Pre plan activities
Before you actually develop a project plan, there are some recommended best practices that you need to consider:
- Getting internal corporate sponsor;
- Initiating an interim Open Data Working Group;
- Doing a current state reality check;
- Informal discussions with your community;
- Building the Open Data business case; and
- Keeping senior management and Council informed
Getting an Internal “corporate sponsor”
Each municipality is different with various corporate structures and reporting protocols. Open Data initiatives may be initiated from various levels within the government but they often begin at the tactical staff level. If this is your situation, prepare background material (leverage the information in this toolkit) and present it to your Manager/Director for their feedback. Get a mandate to undertake further work and establish an internal group to guide initial research while capturing various challenges and opportunities.
The project sponsor may come from different areas of the organization such as:
- Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)/City Manager’s office which can see open data as a strategic corporate project;
- Information Technology department which has responsibilities related to providing the infrastructure and services related to data management;
- Municipal Clerk’s Office which has responsibility for FOI, records management and publishing corporate information; and
- Department Head which may have major data related projects planned which could benefit from an open data approach.
Engaging with elected officials by inviting them to meetings and having informal dialogues to understand their perspectives on this potential new initiative. This engagement led by the internal corporate sponsor will assist in developing your proposed plans.
Initiating an interim Open Data Working Group
Municipalities provide a lot of data and information to their citizens and external stakeholders. There are a wide variety of people involved in disseminating data and information and some of these people should be considered for an interim Open Data Working Group, including:
- Municipal Clerk
- A representative from IT/GIS
- A representative from Planning
- City Manager’s Office
- Service Delivery areas
- Data management groups
- Public information/communications
- Whoever runs your websites/digital services
- Open data “keeners”
- You, the unofficial Open Data lead.
Communications staff may also participate, which can be very valuable to help you promote your initiative or get messaging tips. The mandate for the working group should be as simple as gaining further insights into what open data is, what other municipalities are doing with open data and a business case for why your municipality should consider open data.
Some cities, like the City of Montreal decided to include civil society representatives on their initial open data working group. This way, they can share information more effectively with external champions and open data leaders that can publicly support your goals and have a vested interest in your engagement and success.
Doing a current state reality check
The reality check is an important exercise to understand your current situation and how that might impact your proposed project. Here are some general areas to look at:
- Does your website already have important data available but possibly only as pdfs or other web content (which can be transformed to open data)?
- Is there a logical home for Open Data within the current organizational structure?
- Does the Open Data “home” or organization at large have resources that could get allocated to the project?
- How does open data align with the existing corporate priorities of Council and Senior Management?
- Is there a corporate data governance guideline (e.g. rules for creating, maintaining and archiving data and information)?
- Are there specific issues or problem areas among external stakeholders that lend themselves to data-driven solutions development?
- Do you have data that the public frequently requests that requires staff time to prepare and release?
Informal discussions with your community
Municipal staff develop relationships with their community over time with diverse interests and subject matter. There will be a number of different community groups that may have an interest in open data (e.g. start-up or civic tech communities, developer/digital communities, or social sector organizations or transparency advocates). It is suggested that a few strategic conversations be held with leaders in these areas to get a sense of their knowledge of and potential interest in an open data initiatives in your community. The need to explain what is open data may be required as community groups are not always familiar with that terminology, and could regard it as beyond their existing digital capacity.
It is important not to make guarantees, other than to confirm a report will be developed and the outcomes will be made public. In many municipalities, the external community has been a strong advocate of open data and assisted in supporting presentations to Council as delegations.
- Delegation to Council example - focus on benefits to staff and community
Building the open data business case
An earlier section addressed the potential benefits of open data to the municipality, its businesses and citizens. You’ve undertaken internal and external discussions with stakeholders and now this information can feed into developing the “business case” for why open data is right for your organization.
Some key elements of the business case could include:
- Alignment of open data with the current corporate strategic plan goals;
- Support for departmental business objectives;
- Potential efficiency and effectiveness benefits;
- Opportunities for stakeholder engagement and support (e.g. economic development, community wellbeing)
The following is an example of municipal business case information supporting the initiation of open data and example benefits.
Use case: example benefits from open data
City of Winnipeg, Andrew Burton
We developed a transit API and released it in 2011 to the community. As such, we never had to release an android / iPhone app for transit. The cost savings from not having to employ one (or multiple) full time staff for app development / maintenance is probably approaching $1 million.
Keeping senior management and council informed
Communications is extremely important within the municipal environment for any new initiative, not just on open data. For the initial open data initiative exploration, it is recommended that the following be considered:
- Reporting to the initial project sponsor;
- Reporting to Senior Management through the project sponsor;
- Senior Management consider a simple information brief to Council;
- Senior Management should make this information available to staff and allow them to contact the Open Data Working Group; and
- Community should be informed of formal progress (e.g. brief to Council).
Once the project is approved by the applicable people, the project plan should include the development of a communications plan (can be as simple or complex as you wish to follow typical protocols in your organization).
Developing a plan
Defining your goals
The best approach to undertaking an open data initiative is via a pilot project. The general goal of the pilot project will be to gain experience to develop recommendations on whether and how to move forward with open data in the municipality. The following are examples of goals for consideration:
- Understand the organization’s data management practices and corporate culture related to information sharing to assess effort for open data;
- Document the organization’s internal and external data requests (e.g. access to information requests, web analytics);
- Assess organization practices related to open data principles and policies;
- Rank available data as potential valued open data sets;
- Gain insight into open data technology options (e.g. open source or proprietary open data portals);
- Provide a report with recommendations on how to proceed with open data.
Developing the task list
There can bedifferent scenarios dependent on the approach you are taking to open data:
- Publish information that already exist on the website as open data;
- Adopt an open data policy (standalone or integrated within an existing policy) to be presented to Senior Management and Council for adoption;
- Launch an Open Data Pilot project to gain experience; and
- Develop a full-scale corporate wide Open Data Operational Program.
Note that the focus here will be the pilot project aspect of this scenario; as a detailed project plan is considered out-of-scope for this version of the DIY Open Data Toolkit.
Scenario 1: publishing a few datasets
This may be considered a “skunkworks” project where you’re going to experiment a little with the idea of open data to gain a little experience before getting into a formal pilot project. The tasks for this activity include:
- Reviewing your website to identify potential data to provide as open data. These should be simple and non-contentious data such as event schedules. Look at web statistics for popular visits to data/information to help you prioritize what type(s) of data to release first.
- Converting data from web format to native format (e.g. from pdf to csv or Excel).
- Hosting data internally and providing a secure access to the data to external users.
- Working with trusted members of the community to try out the “open data” (e.g. usability) and get feedback.
- Preparing a brief report on the experience with recommendation to propose a pilot project.
Scenario 2: adopt an open data policy
Some municipalities may prefer to have an approved open data policy prior to embarking on actual implementation and operation of an open data program. Fortunately, there are existing policies that have been adopted by other governments that can serve as the basis for your own. The tasks for this activity include:
- Getting an internal corporate sponsor;
- Forming an internal Open Data Working group;
- Review of existing internal related policies;
- Review of existing peer open data policies (e.g. International Open Data Charter);
- Create a draft policy and invite community feedback;
- Present proposed policy to Senior Management and Council for approval; and
- Develop a project/program plan following approval.
It is not uncommon for cities to invite community feedback on their open data policies in an open and transparent process by using a consultation tool such as a Google doc to capture and respond to comments from stakeholders. This helps community to see each other comments and incentivizes the city to provide more context for specific language in the policy. Stakeholders who participate in this stage are likely to be interested in subsequent stages of your open data initiative, so this is a great way to build your stakeholder mailing list and outreach strategy!
Scenario 3: launch an open data pilot project
This is the most common scenario and is generally initiated within a 9 to 12 month window. It is assumed that the pre-planning activities have been completed to get to this stage:
- Internal corporate sponsor is in place;
- Open Data Working Group established;
- Internal assessment completed (may wish to update);
- Initial communications with external stakeholders have begun; and
- Approvals and communications with Senior Management and Council are in place.
Based on prior assumptions, the following table provides a summary of the key tasks associated with an open data pilot project.
Note: The degree to which each of these tasks is undertaken will depend on the organization’s capacity and resources. Times are provided for reference only.
Working group meetings
Policy development (this should be part of pilot project but may be deferred if there are resource constraints)
Research existing studies
Draft policy for senior management review
Open data publishing
Review & test tech options
Prioritizing & vetting initial data sets
Open formats & metadata
Publish alpha catalog site
Publish beta site/launch
Community engagement & communications
Formalize community engagement
Co-develop data priorities
Develop communications plan
Ongoing communication (Int/Ext)
Project outcomes reporting
Next steps report
Note: Depending on your goals and resources, some of these tasks may or may not be undertaken and/or scaled down, and some tasks may require more or less time. Each organization will be different.
Scenario 4: develop a full scale corporate open data operational program
The pilot project approach is the most common approach to starting an open data initiative. The development of a corporate-wide open data program is a longer term undertaking and is out of scope for this version of the toolkit.
Estimating resources and project timelines for open data pilot project
Any new project will have some difficulty in estimating the exact resources required and therefore what the timelines might be. Undertaking the series of tasks outlined in the pilot project schedule above may require different timelines depending on your organization’s capacity and assigned priority to the project.
The following use case provides some insight into the amount of effort and potential duration of undertaking a pilot project. Resourcing will vary depending on what you are undertaking and the environment that you are working in (e.g. IT infrastructure).
Use case: resourcing
County of Grande Prairie - Tracy Archibald’s Experience
Scope of the Open Data Initiative: to provide useful, consistent, machine-readable information to the public with a focus on commonly requested or easy to release items.
- Spent approximately 3 weeks on governance
- Regarding licence, an existing one was found and tweaked,
- Made presentation to council ,
- Provided information on website,
- Video – supervise contractor
- Up to 2 weeks for portal customization.
- Initial portal was designed and coded in about 1 week
- Customization of the ESRI open data portal would have been around a week of work.
- Most data takes 2-5 days for final preparation. Some do take considerably longer or shorter. This includes:
- Ensuring the data has a plan to be kept up to date.
- Appropriate sign offs from depts. (if needed)
- Checking data quality
- Automating Open Data update (if needed)
- Loading data into catalogue
- It does not include changing data formats.
- Ongoing activities
- Data maintenance - Since our catalogue auto updates from base data, maintenance is pretty minimal. Budget 5 min/dataset every month to take care of odds and ends. We probably use less than 1/2 this though.
- Staff/public education. Budget a couple of hours a month to take care of this. Or 1-2 permanent staff member/month.
- Each major update has “cost” us:
- 2 weeks work to get the portal to look the way we want
- 20-30 mins/dataset to get the data loaded (when we changed platforms)
- Less than a week for final approvals and press release.
Your own experience in undertaking new projects should give you some insight into the amount of effort you could expect. In some cases, there may be opportunities to leverage existing projects (e.g. IT or departmental information and technology projects) to undertake an open data pilot project. If your organization has stipulated specific dates for delivery of the project, it is imperative that any unexpected service request that impacts the project timelines be discussed with the Project Sponsor and the Open Data Working Group.
- If your organization has stipulated specific dates for delivery of the project, it is imperative that any unexpected service request that impacts the project timelines be discussed with the Project Sponsor and the Open Data Working Group.
The following is a list of milestones you could set within your project plan:
- Post draft open data policy and provide channels for feedback
- Present proposed open data policy
- Complete data inventory
- Agree on initial priority open data sets
- Complete open data and metadata for publishing
- Decide on open data publishing platform
- Publish on alpha open data site with controlled access
- Refine alpha site to public beta open data website
- Develop communications plan for project and website launch
- Establish schedule for meeting with external stakeholders
The order of the milestones will be determined by the sequencing you choose to use for your pilot project
Getting approvals … moving forward
The approvals process will vary with each municipality but generally there are approvals of “project in principle”, resourced pilot project and new program approval with budget and resources.
The actual approvals required will depend on the scope of the open data initiative you are pursuing.