Otago Regional Council to build open data platform

Hydrology reports, consent activity, and aerial imagery will be available via an online platform

In a bid to make its data more widely available to the public, the Otago Regional Council (ORC) is building an online platform to host and display council datasets.

The Open Data Platform (ODP) will provide taxpayers and consultants with access to council collected data. This includes key data sets specifically identified for the project such as hydrology reports, consent activity, and aerial imagery. The council says other datasets such as property values could be made available on any system it decides to build.

According to council documents, a particular focus will be placed on displaying data sets in a visually attractive format.

Currently if a request is made for council data it is manually handled by a member of staff. The ORC says the first 30 minutes of the staff member’s time is paid for by the council from public money, with any time beyond that usually being charged to the requester.

This method takes time away from more critical work, which the council says could be dealt with more efficiently using an online platform.

Encouraged by a government mandate to share services where possible, the ORC says any intellectual property that develops from this project will be shared freely with other government organisations.

Glen Barnes, co-founder of the New Zealand open data group Open.org.nz, says the ORC’s project is an encouraging step towards more transparent government.

“Traditionally local councils have been slow to adopt open data policies. Sometimes they’ve even been hostile and charge for access,” says Barnes.

“This is a very positive step for the Otago Regional Council to make.”

Local government data is often freely available on council websites, but Barnes says this is often difficult to access for a layman.

By opening datasets via APIs for third parties to manage, Barnes says business and industries could grow on top of information already being collected but not being used as well as it could be.

“This reduces the costs for councils having to provide those services themselves,” says Barnes.

Barnes has some vested interest in councils opening its data to third-parties. His company Zoodle, which last month was sold to Realestate.co.nz, sells online property reports which rely on council information.

Barnes says overseas this information is often provided for a cost, but because of New Zealand’s relatively small size any large cost barriers would hinder businesses looking to use the data.

What is important is not the cost, but that the information is available to anyone on a non-discriminatory basis he says.

The ORC has sent out an RFP document to technology vendors to partner in the development of this platform. It says the platform needs to be developed within this calendar year.

To support the ODP, the council is also looking to hire a data specialist. On its vacancies page, the council is advertising a position to “ support the Open Data Platform and the IT Team by helping with data integration, maintaining data sets and repositories and presenting data visually using tables, charts and maps.”

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