The Importance of Open Data and Accountability

I believe in releasing data.

I believe that governments and agencies paid for by government money should release data that can help people. We paid for the data, and if the data can help us make smarter, better informed decisions, then we should be able to see it. We should be able to access it, freely and easily.

I should be able to go to the Saskatchewan Water Authority’s website and find out what data they are using when they are making their predictions about water levels. I should be able to look at the exact same data they did, that we pay them to look at, and make my own, amateur observations.

I should have been able to trust that they would change their estimates on how much water Moose Jaw was going to receive as well. Farmers and city residents should have been able to trust them when they said they would be below the record 1974 levels.

I am not a trained hydrologist, I am a GIS technician that knows how to collect and show data in such a way that it makes data useful to people. Given the knowledge of where the Authority gets their data, I would have been able to do a specialized model for my parents’ farm, potentially helping them plan their evacuation strategy of their farm better. I could have helped them relax, regardless of the two foot increase that the Authority called for and then reversed within 24 hours.

I am writing this passionately, which is never rarely a good thing when wanting to convince people the logic of your thoughts. I am writing this out of sheer frustration, as my parents and I were led to believe that the farm house would be ruined – including all of our belongings on the first floor. As the estimate was never altered by the Authority, we never suspected the water levels would get near the 1974 levels. Had we known, had we suspected that they would, the house would have been emptied. All precautions would have been tempted.

I know groups, individuals, corporations, and governments make mistakes. These things happen. But to not release your data or your data sources in a clear way that a concerned individual can check your work? Shame on you, Sask Watershed Authority. In the age of crowdsourcing, you did not take advantage of many eyes checking your work. You did not ask people for measurements, you did not teach them how to make accurate measurements, you did nothing. You went along as if all you had to do was report to the people, give the minimal necessary to assist them. The amount of times that you let down people made them question you. You let them done and you need to make amends.

One Reply to “The Importance of Open Data and Accountability”

  1. Had to send you this after I read your blog:
    http://www.news.com.au/business/breaking-news/bad-maps-reason-for-lack-of-flood-insurance/story-e6frfkur-1226037037453

    As someone who works in local gov’t & GIS, getting data out there, especially for these purposes, it’s slowly getting there. And I’d imagine that the SWA probably has a lot of concerns re: the release of that data too.

    BTW, what sort of mapping procedures are you using to predict flooding levels? I’m in the process of updating some local flooding maps here in Greater Van but there’s so many different ways to go out doing it…

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