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Mike and I (Sébastien) attended the “Mapping Environmental Issues in the City” workshop held at Concordia University this week, where an international group of cartographers, artists and researchers have gathered to work around a newly created database aggregating socioeconomic, health, soil toxicity and air quality data in Montréal.

This database, which is now available on the workshop website is actually a shining example of the process of taking existing data  and aggregating it in a consistent database that can be accessed and manipulated by tools and custom programs.

During the process of creating this database from many already existing data sources (including statscan), the team faced issues of data accuracy, completeness, resolution and of course, quality — which are issues likely to be encountered when opening a dataset.

Sébastien Caquard, one of the originators of this database, related that they had problems getting the data they wanted, so they had to “scrape” the data from existing material, typically published maps and articles.

Here we have another illustration of the benefits of an open-data policy in public organizations: by commiting to publishing data in open, standardized formats, you lower the barriers to innovation and encourage the re-use of the data. As collecting the data can be a long and expensive process, why let the data rot in locked up computers ? Open the data and let it become the soil for new, innovative projects !