Montréal Ouvert, a citizens’ initiative that aims to promote open access to civic information, is pushing the City of Montreal to implement an open data policy. This policy calls for the City to give the public free access to any collected civic information. In cities across Canada this policy has allowed citizens to create useful resources concerning municipal facilities and services.
Jean-Noé Landry, one of four co-founders of Montréal Ouvert, spoke to The Daily about the advantages of implementing such a policy in Montreal.
The McGill Daily: Cities such as Ottawa have created open data policies, which have led to the creation of websites and iPhone apps concerning municipal facilities and services. How does the open data policy allow individuals to create such resources?
Jean-Noé Landry: Well, all the civic information would be put into a centralized website. Other cities have done this as well, where you will see all the catalogues of data in a format that is free to be accessed. When you have precious data – data that is untampered – posted on that website in a permanent way, developers can modify it, use it and share the information back. So in that way it’s a very simple website.
The key thing here in what were talking about is the change in how to manage information, the change in behaviour. I think whenever you have change like this, every organization is going to have its inhibitions, but we’re here to share the positive experiences of other cities as well. Setting up the website is a mechanism by which to do this.
MD: Montreal has been slow in adopting an open data policy compared to other major Canadian cities, such as Vancouver, Toronto, and Edmonton. Why do you think Montreal has been more reluctant about this policy?
JL: To be fair, you do need to look at how many cities there are in Canada. If there are ten cities that have done this there are still about, what, 170 cities across Canada, who have not. But, hopefully, Montreal will be able to learn from the experience of other cities. We want to work collaboratively to help the city. It is behind, I’m not going to lie. Other cities in Canada are doing this…[but] all bureaucracies are going to be different; they are going to want to take the time to evaluate the feasibility of this. Obviously this is something that should have been done yesterday, but we’ll respect the process and try [to] put pressure to encourage them to work. There is a demand for it, and we really hope that the city recognizes that this is an approach that the city needs to take on.
MD: What kinds of services and benefits can Montrealers expect to see from open data?
JL: As residents of this city there are a lot of services that are accessible to us. But for each service there is information that organizes that service itself. We’re talking about schedules; we’re talking about the location of water fountains, parks, community services, [and] skating rinks. We understand that this may take time…not all citizens have the knowledge or knowhow to use that information in a way that is understood and a way that makes the services more accessible. So the thing is to connect with administrations, and then citizens can also innovate.
MD: With the growth of social media and professional blogging sites, more and more people are getting their information through non-traditional outlets. Open data is another way to access information through less orthodox means. How do you feel about the trend toward a more citizen-oriented or populist media?
JL: If we look at trends – especially with youth – in terms of their public participation, I think it’s to the city’s advantage to have two-way interaction or an active mechanism where residents are able to meet their needs and give ideas about how to interpret data; where we are able to realize the kind of vision that Montreal has for itself. The data is an outlet for this relationship to change and become more dynamic…it’s really a trend we’re seeing across Canada, and across the world.
—Compiled by Mari Galloway