Open Government Consultation Report

March 26, 2012

Message from the President of the Treasury Board

In March 2011 the Government of Canada launched its Open Government initiative and re-affirmed that commitment in September when Canada signalled its intent to join the Open Government Partnership. This international initiative is led by governments in collaboration with civil society, business and academia to promote transparency, accountability and citizen engagement.

Public consultations on Canada's Open Government initiative were conducted with citizens, the private sector, civil society and other levels of government. Through our online consultation, we heard from over 260 individuals of various age groups from across Canada. As part of these consultations I also hosted the Government of Canada's first-ever Twitter Town Hall, in both official languages, receiving more than 550 tweets from Canadians eager to join the conversation on Open Government.

This report details what we heard. I want to thank all those who gave generously of their time and effort to help shape Canada's Open Government initiative.

These consultations were also instrumental in developing our Open Government Action Plan which I will present in April 2012 at the Open Government Partnership in Brazil. Each element of the Action Plan is supported by what we heard during the consultation process.

Over time and with effective use of resources, ongoing and sustained effort to continue to expand our Open Government initiative will improve services, spur innovation in the private sector, and most importantly make government more accessible and more responsible to citizens. It will also provide Canadians with the information they need to assess the performance of federal institutions and engage them in a dialogue on government policies and priorities. I look forward to working with all Canadians toward these goals.

The Honourable Tony Clement, P.C., M.P.
President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for FedNor

Executive Summary

The Government of Canada is committed to continuing to enhance its transparency and accountability to Canadians through its Open Government initiative. Launched in March of 2011, this initiative seeks to give Canadians the opportunity to access public information in useful formats, enable greater insight into the inner workings of the government, and empower citizens to participate more directly in federal decision-making processes. To support this commitment, an Open Government Action Plan is under development that will direct and coordinate federal open government activities across government.

Open Government Partnership

As a further demonstration of its commitment, the Government of Canada officially signalled its intent to join the international Open Government Partnership (OGP) in September 2011. This multiyear, multilateral initiative is led by the United States and Brazil and aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. The OGP is overseen by a multi-stakeholder International Steering Committee comprised of government and civil society representatives.

In support of its involvement with the OGP, the Government of Canada is preparing an action plan that will consist of specific, concrete actions to support the principles of open government, improve public services, and ensure the effective management of public resources.

Consultation on Open Government

Critical to the development of our Open Government Action Plan, and a condition of membership in the OGP, was the need to seek the views of Canadians on approaches that the government of Canada should take toward increased openness, transparency and accountability. This report summarizes that consultation.

Public consultations were undertaken with citizens, the private sector, civil society and other levels of government to support the development of our open government activities:

  • from December 6, 2011, to January 16, 2012, 260 Canadians participated in an online consultation to provide suggestions for potential open government activities along the three activity streams;
  • the Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for FedNor, hosted Canada's first Twitter Town Hall on December 15, 2011, using social media to communicate with Canadians directly about open government, receiving more than 550 tweets in both official languages;
  • a meeting was held with federal, provincial and territorial clerks of legislative assemblies and Cabinet secretaries in January 2012; and
  • on February 28, 2012, Minister Clement brought together an Advisory Panel on Open Government, comprised of national and international experts on open government drawn from civil society, academia and the private sector who will help Canada chart the way forward on open government initiatives.

Key Messages from Consultations

In examining what we heard throughout the public consultations, the following key messages emerged:

  • Make information and data easier to find by improving the search function on government websites.
  • Improve the organization of government websites, in general, by creating centralized portal(s) to provide catalogues of Government of Canada information and data in one place.
  • Make more information and data available in standardized open formats with improved metadata, tagging and indexing.
  • Promote the availability of open data through better communications and marketing.
  • Improve consultation tools and websites by making them more user-friendly (e.g., plain language, no acronyms, etc.) and more interactive through the use of social media.
  • Ensure that Canadians know that consultations are taking place and demonstrate that something is being done with consultation results.
  • Be more open with Canadians by improving policies and rules so that government data and information is open by default.

Open Government Action Plan

As we move forward with the Government of Canada's open government activities over time and with effective use of resources, the ideas and suggestions contributed through our consultations with Canadians will help us build on efforts to date on Open Data, Open Information, and Open Dialogue.

The Government of Canada is committed to fostering open government and enabling Canadians to have greater opportunities to learn about and participate in government, the economy and our democratic process. The consultation and engagement process has been tremendously helpful in developing Canada's Open Government Action Plan that will be presented by the President of the Treasury Board at the OGP annual conference in April 2012. It is clear that many Canadians from across the country have expertise, insight, and a driving passion for open government and future consultation activities will continue to provide input into our plans as we move forward.

Consultations: Reaching Out

Consultations were undertaken with citizens, the private sector, civil society, and other levels of government to support the development of Canada's Open Government Action Plan.

Online

From December 6, 2011, to January 16, 2012, the Government of Canada hosted an online consultation on the topic of open government. This consultation was launched by the President of the Treasury Board, the Honourable Tony Clement. The data.gc.ca website and the Consulting with Canadians website both provided access to the online consultation and provided detailed information about the consultation process.

Twitter Town Hall

In addition to the online consultation, the President of the Treasury Board also hosted innovative English and French Twitter Town Hall sessions on December 15, 2011, to hear directly from Canadians on open government.

Letters, Documents, and Other Submissions

Several letters, documents and other submissions on open government were received, including those written by individuals, private companies, scholars, librarians, PhDs and MDs. An open letter from the Information Commissioner of CanadaSee footnote1, written on behalf of all Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada, was also received.

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Clerks and Cabinet Secretaries

Federal, provincial and territorial clerks of legislative assemblies and Cabinet secretaries met in January 2012 and shared their views on collaborating on open government.

Advisory Panel on Open Government

On February 28, 2012, the President of the Treasury Board brought together, for the first time, his advisory panel of national and international experts on open government drawn from civil society, academia and the private sector. They were presented with the initial findings from the consultation and asked to provide their comments and insights on developing the Open Government Action Plan.

Online Consultation

Introduction

Canadians were invited to participate in the consultation on the government of Canada's Open Government initiative by answering a series of online questions (refer to Appendix A). Participants could upload a document that related to the consultation questions or send it to a separate email address. Responses came from individuals, organizations and associations. Some participants submitted additional documents, submissions, notes or letters, either in concert with answering the consultation questions or just as a means to participate in the dialogue using a different method. Correspondence such as the open letter by the Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada, and other contributions received through postal mail were also reviewed.

Demographics – Online Consultation Participant Profile

Individuals who took part in the Open Government online consultation were asked a few demographic questions so that the Government of Canada could understand who was participating in this consultation. These questions were not mandatory and, in some cases, not all individuals responded to each question. Participants were from across Canada, with the exception of Nunavut and the Yukon. For a profile of online consultation participants, see Table 1.

Table 1. Profile of Online Consultation Participants
Within which of the following age categories do you fall?
Age Category Frequency Percentage of Respondents
Total 267 100%
Under 18 3 1.1%
18 to 25 32 11.9%
26 to 35 84 31.5%
36 to 45 68 25.5%
46 to 55 48 18.0%
56 to 65 23 8.6%
Older than 65 9 3.4%
 

We heard from students, seniors, programmers, public servants, professionals, librarians, civic technologists, independent scholars, several PhDs and MDs, companies making business proposals, and citizens.

Online Questionnaire

Questions were asked about the three themes of Open Information, Open Data and Open Dialogue. Participants had the opportunity to provide their comments through questions that were open-ended such as the following:

  • "What could be done to make it easier for you to find government information online?"
  • "How would you use or manipulate this data?"
  • "Do you have suggestions on how the Government of Canada could improve how it consults with Canadians?"

Key Findings

Open Data

Open data is government data that is offered in useful formats to enable citizens, the private sector, and non-government organizations to leverage in innovative and value-added ways. Open data refers to government information that is factual and usually statistical in nature, e.g. population statistics.

To determine what topics are of interest to Canadians, 11 categories were presented, with examples to help participants make their selections. Participants were asked to choose up to three categories and suggest additional data sets within those categories. A summary of those results follows.

In each of the categories listed, including the open topic area where participants could choose their own topic, without fail, participants indicated "all" or "all of it," indicating that Canadians want to have access to as much information and data as possible.

Data Sets

Respondents were asked the question "What type of open data sets would be of interest to you?"

Demographic data sets (e.g., Consumer Price Index (CPI), university enrolment, Canada's population) were the most frequently identified (41.1%) data set that Canadians were interested in. Specific data sets that Canadians identified were population-related statistics, Consumer Price Index, and household spending by postal code.

Public Finance and Expenditure data sets were identified by 39.6% of participants. Such data sets include budgeted and in-year expenditures, government assets and liabilities, businesses that are pre-qualified to supply goods to government, government expenditures by region, and details and breakdowns of federal budgets.

Health and Safety data sets, such as adverse reactions to health products, helmet use, immunization, number of police officers per province, were the third most popular (33.1%) type of data. Participants also wanted access to data on food and product recalls as well as health and wellness statistics.

Nature and Environment (e.g., insecticide use, greenhouse gas emissions, Canadian tides), including data sets on greenhouse gas emissions and pollution details were identified by 31.5% of consultation respondents.

Economics and Industry data sets (e.g., Gross Domestic Product (GDP), border wait times, home building starts) were identified as being of interest to 26.9% of participants. "Other" data sets, as identified by participants were as follows: geographic, mapping and/or geospatial related data/statistics; statistics and data that can be sorted and organized by postal code; and political and election data including expenses, and lobbying information.

Twenty-one and one-half percent (21.5%) of participants selected Science and Technology data sets (e.g., domestic spending on science and technology, spills, etc.). Participants also indicated the following data sets of interest: research data and results of government-funded research, science and technology spending by government by region, and data sets that show where government money is being spent.

The eighth most popular (17.7%) data set was Foreign Affairs and International Assistance (e.g., immigration application statistics, permanent resident statistics). Additional data sets suggested were statistics on the number of immigrants and permanent residents, including breakdowns of where immigrants come from, costs at each stage of the immigration process, and the costs of removing of illegal immigrants. Military spending, disaster relief and consular activities were also proposed.

Average income and wages along with Labour market broken down by industry, and geographic location were two additional data sets identified by participants under the Labour data set which was described by examples such as distribution of labour force, weekly earnings, and hourly wages.

The Labour data set, described by examples such as distribution of labour force, weekly earnings, and hourly wages, was of interest to 15.4% of participants. Average income and wages, along with labour market classified by industry and geographic location were two additional data sets identified.

Just under 12 % of participants identified the data set of Arts, Culture and History (e.g., radio listening time, soldiers of the First World War). Additional suggested data sets included the contribution of arts and culture to the economy, information on Canadian music and historical information, including military history.

The 11th data set most often chosen (9.2%) was that of Agriculture and Fisheries (e.g., farm operators' income statistics, import/export data for dairy/meat/poultry). Food production statistics and food quality and safety were also suggested as data sets to be offered by the government.

Finally, Parks and Recreation (e.g., spectator sports, travel by Canadians) data sets, including national park access and usage, were also suggested.

A summary of most-requested data sets is outlined in Table 2.

Table 2. Summary of Most-Requested Data Sets
What type of open data sets would be of interest to you?
Category Frequency Percentage Based on 260 Respondents
Total number of respondents 26 N/A
Demographics 107 41.1%
Public Finance and Expenditure 103 39.6%
Health and Safety 86 33.1%
Nature and Environment 82 31.5%
Economics and Industry 70 26.9%
Other 61 23.5%
Science and Technology 56 21.5%
Foreign Affairs and International Assistance 46 17.7%
Labour 40 15.4%
Arts, Culture and History 31 11.9%
Agriculture and Fisheries 24 9.2%
Parks and Recreation 19 7.3%
 
Data Set Use

Many participants offered their ideas and opinions as to how data sets could and would be used.

"…Open datasets would enable completion of research projects and more importantly begin discussions with other citizens that would lead to innovate projects, research and advocacy. More importantly, open data means access to data that informs discussion among everyday Canadians. … Open data will also drive innovation as individuals and the private sector find interesting and useful applications of the data that benefit Canadians."

When Canadians were asked, "How would you use or manipulate this data?", responses ranged from the very brief – "to better inform my work." – to very detailed and specific, providing many examples, including links to various websites to illustrate the points being made. A few participants discussed using the information to achieve better understanding of current affairs to help them inform their opinion in order to have more confidence when voting.

"I would use it as a basis for formulating my own views on policy, and in deciding how to vote."

"I would use it to understand the state of my country, how my government is being operated, how government initiatives affect me, my family and my community, who to vote for."

Others indicated that they would use the information to be better informed about subjects that mattered to them.

"I would use to make life decisions, to be better informed on things that I find important to me and my family. Potentially be better informed when it comes to making important decisions, especially with regards to my finances and my environment. I don't have the skill set to manipulate the data, but I could definitely extrapolate and use what I need for myself. I am not a developer nor do I have the IT skills to manipulate the information."

Other uses for government data cited were for personal interests such as for travel, culture and heritage, and to assist in determining ancestry.

"I would use the history of my Uncle's service in WW1 to complete information for our family tree... Use the material to plan more Canadian holidays as we have a beautiful country."

There were indications of potential commercial uses for the data. For example, there was an interest in demographic data to support development and marketing activities.

"I would use it to cater my businesses to consumer needs. I would use it to contact other businesses I might be of service to. I would use it to come up with new products."

The use of this data was also identified as a source of information that could be of assistance with recruitment activities.

"This information could be used to assist with the recruitment and retention of highly skilled workers in the technology sector based upon regional demographics and projected trends."

Many types of commercial interests were identified for the various data sets, such as engineering, and health care services.

"Baseline data required for intelligent planning and design of engineering projects."

"Health system planning and inferential data mining with a focus on maximizing health care services across a large portion of my province. Manipulation would occur using statistical packages such as SPSS and SQL."

Other uses ranged from academic pursuits such as library support and other scholastic endeavours.

"I would use this data in my university classroom, to emphasize the role of statistical analysis in extracting information from databases."

"Statistical Analysis"

"I'm a librarian, so I get requests all the time for data, and it is used for research and teaching"

"As a research library, all of the previous data listed is important to our research community which consists of graduate students, faculty members, undergraduates, visiting scholars, and the community at large. The library supports a lot of research done in the health sciences and public policy areas in particular so all of the fields listed on the previous page are of interest."

Participants listed other examples of how open data could be used, such as application development (i.e. apps), data dissemination models for different levels of users, and detailed, real-world situations. In some cases, some apps were already developed using open data.

"I would look for services that would be valuable to citizens, and I would build apps/services for citizens to make their lives easier."

"I'm already involved in a number of projects that use and share government data. Among those are Emitter.ca - which maps and shares NPRI pollution data and Recollect.net, which shares garbage calendar information."

"I work for an engineering consulting company that specializes in water resources. Our work includes: flood analysis and mapping; numerical hydraulic modelling; river erosion studies; studies to support bridge and dam construction; analysis of coastal erosion and coastal geomorphic processes; watershed restoration; fish habitat studies; etc. We would use this data to support various aspects of our work and in combination with more detailed data collected for a specific project. For example, we might use CHS bathymetric data of a larger area in combination with our own detailed bathymetric survey of a specific site."

Technical Assessment

Participants suggested making the Government of Canada Open Data licence terms more clear and cited other examples to emulate.

"In particular, I would recommend the use of the UK licence as adapted by the British Columbia government."

"The government should issue broad, generous public use licenses to the data, including commercial use, without any requirement for permission. If Crown Copyright cannot be ceded over this data entirely, as is the case in the US, then the data should be licensed with something very similar to a Creative Commons-Attribution license."

Technical suggestions consisted of such items as using standard or open formats for data sets or providing data in multiple formats so that the data was easier to work with. One person noted,

"It would be much easier to find and utilize the data if it was standardized and universally made available in a single location, far beyond the scope of the data.gc.ca pilot project. The information ideally needs to be available in multiple standard formats with an open license to allow anybody to utilize that data in multiple ways (commercially or otherwise)..."

Other improvements that were suggested included making datasets more user-friendly; providing clear listings and explanations of the datasets that were available.

"Ensure that all documents are published in a format that's easily indexed by search engines (plaintext, html) and that there are summaries and glossaries whenever possible. The best solution is to provide all data in machine readable formats for use by external websites so that others can work with it. API access to geo-tagged and other data mean that citizens can use the data in their own analysis and websites."

Organization

The most popular suggestion for finding and using government data online was to improve the navigation and ease of use of the Open Government website and datasets. Many cited improving the search capabilities so that Canadians could find and access data sets they were looking for more quickly and easily, specifically by improving the taxonomy, metadata or keyword tagging connected with the datasets.

Respondents also expressed that datasets should be classified in ways that made sense to the user in order to improve search functionality. They indicated a desire for a 'one-stop shop' that provides all government information and has powerful, federated search engines.

"The ability to use a simple search feature for all government departments would be the best solutions, as now one is required to go to each government department separately."

"To have all government data available through a single website, regardless of whether the information comes from CIC, HRSDC, Statistics Canada etc."

Currently, to find and aggregate the information from the various levels is challenging and time-consuming. Several participants proposed the idea of aggregating data from various sources either at the federal level (among the departments and agencies) and even across all levels of government. Having similar information collected and stored in some type of central repository "with a comprehensive indexing system and robust search engine would go a long way".

"Canada could lead a worldwide information revolution by opening scientific and statistical data to the public, and providing a forum for others to do the same. Creating a simple and centralized place for people to find information, and allowing (with fine print), other people and governments to contribute could produce incredible collaborations of research and development in many fields."

Open Information

Open information is about proactively releasing information, including information on government activities, to Canadians on an ongoing basis. By proactively making government information available, it will be easier to find and be more accessible for Canadians. This includes Government of Canada information about government operations, e.g., expenditures on contracting or travel, signed collective agreements, and financial reports.

Participants were asked to provide a response to the question "What could be done to make it easier for you to find government information online?" Multiple responses or suggestions were accepted from participants. Their responses are presented in Table 3.

Table 3. Summary of Responses to Finding Government Information Online
What could be done to make it easier for you to find government information online?
Response Category Frequency Percentage Based on 229 Respondents
Improve the search engine/search capability/search engine optimization 60 26.2%
Have a single or centralized portal – have the data in one place 50 21.8%
Standardize the data presentation/formats, use more metadata, tagging, better indexing, greater consistency in organizing data, etc. 40 17.5%
Improve government websites and their organization in general – overhaul or simplify government websites 35 15.3%
Provide more data, be more open with Canadians, put policies in place making openness mandatory 28 12.2%
Communicate more effectively, use social media more effectively – let more Canadians know that the data is available 19 8.3%
Simplify language usage, use commonly understood language, no acronyms, better explanations of what is available 11 4.8%
Work with private sector and other governments to improve what the Government of Canada has to offer 7 3.1%
Make websites more interactive, more visuals, more videos, provide discussion/chat platforms, provide instructions 5 2.2%
Provide manipulation tools with the data 4 1.7%
This question is the same as previous question (#1) 17 7.4%
Off topic response 4 1.7%
Don't know / not sure 3 1.3%
 

Participants were asked to select from a list which items they would like to see released on government websites. Participants were able to check off multiple items. As illustrated from the table below, the majority of participants were interested in all four items that were presented. As illustrated in Table 4, the majority of participants were interested in all four items that were presented.

Table 4. Summary of Results Priority Areas of Information Released on Government Websites
Of the items below, which are the priority areas of information that you would like to see released on government websites? Please check all that apply.
Category Frequency Percentage Based on 259 Respondents
Total 259 N/A
Financial / public expenditures 196 75.7%
Reports commissioned by the Government of Canada 187 72.2%
Information submitted to Parliament by departments and agencies 185 71.4%
Statistical information about Human Resources within the Government of Canada 135 52.1%
Other (please specify) 83 32.0%
 

Of the 83 individuals who proposed other items that they would like to see released on government websites, the top five suggestions were as follows:

  • Government of Canada research reports, papers and documents;
  • Parliament-related material, e.g., Parliamentary committees, legislative material;
  • Environmental information, e.g., climate change, natural disasters, etc.;
  • Statistics Canada surveys and data, etc.; and
  • Everything, unless it must be protected in the interest of national security.
Promoting Information Accessibility and Availability

Respondents expressed that the Government of Canada should do all that it can to make information available that is not currently provided to Canadians, and understand Canadians' needs for search, discovery and access to such information. As well, they indicated that data should not be withheld and that as much data as possible should be provided free of charge.

"I would only add that the government should proceed with the assumption that the information they hold belongs to Canadians, and that the default should be to make this information available to everyone at no charge. Governments at all levels need to stop trying to control information. Letting it flow and making it available to all will result in a more informed and prosperous citizenry."

"…The other thing is to make all the data available. One of the biggest hurdles for using government data is that everyone so used to it costing a lot and not being easily available, I think folks just don't bother. When the majority of data is free and easily accessible, then you have true open data."

"There is a tremendous amount of information available on line now. In general it is pretty easy to access. It would be useful to (1) have more Statscan material available at no cost (2) make more "raw data" available so that it could be used for a variety of purposes."

Open Dialogue

Open dialogue gives Canadians a stronger say in government policies and priorities, and expands engagement through Web 2.0 technologies. It includes opportunities to participate in Government of Canada consultations with Canadians.

Engagement with the Government of Canada

Of the respondents who participated in the online consultation process, 29% had participated in a Government of Canada consultation within the past five years. The majority of respondents found it difficult to find out about Government of Canada consultations. This was echoed in responses to other consultation questions in which participants indicated that they wanted the government to improve its communications efforts.

"Notify all citizens of said consultations, either through direct mail (email) or advertising in alternative weekly papers and traditional media."

"... you can't ignore the traditional forms of consultation - letters, telephone, face-to-face, even though a significant portion of citizens will only want to use the internet for providing feedback..."

" I don't think open invitations for public feedback should be the only way to gather feedback because then you are only getting feedback from the most vocal and engaged citizens. I think you create regular feedback channels (focus groups, surveys) from randomly selected citizens who represent Canada's demographics."

Although the majority of participants found it difficult to learn about a Government of Canada consultation, only a quarter of the participants found it difficult to actually participate in the consultation. That was not the case when trying to discover the outcomes of their consultation participation and efforts; the majority of respondents (65%) who had participated in a Government of Canada consultation said they found it difficult (or very difficult) to obtain information about the outcome of that consultation.

"It is not so much an issue of consulting; the problem is that nothing is ever done once the consultation is completed."

"For one, after this consultation is complete, how will I be informed about the results, and the next steps? Often I find it is up to me to go digging later for information, which I do not know when the results will be tallied and what recommendations will come from it, it's always on the individual to do the work, rather than possibly gathering email addresses or contact information, which would then inform Canadians who took part in the consultation that the results are ready and it happened, there's a certain validation that my opinion counts when I know they inform me of what happened, etc."

Social Media and Web 2.0

Responses varied on whether using social media or Web 2.0 tools to participate in a Government of Canada consultation was easy or difficult. Approximately one-quarter of participants had not used social media or Web 2.0 tools in their Government of Canada consultation experience. Only one-quarter found these tools easy to use whereas approximately 37% found it either difficult or very difficult to use in the context of a Government of Canada consultation. When participants were asked how they would like to stay connected to Canada's Open Government initiative, the most popular methods listed were web updates (67%) and through social media (51%). In terms of the "other" category, the most frequent suggestions were: Facebook, Twitter and email alerts.

"The government has the challenge to appeal and interact with a younger population and using social media in a positive light to engage people. While this engages the younger generations, there still has to be the tie to the older generations and bringing them online to start using the technology and interacting with the younger generations will only strength the government and relationship that much more. The benefit for Canada and Canadians would be the sharing of information, that accessing of information making citizens informed and empowered (much as has been seen with the changes achieved within in India and the European Union)."

Let Us Know

All participants, regardless of whether or not they had previously participated in a Government of Canada consultation, were asked whether they had any suggestions on how the Government of Canada could improve how it consults with Canadians. There were 211 responses to this open-ended question. One of the most common remarks made was for the Government of Canada to improve its communications and marketing efforts on public consultations so that more Canadians are made aware of the consultations that are taking place.

In addition, participants suggested improving the consultation tools or websites the Government of Canada uses to carry out consultations. This included suggestions related to making greater use of social media tools and making the consultations much more of a two-way or interactive engagement exercise where consultation participants could interact with each other as well as with the government.

Participants also recommended that the Government of Canada should make use of community-based forums and citizen panels to get the message out and help with participation. It was also suggested that the government do more to involve Canadians and the private sector in government. To that end, an Advisory Panel on Open Government was formed. This group of experts from civil society, business, and academia, including independent commentators from Canada and abroad, will provide advice to the President of the Treasury Board on Canada's Open Government Action Plan.

Learning from Others

Consultation participants were asked if they were aware of any approaches used by other governments that they thought the Government of Canada could or should model. Some respondents provided detailed answers to this question and included links to specific websites of other governments within Canada and elsewhere. The top five most frequently mentioned governments were: the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, British Columbia, and New Zealand.

"Yes, several nations have begun developing very good open data initiatives. I would closely examine the USA, UK and Australia websites. They all have strengths. One thing they are doing that is very important is not only providing the data, but also helping to promote what their citizens have done with the data. If someone visits your government site, featured or random apps should be prominently displayed. Just because someone builds something for free doesn't mean they wouldn't at least like bragging rights. Citizens that champion government should be championed by government as well. In that sense, remember that the concept gov2.0 is two way communications between citizens and government. Open government is bound to evolve so remain flexible in your approach and transparent in your process."

Inclusiveness and the Digital Divide

Participants suggested that the Government needs to promote and engage in open dialogue through any means possible in order to reach the greatest number of its citizens. That means not only through electronic means but also through conventional face-to-face meetings and paper-based methods. Canadians without computers, Internet access or mobile devices – the digital divide – should not be forgotten.

"Send notices through partners - i.e. NGOs, service providers and contractors with govt departments, lobbyists, MPs, Dep. Ministers, and ask for wider circulation of consultations to contacts and networks. Face to face consultations should be the preferred, ideal format for consultation with Canadians. Ask yourselves: How can we reach those individuals who: - do not have internet access, - cannot read or write English or French, - may not have a postal code or permanent residence at the time of the consultation(s), - are Canadian citizens who have the right to equal opportunities to contribute to govt consultations."

"As long as we have a digital divide in this country, true open government will never mature. Democracy and Open Government will then become a luxury of those who can afford the technology to access it."

Plain Language and Policies

Participants suggested that clearer information, the use of plain language, and keeping communications simple should be the goal. As well, it was suggested that there is a need for the Government to update its policies related to the management of information, including the declassification of records.

"…the Information and Privacy Commissioners recommend that Canada initiate a systematic review and implement a declassification process for its government records."

At the end of the consultation, participants were asked a question that sought their final comments or suggestions pertaining to the Government of Canada's Open Government initiative. Some expressed skepticism and cynicism about this consultation, particularly where it would lead. Many of the respondents did, however, take the opportunity to praise this specific consultation as a good first step toward a more open Government of Canada. In general, they were hopeful that the Government would follow through quickly on what it heard from Canadians.

"I think it is a laudable initiative that should be pursued to the furthest degree. The more open exchange of information will better equip the government of Canada and Canadians to confront future challenges."

 

 

Twitter Town Hall

 

 

In addition to the online consultation, the President of the Treasury Board also hosted English and French Open Government Twitter Town Hall sessions on December 15, 2011 to talk with Canadians directly about open government. The English discussion used #opengovchat as a hashtag, and the French used the #parlonsgouvert hashtag.

Process

For each of the English and French Twitter Town Halls, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat moderator issued tweets welcoming participants to the Open Government chat. The President also advised, from his personal account, that he was guest tweeting on the Secretariat's account. The Secretariat's hashtagsSee footnote2, "#opengovchat", and during the French chat, "#parlonsgouvert", ensured that participants were well-informed on how to participate from the outset. Throughout the chat, the moderator would ask questions to advance the discussion and remind participants about the topic to keep the conversation focussed. A frequent request was made during the chat for the TBS moderator to "re-tweet" original questions before tweeting the responses so that participants could more easily follow the conversation without having to go back and check through all the previous tweets.

The President of the Treasury Board responded to 37 questions during the 45-minute English chat during which 94 unique authors issued 442 tweets. During the 45-minute French chat, the President responded to 21 questions from 113 tweets from 21 unique authors.

Discussion on Open Government

There were many questions about Open Government. One tweeter asked, "What are the main steps in the future to help bring more openness into government?" The President's response was, "The main steps are to finalize the consultation at open.gc.ca and to develop our action plan for Open Government Partnership." Some tweets were on the concept of governance, overall government accountability, and partnering with citizens. One French tweeter asked if there was any danger in being too open. The President's response was, "It is necessary to be responsible, however, engaging citizens is a primary responsibility."

Discussion on Open Data

The discussion saw participants tweeting about access to information, participatory dialogue, and the government's internal wiki used by public servants, GCpedia. Some were concerned about the federal government's role in helping organizations create value from open data, while ensuring that organizations do not use processing fees as a reason for not openly disclosing data.

During the French discussion, the dialogue focused primarily on open data. Users submitted questions in relation to the proactive disclosure of information in an open format, application development using open data, the availability of information in English and French, and deadlines associated with the publication of data.

Discussion on Open Information

Of interest to one participant was gaining access to GCpedia, which is similar to Wikipedia, but is an internal collaborative tool used by federal employees. Also of interest was to discover whether or not there was any plan by the government to amend Access to Information (ATI) protocols. The President recently announced the requirement to post ATI summaries within 30 days.

Thought Leaders and Expert Advice

Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada

An open letter from the Information Commissioner of CanadaSee footnote3, written on behalf of all the Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada, was posted on the Information Commissioner's website. Five recommendations were outlined in the context of open government. In summary, that the Government of Canada:

  1. Adopt "increasing public integrity" as one of its "grand challenges";
  2. Commit to increasing public integrity by modernizing the federal Access to Information Act;
  3. Commit to increasing public integrity by reversing the declining trends in compliance with federal legislation on access to information;
  4. Commit to a multi-stakeholder consultation process that includes the public, civil society and the Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada;
  5. Include in an action plan concrete commitments, specific timeframes, clear accountability and performance measures to facilitate self-assessment and independent oversight.

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Clerks and Cabinet Secretaries

Legislative Assembly Clerks and Cabinet Secretaries from across Canada met in January 2012 and shared their experiences on providing access to data sources directly to citizens, the impact of social media on government operations, and the impact of open government on the future of existing legislative frameworks for Access to Information and Freedom of Information. The Clerks also discussed the progress being made by a number of jurisdictions in moving the e-platforms to support Cabinet deliberations and decision-making processes. All in attendance expressed their desire to continue to share best practices and to collaborate on opportunities, where possible.

Advisory Panel on Open Government

After a broad public consultation to determine what mattered most to Canadians, the Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for FedNor, formed an Advisory Panel on Open Government. This group of experts from civil society, business, academia, including independent commentators from Canada and abroad, will provide advice to the President on Canada's Open Government Action Plan which will be used to shape Canada's way forward on Open Government.

The mandate of the advisory panel members is to provide advice and guidance on Open Government activities. Members are expected to participate actively in Advisory Panel meetings and provide their thoughts and opinions on a number of topics related to open government and the development and implementation of the Government of Canada's Open Government Action Plan, including:

  • Approaches and trends for improving the delivery of open data and information to Canadians;
  • Best practices for leveraging open government approaches to enhance knowledge sharing across government(s); and
  • Approaches and best practices for effectively engaging and consulting Canadians through in a multi-channel environment, including online and the use of social media.

Results of the First Advisory Panel Meeting

On February 28, 2012, the Treasury Board President chaired the first Advisory Panel meeting. Key messages received from the panel members echoed those that Canadians indicated during the Open Government Consultations.

  • The most important thing that the Government of Canada will do is demonstrate leadership on open government for all jurisdictions.
  • There is great potential for using the power of our partnership in the OGP to accelerate open government in Canada (e.g., drive standardization, leverage solutions developed by others, etc.).
  • There is a need for user and community engagement to move our initiatives forward. This leads to better data, information and services for all.
  • Particular emphasis was placed on advancing the delivery of open data, modernizing Access to Information, and licensing of open data and information.
  • Strong support was received for the Open Government Action Plan overall as it is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Next Steps

Open Government is about information, data and dialogue. As one participant wrote about government dialogue with Canadians, it can "improve transparency, build greater trust, show that the government is listening". This report summarizes the first consultations on Open Government. Results will guide future efforts to engage Canadians as we plan and implement Open Government activities.

The Government of Canada has long been committed to the principles of openness, transparency, and accountability. Canada was one of the first countries to enact access to information legislation almost three decades ago. The Federal Accountability Act (2006) expanded coverage of this legislation and brought forward measures to help strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight in government operations. In addition, federal departments and agencies are now required to proactively disclose information about contracts, grants and contributions, as well as hospitality and travel expenses, to allow Canadians and Parliament to better hold the Government and public sector officials to account.

As we move forward with the Government of Canada's open government activities, the ideas and suggestions contributed through our consultations with Canadians will help us to build on efforts to date on Open Data, Open Information, and Open Dialogue.

Canada's Open Government Action Plan will be presented by the President of the Treasury Board at the Open Government Partnership's Annual Conference in April 2012. Moving forward, additional public consultation activities will help inform the implementation of the Open Government Action Plan.

 

 

Appendix A – Open Government Online Consultation Questionnaire

 

 

Open Government Online Consultation - * identifies mandatory fields

Participation:*

Please select the way in which you would like to participate in this online consultation process.

  • Complete the online questions (with the option to upload a document).
  • Upload a document only.

Online Consultation Questions

This questionnaire should take approximately 15 minutes to complete. If at any point before finishing the survey, 20 minutes elapse with no user input, your questionnaire session will automatically end and your input will be lost. If you need more time to complete the questions, click on the "Save and continue later" button at the bottom of the page.

The Government of Canada is committed to continuing to enhance openness to Canadians. Through the Open Government initiative, launched in March 2011, Canadians have an increased opportunity to access public data and information in useful formats, which enables them to have a greater insight into the working of their government.

We are currently seeking the views of Canadians for suggestions on further actions to advance Open Government. As well, we would like to know the effectiveness and use of currently available Open Government options.

If you are interested in providing your views, we encourage you to take part in the following consultation.

Consent for Public Posting:*

Would you like to post your responses online so that other visitors to our website can view them? If you consent below, only your answers to the open-ended questions may be posted on our website for public view in accordance with the privacy notice statement and terms of use.

  • I consent to have my answers to the open-ended questions posted online where other users will be able to read them.
  • I do not consent to have my answers to the open-ended questions posted online.

Display Name:

Please specify a name that you would like to have displayed with your answers.

Demographic Information

Please complete a few demographic questions before beginning the Open Government questions.

  1. Are you:*
    1. a Canadian citizen
    2. a Canadian resident
    3. Other?
  2. In which province or territory do you live?
    • Newfoundland and Labrador
    • Nova Scotia
    • Prince Edward Island
    • New Brunswick
    • Quebec
    • Ontario
    • Manitoba
    • Saskatchewan
    • Alberta
    • British Columbia
    • Yukon
    • Northwest Territories
    • Nunavut
  3. Within which of the following age categories do you fall?
    • under 18
    • 18 to 25
    • 26 to 35
    • 36 to 45
    • 46 to 55
    • 56 to 65
    • older than 65

Open Data - offers Government data in more useful formats to enable citizens, the private sector and non-government organizations to leverage in innovative and value-added ways. This refers to Government of Canada data, which is information that is factual and usually statistical in nature, e.g. number of people living in various regions of Canada. In this context, please respond to the following questions:

  1. What could be done to make it easier for you to find and use government data provided online? (maximum 4,000 characters)
  2. What types of open data sets would be of interest to you? Please pick up to three categories below and specify what data would be of interest to you.
    • Agriculture and Fisheries (e.g. farm operators' income statistics, import/export data for dairy/meat/poultry):
    • Arts, Culture, and History (e.g. radio listening time, soldiers of First World War):
    • Demographics (e.g. consumer price index, university enrolment, Canada's population):
    • Economics and Industry (e.g. gross domestic product, border wait times, home building starts):
    • Foreign Affairs and International assistance (e.g. immigration application statistics, permanent resident statistics):
    • Health and Safety (e.g. adverse reactions to health products, helmet use, immunization, number of police officers by province):
    • Labour (e.g. distribution of labour force, weekly earnings, hourly wages):
    • Nature and Environment (e.g. insecticide use, greenhouse gas emissions, Canadian tides):
    • Parks and Recreation (e.g. spectator sports, travel by Canadians):
    • Public Finances and Expenditure (e.g. budgeted and in-year expenditures, government assets and liabilities, business prequalified to supply goods to government):
    • Science and Technology (e.g. domestic spending on science and technology, spills technology):
    • Other (please specify):
  3. How would you use or manipulate this data? (maximum 4,000 characters)
    • Open Information - is about proactively releasing information, including on government activities, to Canadians on an ongoing basis. By proactively making government information available, it will be easier to find and more accessible for Canadians. This includes Government of Canada information about government operations, e.g. expenditures on contracting or travel, signed collective agreements and financial reports. In this context, please respond to the following questions:
  4. What could be done to make it easier for you to find government information online? (maximum 4,000 characters)
  5. Of the items below, which are the priority areas of information that you would like to see released on government websites? Please check all that apply.
    • Reports commissioned by the Government of Canada
    • Statistical information about Human Resources within the Government of Canada
    • Financial/public expenditures
    • Information submitted to Parliament by departments and agencies
    • Other (please specify):
    Open Dialogue - gives Canadians a stronger say in government policies and priorities, and expands engagement through Web 2.0 technologies. It includes opportunities to participate in Government of Canada consultations with Canadians. In this context, please respond to the following questions:
  6. In the past five years, have you participated in any Government of Canada consultations with Canadians?*
    • Yes
    • No
    6. a) Overall, how easy or difficult was it to:
    1. Find out about Government of Canada consultations?
      • Very Easy
      • Easy
      • Neither Easy Nor Difficult
      • Difficult
      • Very Difficult
      • Not Applicable
    2. Participate in Government of Canada consultations?
      • Very Easy
      • Easy
      • Neither Easy Nor Difficult
      • Difficult
      • Very Difficult
      • Not Applicable
    3. Use social media/Web 2.0 tools to participate and provide your input?
      • Very Easy
      • Easy
      • Neither Easy Nor Difficult
      • Difficult
      • Very Difficult
      • Not Applicable
    4. Obtain information about the outcome of the consultation you participated in?
      • Very Easy
      • Easy
      • Neither Easy Nor Difficult
      • Difficult
      • Very Difficult
      • Not Applicable
  7. Do you have suggestions on how the Government of Canada could improve how it consults with Canadians? (maximum 4,000 characters)

Final Comments: Open Government Consultation

  1. Are there approaches used by other governments that you believe the Government of Canada could/should model? (maximum 4,000 characters)
  2. Are there any other comments or suggestions you would like to make pertaining to the Government of Canada's Open Government initiative? (maximum 4,000 characters)
  3. How would you like to stay connected to Canada's Open Government initiative? Please check all that apply.
    • RSS feed
    • Social media (e.g. Treasury Board Secretariat Twitter Account)
    • Web updates (email alerts)
    • Other (please specify):

How would you like to proceed?*

Please select how you would like to continue.

  • I would like to submit the questionnaire and exit.
  • I would like to upload a document.

Please click "Next" to submit your responses, regardless of your choice above.

Upload Section

Document Title:

Document Upload:*

Click on the "Browse…" button to find a file on your computer. Documents will be accepted in text, PDF, and Word formats.

Thank You Message:

Thank you for taking the time to participate in our online Open Government consultation. The Government of Canada will review all input and issue a findings report in March 2012. Your input will help shape the Government of Canada's ongoing efforts under its Open Government Initiative as well as its action plan on Open Government that will be presented to the international Open Government Partnership in April 2012.

You are invited to follow the progress of this consultation and of the Open Government Initiative.

Footnotes

  • Return to footnote reference 1 Letter from Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada, to the Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, January 20, 2012.
  • Return to footnote reference 2 "The '#' symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet.
  • Return to footnote reference 3 Letter from Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada, on behalf of the Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada to the Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, January 20, 2012.
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