A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Open Government?

I have on several occasions pointed out the value of Open and Accessible information in protecting our democracy, recently the Liberal Party made a commitment to reverse the increasing secrecy that current pervades government. We are a long way from actually seeing it happen but this is a big step in the right direction, promises are easy. They say:-

Liberal Party of Canada is committed to democratic renewal – and that means a commitment to open government.
While progressive governments in other countries have deployed digital technology to advance transparency and unshackle information to fuel knowledge and innovation, Canada has been held back by the most secretive government in its history.
To create a new level of accountability for government spending and to spur innovation and economic growth, a Liberal government will open government to the public through four specific measures.
The Liberal Open Government Initiative will:
  • Immediately restore the long-form census;
  • Make as many government datasets as possible available to the public online free of
    charge at opendata.gc.ca in an open and searchable format, starting with Statistics
    Canada data, including data from the long-form census;
  • Post all Access to Information requests, responses, and response times online at
    accesstoinformation.gc.ca; and
  • Make information on government grants, contributions and contracts available through
    a searchable, online database at accountablespending.gc.ca.
For complete details, please read the PDF policy brochure.

Emma Hogbin, recently appointed Science and Technology Critic for the Green Party of Canada had this to say on the subject ...
Last week the Liberal Party of Canada launched their Open Government Initiative. There's been a bit of buzz in the blogosphere about the Liberal initiative. I'm delighted that we're moving towards open government. I'm looking forward to the Conservative government agreeing that this is really important and declaring that all (appropriate) data will be available.
But what if we launch into this "open" thing and it all goes horribly wrong? Let's assume that only appropriate data is made publicly available. Let's assume that all privacy and security concerns are met. There's still two very important points that need to be met before data is "open":
I've been using a lot of the freely available government data from elections.ca and StatsCan and the Community Information Database for my campaign. But freely available information isn't the same as open data. Freely available information is like the reference section of your public library. You can read all the books for free. But you can't take them out of the library. And you most definitely cannot highlight the really important passages, rip out pictures for your scrapbook, or otherwise convert the information into a format that's useful to you. Freely available information can only be used as-is.
Open data, on the other hand, is released into the public with the intention of it being remixed by other people. A license is applied to the data that allows other data nerds (scientists, geographers, map makers, etc) to copy and paste the bits they need. The remix could result in new maps--or in the case of science: new revelations about the world around us. Open data can make it easier for government departments to work together too--with open data anyone (especially bureaucrats) can grab a copy of publicly licensed information and get to work. There's no chain of command and there's no wasting time waiting for the person who's on vacation to give you permission to use data from the department down the hall. The data comes with a built-in permission slip via its license.
Sound interesting? I sure think so! I have started collecting information to create a new policy for open data and open access to information for the Green Party. The policy will include a way towards open government that includes:
  • opening data sets created by government
  • opening data sets created by publicly funded research
  • appropriate licenses for public data
  • appropriate formats for maximum re-useability

Emma Jane Hogbin is the Science and Technology critic for the GPC and  Green Candidate for the riding of Grey Bruce Owen Sound.
Dont hold your breath on the Conservatives embracing these initiatives, they did after all promise to be Open and Accountable and we know how that worked out. But also be aware that many within the civil service have been pushing for this sort of thing, both internally and for public consumption but are being frustrated by the restrictions being placed upon them. Let us hope that with several groups all pulling in the same direction we can get some movement on this one.
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