Edmonton takes five steps towards open govt

The City of Edmonton is the fourth municipality in Canada moving ahead with open government initiatives rooted in the IT department. Five major announcements were made by Chris Moore, chief information officer of the City of Edmonton, at the Open City Workshop held in Edmonton, Alta. on Saturday.
First, the city is partnering with Open311.org, a U.S.-based initiative that supports the development of open standards and the sharing of applications for 311 services. Similar partnerships with Open311.org were recently announced by San Francisco and Washington D.C.
Second, the city is planning to launch an iPhone app to provide an easy way for citizens to capture graffiti and pot holes around the city and submit them into the 311 centre. The City Watch app is scheduled to launch in April and will be developed by Edmonton-based Touch Metric Inc.
Moore also announced “Canada’s first apps contest.” The upcoming contest, called apps4edmonton, will offer CD$50,000 in prizes and a showcase at the Canadian government technology event GTEC 2010 in Ottawa this October.
Fourth, the city issued an RFP for the “design and implementation of the next generation of office productivity technologies.” Edmonton is moving towards an open standard for productivity software, said Moore.

Fifth, Edmonton is partnering with the Washington, D.C.-based Code for America group. The plan involves working with other cities and software developers across Canada to create a Code for Canada, which “will be modeled on the Code for America efforts in the U.S.,” said Moore.  
Moore’s plans for Edmonton aren’t limited to open data. “It’s more about an open ecosystem, which includes open data, open standards, open source and open networks,” Moore told ComputerWorld Canada later that day. It also requires everyone participating and “taking that same approach.”
“The key thing for me in terms of making sure there is action is that there are real people involved in doing things,” said Moore. Those people include city workers and members of the community, he said.
Moore, who took on the role as Edmonton’s CIO in October 2008 following seven years as the CIO of the City of Brampton in Ontario, has already taken several steps. (Read Moore’s “Open as a ‘Way of Being’” blog posting on the Transforming Edmonton Web site for an overview of his approach.)
Edmonton’s move towards open government began with an administrative inquiry into open data led by Edmonton city councillor Don Iveson in October 2009. Three months later, IT came back with a report that was crowdsourced in Google Docs and launched its Open Data Catalogue at data.edmonton.ca, he said. 

Moore said he would have initiated similar efforts in Brampton, but “a lot of this activity wasn’t mainstream at the time … if I was still there and had political sponsorship and community engagement, I would have absolutely tried it.” Political sponsorship, administrative leadership and community engagement are three key elements, said Moore.

Open initiatives still aren’t mainstream, he added, but Edmonton “is a very engaged community, separate from all the social media stuff so … some of those things just caught fire here easier.”

The Open City Workshop is about broadening the circle and including people in the conversation. The big challenge is that government has not always felt open and engaging, he said. “We are trying to help people understand we are like ‘the new city,’” said Moore.
Roughly 110 people attended the Open City Workshop and 2,200 participated in the online Web cast, which was broadcast live by Fusedlogic Inc., a social media engagement firm based in Edmonton. Fusedlogic shared the feed and embedded code, allowing external sites to broadcast the stream.
Workshop organizers uploaded photos to a Flickr page during the event and promoted a discussion on Twitter using the hash tag #yegdata. (The panelists changed the hash tag to #openyeg at the onset of the event.) The discussion was trending in Canada by 11:00 a.m., an hour after the event started, said Moore.
“What it tells me is that there are a lot of people who are passionate about this … whether it is technology or government, the way we have been doing things has not been sustainable and they want to be part of changing it,” said Moore.
The Twitter feed circulated several quotes from the day-long event, including Moore’s comment that “no tax dollars were harmed in the making of those applications.” The quote was a reference to two iPhone apps – Route 411 and My Stops – developed by two Edmonton-based organizations that took advantage of the city’s decision to release its transit scheduling data to Google.

“One tells you when the next bus or LRT comes and the other one allows you to do route planning … the only thing we had to do was release our data,” said Moore.

Nanaimo, Toronto and Vancouver released their initial group of data sets in 2009.

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur

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