Open Standards for Civic Tech APIs Edge Closer to Reality

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And while CKAN is an open source solution, Brynskov doesn’t see that this will compete directly with the emerging startups providing open data publishing platforms for cities. Startups like the Paris-based OpenDataSoft and Socrata in the U.S. are trying to build viable businesses that provide a commercial data publishing platform for cities. Brynskov doesn’t see the agreed adoption of CKAN as a deterrent impacting those startups, believing that if CKAN is used as the central data store, then for players like OpenDataSoft it becomes about providing a strong value proposition in the interface that they provide to their customers:

CKAN is a platform; you need federation. If the federation principles are open, there is no reason why other platforms can’t link up. They just have their own ways to link up repositories of data. Technology is a no-brainer here. How do we make it easy and appropriate from a city perspective to share data?

If you want to play with cities, you have to support open standards. The DataTank runs themselves on top of CKAN. This is a decision to support that open standard.

Civic Tech to Reduce Inequity and Spur Innovation

Brynskov and Hierro both believe that this new agreement will enable cities to address social inequities faced by marginalized citizens and poorer communities, as well as enable the next wave of innovation and economic development. Brynskov explains:

This is important if you do not have a lot of resources as an individual, community or city. Any city on any level can set this up as they need to. They can take a ton of what other cities have done and tweak it for their local situation. It will not be high cost. You will need to tweak the application solutions to your city level, but that is scalable.

This technology will also help close equity gaps quite cheaply. There are small minorities in all cities who have a particular perspective or need. With these standards you can leverage resources across the globe and really cater to individual needs. It really is a beautiful characteristic of this. If you look at how the global population is evolving, growth will mostly happen in Africa, South America and Asia and will be unstructured, so we really need to have mechanisms that can scale and fit diverse environments. Looking ahead, this is a crucial component.

Hierro sees the initiative as “a significant step forward” for stimulating economic opportunity by creating a new wave of entrepreneurial activity:

The whole notion of a standard that developers can rely on for context of a city will really enable a lot of applications that developers can market. It is a real boost for innovation. This is not just about more efficient services, but about transforming the city into a platform for the development of applications. This notion of offering data and enriching context information will be a central enabler.

A second round of cities is expected to join the initiative in June.

Be sure to read the next Cities article: How Smart Cities Are Promoting API Usage


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