Open DataProjects

Possibilities of Open Data in Federal Governments

By November 12, 2010 No Comments

Wednesday I spoke at OpenGovWest BC about one of the success stories of OpenDataLondon, where I shared with the audience in a small case study like format (challenges and overcoming them) the success of LondonTrash. Afterwards, a few of the attendees wondered what were the possibilities of using data from the Federal Government. Well, I am happy to share with you one of Canada’s first open data projects which makes use of Federal Government data – Emitter.ca.

A project which took almost two months in the development from analyzing the data and calculating the statistics, to the actual application design and development, six individuals from across Canada, including myself, collaborated on the design, development and deployment of Emitter.ca. Emitter.ca is a simple web application which allows Canadian citizens to search for an address, city or a postal code, allowing them to receive information and data in an understandable format about the pollutants which are released from facilities near the searched address.

The Emitter.ca project was initiated by David Eaves, one of Canada’s leaders in Open Government advocacy, and Nik Garkusha of Microsoft Canada. Nik and David brought the rest of the team in from all across Canada for taking the idea from conception to reality. The team included:

  • David Eaves – a public policy entrepreneur and an Open Government advocate,
  • Matthew Dance – a geospatial wiz and a MA Candidate from the University of Alberta,
  • Nik Garkusha – an Open Data and Open Source enthusiast from Microsoft Canada who recently founded OpenHalton,
  • Mark Arteaga – a mobile solutions expert and owner of RedBit Development,
  • Barranger Ridler – a development genius with a major focus in Windows 7 mobile development,
  • and myself.

Emitter.ca makes use of the Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory. Throughout Canada, there are hundreds of facilities that put pollutants into our air. Unfortunately, not too many people really know what the nearby facilities are really emitting. Unless you are a chemist or some form a genius, purely looking at the raw data from NPRI won’t get you too far as they use long and complex names, with the combination of statistical data which is hard to interpret. With the launch of Emitter.ca, Canadians are now able to easily retrieve this information in various forms of representation making it easy to identify which of the local facilities are polluting the most.

Through the use of emitter.ca, I am sure that many will be surprised about what their local facilities are polluting, at least I know I was. Knowing that, we have integrated a third party service from a British Columbia developer, Cory Horner. The service known as How’d They Vote, has an API which allows other applications like Emitter.ca to retrieve data and information about the Members of Parliament. In Emitter.ca, we have leveraged the power of Cory’s API to include information about the MP which the facility is located within his or her riding, allowing users to directly contact the elected official.

Emitter.ca was launched as a BETA release as we know there are bugs, but there are also additional features which we would like to add, along with including additional data sets which we hope to also ‘mashup’ with the NRPI data, along with friendly descriptions of chemicals. If there is something that you would like to see in Emitter.ca, feel free to contact any one of the team members as we would be more then happy to assist.

Furthermore, being the developer of this application was something amazing. Sure there is still work to be done (you will see it is BETA) at the moment, but what was more interesting was working with both Microsoft Canada’s Open Source team, David Eaves and RedBit Development. The combination of expertise, collaboration and different timezones was something that I am truly amazed at. What was most interesting about this application was the fact that we leveraged both open source technologies like PHP and Microsoft’s proprietary systems like SQL Server 2008 to create a powerful application for the Canadian population.

I am truly excited about this project for many of reasons, but one that stands out is that the collaborative effort of the team across Canada has demonstrated in a proof-of-concept like form to Canadian citizens and our Federal Government that there is something exciting happening within the Open Government, Open Data and Open Source space. Emitter.ca also demonstrates what can be achieved with Federal data sets.

 

Please note that this article was originally posted at amcgowan.ca.

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