Ontario Open Government Engagement

This Friday, January 17, the Ontario Open Government Engagement Team is coming to town. They are a team formed to engage the public and to recommend open government policy for the Ontario government. If you have the chance to join the meeting from 1-4pm at Kitchener City Hall, please do! If not, I’m sure they will welcome comments on Ontario open government policy at opengov@ontario.ca.

Below is our own feedback that we have provided to the team.

Open Data Waterloo Region is a community group in Waterloo Region which supports open data within the Region of Waterloo and organizes events. We recently helped organized GO Open Data [1], a gathering of over 100 developers, administrators, educators and citizens from across Ontario.

We are excited about the recent open government initiative launched by Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne and we would like to share our thoughts on what would make this program successful.

Data Should Be Open by Default
For existing data sets, some governments implementing open data and open government have taken the approach of waiting for individuals to request data before making it public, while others have simply opened a subset of data they think is suitable.

However, what is more important is the process going forward. We believe that the best way to open data by the government of Ontario is through policy which makes all government data open and accessible by default unless the data is excluded through well-defined rules (such as privacy rules) [2]. This is the kind of fundamental shift towards open data that would substantially empower innovation that benefits the public, and allow for large-scale efficiencies and improvements in interactions between the province and municipalities and other organizations that heavily rely on government data.

Open Platform
The choice of platform for delivery of open data affects the extent of support and buy-in by stakeholders such as businesses, elected officials, and citizens.

We would encourage Ontario to adopt an open source platform to avoid lock-in that could hamper future open data deployment, and to be part of a broader open data community. The platform should facilitate an open dialogue on uses, errors and inaccuracies in the data. As such, we encourage Ontario to consider using CKAN, the open-source open data portal that has been used successfully in many governments, including the United Kingdom and our own federal government.

Regardless of platform chosen, Ontario should build on it to provide the additional tools and services that will make it successful here, as the UK has done. There is further opportunity by utilizing an open source platform such as GitHub to share and collaborate on platforms and tools; e.g. the UK and our federal government have shared a large portion of their source code online [3][4]. This encourages collaboration with local developers and delivers a great level of accountability and transparency [5].

Municipal Open Data
Open data and open government extends to all levels of government, however Ontario municipalities encounter both cultural and technical challenges in implementing open government, while some municipalities lack the resources for adopting meaningful open data policies.

We would like to see the government of Ontario adopt an open data policy that not only works for the government of Ontario but also encourages municipalities within Ontario to follow its lead. Ontario could have a large impact by providing resources such as a platform to host data, and by sharing with municipalities the benefits of joining an open government approach in Ontario.

We believe that municipal open data is a very important part of engaging with citizens, and that it is also a substantial opportunity for improvement in communication and data sharing not just with citizens, but between the province and municipalities and between municipalities.

While we will not suggest a specific figure, we believe that there should be a budget that can allow the initiative to cause change in the way that our government and data is managed. In order to pioneer an open government approach in Ontario, some investment will be required, and the initiative may stagnate without resources for implementation.

Any open data approach will at least partially operate on the basis of requests. So we feel one of the most important things for the Ontario government to do is to provide information on the data it keeps. This would allow citizens and other stakeholders to be able to help prioritize the opening up of data sets through requests, and spark some interest. It would also help both the public and the province to track progress in the open data initiative. The government of the United Kingdom as an example has implemented a full inventory, providing easy access to all of their open data and open government applications [6], we believe this is a model that can be easily replicated by Ontario.

We at Open Data Waterloo Region are strongly supportive of the Province of Ontario shifting towards open government and open data, and we appreciate the opportunity to provide input into that direction. Being from Waterloo Region, which includes eight municipal governments – each with many departments – we are painfully aware of the opportunities that open data can provide for not just direct public interest, but also to breaking down barriers to data sharing between governments. Our area has three municipal governments and one university working on open data, each in their own way and within their own comfort and resource level – but without much coordination yet.

A well-crafted Ontario open government strategy would play a strong role in making Ontario government and services more accessible to the public and to its various agencies and municipalities, and facilitate municipalities joining the open data community to public benefit and their own efficiency of service. We look forward to seeing open government helping spur efficiency, improved services, and innovations from all sectors.

Kind regards,

Brett Willemsen, Nathan Vexler, and Michael Druker
on behalf of
Open Data Waterloo Region


1. GO Open Data conference
2. The Government of the United Kingdom’s Digital by Default Policy
3. Government of the United Kingdom’s GitHub account
4. Government of Canada’s GitHub account
5. GitHub’s blog post outlining Open Government on GitHub.com
6. The Government of the United Kingdom’s Government Portal

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