Notes from the March 18, 2013 Meeting of the Advisory Panel on Open Government

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A. Update on Action Plan Implementation

Corinne Charette, Chief Information Officer for the Government of Canada, provided Advisory Panel members with an update on the implementation of Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government.  Comments and feedback from members are summarized below:

Open Data – Best Practices and Recommendations

  • Canada has a real opportunity to benefit from the best practices and lessons learned from our international partners and leap ahead with our open government initiatives. (McKay)
  • Departments should publish their inventories of data and information. (Lainchbury)  In prioritizing data to be delivered to Canadians, the Government of Canada should focus on opening data that has been the most useful to other countries (e.g., United States, United Kingdom) in terms of encouraging economic development and obtaining the best return on investment. (Eaves)
  • Recommended approach is to make new data available and showcase the apps and analysis that come from it.  Germany has made significant progress in developing apps – consider reviewing these when determining which datasets to make target/prioritize. (Jenkins)
  • Open means bulk access to data, not necessarily just facilitated access to data through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).  It is important to make sure that the way data and information is provided meets the needs of users, even if there are costs associated with accessing that data as part of a service. (Pollock)
  • As part of efforts to modernize the administration of Access to Information (ATI), it is recommended that the Government of Canada establish a dashboard to provide a visualization of ATI performance data across departments and agencies. (Eaves)
  • The Government of Canada should not underestimate the potential impact of ministers going digital as a driver of internal government change. (Jenkins)

Licensing

  • Need to ensure that the Open Government Licence can run the “Google test” (i.e., is it sufficiently stable and unrestrictive such that Google would be confident in using the data). (Eaves)
  • When governments make decisions to privatize specific areas of their business, it is important to consider the need to keep data and information public and open. (Miller)  Flexibility needs to be built in to open licencing so that restrictions are not created in the event that government services are privatized. (McKay)
  • Open free data does not necessarily mean open free services.  It is important to note that a licence is not the same as a Service Level Agreement (SLA) (Pollock) and SLAs may still be needed when there is a need for a custom data service (e.g., a customized stream of data).

User Engagement and Awareness

  • Generally speaking, it would be beneficial to see more messaging concerning Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government getting out to the public more broadly.  Efforts to generate regional interest through roundtable discussions on open data in cities across Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal) are welcomed.  (Scassa)
  • In addition to consulting expert users, engagement activities on open data should also target novices and place a focus on education and raising awareness regarding the benefits and potential uses of open data. (Eaves)
  • To drive take-up of federal open data, the Government of Canada should work to engage researchers as well and encourage them to dive into the data available on the Portal.  Web sites like diggingintodata.org can provide access to a supply of researchers who are interested in working with data. (Jenkins)
  • There is an opportunity to broaden awareness and use of Government of Canada Web standards by making them available to developers via GITHUB. (Lainchbury)
  • More engagement with Provinces is also recommended.  Moving forward, it is important to recognize that in some provinces there may be a clash between the desire for promoting openness and the fiscal realities associated with revenues generated by the sale of data. (Miller)

B. Directive on Open Government

Stephen Walker, Senior Director responsible for Open Government at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, provided an overview of key concepts being considered for inclusion in a new Directive on Open Government that would provide direction to departments and agencies on what and how open data and information should be published.

Prioritizing the Release of Data and Information

  • Attention should be given to providing departments with guidance on how to prioritize publishing of data and information. (Pollock)  It will be important to make the rules transparent, including how they are applied.  Processes and tools should be created to make it easier for departments to proceed and not make mistakes. (Jenkins)
  • Part of the culture change that is needed includes efforts to encourage departments to deliver data “with warts” with the understanding that public exposure can help make this data better. (Miller)
  • Efforts to inventory departmental datasets for public release could potentially be broadened to consider a wider scope of information (e.g., reports, documents). (Courtois)
  • The government should be aware of generational differences and expectations between the “under 30” and the “over 30” cohorts. (Jenkins)
  • Need to understand the authority of Information Management Senior Officials within departments to support the advancement of this work (Miller) (Note: Corinne Charette explained the IMSOs role, based on the policy framework established by TBS’ information management policies, directives, and standards).
  • Suggest that documents released in response to an Access to Information request should be made available via the Virtual Library – there may be a risk of becoming a split between translated documents being available vs. all others. (McKay)
  • The fact that fees are charged for current data should not be criteria for deciding not to make it open and available. (Scassa)

Privacy Considerations

  • Legal, contractual, restraints, outsourcing activities can place restrictions on opening data.  When defining criteria for determining which datasets and information to open up, care must be taken to strike an appropriate balance between ensuring a broad, inclusive approach, while effectively addressing concerns around protecting privacy, personal information, etc. (Scassa)
  • Statistics Canada expertise should be leveraged when exploring options for “depersonalizing” data and information prior to its potential release. (Miller)
  • Look to Germany’s example when considering how to respond effectively to potential negative backlash associated with the protection of online privacy, etc. (Jenkins)
  • Moving forward, as the government looks to release multiple data sets that some may fear increases the risk of re-identifiability, the government needs to keep track of new approaches to handling data, like differential privacy, that can help address perceived and real risk. (McKay)

Compliance

  • It will be important to understand what happens to departments that do not comply with the requirements of the Directive. (Pollock) (Note: In response, Corinne Charette spoke to members on the policy compliance framework for the Government of Canada)
  • The Government of Canada should ensure that citizens have an opportunity to communicate perceived non-compliance, and should consider making available a public dashboard on compliance for publishing activities. (Pollock)
  • Should explore whether there are procurement rules that could be changed to make it easier to be compliant with the requirements of the Directive (e.g., perhaps when data is purchased, the terms of the contract could allow for its free release to Canadians). (Eaves)