Open government discussions are buzzing across Canada, with two events last weekend – the Open City Workshop hosted by the City of Edmonton and the Taking Stock of Tech conference at the University of Ottawa – both featuring panel discussions on the topic.
At the Open City Workshop, a day-long event in Edmonton, a four-member panel discussed everything from what government-as-a-platform means to the challenges of moving towards open government to the potential for creating one massive IT department via a Muniforge.
The first area of concern is security and privacy, said David Eaves, negotiation and strategy consultant, expert in public policy and open systems and an advisor to the mayor of the City of Vancouver. “One thing I am very concerned about is that we are sharing data that doesn’t violate people’s privacy,” he said.
The second challenge is culture, said Eaves. Governments see themselves as delivering a service and needing to control the message, but it is not about control, he said. “It’s about influence, and the more you share, the more influence you have,” he said.
The third and “single biggest challenge” around open government are legal departments that say “you can’t do this,” said Eaves. License agreements have to say “please use this and do something with it,” but “getting lawyers on board to figure out how to do this is a challenge.”
Eaves referred to Vancouver’s legal board as a good example of one that created “a fairly inviting license.” In May 2009, Vancouver made headlines as the first municipality in Canada to embrace the open city concept by passing a motion that supports open data, open standards and open source.
“The whole reason we have governments is to co-ordinate,” said Eaves, in response to a panel question on what government-as-a-platform means. This is what government is about and rather than get “caught up in the newness of it,” the focus should be on figuring out the way to extend this to the virtual realm, he said. “This is about empowering citizens to make the city their own,” he said.
Eaves promoted the development of a “MuniForge,” based on the SourceForge model, as a means for municipalities in Canada and around the world to share their IT resources. In Canada, “each city has their own IT department and (is) coding up what is essentially the same software … cities have some specific needs, but by and large, the infrastructure is the same,” he said.