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City of Vancouver embraces open data, standards and source

City videos could be more widely available soon: Reimer

Last Updated: Friday, May 22, 2009

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.

"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

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

    * 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.

Silas Silva
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