Open Government is Trending

I know I’m Civic Engagement’s equivalent to being a “Homer” …no, not Homer Simpson. I’m talking about the guy who at the start of each new NHL season will say “This is the year the Leafs win the Cup!”That’s because, at least when it comes to Civic Engagement, I’m tired of the malcontents and media-click-baiters…and you know who you are. My goal is Change as opposed to whining about not having Change. So, I’ve adopted the “what gets rewarded gets repeated” approach, meaning that I encourage and cheer whenever I witness hero public servants working their butts off to bring about Change.

These folks are (for the most part) unheralded and unappreciated, and I want to do my share to change all that.

Which leads me to the reason for this post. Open Government/Data is like any other cultural phenomena, and as such I like to think it is subject to the Adoption Curve. More specifically, I’d say that Open Government is straddling the “innovators/early adopters” segment of the curve.

I’m often asked how I can be so sure of this? That’s because in the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to see the little things that give me confidence that Open Government/Data will in fact become a reality.

…and below is a list of those little things.

NOTE #1: Aside from a few key moments, I’ve chosen to ignore most of the Open Government Tour because that would be too easy. This list focuses primarily on things that I’ve found extraordinary, or that I didn’t expect.

NOTE #2: I have a terrible memory and I apologize because I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things along the way. So, I consider this as a living document and kindly ask that you please contact me to either add OR adjust the content accordingly 🙂

Federal Level

Fall 2012 – GTEC Presentation

This is my big break as public servants give me (a nobody) a chance to present CitizenBrige.org at GTEC 2012. This is where I also learn about (what I now call) Hero Public Servants. People like Rob Meikle and his AWESOME presentation.

Fall 2012 – Web Experience Toolkit

I learn about the Web Experience Toolkit; An Open-Source initiative by Canada’s Treasury Board that helps websites become Web Accessible, and so much more!

Fall 2012 – #W2P

I learn about, and am invited to a #W2P (Web 2.0 Practitioner) event. This is an informal, online community of Public Servants who are using social media, and other engagement tools, to connect with each other. The #W2P is where I learn that there are MANY good people inside government who want to see Change in the bureaucracy.

Fall 2012 – GCpedia 

I learn about the internal wiki created by Federal Public Servants as a means to more quickly and fluidly share knowledge between government departments.

Spring 2013 – Accessibility Toronto

After being mesmerized by the potential of the Web Experience Toolkit, I kindly ask members of Canada’s Treasury Board if they could present the WxT at the Accessibility Toronto Meetup Group. Not only do they present, but they have also mobilized their colleagues back in Ottawa in case there are questions they can’t answer, truly showing that they embrace the values of the Open Community.

Summer 2013 – Codefest

I attend Codefest, an event organized by Federal Public Servants and open to anyone where the Web Experience Toolkit community can share their knowledge and engage with citizens.

Fall 2013 – Open Data Speed Dating

I participate in a GTEC session organized by public servants that brings Data Curators (public servants working on data portals) & Data Enthusiasts (users of data, and fanboys such as myself) together.

Winter 2014 – Canadian Open Data Experience

Canada launches CODE, a National contest whose aim is to bring attention to Open Data and foster an environment of creativity, innovation, and openness.

Spring 2014 – Canada.ca

You know those annoying government URL’s? The ones with way too many acronyms and periods? Well, the Feds are using Open Source practices to release a much simpler platform: Canada.ca.

Spring 2014 – GovJam (Co-Create Canada)

I attend the Ottawa rendition of GovJam where I work with other public servants to develop the basis for what would become “Co-Create Canada” …incidentally, we win the competition 🙂

Summer 2014 – Codefest

Unlike 2013, I can’t attend this event, but the folks at the Treasury Board put on another Codefest making this a staple event for the Canadian government.

Fall 2014 – Corinne Charette, CIO for Canada’s Treasury Board

As part of the plenary sessions at GTEC 2014, Corinne is asked “how do we measure the success of Open Government?” Corinne’s answer? (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Although it is difficult, I believe the measurement is trust in government.”

Hearing one of Canada’s highest ranking public servant understand the fact that Open Government isn’t necessarily about efficiency, or economic growth, but about trust makes my heart sing 🙂

Fall 2014 – Canada releases v2 of its Open Data site

Government is for the most part not particularly responsive, but it is learning. And in Fall 2014 it released their new & improved Open Data site after only two years. The site’s changes are based on user feedback and growth in scope. For example, they are no longer simply focusing on Open Data sets, but also Open Information and Open Government.

Granted, work still needs to be done on the FOI side of things, but you have to acknowledge that the public service is moving faster than expected from a technology perspective.

Fall 2014 – Policy Ignite

For the first time ever, the Policy Ignite event run by federal public servants is opened to citizens. Not only that, but non-govies are invited to speak…including myself 🙂

Fall 2014 – Blueprint 2020 Newsletter

The first Blueprint 2020 Newsletter is released and can be viewed here. For more information on Canada’s plan to create a more adaptive and responsive public service, please click here.

Winter 2015 – Canadian Open Data Experience

CODE returns, but with a larger mandate that includes the provinces and municipalities. Once again, the spirit of growth and versioning is becoming prevalent with our federal government.

Provincial Level

Summer 2013 – Ontario’s Deputy Minister for Open Government
The province announces a new role:  Deputy Minister for Open Government. In other words, the province is allocating resources towards creating an engaging, transparent, and accountable government.

NOTE:  Deputy Ministers are NOT elected officials. They are some of the highest ranking public servants.

Summer 2013 – Ontario GovJam

Although I’ve already mentioned GovJam above, this was actually the first time I ever attended such an event. This one was put on by the Province of Ontario and our team submitted the idea for the Public Services Incubator (we didn’t win, although the judges said we are all winners lol).

Summer 2013 – Public Sector Open Data (PSOD)

The Province of Ontario arranges the somewhat informal group of City-based public servants who work in Open Data. Its purpose is to create a network where cities can share best practices in Open Data.

Fall 2013 – Ontario’s new Data Portal and Voting mechanism

Ontario develops new and interesting way on how to prioritize the release of Open Data sets: A citizen voting tool. Although some people don’t believe this is the best way to release data, I applaud the province for thinking differently. This kind of risk and innovation is rarely seen in government and should be encouraged more frequently.

Spring 2014 – Ontario’s Open Government report 

Some people say this report doesn’t have enough teeth, and I can see why. But what’s important is that the report hits on more than just “Data.” Their fundamental recommendation is for Ontario to adopt a three pronged approach that include Open Data, Open Information, and Open Dialogue.

…perhaps more importantly, the idea that government should work with the public (instead of just placating) is reinforced.

Spring 2014 – Newfoundland and the OGT14

Newfoundland reaches out to me and asks how they can somehow be involved in the OGT14…unfortunately, we aren’t able to come up with a solution in time. But, the mere fact they contacted me is a sign of interest in this movement.

Summer 2014 – Interesting Job Titles!

As part of the #OGT14, I got to learn that Alberta has a Chief Advisor for Open Government and that BC has a Director of Citizen Engagement.

Typically, you see government spend money on what it finds valuable. That’s why creating jobs within the bureaucracy whose sole purpose is Open Government shows signs that government are seeing Open Government as more than just window dressing.

Summer 2014 – Mandate Letters

My biggest fears during the 2014 Ontario election was two folds:

1) That Open Government & Open Data would be politicized as a party platform to “buy votes.” But once elected to office all that rhetoric would be dismissed or de-prioritized thus leading citizens to believe Open Gov/Data means absolutely nothing.

2) That all the progress in Ontario’s Open Government work would be in vain. That it was just a ploy used by a political party to create favourable sound bites during the election.

That’s why I was extraordinarily impressed when Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne, released her Ministry’s mandate letters for her term in office. She didn’t have to do that and there were no expectations that she would since it wasn’t a campaign promise (that I heard, anyways).

These mandate letters have been typically internal documents and, from my understanding, they have never been released to the public. It appears as though, slowly but surely, the political establishment is drinking the Open Gov/Data kool-aid.

Winter 2015 – Service Ontario

A few years ago, the Province embarked on re-inventing how Ontarians engage with their services. Ontario.ca is the result. It may not be flashy, but it is well conceived and designed, and I’ll give you an example.

My driver’s license expired on December 26, 2014 and I didn’t realize it until 30min before I was to rent a vehicle on December 31st. I didn’t have time to go to a Service Ontario counter, and I didn’t have access to a computer with Internet. All I had was my phone and a data plan.

In the span of about 10min, I was able to renew my driver’s license on the Service Ontario website from my phone! Because Ontario adopted “responsive design” principles, it was easy to navigate through everything, including payment!

After completing the steps, I received an email confirmation AND temporary license that I was then able to print at the Car Rental location.

…no fuss, no muss. Just simple, convenient, and reliable. That’s what I want from my government.

Municipal Level

Spring 2012 – Data, eh?

The city of Toronto organizes a free event where they invite citizens to learn about the inner-workings of the City, as well as hand out Open Data Awards. This is my first exposure to the vast Open Gov/Data community and I am welcomed with open arms by the City of Toronto.

Spring 2013 – Apps4Ottawa

Ottawa runs its “Apps4Ottawa” which was first born in 2011…and mostly organized by one, dedicated public servant who believes in this movement.

Spring 2013 – Wellbeing Toronto

The City of Toronto releases version 2 of Wellbeing Toronto, a web-based measurement tool that enables access to community economic and social wellbeing indicators across City of Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods.

Not only is this relevant Data Sets, but I always get giddy whenever government adopts the philosophy of versioning!

Summer 2013 – Toronto IT Roadmap

I’m asked by the City of Toronto to represent the citizen’s perspective and help facilitate their IT Roadmap workshop. I don’t think many citizens are invited to such things, but the City of Toronto is learning the value of having an outside perspective.

Fall 2013 – Open Data Workshop

Me and a friend of mine create an Open Data Workshop based on Toronto’s Open Data portal. The workshop is designed for Grade 10 Civics Students and we are lucky enough to be invited by a handful of highschools to deliver the workshop.

Winter 2014 – Top 10 list of reasons to not release data sets.

Blair Labelle (at the time) was Guelph’s City Clerk and he presented at an event called “Love & Data” hosted by the Province of Ontario. As part of his presentation, he delivered his Top 10 List of the hilarious reasons he hears for not releasing data.

Winter 2014 – International Open Data Day (PART 1)

This is perhaps the most awesome example of Open Government because it brings together all of the elements.

I’m proud to have been part of a committee that constituted Industry, Engaged Citizens, Students, and Public Servants from Ontario and Toronto. We supported and trusted each other, and we worked together to organize a fantastic event.

We didn’t go way outside the box, but we did test the boundaries of the box, and that’s all you can ask from government. That it is ok for them to step outside of their comfort zone with engaged citizens who share the same values.

Winter 2014 – International Open Data Day (PART 2)

The City of Toronto attends not only the Friday conference, but also the Open Data Hackathon on the Saturday. For the entire day, these public servants work hand-in-hand with citizens to build and create with Open Data.

This is rarely seen, and certainly not on the weekend.

Winter 2014 – Toronto Changes Tweet

Me and friends of mine are working on a project that would change the way Torontonians engage with an ever changing city, more specifically, its development process. As part of that effort, we try to visualize that process and send a tweet to Toronto City Planning asking if they confirm our assumptions.

Not only do they respond, but they respond quickly and thoroughly (we ended up taking the conversation to email and even got a meeting!)

Spring 2014 – Open Data Song

Toronto’s Open Data Lead, who is also a musician, releases his newest creation: The Open Data Song.

…civic engagement as art, you gotta love it!

Spring 2014 – CBC Email

In the spirit of supporting each other, The Region of Peel writes a very favourable email to the CBC regarding the #OGT14. They help opened doors that I would otherwise not be able to. They are the very manifestation of the Open Government culture:  Enabling citizens.

Summer 2014 – Surprising Politicians

It isn’t too often that I will praise politicians, but I have to give credit where it’s due.

1) Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Mayor – At the time of the #OGT14 Winnipeg event, Brian was at the time just a mayoral candidate. Although many mayoral candidates attended my event, Brian is the only one who approached me at the end with real human qualities, as opposed to the “photo-op / kissing babies” kinda way.

He came up to me and said that when he first announced Open Gov/Data as part of his platform, most people didn’t understand what he was talking about. The message fell on deaf ears. He said that he didn’t know how to make the content relevant to people, but thanks to the #OGT14 event he had a much better idea on how to frame the conversation with Winnipegers.

He was being genuine and vulnerable. He admitted he didn’t know everything and that he learned thanks to the #OGT14 and the public at-large.

Those are the qualities I want to see from elected representatives.

2) Daniel Bourgeois, Moncton City Councillor – At the Moncton event, I kept saying “politicians” and Daniel kept correcting me and using the terms “professional” versus “municipal” politicians

I asked him why he kept making that difference and he told me that except for maybe Halifax and one more Maritime municipality, all city councillors were volunteers and paid a stipend equal to below-minimum-wage!

He kept insisting that they, as councillors, live, shop, play, work, and socialize with their constituents and that they weren’t victims of party politics. At which point I apologized and now have this difference in mind whenever I go on one of my diatribes lol.

I too can learn from politicians, and that’s the spirit of Open Government…having an Open Mind; one that sees value in collaboration.


Richard PietroRichard Pietro considers himself as an Open Government Fanboy in an attempt to create Civic Engagement as Art. Richard’s Twitter handle is @richardpietro and you can learn more about his work at MyEinsteinJob.blogspot.ca.

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