With Open Government, Government no longer needs to be a black box. Open it up, get involved. That is if you even know what to do.

Finally, a break this week from a barrage of information security blog posts. Here I go with another posting on the fundamentals of Web 2.0.

There’s been lots of hype over Open Government. Cities  have been quite progressive in this area, most notably Vancouver and Toronto, with provinces getting in the fray bit by bit.

The advantages with Open Government are evident: it  broadens the engagement and involvement of the public. It is a critical piece of a web 2.0-enabled government; if done right it adds transparency and openness of government directly through the web tapping into value-added nodes of expertise.

Equipped with data, anyone can consult, report, evaluate – thus have better conclusions, outcomes and solutions for government. Open Government makes available the metrics and values on anything, be it service delivery measures, geological data, survey results – anything. Open Government is a very sensible direction for government, and now it’s hot. Where is the Government of Canada?

Many of the benefits the population has been seeing with Open Government have been largely local. This is either because municipal government has the data that is most relevant for valuable insight by public eyes (like garbage recycling schedules, areas of concentrated crime, speed trap per accident measures), or because municipal governments have been most active in this arena, as they face less bureaucratic restraints and greater citizen pull. For insight on this, I suggest you look into the writings of leading Open Government advocate and public management forethinker David Eaves who has some excellent ideas on what is possible and what is developing with Open Government.

In the short-term, the Government of Canada will likely have little foray or support to Open Government, as the current governance paradigm still holds true a doctrine of secrecy reinforced with a view to control its monopoly of information. The greatest promise for Open Government come from either approved policy resolutions, or leadership from political leaders. These two examples follow.

Regarding how policy resolutions support Open Government,
The City of Vancouver has led the way with the adoption of a resolution in May that endorsed open and accessible data, open standards, and open source software. The open data component states, “the City of Vancouver will freely share with citizens, businesses and other jurisdictions the greatest amount of data possible while respecting privacy and security concerns.” (source). Similarly, @djkelly has also blogged about Open Government coming to Calgary through a motion coming to the City in July, which I am anxious for news about.

Regarding how leadership supports Open Government:
In the city of Toronto, Mayor David Miller threw support behind Open Government last April at a conference, pledging to make available city-wide information and launching the still-inactive site “Open Toronto“. Further developments are uncertain, as it seems the city still has other problems to deal with.

Regarding how there can be both policy resolutions and leadership support:
The federal government may have some insights to learn from their American neighbours (to the south). The US government’s Open Government initiative is a model for all, with a rich site providing data on a wide-range of ever-increasing measurables. This development is supported by a double-whammy of resolution and leadership support. With a mandate by the public to make government more accessible, combined with the president-signed memorandum “Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government“, the US is leading the global pack, meeting the socio-politico-economic demand for more transparency with the supply of data.

I couldn’t help but find a balance of Open Government initiatives with ATIP – Access to Information and Privacy. Just as Canada used to be a leader in E-government (back in 2005), it was also a leader on Access to Information, when it passed the Access to Information Act in 1983. Originally implemented to broaden citizen engagement and involvement in the implementation of Government services, in the whirlwind of unmet transparency demand with supply of data the mechanism has instead become largely a tool for gotcha media to fuel fault-finding – with the public service and their ministerial heads and political masters. The public, through the media, consultants and contractors, were left with expert sifting through damning correspondence, reports or presentation materials of public servants, some without context or proper balance. With Open Government, they can instead be part of the process with accessing and (hopefully) be involved in a value-added way. They can prepare their own scenarios, chart their own projections, draft their own solutions, and evaluate them with actual data. Part of Open Government however, is that Government is listening, and being more social. That’s where Web 2.0 plays a crucial role.

How can the Government of Canada get on-board with Open Government?

I believe, as we have seen with the US Government and with the City of Vancouver, leadership from the top is necessary, either from the political government or the Privy Council Office. Larger challenges exist, the usual suspects of culture (keeping information secret, even within departments), infrastructure (how to even provide this information?), and resources (who will work on this?).

Case study: Get some data

In a way, Government of Canada data is available, through some yearly reports. But this is not data, it is information, which is value-added data (or relevant data, as it has been formatted and interpreted). One set of data that I find most valuable for making the case for Open Government is the Public Service Employee Survey, a survey held every 3 years across the federal public service. With the release of findings by the Treasury Board Secretariat (formerly through the Canada Public Service Agency (which formerly was the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada)) every department jumps on the interpreted findings and evaluates and re-evaluates the findings ad nauseum, with positive insights and follow-ups on plans to improve their standings. As 3 surveys have already been released going back to 1999, I think making this data open would be very interesting. Provided that the confidentiality of respondents is maintained, this data can perhaps be better mined, and more specifically and broadly interpreted. If that data or another like it can be made available and broadly accessible, it may be the best example we can have for Open Government in the Government of Canada.

The data for past surveys is already available. With the leadership and direction, I believe more information can be made available in a more cohesive and broad way. How neat it would be to better drill down on the data the Government has. But then again, it could be too much, too soon, would we even know what to do with it?

I inquired about getting the 2008 data, and was informed by StatCan that it is not be available until fall. I did find though that in some way the Government of Canada is already supporting Open Data, as I have found a Public-Use-Micro-File (PUMF) of the 2005 results. I suggest you download it and go to town. But then again, do we even know how?

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