Geek Speak: Herb Lainchbury, president of Open Data Society of B.C.

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Herb Lainchbury says B.C. has spent the past few years defining open data. Now it’s time to talk about the value created by using open data.

Lainchbury is hoping 120 to 150 people will attend the B.C. Open Data Summit on Tuesday (February 19). The conference will take place at Simon Fraser University’s Segal Graduate School of Business (500 Granville Street) in downtown Vancouver. Scheduled speakers include B.C. information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham, Ajah CEO Michael Lenczner, Common Crawl Foundation director Lisa Green, and David Wrate, director of citizen engagement for the B.C. government.

The summit is being organized by the Open Data Society of B.C., which Lainchbury cofounded and serves as president. Launched in May 2012, the nonprofit society has around 80 members and aims to promote open data and support the open data community in the province. Lainchbury is also the CEO of Dynamic Solutions.

The Georgia Straight reached Lainchbury by phone in Victoria.

In a nutshell, what is open data?

Open data is data that organizations make available to the public for free by publishing it on the Internet in a machine-readable form. In doing so, they create an opportunity for others to interact with that data.

What is the goal of the B.C. Open Data Summit?

We’ve spent the last three years or so figuring out what open data is, and we have a pretty good handle on that. The theme of the summit is really to explore the value that’s being created. It’s being created in a number of different ways, and so we have speakers coming to the summit that have real experience creating value. Some of them are publishers, but for the most part they are people that are using open data and creating something on the outside with it.

Who is the summit for?

It’s for anyone who’s interested in learning more about open data and how it can be used in their organization, either as a publisher or a user. We have three focuses. We have an academia focus and the nonprofit sector and businesses. Those are the three main ones we’ve been focusing on.

Sometimes, people think open data is just for governments. Actually, the opportunity’s there for all sorts of organizations.

One of the summit speakers will be the B.C. information and privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham. Is privacy a big issue in the use of open data?

No, but it is a concern. Sometimes people, when they think about the government publishing data, there’s a bit of concern because the government holds a lot of private information. But open data is never about personal information. It’s always about publishing non-personal information.

What is one challenge facing the open data community in B.C.?

I think one of the biggest challenges, in terms of government data, is that a lot of government agencies that hold data are structured around a cost-recovery model. So, they’re used to getting revenue from data, and they can’t see how they can do open data and maintain revenue at the same time. I’ve written a number of times on this topic, and I think there are ways to do that. That’s one of our big challenges.

What’s one great example of open data usage that you would point the public to?

There’s a fellow coming to speak called Michael Lenczner. He’s got a company called Ajah. What that company does is they take open data from a variety of sources and put it together into an information dashboard for nonprofits to do a better job at fundraising. So, I think that’s a really awesome use of open data. I’m really excited to hear what he has to say about it.

What do you think is next for open data in B.C.?

I think what’s next for open data in B.C. is engaging businesses. I think ultimately open data is a means to an end, and it’s the ends that are really important. Where are businesses going to realize value—businesses and governments as well? Where are they realizing value? And learning how to measure that, and getting folks engaged at that end.

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A concerned citizen
Why were members of the public excluded from presenting and contributing at this conference? It seems like it's for government, academics and industry only. An 'Open Data' conference really should be 'Open' to all.
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