Articles by Amanda Hunter

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Article written by: Amanda Hunter & Tracey P. Lauriault

Introduction

Since early June, the Tracing COVID-19 Data project team has been examining intersectional approaches to the collection, interpretation, and reuse of COVID-19 data. Our most recent post about Open Science innovation during the pandemic highlighted the critical role Open Science (OS) plays in the rapid response to COVID-19, ensuring that data and research outputs are more widely shared, accessible, and reusable for all. That post also chronicled the importance of the principles and standards that support OS such as FAIR principles, open-by-default, and the open data charter. We also emphasized the significance of Indigenous data sovereignty and the value of integrating CARE and OCAP principles into data management and governance. 

As a continuation; this post analyzes Canada’s ongoing commitment to adopting OS standards and principles. Canada has a government directive for implementing open science as stated in Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government, Roadmap for Open Science, Directive on Open Government, and the Model Policy on Scientific Integrity. These are commitments and guidelines for the adoption of open science standards and part of open data and open government at the federal level.  

Here we assess whether or not official provincial, territorial and federal public health reporting adheres to open science & open data standards when reporting of the COVID-19 data. We will address the following questions: 

  1.  Are COVID-19 data open in Canada?  
  2.  Under what licenses are COVID-19 data made available?
  3.  Are there active open data initiatives at all levels of government? And are they publishing COVID-19 Data? (Federal, Provincial, Territorial)

We draw conclusions from our observations of the current state of open data in Canada, particularly as it relates to COVID-19 data. We will identify areas of opportunity and make concrete recommendations to facilitate open data and open science during pandemic. It should be noted that we are citing federal mandates: though provincial and territorial governments that do not have open data and open government mandates are not obliged to adhere to Federal open data/open government directives, although we would argue that it would be largely beneficial if these levels of government considered adopting an open data framework, similar to directives aimed at the federal level, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some jurisdictions have their own frameworks and we will discuss those as well.

Methodology

To support this analysis we have developed a framework which incorporates FAIR principles, OCAP principles, CARE principles, and the open data charter. Using this framework, we will assess Canada’s reporting process to determine which standards are being used and which – if any – should be considered.

To collect data we visited Canada’s official COVID-19 reporting sites (found here) and used the walkthrough method to assess existing data dissemination practices. We located license information for each webpage/dashboard and recorded this information, as well as supplementary information including disclaimers, terms of use, and copyright information (see the observations here). Importantly, we made note of which province/territory has open data/open government portals, checking to see if the COVID-19 data were made available via these portals.  This approach informed the determination of the following:

  1. Whether or not the information were open
  2. The License under which the data are available (which determines how one is allowed to access/reuse the data)
  3. Whether or not the respective province or territory has an open data mandate
  4. Whether or not the respective province or territory has an open data portal

For the purposes of this blog post we focused on the license under which the COVID-19 data are disseminated, whether or not there is a copyright statement, and, whether or not the data are open. Future posts will assess other aspects of Canada’s official reporting sites using this same framework. 

The Framework

There are a number of key standards which inform our assessment. 

Open Science

Open Science (OS) is a movement, practice and policy toward transparent, accessible, reliable, trusted and reproducible science. This is achieved largely by sharing the processes of research and data collection, and often the data, to make research results accessible, standardized, and reusable for everyone – and of course reproducible. Here we are discussing the scientific disseminated by official public health reporting agencies.

The Federal government outlines Canada’s commitment to open science with Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government, Roadmap for Open Science, Directive on Open Government, and the Model Policy on Scientific Integrity.

Our assessment will consider how well these commitments are reflected in the COVID-19 data shared by federal and provincial public health sources. We are looking for consistent adherence to open government/open data commitments. 

Open Data Charter 

The Open Data Charter (ODC) principles were jointly established by governments, civil society, and experts around the world to develop a globally agreed-upon set of standards for publishing data. The ODC principles include: 

  1.  open by default
  2.  timely and comprehensive
  3.  accessible and usable
  4.  comparable and interoperable
  5.  for improved governance & citizen engagement
  6.  for inclusive development and innovation

Here, we are primarily looking for data to be open by default (1) and accessible and usable (3). This is in line with the commitment by the Government of Canada to the application of open by default specifications whenever possible;  namely that data should be open-by-default and free of charge.

FAIR principles

FAIR principles are a standards approach which support the application of open science by making data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. The goal of the FAIR principles is to maximize the scientific value of research outputs (Wilkinson et al., 2016). 

For the purposes of our current analysis we are focused on the reusability of the data available from Canada’s official COVID-19 reporting sites. As per the RDA standards, reusable data should “have clear usage licenses and provide accurate information on provenance”. Thus, we are looking for Canada’s official COVID-19 data to provide clear usage licenses which allow unrestricted reuse for all.  

CARE & OCAP Principles

While the FAIR principles specify guidelines for general data sharing practices, they do not address specific issues of colonial power dynamics and the Indigenous right to data governance. The CARE principles of Indigenous Data Governance do by extending the FAIR principles. The principles are: 

  • collective benefit, 
  • authority to control, 
  • responsibility, and 
  • ethics. 

Together these principles suggest that the best Indigenous data practices should be grounded in Indigenous worldviews and recognize the power of data to advance Indigenous rights and interests, and that these interests will be specific to each community but are general enough to be universal. 

Similarly, the OCAP principles are a set of standards that govern best practices for Indigenous data collection, protection, use, and sharing. Developed by the First Nations Information Governance Centre, the OCAP principles assert the right of Indigenous people to exercise Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession of their own data. Taken together, these principles help maximize benefit to the community and minimize harm.

Though the federal government does not mandate adherence to CARE or OCAP principles, Canada has some commitment to fostering Indigenous data governance. Therefore we are hoping that federal and provincial institutions that produce and share data encourage Indigenous self-governance and collaboration in data collection and handling strategies. 

Findings

Each of the existing open data sites were searched on Oct. 9 to assess if they disseminate COVID-19 data. Detailed results, along with a list of official COVID-19 provincial, territorial, and federal websites (including links to their data and information copyright, terms of use and disclaimers) can be found in our Official COVID-19 websites post. Links to the respective open government and open data initiatives – including policies, directives, and open data licences – can also be found there.

We made four main observations, which will be interpreted in the next section:

  1. All provincial and territorial, as well as the federal governments publicly publish up to date COVID-19 data.
  2. None of the official public provincial, territorial, or federal governments’ health sites publish COVID-19 data under an open data licence. Each claims copyright with the exception of Nunavut, which has no statements. None are open by default.
  3. ALL BUT Saskatchewan, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories HAVE open government and open data initiatives.  Manitoba has an open government initiative but not with an open data licence.
  4. ONLY British Columbia and Ontario, as well as the Federal Government include COVID-19 data in their open Data Portals / Catalogues. Quebec republishes 4 COVID-19 related datasets submitted by the cities of Montreal and Sherbrooke, Ontario has 7 open COVID-19 datasets (an additional 22 supporting datasets in the COVID-19 group on the catalogue. We have not counted those in the BC portal.

Discussion

The following discusses our findings by returning to the research questions stated above:

Are COVID-19 data open in Canada?

In Canada, a work is protected by copyright when it is created and all data produced by the Federal Government falls under crown copyright; this is also the case for provincial and territorial governments (Government of Canada, 2020). Data created by these governments are considered to be open data if they are published with an open data or open government license. Under an open license the user is free “to copy, modify, publish, translate, adapt, distribute or otherwise use the Information in any medium, mode or format for any lawful purpose” (Government of Canada, 2020). Data disseminated without an open licence are governed by Crown Copyright or other types of copyright as listed here, which has specific conditions and limitations under which the information can be used, modified, published, or distributed. 

With this in mind, it appears that none of the official public provincial and territorial, as well as the federal governments health sites publish COVID-19 data under an open data licence, even though the data are often accessible, public, machine readable and can be downloaded. 

All of the provinces and territories – with the exception of Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut – have open data portals although Manitoba has an open government portal, there is no open data license. 

Where there are open data portals, only British Columbia, Ontario, and the Federal Government  re-publish and disseminate the COVID-19 data via these portals (see images below). Quebec republishes 4 COVID-19 related datasets submitted by the cities of Montreal and Sherbrooke, Ontario has 7 open COVID-19 datasets (an additional 22 supporting datasets in the COVID-19 group on the catalogue. We have not counted those in the BC portal.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) dashboard and website with COVID-19 data are not published under an open licence and would therefore fall under the Copyright Act – which is not open. 

A screenshot of the British Columbia open data portal which republishes COVID-19 data. (Government of British Columbia, Data Catalogue). Captured October 12th, 2020.

A screenshot of the Ontario open data catalogue which republishes COVID-19 data. (Government of Ontario, Data Catalogue). Captured October 12th, 2020.

Under what licenses are the data made available?

All of the reporting sites analyzed above (with two possible exceptions, stated below) are subject to Crown Copyright, which means that a user must obtain permission from the copyright holder (the Crown) to adapt, revise, reproduce, or translate the data made available on its website. 

Therefore users should assume that COVID-19 data published by all provinces and territories are protected by Copyright. All provinces and territories, with the exception of Nunavut and Saskatchewan, explicitly state their Crown Copyright protection.

Are there active open data initiatives at all levels of government? (Federal, Provincial, Territorial)

All provinces and territories – with the exception of Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut – have open data and/or open government initiatives. Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, PEI, and Quebec have open data portals. As mentioned previously, Manitoba has an open government and open data portal, but no open data license. 

Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario, PEI and Quebec, governments have active open data policies. All provincial and territorial governments (with the exception of Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nunavut) make their open data available under an open government license

At the federal level, the Government of Canada has an Open Data portal and adheres to an open government license andsome COVID-19 data are re-disseminated. 

In conclusion, there are various active open data initiatives across Canada, however, they are in different stages of development across provinces and territories. 

Final Remarks & Recommendations 

Final Remarks

Open science, open government, and open data are initiatives increasingly adopted by the Government of Canada, but not necessarily evenly across all departments and agencies. For this reason we decided to look at the COVID-19 reporting agencies at provincial, territorial, and federal levels to determine where initiatives of openness are being adopted and where there could be improvement during the pandemic. We found that in most cases the licensing information is easy to locate, though not reflective of open data standards and licensing. COVID-19 data publicly disseminated by the official reporting agencies discussed here are not open by default or considered adequately reusable according to FAIR principles (and “reusable” standards). COVID-19 data dissemination in Canada, at the time of analysis, is incongruous with Canada’s Open Science directives. 

We did not address OCAP or CARE principles in this analysis because the data we analyzed do not include categorizations of Aboriginal identity, race or ethnicity, so none of the public health reporting sites display data explicitly about Indigenous peoples. This precludes our ability to assess the collection and handling of data about Indigenous or created by Indigenous peoples, or to analyze if CARE and OCAP principles were followed. That said, there are likely other sources of Indigenous data that were not assessed here.

Recommendations

Based on these findings we have developed four primary recommendations:

  1. Provincial and territorial public health reporting agencies can adopt open science initiatives in their respective jurisdictions. This can be done by adopting and/or modifying the open government and open science standards which are applicable to the federal government.
  1. Many of the provinces and territories publish their data and information on their official websites under Crown Copyright, including COVID-19 data even when several of these institutions also have Open Data portals and/or programs. The COVID-19 data should also be re-disseminated via provincial/federal/territorial government’s open data portals to maximize the benefit of the data for scientific innovation. 
  1. More broadly, COVID-19 data (at every level of government) should be open by default and made reusable under open data licensing. This information should be clearly indicated so that it is clear who can use the data and under what conditions. Doing so may also facilitate greater accessibility, transparency, and reuse of the data. 
  1. Finally, there are some interoperability issues which makes it difficult for the user to ascertain whether or not the data are reusable. Each public health organization seems to have different terms of use associated with their data, and tracking down the information across websites is difficult. Further action to ensure interoperability among partners and platforms would help support the adoption of open science standards at all levels of government. This is something we will look at in a future post when we assess the interoperability of Canada’s official COVID-19 reporting sites and data. 

Observations:

The information on this page was collected and verified on October 9, 2020.  The information here was collected for research purposes and is related to the following blog post co-authored by Amanda Hunter and Tracey P. Lauriault.

  1. All provincial and territorial, as well as the federal governments are publicly publishing up to date COVID-19 data.
  2. None of official public provincial and territorial, as well as the federal governments health sites publish COVID-19 data under an open data licence. Each claims copyright with the exception of Nunavut that has no statements.
  3. ONLY Saskatchewan, Manitoba*, Nunavut and the North West Territories DO NOT HAVE open government and open data initiatives.  Manitoba has an open government initiative but not with an open data licence.
  4. ONLY British Columbia and Ontario, as well as the Federal Government include COVID-19 data in their open Data Portals / Catalogues. Quebec republishes 4 COVID-19 related datasets submitted by the cities of Montreal and Sherbrooke.

The following includes a list of official COVID-19 provincial and territorial, and federal websites including links to their data and information copyright, terms of use and disclaimers. Also, included are links to open government and open data initiatives, including policies, directives, and open data licences. Finally, each of the existing open data sites were searched on Oct. 9 to assess if they disseminate COVID-19 data.

British Columbia

BC Centre for Disease Control BC COVID-19 Data http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19/data

© Province of British Columbia

Terms of Use http://www.bccdc.ca/Health-Info-Site/Documents/BC_COVID-19_Disclaimer_Data_Notes.pdf

Disclaimer / Information http://www.bccdc.ca/Health-Info-Site/Documents/BC_COVID-19_Disclaimer_Data_Notes.pdf

Open Information and Open Data Policy https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/services-policies-for-government/information-management-technology/information-privacy/resources/policies-guidelines/open-information-open-data-policy.pdf

“While the Open Information and Data Policy applies to all government information and Data, legal, policy, and contractual obligations, limit the application of this Policy in some cases. In addition, this Policy sets out specific criteria that must be met before government information is designated for Proactive Disclosure or Routine Release, or before Data can be considered Open Data.”

Open Data https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/data/open-data

Open Data Licence https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/data/open-data/open-government-licence-bc

YES – COVID-19 Data in the Open Data Portal

Yukon

COVID-19 information https://yukon.ca/en/covid-19-information

© Copyright 2020 Government of Yukon

Copyright https://yukon.ca/en/copyright

Disclaimer https://yukon.ca/en/disclaimer

Mandate Letter Commitment to Open Data https://yukon.ca/sites/yukon.ca/files/eco/eco-mandate-richard-mostyn_en.pdf

Open Data https://open.yukon.ca/data/

Open Government Licence https://open.yukon.ca/data/open-government-licence-yukon

NO – COVID-19 Data in the Open Data Portal

Alberta

COVID-19 info for Albertans https://www.alberta.ca/covid-19-alberta-data.aspx

© 2020 Government of Alberta

Terms of Use https://www.alberta.ca/disclaimer.aspx#toc-0

Disclaimer and Copyright https://www.alberta.ca/disclaimer.aspx#toc-0

Government of Alberta Open Information and Open Data Policy https://open.alberta.ca/policy

“provides a framework to establish the operational responsibilities, organization, processes, tools and other resources required for a single approach to the open data and open information programs. The policy also provides foundational assurance and guidance to staff from across the Government of Alberta with respect to identifying, preparing, and publishing data and information through the open data and open information portals on a routine basis going forward.”

Open Government Alberta https://www.alberta.ca/open-government-program.aspx

Open Data https://open.alberta.ca/opendata

Open Government Licence https://open.alberta.ca/licence

NO – COVID-19 Data in the Open Data Portal

Northwest Territories

GNWT’s Response to COVID-19 https://www.gov.nt.ca/covid-19/

Copyright https://www.gov.nt.ca/en/terms#2-copyright-and-trademarks

Disclaimer https://www.gov.nt.ca/en/terms

Open Government Policy https://www.eia.gov.nt.ca/sites/eia/files/2018-01-08_open_government_policy_-_signed.pdf

There is a Discovery Portal with environmental geospatial data, but not released under an open data licence; the Copyright Act applies.

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Health and Wellness Dashboard https://dashboard.saskatchewan.ca/health-wellness

© 2019, Government of Saskatchewan.

Terms of Use (disclaimer) https://dashboard.saskatchewan.ca/terms

Copyright https://www.saskatchewan.ca/copyright

N/A – No open government or open data initiative.

There is an open geospatial data portal: https://geohub.saskatchewan.ca/ with a Standard Unrestricted Use Data Licence: https://gisappl.saskatchewan.ca/Html5Ext/Resources/GOS_Standard_Unrestricted_Use_Data_Licence_v2.0.pdf

Manitoba

Manitoba COVID-19 Updates https://www.gov.mb.ca/covid19/updates/index.html

Copyright © 2017, Province of Manitoba

Disclaimer https://www.gov.mb.ca/legal/disclaimer.html

Copyright https://www.gov.mb.ca/legal/copyright.html    

Open Government Portal https://www.gov.mb.ca/openmb/index.html

“provides Manitobans with a place to engage with government to share your ideas, stories and knowledge. It’s also an easy way to find government reports and data.”

No Open Data Licence

NO – COVID-19 Data in OpenMB

Nunavut

Department of Health COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) https://www.gov.nu.ca/health/information/covid-19-novel-coronavirus

No copyright or disclaimer notifications

N/A – No Open Data or Open Government Initiative.

Ontario

COVID-19 case data: All Ontario https://covid-19.ontario.ca/data

© Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012-2020

Terms of Use https://www.ontario.ca/page/terms-use

Copyright https://www.ontario.ca/page/copyright-information-c-queens-printer-ontario

Open Government https://www.ontario.ca/page/open-government

“We’re creating a more open and transparent government by sharing our data and information, and consulting with the people of Ontario. Learn more about open government and the digital transformation taking place within the Ontario Digital Service.”

Open Data Directive https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontarios-open-data-directive

Adopting the International Open Data Charter https://www.ontario.ca/page/adopting-international-open-data-charter

Open Data Catalogue https://data.ontario.ca/

Open Government Licence https://www.ontario.ca/page/open-government-licence-ontario

YES – COVID data in the Open Data Catalogue

Québec

Institut national de santé publique du Québec Données COVID-19 https://www.inspq.qc.ca/covid-19/donnees

© Gouvernement du Québec, 2020

Dispositions de protections des droits de propriété intellectuelle (Copyright/Droits d’auteur) et Intégrité de l’information (Disclaimer)

http://www.droitauteur.gouv.qc.ca/copyright.php

Gouvernement ouvert https://www.quebec.ca/gouv/politiques-orientations/vitrine-numeriqc/gouvernement-ouvert/

Plan d’action pour l’accessibilité et le partage des données ouvertes des ministères et des organismes publics https://cdn-contenu.quebec.ca/cdn-contenu/gouvernement/SCT/vitrine_numeriQc/gouvernement_ouvert/plan_action_gouvernement_ouvert.pdf?1595962618

« constitue la démarche structurée que nous entreprendrons, parce que nous avons la ferme conviction que les affaires de l’État sont également celles de la population. Ce plan d’action représente également l’occasion d’engager une collaboration avec toute la société afin de valoriser la transparence et l’ouverture ».

Données ouvertes https://www.donneesquebec.ca/fr/

License Creative Commons https://www.donneesquebec.ca/fr/licence/#cc-by

NO – Provincial COVID-19 Data in the Open Data Portal only 4 related data republished from the Cities of Montreal and Sherbrooke

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador COVID-19 Pandemic Update Data Hub https://covid-19-newfoundland-and-labrador-gnl.hub.arcgis.com/

Copyright, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, all rights reserved

Disclaimer/Copyright/Privacy Statement https://www.gov.nl.ca/disclaimer/

Open Government Framework https://open.gov.nl.ca/pdf/OpenGovernmentInitiativeFramework.pdf

Open Government https://open.gov.nl.ca/

“is guided by the principles of transparency, accountability, participation and collaboration. Open governments recognize that true democracy involves working with citizens and stakeholders, not just for them. Open governments acknowledge and benefit from the input, knowledge and expertise that citizens can contribute to the operations and decision-making of government.”

Open Data https://opendata.gov.nl.ca/

Open Data Licence https://opendata.gov.nl.ca/public/opendata/page/?page-id=licence

NO – COVID-19 Data in the Open Data Portal

Newfoundland and Labrador do publish some COVID-19 open datasets on their open geospatial portal with an open data licence.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick COVID-19 Dashboard https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/8eeb9a2052d641c996dba5de8f25a8aa

All content © Government of New Brunswick. All rights reserved.

Copyright and Disclaimer https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/jag/attorney-general/content/acts_regulations/content/disclaimer_and_copyright.html

Disclaimer https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/corporate/promo/covid-19/about_dashboard.html#disclaimer

Open Data Policy???

Digital Strategy https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/eco-bce/Promo/digitalnb/digital_new_brunswick.pdf

Open Data New Brunswick https://gnb.socrata.com/

Open Government Licence http://www.snb.ca/e/2000/data-E.html

NO – COVID-19 Data in the Open Data Portal

Prince Edward Island

PEI COVID-19 Case Data https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/health-and-wellness/pei-covid-19-case-data

© 2020 Government of Prince Edward Island

Website Disclaimer and Copyright Policy https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/executive-council-office/website-disclaimer-and-copyright-policy

Open Data Principles https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/finance/open-data-principles

Open Data https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/service/open-data

Open Government Licence https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/finance/open-government-licence-prince-edward-island

NO – COVID-19 Data in the Open Data Portal

Nova Scotia

Coronavirus (COVID-19): case data https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/data/

Crown copyright © Government of Nova Scotia

Copyright https://beta.novascotia.ca/copyright

Terms https://beta.novascotia.ca/terms

Open Data https://data.novascotia.ca/

Open Government Licence https://novascotia.ca/opendata/licence.asp

NO – COVID-19 Data in the Open Data Portal

Health Canada

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html

Information posted by the Government of Canada is subject to the Copyright Act https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-42/index.html

Also a link to https://open.canada.ca/en (open.canada.ca/coronavirus)

Government of Canada Open Government https://open.canada.ca/en

“Open Government is about making government more accessible to everyone. Participate in conversations, find data and digital records, and learn about open government.”

Policy on Service and Digital: https://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=32603 (4.3.2.8 and 4.3.2.8 on Open Information and Open Data)

Directive on Open Government https://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=28108

Open Data https://open.canada.ca/en/open-data

Open Government Licence https://open.canada.ca/en/open-government-licence-canada

YES – COVID-19 Data in the Open Data Portal

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Article written by: Amanda Hunter & Tracey P. Lauriault

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently published a policy response to COVID-19 in which they suggest that open science, and the policies & standards that support it, can accelerate the health, social, and economic responses to the virus as barriers to information access are eliminated.

As the first in a series of blog posts about Open Science (OS) and FAIR principles in Canada, here we highlight the key role open science plays in communicating and disseminating official COVID-19 research and public health data before assessing if official COVID-19 reporting in Canada adheres to OS principles.

In a next post, we will analyze official COVID-19 reporting in Canada to assess whether or not these follow Open Science, FAIR principles, and the Open Data Charter in the sharing of COVID-19 data.

What is Open Science?

The OECD Open Science program states that the benefits of open science is that it promotes a more accurate verification of scientific results, reduces duplication, increases productivity, and promotes trust in science.

https://www.oecd.org/science/inno/open-science.htm

Open science (OS) is a movement, a practice and a policy toward transparent, accessible, reliable, trusted and reproducible science. This is achieved by sharing how research and data collection are done so as to make research results accessible and standardized, created once and reused by many. This includes techniques, tools, technologies, and platforms should also be open source wherever possible.

In OS the outputs of the scientific process are considered to be a public good, thus wherever possible articles are published in open access (OA) journals, and research data are shared with the public and other scientists who may want to re-purpose those data in new work, or by people who want to verify the veracity of research results. Reporting COVID-19 Cases by normalizing an open by default approaches means that health scientists, population health experts and government officials make this part of their workflow (maintaining individual privacy of course), and by doing so decision makers beyond government, can scrutinize the results, leading to trust the results while also increasing data sharing.

What role does open science play in combating COVID-19?

In the early stages of the pandemic, knowing the genome provided crucial information to help scientists and researchers identify the origin of the outbreak, treat the infection, develop a diagnostic test and work on the vaccine. In other words, the easier—and quicker—researchers can produce, share and access scientific data, the quicker and the more informed is the collaborative response to the virus.

During the 2002-03 SARS outbreak it took five months to publish a full genome of the virus largely due to information blackouts and lack of data sharing. In contrast, the full genome of COVID-19 was published to an open-access platform nearly a month after the first patient was admitted to the hospital in Wuhan. This provided researchers around the world with a head start. Since OS policies have been operationalized during the pandemic, the resulting free flow of ideas in terms of biomedical research has accelerated (OECD).

The implementation of OS standards during COVID-19 has indeed been largely successful. OECD described how collaborative research and  thee global sharing of information reached unprecedented levels, for example:

  • In March 2020, 12 countries (including Canada) launched the Public Health Emergency COVID-19 Initiative at the level of Chief Science advisors, calling for open access to publications and machine-readable access to data related to COVID-19.
  • Open online platform Vivli offers an easy way to request anonymized data from clinical trials.
  • A COVID-19 Open Research Dataset [CORD-19] was developed that hosts 157,000 + scholarly articles about COVID-19 and related coronaviruses; 75,000 of which are full-text machine-readable data that can be used for AI and natural language processing.

These online, open-source platforms have supported rapid scientific COVID-19 research. OS, facilitated by standards, shared infrastructure and techniques, policies and licences, has been instrumental in the global fight against the pandemic.

Yet, despite the numerous successes, many challenges remain. For example, not all COVID-19 related health research and data adhere to the FAIR principles. FAIR principles are a standards approach which support the application of open science by making data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. Failure to adhere to FAIR principles has led to an overall lack of communication and coordination during the pandemic. In Canada, data should also adhere to CARE principles, which address issues of Indigenous data governance with respect to Indigenous knowledge along with the OCAP Principles of the First Nation Information Governance Centre (FNIGC). More on this in the following section.

The reporting COVID-19 demographic data and reports in Canada to date falls short on standardized classifications in terms of demographics, as we discussed in an earlier blog post, which makes doing a comparative analysis difficult or impossible: for example, many countries define “recoveries” differently, and in Canada, since health is the jurisdictional responsibility of the provinces and territories, each report in their own way. Even though numerous official organizations publish COVID-19 and health related data, as open data databases or in open data portals, there remains an overall lack of interoperability, comparability and standards.

Where does Canada stand on Open Science?

Canada was implementing an open science framework before the pandemic as follows.

National Action Plan on Open Government

The Government of Canada recently published Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government, listing ten commitments to furthering the open government initiative. The plan asserts five commitments to implementing OS in Canada by the end of 2020, as seen below:

A screenshot showing a portion of Canada's 2018-2020 National Action Plan on  Open Government. The main issue addressed here is the difficulty for Canadians to access scientific research outputs: thus the commitments focus on making federal science, scientific data, and scientists themselves more accessible.

The OS portion of Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government. It aims to address the difficulty for Canadians to access scientific research: thus the commitments on making federal science, scientific data, and scientists themselves more accessible (Government of Canada, 2018).

The Action Plan addresses issues of accessibility and transparency of scientific research and outlines 5 commitments to amending these issues. These commitments include:

  1. Development of an OS roadmap,
  2. Providing an open access platform for publications,
  3. Raising awareness of federal scientists’ work,
  4. Promoting OS and soliciting feedback on stakeholder needs, and
  5. Measuring progress & benefits of the OS implementation.

Despite the comprehensiveness of the Roadmap (see below), Canada has not yet moved past the Action Plan’s second commitment—to provide a platform for Canadians to find and access open access (OA) publications from federal scientists—despite the projected March 2020 deadline. Also, at the time of writing, there is no federal open science platform or portal for users to access open science data in Canada even though there is an open data portal. The New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO) does show promise.

There are however some open data initiatives, such as the Federal Open Government and COVID-19 section on the Open Government Canada Portal.  Here Epidemiological and economic research data, with mathematical modeling reports, a map of cases and deaths by province, daily and weekly detailed epidemiological reports, and an ongoing dataset of COVID-19 cases, deaths, recoveries, and testing rates in Canada’s provinces and territories are made available. This is a significant improvement from the early days of reporting, as data journalist Kenyon Wallace discovered that on a daily basis, the Province of Ontario published new data but each time they did they overrode the previous day’s reports. His article and some work by Lauriault with the Ontario Open Government team resulted in changing that practice and raw data are now updated daily and reported. Open data is but one part of the OS process as we will see when we look at the FAIR principles.

Open Science Roadmap

The plan’s first commitment, to “develop a Canada Open Science Roadmap…” was completed and published in February 2020. The document provides ten recommendations made by Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, to advance Canada’s OS initiatives. Like the policy brief by OECD, the roadmap is driven by the importance of trust among collaborators, inclusiveness of varying perspectives, and transparent processes throughout.

A screenshot of the cover of Canada’s Roadmap for Open Science (Government of Canada, 2020)

Canada’s Roadmap for Open Science (Government of Canada, 2020)

Most importantly, the Roadmap describes a commitment to developing an OS framework, including adopting the FAIR principles and “open by design and by default” specifications. The roadmap asserts Canada’s commitment to upholding these standards and policies via 10 recommendations:

10 recommendations made in the Roadmap for Open Science. Key points include the adoption of an OS framework in Canada, making federal scientific research outputs ‘open by default’, and implementing FAIR principles. (Government of Canada, 2020).

10 recommendations in the Roadmap for Open Science. Key points include the adoption of an OS framework, making federal scientific research outputs ‘open by default’, and implementing FAIR principles (Government of Canada, 2020).

Model Science Integrity Policy

Canada also has a Model Science Integrity Policy (MSIP) for the public service. The MSIP represents an internal commitment to integrity and accountability in science. Various mandates in the MSIP state that their purpose is to increase public trust in the credibility and reliability of government research and scientific activities, and ensure that research and scientific information are made available in keeping with the Government of Canada’s Directive on Open Government. The MSIP echoes Canada’s commitment to OS.

Indigenous Data Governance 

Finally, Canada has some commitment to supporting Indigenous rights to self-determination and data governance, but does not incorporate standards such as CARE principles which support OS  nor the OCAP Principles when it comes to Indigenous data governance. These extend the FAIR principles.

The Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA) introduced the CARE principles to complement the FAIR principles in 2019. The CARE principles for Indigenous data governance were developed to address a lack of engagement between the open science movement and Indigenous rights and interests (GIDA, 2019).

The FAIR principles focus on data accessibility of data and sharing but fail to address power differences and the impact of colonialism experienced by Indigenous peoples and their right to exercise control and ownership of data about them and local and traditional knowledge. The CARE principles are crucial for the recognition and advancement of these rights as they encourage open science (and other ‘open’ movements) to “consider both people and purpose in their advocacy and pursuits” (GIDA, 2019). The CARE principles are contrasted with the FAIR principles in the below image from the GIDA website:

The CARE principles, which are “collective benefit, authority to control, responsibility, and ethics”, contrasted with the FAIR principles, which are “findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable” (GIDA, 2019)

The CARE principles are “collective benefit, authority to control, responsibility, and ethics”, contrasted with the FAIR principles, which are “findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable” (GIDA, 2019)

The OCAP Principles of Ownership, Control, Access and Possession are another set of important principles, that are a better fit in the Canadian Context.  Members of our project currently taking the Fundamentals of OCAP course and we hope to better incorporate these approaches in our work and in how we assess official reporting. Though Indigenous data governance and handling of Indigenous knowledge are not addressed in the Open Science Roadmap, the Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service does demonstrate a federal approach to supporting Indigenous data strategies (see below):

Recommendation #8 from the Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service which states Canada’s recognition of the Indigenous right to self-determination and data governance (Government of Canada, 2019)

Recommendation #8 from the Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service which states Canada’s recognition of the Indigenous right to self-determination and data governance (Government of Canada, 2019)

Next Steps

Much progress has been made in terms of publishing, reporting and communicating data in the short time since COVID-19 began (though not without pressure from the media!). Open access to scientific research and public health reports have been helpful to facilitate the rapid response to the virus and keeping the public informed on how science informs governments actions. There is, however, much left to be done.

  1. Open Science should consider bias in data as well as invisibilities for example interdisciplinary work that helps paint the fuller picture of the impact of the virus. For example, interdisciplinary and intersectional approaches to data categories, including research based in critical race theory (CRT), Indigenous perspectives, socio-demographics and gig labour groups for example.
  2. Second, as suggested by the OECD, making COVID-19 data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable is critical for a more effective rapid response. Lack of adherence to FAIR principles currently presents challenges to open science research.
  3. Finally, a meaningful Canadian OS framework should also incorporate standards for Indigenous Data Governance such as CARE Principles and OCAP Principles ensure respectful data practices are followed.

The Tracing COVID-19 Data team is in the process of developing a framework to assess official COVID-19 reporting in Canada to see if they comply with OS, FAIR, CARE, OCAP, and open-by-default at all levels of government. We will draw on Canada’s commitments OS and FAIR in – Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government, Open Science Roadmap, the Model Science Integrity Policy and the Open Data Charter.

Is Canada FAIR?

Stay tuned!

Recommendation

All official Federal, Provincial/Territorial and City public COVID-19 data reporting should be open data, open by design and by default, research should be published in open access (OA) Journals and should adhere to open science (OS) such as the FAIR principles , CARE Principles, OCAP Principles and the Open Data Charter.

References

Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. Open Data, Open Citizens? https://cippic.ca/en/open_governance/open_data_and_privacy

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). SARS- Associated Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) Sequencing. https://www.cdc.gov/sars/lab/sequence.html

CTVNews. (2020). Project Pandemic: Reporting on COVID-19 in Canada. 
https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/project-pandemic

Federated Research Data Repository. (2018). FAIR Principles. 
https://www.frdr-dfdr.ca/docs/en/fair_principles/

Global Indigenous Data Alliance. (2019). CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance. 
https://www.gida-global.org/care

Government of Canada. (2014). Directive on open government. 
https://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=28108

Government of Canada. (May, 2016). Open by default and modern, easy to use formats. 
https://open.canada.ca/en/content/open-default-and-modern-easy-use-formats

Government of Canada. (2017). Model policy on scientific integrity.
https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/063.nsf/eng/h_97643.html

Government of Canada. (2018). Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government. https://open.canada.ca/en/content/canadas-2018-2020-national-action-plan-open-government#toc8

Government of Canada. (2018). Report to the Clerk of the Privy Council: A Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/pco-bcp/documents/clk/Data_Strategy_Roadmap_ENG.pdf

Government of Canada. (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update.
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html?utm_campaign=not-applicable&utm_medium=vanity-url&utm_source=canada-ca_coronavirus

Government of Canada. (2020). Office of the Chief Science Advisorhttps://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/063.nsf/eng/h_97646.html

Government of Canada. (2020). Open Government Portal.
https://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset

Lauriault, T. (2020, April 17). Tracing COVID-19 Data: COVID-19 Demographic Reporting. Datalibre.
http://datalibre.ca/2020/04/17/covid-19-demographic-reporting/

National Centre for Biotechnology Information. (2020). Public Health Emergency COVID-19 Initiative.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/about/covid-19/?cmp=1

Open Data Charter. (n.d.). The International Open Data Charter.
https://opendatacharter.net

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2020, May 12). OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19): Why open science is critical to combatting COVID-19.
http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/why-open-science-is-critical-to-combatting-covid-19-cd6ab2f9/

Ford & Airhihenbuwa. (2010). The public health critical race methodology: Praxis for antiracism research. Science Direct.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953610005800#!

Semantic Scholar. (2020). CORD-19: COVID-19 Open Research Dataset.
shorturl.at/wETZ5 

The Lancet. (January, 2020). Genomic characterization and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: implications for virus origins and receptor binding.
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30251-8/fulltext

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, Medicine. (2018). Open Science by Design: Realizing a Vision for 21st Century Research. Chapter 1, Front Matter. 
https://www.nap.edu/read/25116/chapter/1

The Star. (2020). Coronavirus & COVID-19 Data. https://www.thestar.com/coronavirus/data.html

Vivli. (2020).
https://vivli.org/about/overview-2/

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