Ever watch a tug-of-war? Pretty straightforward concept: strength and coordination win the day.

That makes up a good part of the thinking behind a recent announcement concerning Canada’s Open Data Exchange (ODX). Canada is joining the Open Data Global Network, a group of countries — the United States, Australia, Italy, Mexico and South Korea — studying how smart companies turn the raw information of open data into transformative knowledge.

We’re calling our initiative Canada’s Open Data 150.

Open data is about life. Traffic movements, tax filings, visits to emergency rooms and hundreds of other activities generate data that governments of one level or another collect by the trainload every day.

Governments do a pretty good job of making the information available and building catalogues. We can easily quantify how many cities, provinces and countries have open-data portals, and are making the data available.

That’s the supply side.

Less is known about the demand side — the companies that are drilling into that data and extracting resources with commercial or social value for informed decision-making. Who are they? What are they learning in the process? What mistakes have they made that others might avoid?

What tools and skills do they need to do a better job?

Open data generates some bulky questions, and there is something to be said about applying global teamwork — strength in numbers — to deal with them.

This approach really begins a few years ago. The Govlab, a project based at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University, set out to study U.S. companies (notionally 500) making good use of open data.

It produced a lively graphic showing the connections open-data-driven companies are making across different government sectors.

The Govlab’s Open Data 500 project spun off partnerships elsewhere in the world. Canada’s Open Data 150, led by ODX, is one.

Yes, 150 lines up nicely with Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017. And, yes, we are interested in hearing from Canadian entrepreneurs building businesses around open data. Please drop us a line, beth.bailey@codx.ca.

So OD150 is a kind of census, looking at who’s doing what, now, in Canada. We have no idea how many companies we are going to find; but if we don’t come up with 150, it doesn’t mean failure.

We still end up with a clearer picture of where Canada stands from an open-data perspective, and how we compare internationally. Our place at the table with Open Data Global Network means we’ll be sharing best practices and making international connections.

There is a use-it-or-lose-it urgency to all this. Making open data available costs money. If governments don’t see benefits out of the mining of open data, benefits as in jobs created and lives improved, they might be more choosy about what they pour to the information stream.

We need to encourage companies to dig, dig, dig.

Classical competitive thinking would suggest that Canada should go into this alone and hold what it learns closely to its chest to gain some kind of international edge.

But open data is of such massive importance to social and economic well-being that it can’t be left to piecemeal small-mindedness. Too many opportunities stand to be missed in a go-it-alone approach.

Tug-of-war of war offers a lesson about that: teams of one against teams of many usually land in the mud, face down.