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Open Data Roundtable with Minister Clement

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Photo: Pinpoint National

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with Minister Tony Clement and a small group of open data experts, developers, librarians and government leaders. Our meeting, moderated by David Eaves, focused on the future of data.gc.ca. In his opening remarks, Mr. Clement suggested that data should be viewed as Canada’s 21st century resource and that we need to think about the next generation of data users.

As we discussed the current state of the federal government’s open data initiative, the conversation quickly turned to the need for data standards, a topic we have previously discussed. The United Kingdom’s Standards Hub initiative serves as an example of a potential method for gathering standards from civil society. Their model proposes challenges for standards proposals, a pipeline for reviewing the progress of standard adoption and a catalogue of adopted standards. Zeena Abdulla, Manager of Strategic New Media for the Government of Ontario, noted that historically, government-led data standards efforts have slowed the adoption process. Instead, civil society should be responsible for developing standards and then submitting them to a federal authority for approval and adoption.

There were many interesting takeaways from this meeting, such as:

  • Data.gc.ca needs to be more user friendly and accessible to non-coders or citizens just starting to understand data. Suggestions included creating a “open data 101” section to the website and improving the portals search function.

  • Key datasets, like the postal code database which Joe Greenwood argued can enrich many other datasets, must be made open and copyright free.

  • Organizing and archiving data are also important to increasing the use of information released by government. How we choose to preserve and compare datasets will affect their use and uptake much like open standards themselves. The involvement of librarians like Marcel Fortin in the conversation, alongside civil society developers, will continue to bring depth to open data in Canada.

  • David Eaves announced that the hashtag #datagc will be used by the Treasury Board to gather input on the future of the portal. We will continue to contribute to #datagc and look forward to engaging with Mr. Clement again soon.

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