Information Works for Us

23 October 2011

Author: eric

Information Works for Us

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If you look at Google Maps today, you will find significantly more information than you would have found a year ago. Villages are popping up where there were none. Soon you will start to see streets, points of interest and more. This is largely a concerted effort by us, your local JumpStart Georgia (formerly Open Maps Caucasus) and the National Public Registry of Georgia. Many of you know JumpStart’s role in making public large amounts of heretofore non-public street data.

The idea was to fill a need – there was no public map data with which people could build Georgian websites, build applications and simply navigate their country. Now that is no longer that case. We will continue to maintain our geographic data and keep it public, but that is just one kind of data that allows us to take control of our lives.

Living in a city such as Tbilisi is not easy. There are many things that affect the quality of our lives and as such, it is important that we understand them, how they work so that we can respond effectively when those things do not function as we’d like. From your water tap to the people who take your garbage – city services are a vast array of processes and personnel that can make our lives easier or make them miserable.

Our project TbiliCity takes a look at the data behind these services: do they meet our needs? are they transparent? how do they work? who is responsible? are they safe? Without having the information, you just can’t know. And if you don’t know, how can you take charge of your life and your family’s well being?

To date, we have reached out to Tbilisi’s public services with a varying degrees of success. The Tbilisi Transport Company (TTC) was kind enough to share their bus data with us. That alone is very useful and now we can begin to build some interesting online tools that without their data, would not have been as possible. It would be better for TTC to make this data public on their own website so that it is always up to date, but for now, it is available on ours for anyone who would like to use it.

We have requested detailed budget data from City Hall, but they denied our request. What we have access to is what everyone does – a very non-detailed summary of budget spending from their website. What we did do was organize it from the unusable PDF files they had, to more useful formats. They are also available on our site. We challenge City Hall to do better and would like to work with them to improve the usefulness and accessibility of the information that is so important to our society – how our representatives spend our money.

There are many areas where access to specific information would be really useful – planned water outage schedules, electricity outage schedules, crime incident reports, and more. They all can affect our decision making abilities. Without the information, we are helpless and are forced to live at the whim of invisible decision makers in private companies and opaque government bureaucracies. With the information, we are empowered to take control of our urban lives and work with those responsible to improve the quality of our day-to-day lives.

Though TbiliCity has taken a while to pick up momentum, it is finally beginning to do so. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank those that made this possible. First and foremost, Open Society Foundations and JumpStart International for realizing that opening up and sharing information and structured data is important in a living and breathing democracy where, yes, people do need to know what is happening so they can adequately respond to issues important to them.

We’d also like to take this time to thank organizations and agencies that are as excited as we are about sharing information that we can use.

We will continue working with public agencies, NGOs, media and anyone who wants to participate and help. In the end, this is our city.

 

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