Data, Government

Open Data – What’s the Point Anyway?

Have you ever heard the story of the time open data helped Canada identify $3.2B in fraudulent charitable tax dollars? It’s true – a routine consulting project in 2007 exposed one of the biggest tax scandals in Canada’s history using a simple Excel spreadsheet and T3010s from the CRA.

While the above story is a standout example of the powerful capabilities of open data, it’s also true that open data remains a largely untapped resource for both governments and individuals alike. The advancements in technology over the past decade have created a vast potential to create value in many different areas of governance, but a lack of awareness surrounding open data has limited its adoption.

We’d like to help change that. Our next few blog posts will be focusing on open data, and we hope to help you and your peers learn something new about open data – and how it can help you.


First up – let’s start with a definition.

Open Data is a practice that makes machine-readable data freely available, easy to access, and most importantly, simple to reuse. 

Put another way, it’s publically available, downloadable datasets on all manner of subjects. From how your tax dollars are spent to fuel consumption reports for various vehicles, the numbers are all there for you to view.

So, while that may sound mildly interesting to you (or perhaps not), why should you care? What are some of the practical usages of open data, and how does it affect you and your daily life?

How about some examples?

It’s not hyperbole to say the possibilities for open data are almost limitless, and after the last ten years, there are a number of examples to point to. We mentioned the tax scandal at the beginning of the post, it also has uses on a social and environmental level. EQUALS is a global initiative improving digital gender equality, while OpenAg is working on food technologies for a healthier tomorrow.

Open Data and You

Of course, as this is the blog for a Government Data technology company, we’d be remiss to mention that open data is already creating value in a number of areas of governance.

In Canada alone, our government’s Open Data Project is being used to:

  • 1. Advance democratic reform through greater public insight into government activities and tax dollar usage
  • 2. Leveraging public sector data to help the private sector innovate and develop new consumer and commercial products
  • 3. Greatly reducing the administrative burden from information requests and media inquiries by proactively disclosing data that is relevant to Canadians

Just to name a few!

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of open data is the reality that we aren’t fully sure what might become possible in the future. 

Previously unexplored combinations of data can help create new insights and knowledge, subsequently leading to entirely new applications. Like the time a British doctor discovered the relationship between drinking water and cholera by combining cholera data with water well locations, it’s entirely reasonable to expect new and unexpected insights from different open data combinations. 

What’s Next?

We’ve never had this much information freely available to us. We need to take advantage of open data, and use it to improve our institutions, communities, systems, and ultimately the lives of people.

It starts with education.

Our next blog will focus on the state of open data in Canada, and how our country stacks up against other leaders in open data.

As always, if you’re interested in learning more about how Townfolio helps governments of all levels across the continent utilize data and technologies more efficiently, let’s chat. You can email me at or you can request a demo of our platform through this link.

Talk soon!