Good Lab interview with Bastien Douglas of OpenDataHK

Bastien Douglas is co-founder of OpenDataHK. He is an ardent believer and advocate of open data. Originally from Canada, Bastien moved to Hong Kong last year and got started on his journey of promoting open data in Hong Kong. We did an interview with him to learn more.

What is OpenDataHK and what does it do?

We are a group of open data enthusiasts and advocates, coming from all backgrounds in Hong Kong. We organize meetups and hackathons to promote the idea of open data, help people understand the benefits of open data and inspire people to build helpful applications out of open data.

So far, we have organized 20 meetups, and 3 hackathons (by the way, thank you Good Lab for sponsoring the venue for the hackathons!). It went almost viral, which was out of our expectations.

How did you get started in this?

I did my Master thesis on open data and then I worked for the Canadian government for a few years, which opened my mind to the world of possibilities in open government data. I moved to Hong Kong in early 2013, while still figuring out what to do here, I stumbled upon BarCamp Hong Kong, which is a self-organized unconference where anyone can share their insights on any topic. I hosted a session on open data, and there I met Mart van de Ven and Waltraut Ritter, who are both fans of open data. We kept in touch even after BarCamp. Then we organized our first OpenData meetup in a bar in Wanchai. Since then, we have grown into a community of over 1000 followers (on our facebook group).

(poster from OpenDataHK, photo source)

Tell us in simple sentences, what is open data?

If any data set complies with all the following three rule sets, we call them open data:

  1. machine readable – you cannot just release PDF, because they are not machine readable. and the advantage of making data machine readable is that you can do analysis more easily.

  2. unconditional – you need to be able to use the data for both personal and commercial use

  3. discoverable – you need to be able to find them in order to use them

what is made available when gov releases its data?

Earlier in January this year, at the MaD conference, there was a session on open data and how it is changing our society. Our own Mart from OpenDataHK was one of the speakers at this session. He presented quite eloquently how open data makes all sorts of amazing things possible.

Just to give some examples –

  1. more transparency of the government could be ensured if we can see more open data from the government.

  2. you will never know how many creative uses or adaptaions people will make of open data. You don’t have to rely solely on the Hong Kong Observatory website to see what’s the weather like today or tomorrow. You can customize the whole experience of seeing these data if they are made open data.

  3. business opportunities could be created because of open data. we have seen lots of such examples from overseas, and this applies to every field.

  4. even the government itself could save lots of money by adopting open data, so different departments can more easily have access to data from different departments.

And you can watch the whole talk here

Are there any exciting news from the local open data community?

Well, the most exciting things happen at our meetups and hackathons. We had the privilege of inviting Kenneth Chan, David Webb, among others, to come and talk about their talk on open data in Hong Kong. It was an eye-opening experience hearing these folks talking about open data from their perspectives.

There are also some promising developments in the field lately, like the Gazetteer project which was born out of one of our hackathons, which makes census data of Hong Kong accessible through API. There are also some inspiring projects like LicenseCheck created by some IVE students hosted at the Data-HK website.

If I am interested in open data, how can I join you?

You can joined our facebook group and get invited to our meetups and hackathons. Or visit our website to learn more about what we did in the past.

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