This is the story of how the app What’s My Ward was born…
Back in May the Hello World developer series hosted a discussion on open data in Saskatoon, which included both software developers and city representatives. David Hutton wrote a great article in the Star Phoenix about the meetup and the potential for open data in the city.
Fast forward to the First Tuesday event at the Two Twenty where Ainsley Robertson and Sean Shaw led a great discussion on the challenges of getting people to vote in civic elections. During that conversation, city councillors Charlie Clarke and Darren Hill both mentioned that one of the hurdles on people voting, is simply knowing what ward you live in.
It was conversations with Flavio Ishii and Krystian Olszanski about this problem which sparked the idea for the mobile app to help determine your ward. Unfortunately at that time the KML for the ward regions of Saskatoon was not available from the city, so I began developing the app consuming the OpenNorth Represent API. Although their API was fairly easy to integrate, I decided to instead go the KML route since it would allow the app to be re-used for a wider range of other purposes, for example to map regions in other countries.
Luckily we were able to get the KML ward data from the city, thanks to the requests from Francis Chary, Charlie Clarke and Darren Hill. And the good news is this KML is now included in the cities open data catalogue.
The What’s My Ward app is pretty simple, shows the ward boundaries on the map, drops a pin at your current location, and lets you view the councillor for that area. It also has some nice features like emailing or calling of a councillor simply by clicking on their address or phone number.
But the best part of the app is that it’s open source, which means anyone can re-use the code to publish their own app for their city. In fact it’s designed to easily be whitelabeled, the same app has already been published for Saskatoon and Regina.
What’s My Ward is the first of a new generation of re-usable open source Apps4Good apps, to help build stronger communities and improve civic engagement. It’s also a real testament to the power of open data, make the data accessible and developers will build apps to use it.