Observations and Reflections on the Past and Future of Open Government

After five years leading the Alberta Open Government Program, it is with mixed feelings that I am moving on to tackle other challenges within the Government of Alberta. And so here are my observations of the last five years and reflection on the challenges and opportunities as we look ahead to the next five.

In reflecting on the progression of the importance of open data, I think back to 2013, when I polled a class of about 40 government managers with the question “Who has heard of open data?”, two or three managers raised their hands. Four years later, when I asked “Who has not heard of open data?”, just two managers raised their hands. In the past four years, there has been much progress in general awareness of what open government is. Moreover, Open Government programs have now started or are further entrenching in jurisdictions across Canada, and Canada should be proud of its contributions and innovation that we have made locally, provincially and federally to the benefit of the international open government movement.

Open data has been used to power apps, provide policy insight and enhance service delivery. I believe that that the idea of government being open and transparent has become part of the social fabric and culture of government in Alberta and across Canada

But challenges exist and many of these challenges may take a generation to overcome:

  • Open Data: Potential open data remains locked in applications that were not designed to share information, or where a lack of data management practices has led to data quality issues with the outcomes that data is not ready to share. When these applications are rewritten —and this could take a long time —it will be imperative to decouple the data from the business applications and embrace best practice data management so that the data can be made open.
  • Open Information: As with open data, management practices associated with unstructured information (reports or government publications) often limits the ability to share this information in an open environment. Digital content management and good practices of archiving will be required.
  • Security and Privacy: Never before has citizen information been so vulnerable to hacking and government is under pressure to ensure that private citizen information is protected. When we secure private and confidential information, then by default we can be open and transparent with the remainder.
  • Government: As government empowers citizens by sharing information and data, there will also be pressure to change how government engages. This means looking at policy regarding how we collaborate with citizens as well as bringing citizens to dialogue with government within our hallways and offices (either virtually or in person).

Open government programs need to champion opportunities for open data by:

  • Leveraging data by creating visualizations, such as citizen dashboards and infographics. This will enhance not only senior leadership’s understanding but also help to provide citizens with information.
  • Building APIs and interfaces to ensure that open data can be harnessed through automated processes
  • Leveraging librarians across Canada and websites like archive.org, and federate data and information in portals in all jurisdictions so that citizens can find government information no matter how they choose to find it.
  • Formalizing partnerships with post-secondary institutions to provide data scientist services and research to help propel innovation within Canada with an offer of government information as their feedstock.
  • Ensuring that the Canadian Open Data Exchange is supported so they can work with entrepreneurs with open data across Canada.

So with those thoughts I am now excited to hand over the reins to a new generation of energized Canadians who will help move the agenda forward and create this new government dynamic.

I can’t wait for my daughter to participate in government as it continues to mature in 2022.