Capstone Project for MBA – Machine-Readable Financial Statements

In my final Capstone project for my MBA, I’ve been trying to get a few municipal governments in Western Canada to open up their yearly financial statements in a machine readable format.

This was surprisingly hard. I spoke with people from the City of Vancouver, the City of Edmonton and the City of Victoria. I also presented the idea at the February Open Data Summit in Vancouver. At the same event, we discussed the idea at a round table, getting good suggestions and ideas from participants from the open data community. I’ve also blogged about the idea here and there.

In the end, I did get some traction at the City of Victoria. Right from the beginning Marianne Alto was supportive of the idea. In fact, it was something that she had already been thinking about. The data is not available yet, but it should be coming soon.

Looking forward to it!

Government of Canada Open Data Roundtable in Vancouver

Today, I attended the Government of Canada Open Data roundtable consultation in Vancouver. What struck me was the brain power, innovative thinking and open data expertise from a wide variety of viewpoints and backgrounds.

The session was led by David Eaves who, by the way, is an excellent facilitator. Even though he has forgotten more about open data than many of us will ever know, he did not dominate the conversation with his views, but facilitated great participation from the group.

The main themes from the roundtable were: data standardization, user-centric design, search-ability (really difficulty to search) data, registries of data (open or not), and quality of data.

On the theme of data standardization, there was a discussion about whether the Government of Canada would be suitable to provide the governance, guidance, and/or facilitation for the collaborative standardization of open data standards for other levels of government in Canada. Many agreed that this would be a vital role for the Government of Canada to play because data standardization is so important to increase the scalability and value of open data.

Someone commented that standardization should not become a barrier for the release of data, an important point.

Another view is that disruptive innovation that begins with one or two municipalities is, historically at least, the most effective catalyst for open data standardization, citing examples of standardized transit data (GTFS) and Open311.

I tend to agree with the micro-to-macro approach to driving out standardization. You don’t have to get it right the first time. Two municipalities can come up with a standard for reporting on high-level financial statements in a machine-readable format, for example. This standard will evolve over time with adoption of other interested municipalities and more financial detail becoming standardized and openly available.

This brings me to a Capstone Project that I’m working on to complete my MBA. I’m looking for one or two municipalities who would be interested in participating in an open data standardization pilot by  releasing their financial statements in an machine-readable format.  This information is already available in a PDF format, but PDF makes it difficult to do any comparative analysis between municipalities, which would provide value for public administrators and interested citizens. If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in participating in this open data standardization pilot, please let me know.