From Open Data to Open Government

During 2013, Canadian governments at all levels were continuing to join the Open Data movement.  As reported on the www.data.gc.ca site, maintained by the Government of Canada, there are now four provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec) and 38 Canadian municipalities with Open Data portals.  (This site provides links to a number of other provincial sites, but since these provide only a few GIS datasets, with unclear or restrictive licensing provisions, they do not, in my view, qualify as “open data” sites.)

At a provincial/territorial level, Canada still lags behind the US, where www.data.gov reports 39 states with Open Data sites.  However, Canada is doing quite well municipally.  Our 38 municipal sites include 15 of our 25 largest cities.  This compares with only 43 US cities and counties and only 11 of the 25 largest US cites, as listed on www.data.gov.

Federally, the Canadian government has been quite active, joining the Open Government Partnership in April 2012, becoming one of 62 participating countries.  As required for all OGP members, Canada developed a very good (in my view) Open Government Action Plan and has now completed a Year 1 self-assessment report (available at www.data.gc.ca).

But Open Data is just one of three streams (along with Open Information and Open Dialogue) of Open Government, defined by Wikipedia as “the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of government to allow for effective public oversight.”  While Open Data is a good start, it is only a start.  In fact, most Canadian Open Data sites rely heavily on GIS datasets and others, which, while useful for app developers (e.g. transit schedules), provide very little insight into “the proceedings of government.”  This contrasts to the situation in the US, in which many such sites focus on information intended to enhance government transparency – e.g. www.ohio.gov/government/transparency.

A July 2013 report by British Columbia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner (“Evaluating the Government of British Columbia’s Open Government Initiatives“) provides some excellent suggestions for the types of information that should be disclosed, including travel and hospitality expenses, as well as calendar information of ministers, deputy ministers, and ADMs or equivalent; contracts over $10,000; final reports or audits of performance or efficiency; feasibility or technical studies; etc.  In this regard, BC is fairly unique in having both an Open Data and Open Information portal.

Given the work still to be done in relation to Open Information, it is perhaps too soon to move to the third pillar (Open Dialogue) of Open Government.  Both Ontario and British Columbia, along with the Government of Canada, have made commitments to this third pillar.  Ontario has even appointed a Deputy Minister for Open Government and has established an Open Government Engagement Team to “consult with people on how government can best engage and inform the public on the work it does.”  While the announcement of this team was greeted with considerable public cynicism (or apathy), one can only wish that this and similar initiatives achieve some level of success as we struggle to find new ways to engage 21st century citizens in our democratic processes.


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

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