The Open Data Charter is a collaboration between governments and experts working to open up data. It was founded in 2015 around six principles for how governments should be publishing information. More than 70 governments and organisations have joined the movement. OpenNorth’s study of how government open data policies and programs could align with the open data policies of cities and provinces in Canada helped document the potential for adoption of the Charter in Canada (see report). As Steward of the Open Data Charter, OpenNorth then supported the City of Edmonton in becoming the first city in Canada to adopt the Charter. Building on its participation in the international Charter Implementation Working Group, OpenNorth is advising the Province of Ontario in implementing the Charter as part of a multi-stakeholder working group and integrated the 6 Charter principles in the development of the City of Toronto’s open data master plan and roadmap and stakeholder engagement process.
Represent API helps put citizens in touch with their elected officials. This open source resource connects individuals with their municipal, provincial and federal representatives and provides information about the electoral district. By entering a postal code or geocoded address, citizens can find out who represents their riding and how to reach them. Access to this information enables individuals to build “email your representative” campaigns and other community-based advocacy initiatives, amplifying their voices and ensuring their perspectives are heard by political candidates and elected members of government. Because of the simplicity in its data structure, Represent can scale to almost any political jurisdiction worldwide and already counts over 30 Canada-based organizations amongst its users. For social justice organizations, unions and non-profits, this tool helps organizers map their existing supporters to specific electoral districts. Organizers can boost their initiatives by harnessing advocates’ access to officials in their own ridings. This key democracy-building tool makes it easier for communities to initiate dialogue with elected representatives, increasing accountability and accessibility to make democracy work better.
Open511 enables citizens to find and share information about the transit systems in their communities. This open data resource lets people report construction, route closures, road incidents and other events in their areas, as well as search for issues within the reported data. As a data standard, it addresses the issue of interoperability of road event data between multiple jurisdictions that manage their own road networks and data.
Developed in close partnership with the Province of British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and San Francisco Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission, this standard is constantly maintained to match the needs of government, such as support for live data feeds into the standard. The Province of British Columbia uses Open511 to structure its DriveBC dataset, which provides real-time road event information for provincial highways. Open511 is not restricted to any level of government jurisdiction, and is used at the municipal level by the Town of Repentigny.
Popolo is a data standard designed to create interoperability within in the civic tech community itself by standardising data structure on political events and entities. This eases the process of modelling objects such as government institutions, elected officials, and events, and allows organisations to get straight to applying data to problems. Creating interoperability allows for better monitoring platforms and exchange of data within the civic tech community. The standard can also enhance efforts in citizen-government interaction. It is used in platforms such as AskThem, which allows citizens to search for their elected officials, submit questions, and receive a response. Popolo’s simplicity in schema allows platforms to easily connect to one another and support querying of elected officials from any number political jurisdictions. Popolo is an underlying standard for the Poplus civic tech ecosystem, which supports the development of reusable open source software components that can be used by civic app developers around the world.
In 2015, Montreal took two significant steps towards greater transparency: it opened up a large portion of its contractual data and launched Vue sur les contrats, a visualization tool that allows users to dive deep into this information. The visualization tool uses only data structured in open contracting format. OpenNorth developed the API, which enables dynamic interaction. With OpenNorth expertise, the initiative led by the City of Montreal’s Smart City Office demonstrated the benefits of standardizing data, but it also highlighted the challenges associated with data quality and design choices that are inherent to such projects. Using a standard format and open source software allowed us to create a model, which other organizations can adopt, to transform data that is publicly available, but difficult to access, into a vehicle for more transparency and better informed citizens. For more information about this project, please consult the Open Contracting Partnership’s blog post.
Every two years, Canada and the more than 75 other members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) are required to develop action plans outlining their openness and other commitments over the upcoming two years. The OGP requires members to engage in public consultation in preparing and implementing its plan. There have been issues with the scope and nature of these consultations in Canada. To address this, over the past year and a half, OpenNorth and a group of civil society organizations successfully lobbied for the creation of a Multi-stakeholder forum, a collaborative platform through which government and civil society, as partners, can co-create the action plan and then oversee implementation. The Forum will serve to strengthen dialogue between the Canadian government and civil society in support of a more open and transparent government. Canada will assume its seat on the OGP Steering Committee this month, making it even more important for robust action by civil society to hold government to account.
Unlike a regular survey or data visualizations, Citizen Budget is an interactive platform that shows the financial impacts of participants’ choices in real time, educating them about the trade-offs and constraints faced by their local government. Used by more than 80 cities across North America, including the cities of Edmonton, Ottawa, and Regina, OpenNorth’s user-friendly and fun online budget simulator increases civic participation in decision-making and supports elected representatives in better representing the interests and priorities of local residents. Conveniently accessible anytime and at the user’s own pace, CitizenBudget is a clear improvement over public meetings which involve travel, time, child minding and other accessibility constraints. Revenue generated by CitizenBudget helps sustain OpenNorth’s mission and operations.