Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

CONFERENCE | Open data, open government & open city

Linda attended the Open Government Data Conference at QUT yesterday. Speakers included Andrew Stott (UK Transparency Board), Dr Terry Cutler (Cutler & Co) and Keitha Booth (NZ Open Government Data and Information) and many others in a full days program of speakers, followed by a data camp. Openness is essential for cultivating innovation and realising change: open government data means making government data freely available for use, re-use and distribution by anyone (citizens). We are interested in the potential of open data for urban planning and regional development (places, territories and spaces). We know that what goes into a plan or strategy determines what comes out. If only rudimentary information goes in then the plan isn’t well-informed or sufficienctly responsive to guide action to meet challenges and create the future. Accessing, creating and using data is integral to the work we do, as is accessing people. It’s never just a matter of establishing a vision and undertaking consultation, it’s also about understanding context through a range of informational inputs and communicative processes. The better we can make the steps in a planning process, then better the results. However, planners themselves may not be fully aware of the kinds of data sets and open government initiatives that exist to inform their work towards making better cities. It’s not just about Smart Cities, it’s also about Smart Planning, Collaborative Planning and/or Combinatorial Planning (a term we’ve just created). Maybe planning isn’t even the best word anymore – maybe it’s just combinatorial or recombinant processes, leading to fluid and dynamic strategies or design. Open government data also enables better coordination across all levels of government which is essential for urban development. Around the world, there are initiatives that recognise that relationships between open data, open government and open city.

Learning about open government data initiatives has provided some cause for reflecting on practice as well as speculating about all kinds of ‘what if …’, many of which are emerging now such as mash-ups (which play an important role in disaster response as well as civic engagement). Such initiatives tend to recognise that information has a ‘social life’ through networks and participation. We are intensely interested in geo-tagging and the innovations that engage spatial thinking and data. We tend towards just being ‘users’ of technology. So if easy to use tools, like Google’s MyMap, are available then we can readily incorporate them into our work for the purposes of creating knowledge. For example, in current work on several Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessments, the project team is using a Google MyMap to document research and ideas about sites. This results in a better understanding of the ‘lie of the land’ to and obtain a picture of the cultural fabric of the regional network. At some level, as cultural and social strategists, our projects add value to the kind of data that is freely available. With better access to information, we can put resources to innovating with our processes and methodologies to deliver value and enriched thinking as well as secure the kinds of socio-cultural dividends, capital and inclusion that our enterprise has as its aspiration.


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