Many cities want to open up their data but are not too sure where to start. To support these efforts, Open North and the Government of Canada have piloted the development of a do-it-yourself (DIY) open data toolkit for municipalities.
What is open data anyway?
The Handbook for Open Definition defines open data as “data that can be freely used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose.” This essentially means providing data online at no cost with a standard end user license to allow re-use and redistribution.
Who should use this kit?
The toolkit is aimed at municipalities that have not yet begun an open data project but need some guidance on how to implement one. It can also be a useful reference to other organizations and jurisdictions considering initiating an open data project.
How does the toolkit work?
The toolkit takes you through a process that:
- provides open data orientation;
- provides planning considerations for open data;
- details how to execute an open data pilot project with community engagement; and
- provides a roadmap for moving your open data initiative from pilot project to operational program.
The toolkit provides options for a phased approach to open data, such as;
- publishing some sample data sets,
- adopting an open data policy,
- undertaking a pilot project, and
- developing a full scale open data program.
Before embarking on a full-blown open data program, a good first step is to start with a pilot project.
Using best practices to plan for Open Data
Planning is essential to a successful open data pilot project and program. The toolkit proposes a series of best practices to be considered prior to developing a project plan.
These best practices highlight the value of;
- getting a corporate sponsor,
- self-assessment with an internal working group;
- keeping senior management and council informed,
- engaging the community.
Steps for success – how to craft a good plan
Successful implementers have found some common elements to their plans. There are four distinct tasks that should be part of any good Open Data plan;
- defining the expected outcomes of the open data project,
- developing the task list, and breaking the project into achievable segments and elements,
- breaking down the resourcing requirements to estimate project timelines,
- getting the necessary approvals and start moving towards their goals.
The road to implementation
The toolkit describes key requirements for implementing an open data project plan. These include;
- formalizing of governance,
- building the underlying policy,
- prioritizing, vetting, standardizing and publishing datasets, and
- community engagement together with a communications plan.
Having a communication plan is particularly important to leverage the open data website, keep the community engaged and foster ongoing conversation. Once the open data website is launched, the toolkit recommends that key post-launch activities should include ongoing stakeholder engagement, communications, website maintenance, updating of datasets, documenting metrics and reporting.
And then what?
The toolkit also provides some guidance on how to evolve an open data pilot project to a program and then nurture the open data program. Some key considerations include
- General timelines:
- Transition may differ from city to city and depend on factors such as set goals and available resources.
- Maturing the open data program:
- Robust governance, technology, open data operations, training as well as community engagement and partnerships are particularly crucial to mature a city's open data program. While the toolkit prescribes a post-launch roadmap for an open data initiative, it also acknowledges that the internal or external environment may change, in which case the roadmap shodld be updated.
- Alignment with priorities:
- Municipalities are advised to ensure that their open data program aligns with corporate priorities and meets the evolving needs of their end users.
The development of the DIY toolkit benefited from a cross-Canada municipal advisory committee and the use of two municipalities (without open data) as prototype testers.
A detailed version of this DIY municipal open data toolkit will soon be available on open.canada.ca.
Jean-Noé Landry, Executive Director of Open North, heads Canada's leading not-for-profit organization specialized in Open Data, Open Government, Smart Cities and civic technology. With its extensive international and national network, Open North focuses on strategic planning and applied research on open data, stakeholder engagement and data needs assessments, civil society advocacy initiatives, and technological projects and services, including its online Citizen Budget simulator used by more than 80 cities across North America. Open North is actively involved in the Open Government Partnership and a Steward of the International Open Data Charter.