Saint John launches open data pilot program for the public


New initiative offers opportunities for more community involvement with local government

The City of Saint John has joined a growing number of governments to launch an open data program that would give the public more access into how their city operates.

The pilot open data portal has been launched on the city's website, which features interactive maps and charts that are fuelled by government data.

"Open data is the idea that public information should be accessible to the public online," said Coun. Greg Norton, who spearheaded the effort.

"We have geo-locators for things such as art galleries, or where the centre lines for railways or trails would be. When people are looking at building efficiencies for how cities movie, whether they're looking at app developments to allow communities to live more easily, or whether it's looking for just where you lost your dog, we'll be able to do things like that."

Cathy Simpson is the public sector vice president of T4G, and has been championing open data in New Brunswick.

She says the pilot initiative is an important step forward for tech-minded citizens in the city.

"It's helping strengthen our democracy because governments are becoming more open … and it's easier for us to get move involved," Simpson said in an interview on Information Morning Saint John.

"First off you get the tech community engaged and they start to see themselves being able to help build applications and new ideas on top of that content … That's how things get started and that's really exciting."

Simpson hopes the open data portal can serve as source material for upcoming hackathons in Saint John — events that bring together both technical and non-technical expertise to find solutions to various problems using technology.

The project comes after council unanimously passed a resolution in October 2013 to engage all city departments to develop an open data policy.

An executive summary came out in March 2015, leading to the launch of the new portal on the city's website.

"We've got to walk before we run, and this is the first step in a number of steps where we will be able to partner with other municipalities," said Norton.

"Whether that be on a tri-city level, or with partnerships with industry and our provincial government, so that we can eventually come to a place where we have a one stop shop for all data in the province of New Brunswick," said Norton.

The next steps will focus on collecting user feedback, identifying new collections of data that would be of use to the public through the city's municipal planning, public safety, recreation and other departments, and evaluating the need for new technological and resource requirements.

Citizens are encouraged to give feedback on the portal, and suggestions for new data sets through an online form.