Data and public policy – OECD Social Justice Report

I entered into the discourse on open data to facilitate the production of these types of reports.

Social Justice in the OECD – How Do the Member States Compare?  Sustainable Governance Indicators 2011

I am really interested in public policy issues such as social justice, health inequality and the environment and hope that open data and open government policies will lead to being able to access these types of data, especially at the neighbourhood scales. I hope that apps will open the door to access, but that eventually we will work toward comprehensive access to data for this type analysis and develop new ways to dialogue between citizen and government using data for evidence-based decision-making.

Currently in Canada, it is incredibly difficult to put one of these reports together. The way data are aggregated differ and because one has to try and pry data from multiple federal agencies, multiple agencies in each province and territory and from a number of municipal agencies. Because of staff changes in government offices, contacts are lost and numerous cold calls have to be remade and data renegotiated.

Page 14 of this report shows the model used to create the indices in this OECD report. At a glance there are 29 variables, each consisting between one to 5 data sets suggesting that potentially these data may need to be accessed from more than 50 different public officials at different levels of government, divisions, departments, etc. Then there is the negotiating of use, licenses, costs, aggregation, accuracy, timeliness and formats since no two agencies even within one government department follow the same rule book and in fact, access is often determined by the mood of the public official or what they think the rules are. Doing a time series is even more complex as data are not collected at the same intervals. A follow up report to track trends requires almost the same amount of work since the data gathering process often has to start nearly from scratch. This is a highly inefficient and cost prohibitive process.

To make matters worse, in Canada, we have lost our think tanks and national social policy research organizations who used to do this kind of work as their funding was cut, and of course we have lost the census.

I hope we can think of open data and open government to include apps to get the bus, find a skating rink or remember to take out the garbage, but more importantly, to inform public policy on transit, public health, and the environment. Also, with open data we need the resources to produce information products such as this report. Many things can be crowdsourced, a census and this type of analysis cannot and there is a role for government and non profit organizations to translate the data into meaningful information and then for us to use that knowledge to improve, track and critique or develop new programs to address what the data tell us.

Apps rely on one or two datasets, these reports rely on hundreds. I want the hundreds which requires a broader open data policy in Canada at all levels of government and I would go further to suggest that open data needs to move beyond the institutional boundaries of IT and CIO divisions and into thematic areas, as that is where data for these indicators are produced and owned.