Digital Transformation and Public Engagement: York Region Uses Open Data

With an ever-growing population of approximately 1.2 million people, the Regional Municipality of York extends from Toronto to Lake Simcoe and includes nine municipalities, each with a different economy, geography and population. But here’s the amazing part: the municipality sends its data to the residents rather than waiting for them to find them by themselves. This proactive and inspiring approach is probably the main reason why York won.

Municipal governments not only want their communities to be aware of the projects they are proposing and the strategic decisions and new initiatives they are taking, but they also want them to join them. This requires communities to participate in decision-making and to provide data, ideas and information to governments. Joint work and increased harmonization of resources and efforts will then be possible.

Using personas to facilitate access to open data

Rather than simply releasing raw data sets for download, York Region engages its staff, residents, and visitors through personas, partnerships, social media, and storytelling, demonstrating their digital commitment to the data of the region. For example, the “professional” persona helps people navigate the site to find the data they need for their work projects. The “resident” persona provides ready-to-use, organized data or a map for people looking for child care or other simple residential needs. The use of personas to help people find what they need has led to a significant increase in the use of data from the region.

The use of personas, partnerships and stories is an innovation that allows York to leverage the tools people already use, that delivers real value to the region’s data, and significantly enriches the user experience with open data. . Most importantly, this innovation helps the region improve its site and the availability of its data and information. How did she do it?

Access open data through known applications

York Region has integrated its open data with popular social media applications like Yelp, which people use to find local restaurants. Now, when looking for a restaurant in York Region, they can also see the latest health inspection results. Every month, York’s official data is on average in the hands of 35 million Yelp users. (This figure is from March 2019.) This is exactly what residents want: easy to understand and relevant information where they can find it.

Providing easy and easy access to official data, allowing research and use without dodging or technical difficulty, presenting them on a municipality’s open data site for anyone to access and download; this is the modern way to share open data.

This is what all municipalities want, and Esri’s ArcGIS Open Data service easily adapts to this new approach of transferring data to known applications that are used daily.

Here is another example. The Waze app provides municipalities with a free two-way data exchange service, which includes data on road closures, incidents and more (eg parking information, school zones and businesses coming from data open). If a municipality shares this type of data on its open data site, Waze will be able to publish it in its application to improve the browsing experience of its users. It’s a perfect two-way data exchange. York already hosts Waze’s data and is working to integrate them into its regional traffic center to facilitate traffic management. More data is exchanged, 

Waze users also benefit from a real-time connection to the region’s transportation hub, which integrates data from hundreds of traffic cameras, incident reports, and all official road closure projects. reduction of lanes in the region. By sharing this data in real time with Waze, York Region ensures that its data effectively contributes to reducing traffic jams and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to making more space on the road for bicycles and public transportation.

Google Maps users can also get the latest road and address data directly from the region. Need directions to a house in a new subdivision? No problem!

York Region’s open data site is much more than a website. It is an integral part of a data stewardship ethic that fosters innovation and brings value to residents, visitors and business owners in the region.

If you plan to open your data to your community, find out about ArcGIS Open Data . We also invite you to participate in a webinar on July 30