What’s your open data idea?

I keep thinking about Mayor Miller’s announcement about Open Data for the City of Toronto at Mesh09.

“I am very pleased to announce today at Mesh09 the development of http://toronto.ca/open, which will be a catalogue of city generated data.  The data will be provided in standardized formats, will be machine readable, and will be updated regularly.  This will be launched in the fall of 2009 with an initial series of data sets, including static data like schedules, and some feeds updated in real time.

The benefits to the city of Toronto are extremely significant.  Individuals will find new ways to apply this data, improve city services, and expand their reach.  By sharing our information, the public can help us to improve services and create a more liveable city.  And as an open government, sharing data increases our transparency and accountability.”


I have started to think about how we inspire and encourage the community to both build applications, but also businesses on top of the newly available data to help improve city services. The first spot that I’ve started to look is at the Sunlight Foundation’s Apps for America contest, which was aimed at encouraging “more programmers to leverage public data and connect different information sources to effectively convey information about politicians and Congress.” The contest announced $24,000 in prizes ($15,000 + $5,000 + 4*$1,000).

This is an interesting model and I suspect that for the ~$25,000 we’ll see a variety of other interesting applications like those submitted for Apps for America. I wonder if there are ways to encourage and inspire beyond the civic developers. I’m wondering if there is an opportunity to build new applications for civic engagement or local commerce or for improving the lives of citizens and businesses.

I wonder if the $5 million grants for the Knight News Challenge might be a better model.



The Knight Foundation was 3 rules to apply for funding: 1) use or create digital, open-source technology as the code base; 2) Serve the public interest; 3) Benefit one or more specific geographic communities. The Foundation was founded around news and communities. And it’s interesting to look at ways to inform, engage, visualize neighbourhoods, information, and community. 

If you have a great idea that will improve local online news, deepen community engagement, bring Web 2.0 tools to local neighborhoods, develop publishing platforms and standards to support local conversations or innovate how we visualize, experience or interact with information, we’d like to see it! You have the opportunity to win funding for your project and support within a vibrant community of media, tech, and community-oriented people who want to improve the world.

Both of these organizations are foundations, they are hybrid organizations, like the Mozilla Foundation which is very different than a traditional for profit corporation. I’ve started to talk to Michael Lewkowitz more about this hybrid corporate structure and how it might work in Canada.  But I’m left wondering where the Canadian equivalents of:

Here’s the Top 100 Foundations in the US. And it appears that Canadian foundations only have about 3% of the assets available to similar organizations in the US (though the site hasn’t been updated since 2006). Mostly because I’m wondering how we find a champion outside of local government to champion the development of new citizen based tools built on this emerging data.


The questions are dependent to what data will the City of Toronto make available at toronto.ca/open and when. The types of applications are growing, just look at the application directory as part of the Apps for Democracy.  The Apps for Democracy project that created over $2.3M of value for Washington, D.C.

“The first edition of Apps for Democracy yielded 47 web, iPhone and Facebook apps in 30 days – a $2,300,000 value to the city at a cost of $50,000 (all apps created are here).”

The project was to create applications based on the DC.gov’s Data Catalog that are useful for citizens, visitors, businesses and government agencies.

Questions for what will get built for Toronto are dependent on the data available. I can’t wait to see what we design and build.