Tag Archives: visiblegovernment

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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Opengov.se – open government data in Sweden

Johnathan Gray over at the Open Knowledge Foundation blogs today about a private citizen in Sweden who is building Opengov.se, a free repository of government data.

Peter Kranz, who runs the site, has been contacted by both civil servants that want help with open data plans and politicians that want advice on how legislation should change to increase the amount of open government data.

He became interested in open government data, after starting to build eurlex.nu, a commentable semantic web version of European Union Legal Information. He was frustrated by the state of existing official websites, so decided to build a new version of the site – but found that he???d have to pay 10,000 Euros to access the data plus 3,000 EUR for each additional language.

As with other European countries, many agencies in Sweden charge for access to raw data. For example, SMHI, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, charges for access to weather data. As a result, people using weather information in their applications get data from the Norwegian authorities instead.

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Contribute your Ideas for a Roundtable on E-Democracy

On June 11, 2009, I will be leading a “Roundtable on E-Democracy” on Parliament Hill in Ottawa for parliamentarians . At that meeting, I want to present and discuss the ideas that I heard people talking about at ChangeCamp Ottawa. But instead of just writing an outline for a presentation/discussion based on the topics that I think are important in terms of citizen engagement, I thought I would use some of the very technology that has sparked an interest in citizen participation, like EtherPad.com.

So if you’re interested in how changing technologies, trends, behaviours, expectations and standards present challenges and solutions for citizen engagement with government in Canada, please head over to this very easy-to-use page at Etherpad.com and contribute your thoughts. And please pass on the link — the more people who contribute, the more I can bring your thoughts to decision makers on the Hill.

When you get there, please feel free to add to the list of topics, take topics out, move them around, restructure the list, or even suggest formats for delivering the information to the intended audience. If you want to, you can do it anonymously. If you leave me your name or handle, I’ll give you credit at the Roundtable.

Once again, you can find the page to edit right here.

Thank you,

[image “Peace Tower Clockby jpctalbot licensed under a Creative Commons licence]
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