Open source activists are praising the Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source motion passed by the City of Vancouver last month.
Proposed by City Councillor Andrea Reimer, the motion encourages the adoption of open standards, promotes distribution of open data and places open source on equal footing with commercial software during procurement cycles.
Vancouver is the first municipality in Canada to pass a motion that embraces the “open” city concept. But “we took some of our lead from Toronto, who did a 1.0 version of a motion last fall and is looking at rolling some stuff out,” said Reimer.
“We’ve benefited from other cities that have been pieces of similar initiatives … it’s sort of become an open source motion. Now I have other cities looking at the motion and saying, ‘How can we use that and improve upon it and bring in some new policies ourselves?’” she said.
The process serves as a great metaphor, Reimer pointed out.
“It’s not just about playing in that area and being there, it’s about a government that actually thinks like that. If this is what works for people, the Web … this is where we need to go and (for) service delivery as well,” she said.
Data needs to flow more smoothly and in standards that are easily importable and can move through applications smoothly, said Reimer.
“We have an online broadcast of our council meeting, except that if you’re not running the latest version of Windows, there’s no way you can watch it. The hilarious thing is we can’t even watch it on our own computers at city because we don’t have the most recent version of Windows,” she said.
The CIO of a Vancouver school board quietly moved to open source last March, Reimer pointed out. By deciding not to renew its Microsoft Office licence, he saved enough money to purchase a computer lab for every school in the city and schools are now allowed to install Firefox, she said.
The lack of open standards is actually one of the largest barriers to open source, said Ottawa-based open source activist Russel McOrmond. The only way for open data to be useful is if it’s released in an open standard, he pointed out.
What makes the motion so significant is that it recognizes the interdependency between data, standards and software, he said. “Recognizing that there are interconnections between all three things is great,” he said.
McOrmond, policy coordinator for the Canadian Association for Open Source (CLUE) and co-coordinator of Getting Open Source Login into Government (GOSLING), also hailed how publicly the process was performed.
“A lot of levels of government make motions to open data, open standards, open source, but if they’re not done in a public way that’s visible to enough people, then the ability to backtrack is always there,” he said.