September 2011

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MISA Ontario – Open Government

Yesterday I had the good fortune to speak on a panel about Open Government with City of Ottawa CIO, Guy Michaud and City Official Mark Faul in the Council Chambers as part of Open Government Workshop - ‘Today’s Open Government ~ A New Approach to Public Service’.  It was organized by Jury Konga and Robert Giggey.  MISA stands for Municipal Information System Association, it is like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for the IT crowd.

Mark discussed among many other things that Open Government needs to be responsible, and data requires context or a story, particularly data associated with planning or reports.  Guy discussed how it was difficult to convince council at times and that the legal staff at the City are advisers and he as CIO can choose what to do with that advice.  In addition, he mentioned that data and information will make its way out into the public realm and it is better for the City to proactively officially share it .

I talked about how open government is in many ways more difficult than open data, since it requires a deeper cultural and organizational change.  It means changing how we deliberate and that it will take time for city officials as well as citizens to learn how to intelligently work together to meet mutually beneficial objectives.  I provided examples of the work of research, community and government collaboration in Nunavut, the roots of open data coming from research librarians & MADGIC  and the geomatics sector, the work of non profit organizations and their need for open government to better serve their client base which is often marginalized people and the great work of the Community Data Consortium.  In addition I discussed the Resolution endorsed by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments on Open Government, ways to do public participation consultations and provided some useful examples of good open government apps.  Finally, I discussed the fantastic work done in Québec to change the procurement practices around the acquisition of open source technologies and the move toward developing a Québécois coding workforce in lieu of reliance on large US IT companies to provide government services. The links I referred to in my talk are below:

Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (GCRC):

Information Commissioner:

Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD):

GeoConnections

Salon du Logitiel Libre, Québec City

Meaningful Public Consultations:

Open Government App Examples:

Traffic Study held back by a City Official (My case study):

Social & public policy examples using government data:

Reading Material:

Wish:

The FCM and MISA collaborate to develop open government and open data indicators as a civic engagement indicator for Canadian Cities as part of the Quality of Life Reporting system.

The document below is a scanned copy of a report that I requested from the City of Ottawa.  I was advised that I could go to the City and read it at the counter.  The copy you see embedded below was sent to me by a friend who received it from a friend who scanned the paper copy they received by mail from the City.  Also below are the responses I received from the City in relation to my request for the document.

Recall the City of Ottawa had passed in Council and Open Government Policy and has an Open Data Policy.  I had made an official request for this document via the Open Data Channel, and also directly with the official involved with the study.  The nice Open Data official that followed up received the same response I did.  Hmmmm.  It seems that the City needs some criteria that is a bit more objective in these instances as it seems that “the document is outdated” and a “community group and the Councilor disagree” does not seem grounds enough to refuse access.  I have therefore chosen to post the document on slideshare and embed it here so that the community groups that want this document can access it and also to demonstrate how harmless it really is to share this type of public information.  I will also be making an access to information request for the minutes and reports to see how that all goes next week.  Enjoy.

“This is related to a McKellar Park / Highland Park / Westboro Area Traffic Management Study that is still on-going.  The specific reference is to notes of a meeting of the Public Working Group for the study.  These notes were not intended as an information source for the general public.  There is no final report available for this study.  Here’s a link to basic website information that is available, which unfortunately is somewhat out-of-date:
http://www.ottawa.ca/public_consult/mckellar/index_en.html

This study has essentially been on-hold since 2009, at the request of the Ward Councillor, pending further input from the McKellar Park Community Association.

Of note, there is a construction project taking place later this fall on Highway 417. The Ministry of Transportation is closing the eastbound ramp on Carling for an 8 week period.  All eastbound traffic will be directed to get off the 417 at Maitland and directed to use Carling Avenue. As a result temporary measures are planned on 4 streets off Sherbourne in the McKellar Park Community to deal with any extra traffic that may not abide by the detour (i.e. using Carling).  This current plan during the construction phase on the 417 has no relation to the traffic study in McKellar which has been ongoing for a number of years.”

In a seperate email from the same official on the topic:

The biggest concerns with this information package is it’s substantially out-of-date.  Significant parts of the information were later updated, and in some cases corrected, as part of an on-going study process.  Having such materials widely circulated within the community at this point would not be particularly helpful for providing them with up-to-date information.  For example, we have an updated version that we shared with the same Public Working Group in 2008, but we are also not comfortable having this widely distributed within the community as some of the Community Association representatives on this committee and the former Ward Councillor were in disagreement with some of the information and the staff conclusions reached.  There are also notes of several notes of on-going meetings with various parties and technical analyses of numerous alternative suggests that were brought forward by community groups for consideration.

We are trying to respect the needs and expectations of all groups, as best we can, but this has proven to be a real challenge for this study.  Until we are able to reach consensus within the public working group for the study, and the Ward Councillor, it would not be appropriate for the City to distribute, or encourage the distribution of, draft materials that may be seen by some as unfair or inappropriate.

What I can offer, as I have done for others recently, is make this information available to you at our office, if you like.  I can also make myself available to answer questions about the study process.  This is not about trying to hide anything secret, but rather our attempt to ensure everyone is treated fairly and respectfully. (emphasis added by me!).

Would it not just be easier to post all the minutes, reports and updates on the dedicated webpage?  In addition there could be a comments section.

Surely, citizens can read the material and make up their own minds, we are grown ups afterall, and  this neighbourhood is off the charts in terms of PHDs, Masters, Medical, Dental, engineers and Legal degrees.  Demographics should not be criteria for who can and cannot access a document, I merely share that piece of information to illustrate the underestimation of a citizen’s ability to decipher reports.