Ian Parfitt.

Selkirk researchers working on open data project

The Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre is working on a project to figure out what open data policies are appropriate for rural B.C.

The Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre is working on a project to figure out what open data policies are appropriate for rural B.C.

Ian Parfitt is coordinator at Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre (SGRC) at Selkirk College and explained that the project will look at not only policies, but “what processes can assist the provision and use of open data. So we want to look at both sort of the provider side and also the user/consumer side of open data.”

The project will also look at the difference in providing and using open data between urban and rural areas, and who the users and potential users are in rural areas.

Parfitt also hopes the project can address the question of how much open data will cost local governments.

His team is undertaking a literature review, and has funding to support a bachelor’s thesis and a co-op student each year. The team has also been developing surveys and interviews to collect primary data from local governments, and is waiting on approval from Selkirk College’s Research Ethics Committee.

Parfitt presented to members of the Association of Kootenay & Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG) at the association’s convention last week, and explained what open data is.

“It’s information that you can access, ideally through some kind of web portal that you can then use quite easily with a bunch of conversions, and then you can reuse it without having to worry about license constraints. It usually refers to data created by public agencies using public funding,” he said.

He also got the AKBLG members to test drive a few questions, asking them what kind of access they offer to data on budget and expenses, property boundaries, roads and building or development permits, and how much public interest there is in data for each.

For the most part, municipalities and regional districts in the AKBLG had some kind of data publicly available, even if it wasn’t available online.

Some of the elected officials in the room said they weren’t sure how much public interest there was in the data, and suggested staff would better be able to answer the question.

Parfitt said that once his team begins interviews, they will direct questions to both elected officials and staff.

“I think that staff is going to probably have the most insight into most of those questions, but I think it is interesting to hear from the politicians as well,” he said. “I know that there’s always a bit of a divide between the elected and the staff, the bureaucrats themselves, and they just get a bit of a different viewpoint on things. The politicians, in a sense, they have to listen carefully to what the public pulse is, otherwise, they won’t get reelected, whereas the staff people are actually getting those phone calls about the data.”