Open data and the news

By Leslie Young

It’s generally accepted among journalists that in Canada, it’s very hard to get an interesting news story out of the data that governments make available for download on their various “Open Data” sites.

Quite simply, it’s usually very dry material.

Locations of public drinking fountains and city trees might be nice for app developers, but rarely makes for a story that has any impact or tell us something we’d like to know.

So it’s always refreshing to see a fun data set on an open data government site. I recently came across sales data for B.C. Liquor Stores on the Data BC site. Even better, it was broken down by region and drink type. Immediately, I thought that this would make a fun map that people might like to play with.

I downloaded the data set and went looking for population data and geography.

Luckily, this was B.C., so the excellent B.C. Stats site became my source. In my experience, B.C. has in this website the best and easiest-to-navigate source for basic demographic and geographic data in the country. It is much, much easier to find regional populations and boundary shapefiles for B.C. than for Ontario, for example.

On the B.C. Stats site, I was able to find population estimates for those aged 19 and up (I’m assuming everyone’s obeying the law here) as well as the geography files. So I put together a map showing average litres of alcohol purchased per person. Fun!

This is the second map I’ve done using B.C.’s open data. (The first is here.) I really hope other governments take note of the work Data BC is doing, and that Data BC continues to add interesting datasets to its collection.

About Leslie Young

A budding data and database geek, I try to turn numbers into stories. I've been with Global News since the spring of 2011. Find me on Twitter @leslieyoung
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