Over half of the global population lives in cities. Cities are not only places where an increasing proportion of the world’s population lives, but are becoming essential to understanding the global economy, demographic trends and social change. Over the last decade, open government data (OGD) initiatives have begun to offer new opportunities for widespread access to data about cities. In recent years cities from around the world have embraced the idea of open data. In the U.S., the Open Knowledge Foundation reports that nearly 100 cities participate in OGD initiatives. In Canada, most major cities—including Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Halifax, Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal—participate in open data initiatives. In the U.K. and New Zealand, open data is becoming standard practice at the federal level, and open data initiatives also exist in China, India, South Africa, Brazil and other countries throughout the world.
While open data initiatives make data publicly available and relax legal restrictions on use, there remain important limitations to open data systems. One problem is a lack of data coordination; there remains little standardization of data between cities that deploy OGD. This limits any comparison of cities using OGD. Another problem is that taking full advantage of OGD requires technical skills often not available to non-expert users. As a result, OGD initiatives may not be empowering a breadth of public use, and rather, may simply be providing an implicit subsidy to already well resourced users—such as business and academia.
The main outcomes of this project are to 1) determine the value of OGD as a resource for studying cities at the international scale and 2) critically evaluate the accessibility of these data to a broad population of users. In addition to these specific research questions, the project will also produce a methodological framework and data that may be useful to other researchers, including: 1) metadata on cities that currently participate in OGD initiatives and 2) a repository of OGD from cities around the world. When completed, the metadata, the methodology and the database will be made available for unrestricted public use.