photo of Canadian Open Data Summit program book with cup of coffee.

Addressing Open Governance and Intent: Canadian Open Data Summit

Intent is the overarching message at the Canadian Open Data Summit (CODS18) in Niagara Falls, hosted by Niagara Connects.  The summit is comprised of various public participants, sponsors, and 70 speakers from the open data community drawn from all levels of government, the non-profit and commercial sectors, and education institutions, each with a vested interest in best ways to proceed with open data.  Over the course of 3 days, this diverse group of professionals explored open data, addressed challenges, and discussed governance through a series of workshops, panel discussions and awards.


Unfolding open data challenges such as inclusive leadership and data quality are revelations dispersed throughout presentations and discussions by experts. The issue of inclusion starts with keynote speaker Hillary Hartley, Chief Digital Officer and Deputy Minister, who highlights the Province of Ontario’s Digital Action Plan, which encourages cooperation with a message of “Start with Users. Deliver Together”. The message of user-focused intent and cooperative delivery of open data solutions and services is clearly expressed in the tagline.

This cooperative message continues in the First Nations Information Governance Centre’s vision of achieving “data sovereignty in alignment with its distinct worldview”. Keynote Dr. Jonathan Dewar, Executive Director of the Centre, explains the First Nations approach of placing respectful relationships at the core of the work they do. Dewar also raises the challenge of recognizing data sovereignty through good nation to nation relationships, including partnerships with the Crown.

As mentioned in a previous ODI Toronto article Tracking Open Progress, which includes a visualization report with some data generated by an Open North team member, surveying open data in Canada can capture insight into our progress.  Keynote Jean-Noe Landry, Executive Director of Open North, presents and summarizes the issues of data quality in terms of biases, gaps, and infrastructure. By unveiling these issues, Landry poses the question to the community to analyse “our intent and those involved”.  The reasoning and drivers of open data is a suitable and strong message especially to this participant.


How do you give back to your data source community?

Although this question was posed to the big business panel, it is directed to all stewards of open data including non-profit organizations and businesses. As we explore innovative methods for using open data it is important to be mindful of data collection, digital rights, participants, and sharing the rewards of our findings. These are issues raised in the Digital Justice segment, which explained the controversy around urban surveillance technology, the racialized lens of algorithms, and geographic misallocation of ethnic groups. Therefore, we need to be transparent in our data collection with participants, so they are aware of involvement and intention. Also, data collectors need to consider partnerships to improve the results and to validate the necessity for collecting the data—always keeping in mind the important question of how the data helps your source community.

Many open data community presenters at CODS18 offer sharing opportunities through public portals, while others demonstrate findings through innovative visualization projects.  The Open Data in Law Enforcement segment includes the introduction of a Public Safety Data Portal delivered by Debbie Verduga, Crime Analyst with Toronto Police Service. This new portal is an example of addressing discomfort and bridging new lines of communication with the public, while adhering to the challenges of data management, time allotment, privacy and data quality. There are concerns raised by  Niagara Police Service speakers regarding issues of liability, limits with team members’ data skills, and misinterpretation of open data. Verduga had suggested starting with small data, consolidating workflows, and providing training for the skills needed. This collaboration between professionals continues to be an insightful approach to gathering best practices. But it is also important to extend that reach beyond the protective gates, into the source community to improve transparency and build trust.

Before open data portals, Statistics Canada was the most familiar data hub. At CODS18, two interesting discoveries are observed from Statistics Canada’s innovative open projects model, which includes an invitation to collaborate with municipal and provincial public service leaders on standards.  The first open project they discuss is StatsCannabis, a crowdsourcing initiative that explores price of cannabis from consumers. Aside from the nuance of access to cannabis products, transferable innovation is driven by the digital process, including the exploration of the open project approach using open tools, data, and standards. This project reveals challenges of format, coverage, and definitions, but these are seen as protocols not detractors from implementation.

The other discovery is the Cross-Jurisdictional Open Data Standards session with presenters from Service Alberta, MISA Ontario (municipal association), City of Toronto and Statistics Canada, moderated by Open Knowledge Canada. The focus is on the need for standards and interoperability of open data; the key player is Statistics Canada. Panelists during this discussion raise the importance of developing standards and request Statistics Canada to become a major contributing player to this development; this invitation was recited by various panelists during the final segment of the conference. Standards and collaboration using open methodologies are essential to good governance.


Sharing information and data is just part of the equation; leadership and management of that data is also key. In recognition of this, CODS18 handed out several open data stewardship and leadership awards including:

  • Open Data Accessibility Award: City of Brampton
  • Open Data for Democracy: City of Toronto Open Data Team
  • Open Data for Impact: City of Edmonton Vision Zero
  • Open Data Innovation: York Region
  • Canadian Open Data Excellence Award 2018: Données Québec   (Source)

The Canadian Open Data Rising Star 2018 is Wendy Gnenz, Chief Information Officer who “led the transformation of data and technology at the City of Edmonton through the development of a comprehensive Business Technology Strategy, which reimagines how partnerships and usable information can provide innovative, integrated services to citizens” (Source) Gnenz’s effort to guide the city staff with an open governance mindset demonstrates deliberate inclusion within a jurisdiction.

“A sound open data strategy framework, a strong civic engagement component, and promotion of inter-governmental peer exchange” (Source)

In regards to good governance with a cross-jurisdictional as well as community involvement model, Données Québec’s provincial/municipal open data portal exhibits this intentional leadership. Overall, CODS18 raised important issues, innovative approaches and contributes to a continued dialogue on open data governance at other open data events. For more information on this year’s summit and presentation slides subscribe to the CODS mailing list.

Remember inclusion includes a broad voice, so please join the conversation and development at the next major ODI Toronto partner event, the GO Open Data Conference (GOOD 2019) at the Toronto Reference Library May 3rd and 4th, 2019.

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