Canada needs a funded, independent opengov body

Politics of Canada

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There’s some great open government and open data momentum in Canada right now, with a few websites coming online in recent days. There’s the wonderful??openparliament.ca,??and datadotgc.ca??is??expected soon. See David Eaves article in the Globe and Mail??on this, or his blog post. And let’s not forget one of the first Canadian websites in this area, MyCelium, which indexes video of question period.

On the government side, this week PMO spokesman Guy Giorno said (link to committee evidence coming soon) that freedom of information is the oxygen of democracy, although the Information Commissioner’s report gave the government a failing grade on their access to information practices.

Tonight, David Eaves will be on The Agenda to talk about open government.??And there’s word that a major opengov unconference is coming to Ottawa soon (stay tuned for more about that).

It’s great to see this momentum gathering.

But I’m concerned about the lack of an established, funded, independent body in Canada to coordinate government transparency initiatives from outside of government.

In the US, while the government runs data.gov, the independent organization Sunlight Labs develops tools and projects focused on open government. In the UK, there are government initiatives for opengov, but the independent group mySociety??similarly develops tools and runs projects focusing on government transparency and citizen enagegement.

In Canada, we have this wonderful assortment of websites, all developed independently, but as a result there is no coordinated strategy in their development or centralized API or access to the sites. It’s great that individual Canadians are taking the initiative to develop these sites, and absorbing the cost of hosting them, and I wouldn’t want to create barriers to that. But at the same time, it would be more efficient to coordinate what is needed and work together to develop (and in some cases adapt) the best possible tools for government transparency and open data.

Unfortunately, there is currently no organization in Canada in a position to take on this task.

The closest thing we have, Visible Government, is a homegrown organization modeled on Sunlight Labs and mySociety, but has struggled to secure the funding necessary for them to meet the challenge. It is a great organization with the kind of vision needed for the job, but the lack of funding may make it impossible for VG to do their work on the scale Canadians really need.??[Full disclosure: I was formerly on the board of VG].

It saddens me to think that just as momentum is growing in this area, an area that Visible Government pioneered in Canada, one of the only independent organizations at the centre of the movement may fail because of lack of funds.

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