February 23rd marks the 2013 International Open Data Hackathon day. It’s the primary day of the year where citizens across the globe lend their skills and ideas to collaborate (often virtually) in bringing raw data provided by all levels of government to the masses in useful and often very enlightening ways.
The term “hacking” can mean many different things but in the context of open data it’s primarily about creative approaches to solving civic problems. Open data, in its most simplistic term, is about enabling the people to empower the people and Hackathons are a vital catalyst in that empowerment process.
To quote Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America, “politics is not changing, government is changing,” and nowhere is this truer than in the open data space where technology-fueled transparency is spawning useful tools. Whether it’s providing accurate border wait times and calculating Canadian duty costs or an interactive website visualizing where tax dollars are spent, it’s clear the way government provides information to citizens is expanding for the better.
Governments the world over are now freely sharing data to citizens in machine readable formats to be used and “mashed” together in innovative ways never thought of before. From the U.S. to the U.K, Australia to Norway, Kenya, Italy, France and Greece, and of course Canada’s own Open Data initiative, we’re beginning to realize we live on the cusp of a digital age where the strength of engaged and empowered citizens can be of great benefit to all. A time where the populous is no longer limited by technology or talent but, rather, only by our imagination of what’s possible.
Albert Einstein once said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” It’s hard to forecast what affect or to what extent open data will benefit society, but what better way to spur new methods of solving old problems than by providing free data to millions of people and seeing what creative solutions come of it.
Sean Kibbee is manager of Innovation Initiatives at Shared Services Canada. He’s a strong proponent of collaborative, open source and open data related technologies.