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What is Open North?

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Open North is a Canadian non-profit that creates websites to increase citizen participation in democracy. We’re building online tools to lower the barrier to entry to active participation, using two main strategies:

1. Improve access to government information

  • make it easily available, by pulling it out of dark corners of government websites, taking it out of PDFs and making access to information requests
  • make it accessible, by providing context to numbers, explaining legislative jargon and using language everyone understands
  • make it relevant, by letting citizens find information specific to their community, interests and situation

In this way, we want to help citizens move from “information I have” to “information I understand” to “information I care about.” Our projects engage at various steps of this process.

2. Make participation easy, fun and meaningful

  • work with governments to design new participatory processes and to ensure citizen’s voices are heard
  • increase the number of ways citizens can engage with elected officials and government information
  • help citizens connect with each other and organize around issues they care about

We believe that the internet has the potential to transform democratic engagement. Around the world, we have begun to see this potential realize itself, whether it’s helping citizens send over 100,000 access to information requests (UK), ask questions – and get over 100,000 answers – from their representatives (Germany) or track political activity in their nation’s capital (US).

As Open North approaches its first anniversary, we take stock of our efforts thus far to improve Canadian democracy. Working with the Montreal borough of Plateau Mont-Royal, we ran an online consultation in which citizens re-balanced the borough’s budget according to their budget priorities, in an easy-to-understand, fun and interactive way. We’ve since made this consultation platform available to municipalities nationwide, so that decision-makers in participating cities can base their budgetary decisions on the balanced budgets submitted by residents.

We built Gazette Docs with The Gazette to help both journalists and citizens search contracts awarded by the City of Montreal to construction companies. Several reports on corruption have since been written using this database. Represent is now the most comprehensive database of Canadian elected officials at the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. Organizations use our database to mount advocacy campaigns, like the David Suzuki Foundation, and make legislative information more accessible, like CitizenBridge. Ma Mairie (My City Hall) is an in-development platform to make it easier to track and interact with municipal elected officials.

As we look ahead to next year, we look forward to starting conversations with more Canadians about how our work can make democracy better. We encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter and connect with us through our Facebook or Twitter accounts.

To learn more about Open North and its projects, please explore our website or listen to the recent CBC Spark interview with Jonathan Brun, one of Open North’s directors.

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