The City of Quebec launched an open data site

Up in the currently not-so-frozen north, the City of Quebec has stood up an open data directory online. There are currently 26 datasets listed, spanning a variety of data formats, from .CSV to .XML to .XLS to to .KML to .SHP. (The latter two are GIS files, of interest to folks who like to make maps.)

The city published the video embedded below last night, in addition to a “demarche” (or statement) on the open data website about the project.

ExpoTI-GVQ – Projets étudiants, CÉGEP Limoilou from E-Gouv Québec on Vimeo.

Hat tip @Data_BC

UPDATE: As Richard Ackerman pointed out on Twitter, this open data site went live in February. While the video is new, the site is not.

Eight open government recommendations for Canada

Earlier this year, I accepted an invitation from Canadian Minister of Parliament Tony Clement, the president of Canada’s Treasury Board, to be a member of Canada’s advisory panel on open government, joining others from Canada’s tech industry, the academy and civil society. The first — and only — meeting to date was held via telepresence on February 28th, 2012.

I chose to accept the invitation to sit on this panel — in an unpaid, nonbinding and entirely voluntary role — because I viewed it in the same vein as my participation in the open consultation on the U.S. National Plan for Open Government that the White House held prior to the launch of the Open Government Partnership last year. I viewed it as an opportunity to represent a perspective at the (virtual) table that valued the role of journalism and civil society. I disclosed my involvement on the panel using the Internet, including Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Here are the recommendations I made when I had an opportunity to speak:

1) Cooperation or partnerships with media for publishing and improving open government data. The Guardian’s datablog is top-notch in covering the United Kingdom efforts. This could include the ability to bring “cleaned” data back into a media platform. This should never preclude investigative work in the service of government accountability in the use of that data nor any restrictions regarding journalistic work.

2) A mobile strategy to involve citizens in governance, particularly remote towns, an issue in the immense country of Canada. Government should not neglect mobile websites, email and txt in favor of “Web 2.0” services.

3) An “analog” strategy, to ensure all citizens offline are included in any open government process, whether it involves a consultation, election, budgetary guidance, including the use of phones and town halls.

4) A demand-sensitive approach to freedom of information requests. Media and open government advocates should be further empowered to get more access to crucial “good government” records and to ask direct questions of public officials. Dataset releases should be prioritized by both the public interest and in the public interest.

5) A focus on releasing raw government performance data about government services and about regulated industries, as means of driving transparency into industries and government, providing material for both government and corporate watchdogs to hold institutions more accountable. Joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, as the United States has done, would be a substantive example of such a move.

6) A national citizen scanning initiative, akin to Carl Malamud’s “Yes We Scan” notion, to digitize government information.

7) A focus on meaningful engagement on social media platforms, not simply broadcasting political agendas, with incentives to listen to the concerns of constituents, not increase the volume of outbound communication.

8 ) Measure open data outcomes, not volume: I suggested later in the meeting that measuring the impact of open data should not come from the number of data sets published nor the number of apps on the minister’s iPhone. The success of the effort would be judged upon A) improvements to internal efficiency or productivity, B) downstream use of data, not total datasets published C) the number of applications that are actively used by citizens, whether in the service of driving greater accountability or civic utility.

A note on disclosure

Questions have been raised by author Evgeny Morozov about whether I should be on this panel or not, given that I write about open government. (He indicated on Twitter that he thinks that I should not be.) I asked several professors and editors prior to accepting the offer if they saw an issue with joining, prior to accepting the offer. All replied I could do so if I was open about my involvement and disclosed it. The Canadian government itself subsequently made that disclosure, along with my social publications on February 28th. I have been waiting for them to publish a more detailed, full record of the open government panel discussion, to no avail. (The above recommendations constitute publication of my notes made prior and during to the meeting but should not be viewed a transcript. An extremeley general, high level summary can be found at open.gc.ca.)

To date, in that context, my sole involvement has been to give feedback on Canada’s open government plan, listed above, over a teleconference screen. I have also talked with David Eaves, who also sits on the advisory panel (see his post on his involvement for more information).

When I was in Brazil last month for the Open Government Partnership conference, I did attend a dinner at the Canadian embassy that included Clement and the Canadian delegation, along with Eaves. While I was there, I talked with Canada’s deputy CIO about how I personally used social media and derived value from it, along with how I had observed large institutions accumulate and retrieve knowledge internally using collaboration software. I also talked with attendees about hockey, Brazil, dinner itself, and Eaves’ experience being a father of a newborn baby. I do not know if open government or open data were the subject of subsequent conversation with the Clement, ambassador or their staff: I left after dessert.

If you have strong opinions about my involvement, as described above or elsewhere, please ring in in the comments or contact me directly at alex@oreilly.com.

Carmi Levy: open government is about leveraging technology and citizens to do more with less

It looks like the dog days of August 2011 may be the month when the meme of a citizen-centric government gets some traction in the business world. Over on the finance section of Yahoo Canada, Carmi Levy writes that the future of government is citizen-focused.

Levy cites open government in British Columbia and initiatives in New Zealand, Toronto, and Lousiana as case studies for his thinking and then connects the dots with the big idea: that technology enables officials to empower citizens to work with government in new ways, driven by macrotrends towards open data, mobile connectivity, social media and austerity measures.

…governments are increasingly giving citizens free rein to do as they wish with previously inaccessible data. Costs are significantly reduced as big, conventional IT projects are replaced by more on-the-fly approaches to resource management. Timelines are also cut down to size thanks to the use of agile development methods and more collaborative models. Crowdsourcing also maximizes the use of newer technologies, thanks to home-based developers looking to market their prowess to a broader audience. This all translates into more bang for the public buck.

Proponents of open data initiatives claim they increase government efficiency and effectiveness by encouraging greater levels of citizen participation in the creation and delivery of public services. But in light of the just-completed U.S. deal to restructure its debt ceiling and begin trimming the federal budget, it’s difficult to ignore the cost side of the equation, as well.

As governments on both sides of the border find themselves increasingly pressured to deliver the same — or more — services for less, open data and so-called Government 2.0-based initiatives could hold the key to taxpayers having their cake and eating it, too. As government shrinks, citizens willingly take up the slack using rapidly evolving development and social media tools.

Open government isn’t just a philosophical concept designed to drive democracy.

It’s really about leveraging technology — and technologically enabled citizens — to do more with less. By throwing data out there and seeing what develops, governments can reduce spend and enable business in ways they simply wouldn’t be able to do if they functioned conventionally. They can leverage the motivations and skills of interested members of the public to create value that conventionally hired departmental resources have never been able to achieve; at least not at this level of efficiency.

Carmi Levy (@CarmiLevy)

It’s a bold vision, although perhaps a familiar one to those who have been following the narrative that runs through these open government stories. The notable connection is connecting this approach to the need that governments have now.

If open government is going to work better, however, citizens will have to become more civically engaged — and their governments will need to both listen to them and work with them.

Canadian Apps for Climate Change Winners Announced

Earlier this spring, the United States released community health information to provision healthcare apps and drive better policy.

[Photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang, U.S. Air Force, via Wikipedia]

Now, scientists and policy makers will explore the potential for climate data services to inform citizens and government, enabling both to make better decisions for communities and businesses alike.

Can open government lead to greater awareness or action around the existential issue climate change? Posting open data online in of itself is not enough, although there’s no question that publishing scientific data where it can be publicly accessed, validated or stored is a huge step forward with respect to transparency.

Socializing open health data was necessary to build a better government platform at the National Institute of Medicine, where open data and innovation led to an innovative means to identity pills.

Is collaborative innovation in open government possible in Canada? On the one hand, Canadian open data consultant David Eaves bluntly pointed out some of the challenges extant because of culture: Collaborate? ‘Governments don’t do that’.

Collaborative innovation, however, may be another matter, as many governments, large and small, are experimenting with websites crowdsourcing citizen ideas.

Enter the Apps for Climate Action Contest, which challenged Canadian software developers to raise awareness and inspire action by using open data in Web and mobile applications. The open data itself came from the government of British Columbia, which created a catalogue of climate and greenhouse gas emission data at Data.gov.bc.ca.

So who won?

Best Web AppVELO

The app allows organizations to compare against peers internally and externally, enabling businesses to monitor and compare benchmarks for carbon emissions continually rather than annually.

Best Mobile AppMathTappers: Carbon Choices

The MathTappers: Carbon Choices App is designed to help students examine the effects of their personal choices on climate change. As students track their choices their impact is assessed in terms of annualized kg of CO2 equivalents generated.”

Best of B.C.Waterly

This app is designed to help people to use less water on their lawns.

People’s ChoiceVanTrash

“VanTrash scrapes pickup schedules from City of Vancouver websites and combines it with GIS data from data.vancouver.ca. In turn, VanTrash exposes this scraped data in a clean RESTful API for other citizens to build and innovate on.” The idea here is that the app will help residents to remember to take their recycling, organic waste and other garbage out.

Will any of these apps make a difference in a global context? The jury is out on that count. Notably, several of the winners empower citizens with more lightweight access to information about local services or awareness of commodities usage. Canada may be one of the world leader’s in sheer volume of clean water but that doesn’t mean minimization of transport or use doesn’t make sense. I could certainly use a trash and recycling reminder here in Washington; maybe Octo Labs will work with a good developer if the data is available.

A gallery of all the climate change apps is online.

Climate Services and Open Data in the US

In the United States, using data as a climate change agent is part of the big idea behind Climate.gov, where public climate data from NOAA and NASA could spur better decisions and a more informed society.

Amidst varied hopes for open data and open government, enabling better data-driven decisions in both the private and public sector rank high. One of the existential challenges for humanity will be addressing climate change, particularly in countries where scientific resources are scant or even non-existent.

In February, the Obama administration proposed a climate service that would provide projections on climate change in much the same way that the National Ocean and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) provides weather information. Earlier this summer, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published new research, “Earth Observation for Climate Change,” and hosted a forum on leveraging climate data services to manage climate change. The video from the forum is embedded below:

For more perspective on the role of Climate.gov and climate services, read the full post on Radar.

Exploring Gov 2.0, open data and open government in Canada

What’s going on with Gov 2.0 in Canada? I had the opportunity to interview David Eaves on Gov 2.0, open government and open data in Canada last week – and I took it. He shared even more perspective on the state of open government in Canada with my colleague Mac Slocum at Radar back in March. And if you’re not following his posts on government collaboration ( or the lack thereof), well, start. His talk about Gov 2.0 in Canada at the recent Gov 2.0 Summit is embedded below:

Eaves posted a wealth of links on Gov 2.0 in Canada at his blog after the talk.

For those interested in further perspective from north of the 49th parallel, flip through the presentation by Jury Konga, principal of the eGovFutures Group embedded below:

David Eaves on Gov 2.0, Open Government and Open Data in Canada

“If you read only one blog in the Gov 2.0 space, you should read eaves.ca” – Tim O’Reilly.

My interview with David Eaves on open government and open data at today’s Gov 2.0 Summit is a reminder why my publisher would offer that ringing endorsement. We talked about the risks and rewards of open data, the state of Gov 2.0 in Canada and the progress of “We government” up across the border. Eaves also revealed that Canadians love Facebook, though perhaps not as much as hockey.