So you want to release your spatial data as open data – how can you do this?

August 20, 2015 Gordon Plunkett

Your organization has just decided that they’re going to release spatial data into the open data community for further exploitation. While this is a momentous event that will make your previously concealed spatial data available to “outsiders” so that it can be used for valuable purposes, it does raise the question: as the GIS manager, how do you publish your open data so that it gets into as many hands and is made as beneficial as possible?

The open data movement began several years ago and in 2013, the Canadian federal government, along with its G8 partners, released the G8 Open Data Charter that makes government data open by default. The purpose of this charter was to make governments more accountable by making data available to anyone who wanted to examine the data.

The charter also prescribed that this open data could be used freely and without restriction in any application that the user wanted to create. This helps stimulate creativity and innovation by allowing the use of open data for greater social and economic benefits in both commercial and non-commercial applications.

Governments across Canada have embraced open data for numerous reasons and are now making various data available to the public. One of the commonly released types of datasets is geospatial data. Many provinces and municipalities have begun releasing their geospatial data layer by layer. Some jurisdictions have opened up most of their geospatial data holdings, while others have only released a few layers to date.

For example, the federal government has an open data portal for federal data. Most provinces have open data sites, such as Ontario, British Columbia and Québec. Many municipal governments have an open data site including Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.

Browse this map of municipal and regional open data sites from across Canada. For a collection of open data sites that includes international sites, view this list.

If you want to release your geospatial data, how do you go about doing this? Is it a big job or a simple task? What’s the best way to get the most exposure for and use of your open geospatial data?

Providing your geospatial data to the open data community can be an easy or difficult task, depending on how you approach it. For example, the federal government’s open data portal uses a package called CKAN that handles a number of different data file formats including spatial data formats.

Another example is the Halifax Regional Municipality Web site which uses the ArcGIS Open Data solution. This allows Halifax to use the ArcGIS platform to provide the public with open access to their authoritative data.

Halifax configured the Web site with their own look and feel, and the public can use the site to search by topic or location, download data in multiple formats and view data on an interactive map or in a table.

Read more about their open data site in this ArcNorth News article: Halifax Improves Access to Public Data with ArcGIS.

Thus, there are many technological ways of making open data available to the public and numerous organizations in Canada have already done so. Once your organization decides to make their data open, you can easily and quickly get this data into the hands of the public.

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

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