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Notes and references - Open by Default - Carleton's Data Science seminar

Open Gov 101

Open government refers generally to the idea that government information and decision-making processes should be transparent to citizens. In Canada, this means:

Open data: publishing online the raw datasets created or collected by the government of Canada for a wide variety of purposes

Open information: digital records, resources, publications, discussion papers, evidence of decisions, and scientific work

Open dialogue: citizen engagement and the ability for citizens to influence government decision making processes

The data lifecycle

Government creates or collects data to improve decison making. All kinds of data: transportation metrics, financial data, Grants and Contributions, census results, labour markets, pollutants, invasive species, product recalls, and a ton of geospatial data. And much more.

For the government to make use of all this data, it gets cleaned, compared, analyzed, and visualized, getting converted from data into insights and knowledge.

And now, it gets released to the public. Ideally, we'd create the data from t=0 for that end state, using appropriate nomenclature, formats, and standards, and build that foundation. But there’s a gap in the IM pipeline: HR, IM, and communications policies were as much built for a pre-digital, pre-open world. Not everyone understands that they’re a data collector, and we're adapting data to new contexts.

In the long run, we'll establish a better system and initial configuration, and it'll be smoother, faster, and more standardized for future data release.

Open data stakeholders

To be clear: it depends. Many people are open data stakeholders in very indirect ways, in that businesses, governments, journalists, lobbyists, NGOs, and other civil society organizations can inform or improve their services to many citizens using open data. For example, data journalism is an increasingly in-demand skill, but when it shows up in magazines and newspapers it often reads just like, well, journalism.

But some example open data users:

  • Data scientists and researchers in government, business, and NGOs
  • Transparency and accountability organizations (h/t Open North)
  • Media
  • Developers and coders
  • Economists.

How is it being used?

I'll use this section as, essentially, the credits and bibliography for a couple open data use cases. There are some in-depth cases studies here if you'd like more (including more of Ajah's work):

Powered by Data created the Landscape tool to map government Grants and Contributions across Canada:

Karden et al mashed up tree cover and census data to determine the effect of trees on health perception:

Health Canada Recalls (and specifically, the searchable access to their database):

Dr. Mike Smit's open data assignment at Dalhousie University:

How governments are meeting civic tech

It's not enough to simply put the data out there. It's still good, and a net benefit, but there is more good than can be done by going the extra mile. Governments should be working to engage communities, to work with external players on problems, to contextualize data, and to make that data understandable and useable.

The recent history of that might be open data hackathons, where governments release data and invite interested citizens to explore and create with it.

However, over time that has - rightly - evolved into a transition away from "open data" hackathons to "specific problem" hackathons that will likely draw upon open data as one resource of many.

So now we're seeing things like Dementia Hack, an accessibility hack called Inclusive Design, Aquahacking, Traffic Jam, and a data analysis competiton called Data Competition Canada (we've pitched datasets, but we won't know if they've opted to use them until the competition launches):

All of which is a reasonable parallel to the wider arc of open government:

Today: open government is led by "open government" teams

The goal: "open government" is a name that describes what happens across an ecosystem of players inside government (programs, policy, services) and outside, as they work together and share information more freely. Eventually we'll just call it "government."

The "goal" state happens all the time, but it's not yet the standard. As William Gibson said, “the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

But we still have work do to as the "open government" team. So focusing on problems is the direction that future GC hackathons will go as well. And we're looking for other ways to get more involved, and get people involved.

For instance, getting back to the Health Canada Recalls work, there are actually a handful of Data 5000 students at Carleton working with the Government of Canada now to determine if social product reviews can predict future recalls.

A quick note on the Green City Protohack event coming up in Ottawa:

This is the epitome of this trend. It's a specifically non-technical hackathon. Participants will discuss and prototype solutions to public challenges - scripting service interactions, or making web service mockups on paper - more to explore the problem and solution space. However, this Protohack may actually lead directly into a GC hackaton, where - if it really is the solution - technology and data can be brought to bear.

The important thing is that it gets subject matter experts, social scientists, designers, and social innovators into the process as well, where they can work together with data analysts and tech builders. Which is why we were drawn to the idea of the Master's in Data Science in the first place, where the data science skills are built on economics, busieness, and research foundations.

What you can do

Ottawa has an amazing Open Data Ottawa community, and there are other meetups, communities, talks, projects, NGOs, social innovation organizations, and events.

Email us:

Subscribe for updates:


And to emphasize: the major reason I'd encourage you to sign up for the mailing list is that we'll invite you (pretty soon, actually) to weigh in on how the whole open government and open data idea works in Canada. In a very meaningful way. So if you're a researcher or librarian interested in open access or government science, we can use your input. Or an engaged citizen with thoughts on how we should do public participation in decision making. Or a data enthusiast with thoughts on how we should prioritize progress on the open data front. We really appreciate the feedback we get, and it helps us do our jobs.