TBS Open Data and Open Government Consultation Response

Below is my response to the Open Government Consultations. I look forward to the government follow-up.
1. What could be done to make it easier for you to find and use government data provided online?

Each government department, crown corporation and agency should have a chief data officer (CDO) responsible for implementing opendata and opengovernment policies.  CDOs would be the institution’s data subject matter specialist, answer to the public and government.  CDOs would conduct an inventory of their data and information assets and these would be catalogued in a portal linked from their home pages but structured to also be federated into an opendata portal (ODESI).

Data catalogs would provide multiple ways to find data (Discovery Portal) and point to existing non-government initiatives (WEHUB, Community Data Program) as these are established communities of practice.  Building on best practices and existing models is efficient and interoperability should be the focus instead of homogenous data dissemination models.

Policies and practices should be developed in consultation with the nation’s experts (librarians, archivists, scientists, geomaticians), knowledgeable citizens and opendata advocates. Users should also be consulted and different data dissemination models may be needed for different levels of users.  Also, it is a good idea to build on already completed government consultations: Research Data Canada Consultation , Library and Archives Canada and Industry Canada.  There is also benefit in enlisting multiple sectors and not just the opendata consitutuents such as: Canadian Council on Social Development & community groups, Federation of Canadian Municipalities & cities, Publich Health Agency of Canada & health agencies, HRSDC & social sector, Open Data Cities, etc.

Government funding should mandate that the results of all publicly funded research be deposited into a trusted digital repository (TDR), in a data archive or portals (International Polar Year project & CIHR Open Access Policy).  Other areas of research focus could be data visualization products, building data use capacity, and understanding evidence based public participation.  Developing best practices for government to incorporate volunteered geographic information, citizen science and indigenous knowledge should be also be encouraged.

All agencies should be implementing TBS record’s management policies and its directives while also depositing their data and publications in the Depository Service Program (DSP) and Library and Archives Canada (LAC).  LAC & the DSP should be funded to develop a data archive as Canadians currently rely on the US funded and based Internet ArchiveResearch libraries should continue to develop distributed publicly accessible TDRs, cloud computing and broadband infrastructure to carry out their work.

Data should be aggregated into geographic units of utility to a variety communities, framework geography files (Geobase) and should be made available and data conversion services provided (GeoConnections):

  • StatCan DA, CT, CD, CSD, CMA
  • Health Districts & Sub Districts
  • City wards and neighbouhoods
  • Rural & Postal geos
  • Provinces, Territories & districts

Government should be engaged in creating ways to visualize data and provide some analysis. The Atlas of Canada could be the map window for data, each department could have a section devoted to their respective areas providing educators and the public with a trusted and authoritative reference in addition it would be a window into the geography of government policy.  Each agency could be assisted with the creation of infographics and apps to communicate programs and services by involving the public, private sector and universities and funding this would help grow a cadre of Canadian experts.  Research funds and CFPs would help produce tools (Many Eyes), apps (Budget Plateau), visual communication system (cybercartography) and social media processes. Transdisciplinary research can help develop the theory and practice of data communication while open tender can resolve specific data dissemination issues, develop relevant products and services.

Cost recovery should also be abolished and data procurement processes would also have to be evaluated ensure that government purchased data can be made available to the public.

2. What types of open data sets would be of interest to you? Please pick up to three categories below and specify what data would be of interest to you.

Other: See response to 1. & include all government deparment, crown corporations and agency program, administrative, research data including their related information products.

3. How would you use or manipulate this data?

I will provide a list of examples of government, communicy and citizen science data put to work:

Atlas of the Risk of Homelessness
WEHUB (Water and Environmental Hub)
Revealing Economic Networks
Portrait des communautés de l’outaouais
BC Hydraulic Registry
Evidence Based Decision-Making
Open Data for the Oil and Gas
Social Justice Reporting
Inuit Sea Ice Use and Occupancy Project (ISIUOP)
Espace Montréalais d”information sur la Santé
Community View Collaboration
Community Information and Mapping System (CIMS)
Social Planning Council of Ottawa Data and Information Reporting
Social Planning Council of Winnipeg Poverty Profiles
Report Cards on Children’s Well Being
Social Planning Council of Hamilton Reports
Community Development Halton – Community Lens
Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre information products
– Electoral accountability – How’d They Vote? – , for youth  and many others
– Citizen Science –  Birders and Water
– Environmental Conservation – Waterly
Participatory Planning
Environmental Accountability
Ecological Footprint
Participatory Budgets
Citizen engagement
Lovely visualizations

4. What could be done to make it easier for you to find government information online?

See response to question 1. and 3.

The data and information discussed in this question, including FOI request results can also be disseminated in portals and be catalogued as was done with CAIRS.

The creation of suitable ways to communicate and visualize those data would greatly enhance information usability and information uptake.

Supporting Canadian entrepreneurs and researchers to develop tools (aka apps) to interact with and visualize these data and making those tools, apps and dbases available to the public would be beneficial (e.g. How’d they Vote or BudgetPlateau).

Fund data visualization in Canada and research into the use of data and public engagement.

5. Of the items below, which are the priority areas of information that you would like to see released on government websites:

Other, All of the above, essentially, all public sector information and data that are not private, that inform programs or that are collected as part of the governing process

6. In the past five years, have you participated in any Government of Canada consultations with Canadians?


Overall, how easy or difficult was it to: (very easy to very difficult or n/a)

    • Find out about Government of Canada consultations?
        • easy
    • Participate in Government of Canada consultations?
        • Somewhat easy but too constrained by format and pre-prescribed questions.
    • Use social media/Web 2.0 tools to participate and provide your input?
        • Easy, however, well facilitated round tables and face to face consultations with specialist communities are also important.
    • Obtain information about the outcome of the consultation you participated in?
        • Very difficult, there is rarely follow through.

7. Do you have suggestions on how the Government of Canada could improve how it consults with Canadians?

National round tables and outreach to specialist communities would be a start (e.g., health, social policy, science, industry, etc.), not just via social media but the actual organizing of face to face meetings that are well facilitated.  The National Research Council in the US does this (e.g. CyberinfrastructurePolicy and Science or Transportation) and makes available the results in the National Academies Press.  The US NRC gathers experts to define problem areas or forecast needs (e.g., Cyberinfrastructure), collaborate to develop solutions and then the Council actually develops CFPs to implement proposed solutions.  We could actually mobilize the nation’s experts in Canada, not just the nation’s consulting firms to help develop creative solutions.

GeoConnections, StatCan, Library Archives Canada and The National Research Council of Canada have had experience conducting public consultations, round tables and summits with data users, producers, managers and specialist communities.

Those engaged with public participation researcher have expertise here, as do those engaged in action research or public participation GIS.  Organizations that have developed ChangeCamps, GovCamps, hackfests and citizen city open data communities are another groups that have experience and proven expertise in carrying out creative consultations.

Some tables already exists such as Community Data Canada  and the Community Data Program on the social sector side, the FCM for Cities, Open North  for open data advocates and entrepreneurs, city Open Data Groups, CODATA in Science and numerous academic and professional associations such as IASSIST, ACMLA, CAPDU, CARL, as well as subject matter specialists in demographics, public health, community informatics, etc. There are also a number of important lists such as civicaccess.ca where various communities of interest are engaged and intersect.

It is important to work with data specialists, engineers, scientists, apps developers and it is equally important to outreach with heavy data and information users such as journalists, researchers, consulting firms, utilities, community organizations and cities to understand their needs.  Conducting user needs analyses is another useful way to engage with people.

8. Are there approaches used by other governments that you believe the Government of Canada could/should model?

See response to 7, and 1.

9. Are there any other comments or suggestions you would like to make pertaining to the Government of Canada’s Open Government initiative?

An open government initiative needs policy and directives to ensure, guide and involve the governors and bureaucrats.  Open government also requires cultural change and it also means that the government will need to welcome citizen participation and govern based on evidence from within government and based on the work done by citizens.  It is not suitable to open government and share data and then cut funding in research, libraries, archives, think tanks or the census.  Open government means nurturing and growing a multifaceted knowledge industry and volunteer sector on topics ranging from spending, women, poverty to infrastructure and government administration.  It also means welcoming informed results irrespective of their alignment with the ideologies of the government of the day.

The culture of secrecy regarding submissions to cabinet, MOUs, and so on should also be reconsidered as the public has a right to know upon what government is basing its decisions.  The Government of Canada already has excellent regulation, directives and policies regarding access to information, records management and archiving, and these need to be funded and actually implemented.  These should not be circumvented as seen in the case of the gun registry bill where there was a clause precluding archiving and preservation of the data it contained.  That makes for inconsistent policy.  Government should also be at arm’s length from its data gathering agencies such as Statistics Canada, the cancellation of the Census has garnered much public distrust and also puts in question the impartiality of the data, the recommendations of the National Statistical Council on this matter should be implemented.  Organizational and cultural change is also required, and we should allow our expert public servants to speak freely and authoritatively and not quash their views even if not in accordance to a minister’s preferences, (e.g., scientists).  Communication’s departments should be facilitating communication and not controlling it nor be the source of wisdom and knowledge about government work.  Also, consultation needs follow through, otherwise it is wasted effort and we should be building upon the results of previous consultations and not continuously reinventing the wheel.  Consultations should also include some sort of benchmark system to assess whether or not government is actually following through on its policies.  A brief examination of departments and their data preservation practices will demonstrate that in fact most departments are not, cannot and will not meet directive requirements on records management and preservation policies.  What is the point of policy and directives if not implemented!

Open government is more than a portal, as the Information Commissioner’s Resolutions have clearly stated, it is also about changing the way work is done and being more responsive to citizen input, more welcoming of divergent and conflicting views and includes greater, deeper, real and more meaningful public engagement.

10. How would you like to stay connected to Canada’s Open Government initiative?

    • Web updates (email alerts)
    • Public Consultation

Thanks to James for helping me find lost responses!