver will freely share with citizens, businesses and other jurisdictions the greatest amount of data possible while respecting privacy and security concerns.
  • Open standards: The City of Vancouver will move as quickly as possible to adopt prevailing open standards for data, documents, maps and other formats of media.
  • Open source software: The City of Vancouver, when replacing existing software or considering new applications, will place open source software on an equal footing with commercial systems during procurement cycles.

"So it's great," said Andrea Reimer, the city councillor who proposed the motion that passed Thursday afternoon. "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."

Reimer had argued that supporting the motion would allow the city to improve transparency, cut costs and enable people to use the data to create new useful products, including commercial ones. She had also noted that taxpayers paid for the data to be collected in the first place.

The motion, which specifies that the city will respect security and privacy concerns while supporting openness, went through as proposed, Reimer said, even though one councillor did try to "water it down" and voted against parts of the motion.

About 15 members of the public signed up to speak about the motion. All who spoke were in favour, Reimer said.

"The only sort of negative [comment] was 'Can't you go further? Can't you do more?'"

She added that some felt open-source software should be favoured, rather than just be put on equal footing with proprietary software.

"But I think the city would want to know how it works first before it jumps into that."

Some immediate changes likely: Reimer

She added that many city staff are excited about the policy, as they had tried to implement more openness in some areas before, but didn't have a policy framework to work from. She expects staff to report back on an implementation plan in the fall, but thinks some changes will begin to happen immediately.

For example, she said, videos made at city hall, including videos of council meetings, are currently in a proprietary format that cannot be posted on YouTube. They can only be viewed on the City of Vancouver website by people who have the latest version of Microsoft Internet Explorer. She expects that to change.

"They're tiny little things, but they have so much ripple effect in the community," she said. "There's probably a few more thousand people that we could be talking to out there if we could send them videos [instead of written material.]"

According to Reimer, only a few other cities such as Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Toronto have started moving toward this kind of increased openness.

As far as implementation goes, the motion suggested that Vancouver's city manager be asked to:

  • Identify immediate opportunities to distribute more of its data.
  • Index, publish and syndicate its data to the internet using prevailing open standards, interfaces and formats.
  • Develop a plan to digitize and distribute archival data to the public.
  • Ensure that data supplied to the city by third parties such as developers, contractors and consultants are unlicensed, in a prevailing open standard format, and not copyrighted except if otherwise prevented by legal considerations.
  • License any software applications developed by the City of Vancouver such that they may be used by other municipalities, businesses and the public without restriction.

The motion also proposes that Vancouver develop a plan to share its information with the Integrated Cadastral Information Society (ICIS). The non-profit group already shares mapping information among the B.C. provincial government, utilities and municipalities. Vancouver is "one of a few" cities in the province that is not a member of ICIS, Reimer said. The motion also suggests that ICIS be encouraged to share its data with the public.