3. Getting started

As with any new project, it’s important to appreciate that “Rome wasn’t built in a Day”. The same holds true for an open data initiative. To assist with this, there will be a list of options available to you when starting off, followed by how to define the project and a project plan. We also understand that even if open data may be a good idea in principle, that getting the necessary buy-in from decision-makers and relevant internal stakeholders is crucial and requires careful attention and a business case tailored to your organization.

Connecting with the open data community

There is an extensive open data community in Canada and it would be helpful to reach out to them to help you in getting started. Internally, you may find some people already interested in open government - open data such as GIS staff, information management specialists, records management specialists and those dealing with Freedom of Information requests. Often, you may find neighbouring municipalities that have initiated open data projects – do reach out to them. There are many websites, social media (e.g. #OpenData or #OpenGovCan on Twitter), local meetup groups and open data advocates such as OpenNorth that can help in getting oriented and building your own open data network.

Elements of an open data initiative

The following should be considered as the key components of any open data initiative:

  • Policy. An official policy or directive that confirms the organization’s alignment with commonly accepted principles (e.g. International Open Data Charter) sets the terms by which data can be re-used and entrenches open data in the organization’s culture. Timing will vary dependent on priorities.
  • Data. It wouldn’t be an open data initiative without data. It’s important to remember that an open data initiative can begin with a few datasets to build momentum before undertaking an expanded program.
  • Website. The data requires a home on the organization’s website or on a web hosting service provider’s website. There are many examples of great open data portals in Canada with a range of functionalities.
  • Community Engagement. It has been shown that success in open projects and programs has always included effective engagement with the community. Simply publishing data without a good understanding of the context and the needs of data users yield very limited results.

If we were to look at an open data framework, the following provides one example to illustrate the various components.

Key components
Text version

This Figure outlines the key components of an Open Data Framework (Governance, open data portal, community engagement, standards and operations) as well as the supporting infrastructure (open data/IM policy, data, technology infrastructure and tools as well as human and financial resources).

This framework is scalable so that much of this can be accommodated by small to large organizations. The actual timing will be primarily influenced by available resources and the priorities of your organization’s leadership.

Open data maturity model

Open Data doesn’t happen overnight and there are stages of maturity that develop over time as resources allow. Even if you start small, it’s useful to think ahead about the potential benefits that your initial open data pilot can generate and think about the choices that you can make initially that can contribute to your long-term success. Here is a maturity model that illustrates how you might view the evolution of your open data initiative. It’s equally important to underline that starting an open data initiative enables you to connect with a global network of cities committed to open data and open government.

From the review of various maturity models, the following could be considered stages of maturity:

  1. Initial start-up
  2. Basic Open Data publishing (e.g. data catalog)
  3. Increased functional Open Data “Portal”
  4. Organization wide Open Data operations
  5. Integration with broader Open Data Ecosystem

The following tool could assist in understanding the many variables associated with an open data maturity model that you may wish to consider in developing your open data initiative and future program.

Tool:

The phased approach

The resources available to open data will typically increase over time but initially could be quite limited at first (e.g. dependent on support from business units who are custodians of the data). Documenting your initiative and identifying growth opportunities are critical. The following provides some ideas on options to undertake a phased approach:

  • Publish some sample data sets. This might be as simple as taking pdfs, tables, maps, or schedules that are already on your website and providing them in an open data format.
  • Adopt an open data policy . As part of existing FOI protocols, a draft policy update could reference existing principles adopted by other municipalities.
  • Undertake a pilot project . This tends to be the most popular approach to open data and allows municipalities to gain experience, repeating the experience, and making it a program.
  • Full-scaled program plan. In some cases, there are business or political drivers that require a full scale, longer term plan to operationalize an open data program.

In all of these approaches, there is a need for community engagement. These are examples of the options you have to start-up your open data initiative - from very simple to full-scale program planning. With this in mind, we’ll move into the process of developing a gameplan/workplan/project plan in the next section.