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Ontario, Canada

Strengthen Ontario's commitment to making government data open by default by adopting the international open data charter. (ONT0001)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Ontario, Canada Action Plan

Action Plan Cycle: 2017

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Open Government Office

Support Institution(s): Ontario Provincial Government: All Ontario ministries and provincial agencies International Open Data Charter Civil Society organizations Academia Private sector including start ups

Policy Areas

Capacity Building, E-Government, Open Data, Subnational

IRM Review

IRM Report: Ontario Final IRM Report 2017

Starred: No

Early Results: Major Major

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Issue to be addressed: Ontario has implemented an Open Data Directive that requires all government data to be open by default, unless it is exempt for legal, privacy, security, confidentiality or commerciallysensitive reasons. While the directive is a strong foundation, there are concrete steps to be taken to enhance accountability and ensure a more robust implementation of the Open Data Directive. The gaps that will be closed by adopting the open data charter include (1) clear time-bound actions including timing for the release of datasets and inventories as well as concrete methods to demonstrate progress towards clearly defined and communicated targets. (2) Concrete measures for proactive civil society engagement with data and (3) Engagement with domestic and international standards bodies and other standard setting initiatives to increase the interoperability and comparability of Ontario’s data. Primary objective: To maximize the release of, increase access to, and promote greater impact of Ontario’s data. Short description: The International Open Data Charter brings Ontario into an emerging body of national and subnational governments that are releasing their data in a standardized and comparable format. The International Open Data Charter provides Ontario with a common foundation as well as continuing guidance for realizing the full potential of its open data. OGP challenge: Adopting the International Open Data Charter will further advance OGP values and move Ontario’s data directive further by: Increasing access to information – Enhancing Ontario’s open by default data policy which covers open and proactive release of data in an open format, and reduces the cost of access to data. Increasing civic participation – Enhancing the “open data engagement section” of Ontario’s directive by specifying actions by ministries and provincial agencies that promote open data engagement such as partnerships with academic institutions and start-ups. Public Accountability – The appointment of a key ministry, including a direct individual, to serve as point of contact responsible for implementing the Open Data Charter’s principles. Publically follow up on progress of the specific actions that will be taken by Ontario as it adopts the International Open Data Charter. Technology and Innovation for openness and accountability – Enhancing ontario.ca to ensure that data is more accessible and easily discoverable. Linking the data catalogue with civic engagement initiatives, and promoting the development of new, innovative technologies and applications using open data. Ambition: The intended results of Ontario’s adoption of the International Open Data Charter are an increase in access to Ontario’s data, a greater economic and social impact of Ontario’s data and better consistency and comparability of Ontario’s data with other jurisdictions.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

1. Strengthen Ontario's commitment to making government data open by default by adopting the international open data charter.

Commitment Text

1. Status quo or problem/issue to be addressed:

Ontario has implemented an Open Data Directive that requires all government data to be open by default, unless it is exempt for legal, privacy, security, confidentiality or commercially-sensitive reasons.

While the directive is a strong foundation, there are concrete steps to be taken to enhance accountability and ensure a more robust implementation of the Open Data Directive. The gaps that will be closed by adopting the open data charter include (1) clear time-bound actions including timing for the release of datasets and inventories as well as concrete methods to demonstrate progress towards clearly defined and communicated targets. (2) Concrete measures for proactive civil society engagement with data and (3) Engagement with domestic and international standards bodies and other standard setting initiatives to increase the interoperability and comparability of Ontario's data.

Main objective: To maximize the release of, increase access to, and promote greater impact of Ontario's data.

Brief description of commitment: The International Open Data Charter brings Ontario into an emerging body of national and subnational governments that are releasing their data in a standardized and comparable format. The International Open Data Charter provides Ontario with a common foundation as well as continuing guidance for realizing the full potential of its open data.

Milestones

1. Provincial announcement of the adoption of the International Data Charter

2. Develop strategy for Ontario to further align its Open Data Directive with the Charter principles

3. Publish Implementation Schedule and Plan

4. Provide updated tools and guidance (Open data guidebook) for ministries and provincial agencies

Commitment Overview

Commitment Aim

Overall Objective & Relevance

The pledge to strengthen Ontario's commitment to making government data open by default by adopting the International Open Data Charter Open Data Charter. See, http://opendatacharter.net [last accessed 10 February 2018] constitutes an early important step in achieving greater access to information for residents of Ontario. It focuses on pursuing internal administrative reforms aimed at ensuring the robust implementation of Ontario's Open Data Directive. The latter directive,

'Instructs ministries and Provincial Agencies to release Government Data that they create, collect, and/or manage as Open Data, unless the Data is exempt from release as Open Data, pursuant to this directive

Defines principles and requirements for publishing Government Data as Open Data

Promotes a culture of openness and collaboration - both within the public service and externally with the people of Ontario' [Ontario's Open Data Directive. See, http://www.ontario.ca/page/ontarios-open-data-directive [last accessed 10 February 2018]

Commitment 1 is meant 'to maximize the release of, increase access to, and promote greater impact of Ontario's data' and foster an 'increase in access to Ontario's data, a greater economic and social impact of Ontario's data and better consistency and comparability of Ontario's data with other jurisdictions.' Ontario's Open Government Partnership Action Plan. See, https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontarios-open-government-partnership-action-plan [last accessed 5 July 2017]. Adhering to the Charter's six principles is seen as providing a guiding framework for closing three specific gaps in the Open Data Directive's implementation: (1) clear time-bound actions including timing for the release of datasets and inventories as well as concrete methods to demonstrate progress towards clearly defined and communicated targets. (2) Concrete measures for proactive civil society engagement with data and (3) Engagement with domestic and international standards bodies and other standard setting initiatives to increase the interoperability and comparability of Ontario's data.

These challenges, and others, were identified in a previous, and related, public consultation process that took place in late 2013 and early 2014. Led by the Open Government Engagement Team - a group of nine representatives from academia, business, and community groups who were tasked with providing recommendations about how to advance Open Government in Ontario - the consultations had focused on: (i) how the government of Ontario views information, data, and dialogue; and (ii) the changes needed to enable the Ontario government to become transparent and accessible in the light of the rapid pace of technological innovation, and growing public expectations for greater accountability and engagement. Established in October 2013 by the Minister of Government Services, the Open Government Engagement Team was tasked with finding ways for the Government of Ontario to be more open, transparent and accountable. See, Open by Default - A new way forward for Ontario, https://www.ontario.ca/page/open-default-new-way-forward-ontario [last accessed 17 September 2017]. See also, Backgrounder: Ontario's Open Government Initiative, https://news.ontario.ca/mgs/en/2013/10/ontarios-open-government-initiative.html [last accessed 17 September 2017]. The three principal challenges identified by the participants in these consultations centered on the: The participants reportedly included elected officials, government officials, public servants, the Queen's Park press gallery, representatives of aboriginal community, academics, along with other individuals and stakeholders. Unfortunately, information about the numbers of participants and, whom they represented is not publicly available.

  • necessity of a culture shift and €˜leap of faith' among politicians and public servants if Open Government is to succeed;
  • need to facilitate and catalyze public engagement by redressing information disparities between government and members of the public; and
  • importance of ensuring ready access to adequate resources - financial and otherwise - so as not to impinge on the implementation of Open Data initiatives. See, Open by Default - A new way forward for Ontario, https://www.ontario.ca/page/open-default-new-way-forward-ontario [last accessed 17 September 2017].

Based on the value definitions provided by the OGP, the relevance of this commitment, as presented, is restricted to the OGP value of Access to Information. None of the four milestones are directly aimed at civic participation, public accountability, or technology and innovation for openness and accountability. This said, only milestones 1.1 and 1.2 are deemed to be directly relevant to the OGP value of Access to Information. Adopting the Charter contributes to improving access to information insofar as its statement of principles champions the timely release of comprehensive datasets, ensuring that the released data is accessible and usable as well as comparable and interoperable, and proactively engaging with citizens.

The primary audience for Milestone 1.3 is the International Open Data Charter Stewards and Working Groups, the advisory committees to the province's open government initiative, and the Ontario government's ministries and agencies. The objective of the milestone is to enable these parties to be familiar with the plan as well as its long- and short-term goals. Put simply, this milestone pertains to information about government activity as opposed to government-held information. According to the IRM Procedures Manual, access to information commitments 'pertain to government-held information, as opposed to only information on government activities. As an example, releasing government-held information on pollution would be clearly relevant, although the information is not about 'government activity' per se€¦' Because of lack in specificity, we can't distinguish whether this information to be published (implementation schedule and plan) is related to general government activities, instead of information that is inaccessible by citizens. Nonetheless, information about the implementation schedule and plan can potentially enable interested parties, including civil society organizations, to monitor the government's progress in moving toward becoming open by default.

Milestone 1.4 builds on an existing internal government guidebook for public servants that is being revised to better align with OGP-related considerations and the implications thereof. In accordance with the definitions and criteria set out in the IRM Procedures Manual, and in the absence of a public-facing component to further the goals of access to information, civic participation or public accountability, it is deemed to not be relevant to OGP values.

This said, the IRM researcher maintains that these milestones are at least indirectly relevant to the OGP values of Access to Information and Technological Innovation for Transparency and Accountability insofar as they enable interested parties, including civil society organizations, to: (i) monitor the government's adherence to the principles of the International Open Data Charter; and (ii) understand the processes and procedures with which Ontario public servants must comply in order to make data open. Without such information the ability of civil society actors to effectively engage with government is impeded. Furthermore, despite their internal orientation, these two milestones do play a role in enhancing transparency.

Specificity and Potential Impact

The commitment language of the individual milestones for Commitment 1 varies. The commitment language of milestone 1.1, for instance, specifies a clear, verifiable activity and measurable deliverable (i.e., either the announcement is made, or it is not) for achieving of the commitment's objective. It is assessed as having high specificity.

Milestones 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 focus, broadly, on internal implementation aspects of the commitment. In each instance, the language used describes an activity that can be construed as verifiable but requiring some interpretation on the part of the reader to identify what the activity sets out to do, to determine what would the deliverables be, and how they might be measured. For instance, the reader of these milestones is left to ponder: What exactly is the content of the strategy and plan mentioned in Milestones 1.2 and 1.3, and what is the timeline for their respective implementation? Likewise for Milestone 1.4: What comprises this guidebook and how are we to assess whether its contents are actually being used as intended? In the light of these considerations, all three milestones are assessed as having low specificity. As for Milestone 1.2, the commitment language by which it is articulated contains no measurable activity, deliverable, or milestone.

The information regarding Commitment 1, as written in Ontario's Open Government Partnership Action Plan, is too vague to effectively ascertain how it, and its associated milestones, is meant to contribute to actualizing the specified objective and ambition. The IRM researcher considers there is no clear link between the objective/ambition specified for Commitment 1 and the milestones presented for getting there. This said, and despite the absence of clearly measurable milestones, the commitment language nonetheless describes an activity that is objectively verifiable - i.e., we can assess whether or not the International Open Data Charter is adopted. Therefore, the overall commitment is deemed to be of medium specificity.

It is difficult to assess the potential impact of this commitment and its associated milestones in any substantive sense because they outline broad plans rather than specific actions aimed at tackling specific issues/problems/challenges. Nonetheless, given the importance that government and civil society representatives attach to adopting the International Open Data Charter in the move toward government that is more open, the commitment as a whole is assessed as having a moderate potential impact. In addition to providing a statement of principles that can be used by all stakeholders as benchmarks for assessing the progress Ontario is making in implementing its Open Data Directive, adopting the Charter represents a significant step forward in pursuing broad internal administrative reform aimed at ensuring the robust implementation of Ontario's Open Data Directive.

Status
Complete

The aim of strengthening Ontario's commitment to making government data open by default is an ongoing commitment that is intended to carry on for the coming years. None of the milestones is directly linked to a measurable practice per se, focusing instead on the provision of organizational infrastructure to facilitate and sustain open government practices. As such, the individual milestones accompanying the commitment are highly instrumental in nature. All four milestones have been completed. A breakdown of the project plan for Commitment 1 is available at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/d6p4z87fuzhngkx/AAAduEneBi6Rvn6aUTbCkMXYa/Project%20Plans%20-%20Plans%20des%20projets/Adopt%20International%20Data%20Charter%20-%20Adoption%20de%20la%20Charte%20internationale%20sur%20les%20donn%C3%A9es%20ouvertes?dl=0&preview=Adopt+Data+Charter+Project+Plan.docx [last accessed 10 February 2018]

Milestone 1.1 Provincial announcement of the adoption of the International Data Charter

This milestone was actualized on May 5, 2017 at the Go Open Data 2017 Conference in London Ontario with a public announcement that Ontario had officially adopted the International Open Data Charter. For the official announcement see, Adopting the International Open Data Charter, https://www.ontario.ca/page/adopting-international-open-data-charter [last accessed 10 February 2018]. See also: Public Sector Digest, Go Open Data 2017 Conference Review https://publicsectordigest.com/digest/GOOD17ConferenceReview1.pdf [last accessed 10 February 2018] Since 2013, this conference has been an annual event organized by, and whose main participants are, members of Ontario's open data community. Go Open Data identifies itself as 'a collaborative effort between civil society, IT professionals, bloggers, community and economic developers, city planners, civil servants and more.' See, http://2018.go-opendata.ca/about/ [last accessed 10 February 2018] The conference usually attracts some 200 participants and involves one day of thematic panel discussions followed by a second day organized as a hackathon. The announcement of Ontario adopting the IODC garnered minimal mainstream media attention.

Milestone 1.2 Develop strategy for Ontario to further align its Open Data Directive with the Charter principles

This milestone was a central focus of the work undertaken by members of the advisory committee for Commitment 1. For details about the plan, see: Treasury Board Secretariat (n.d.), Open Data in Ontario: Adopting the International Open Data Charter. https://files.ontario.ca/open_data_in_ontario_-_2017.pdf [last accessed 10 February 2018]. Indeed, one of the government documents refers to the committee as the €˜Implementation Team' referring to these individuals as 'advisors who will collaborate in the development and launch of the Charter in Ontario, its supporting documents, including revisions to the Open Data Guidebook, and other tools.' See, Adopting the Open Data Charter 2017-1-10 pptx at: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/19q3VVpUKyYD0RYKUuGjmEelHc7zLgCX6 [last accessed 10 February 2018] The focus of the committee's work centred around the IODC principles 2 (Timely and Comprehensive), 3 (Accessible and Usable), 4 (Comparable and Interoperable), and 5 (For Improved Governance and Citizen Engagement), and is evident in the members contributions to: (i) the development of a feedback mechanism to obtain user views about how to improve the quality of data available via Ontario's data catalogue; (ii) the development of an Open Data Guidebook and open government training sessions; (iv) the counsel/advice provided regarding the need to work with international standards bodies to create common standards; and (iv) ongoing engagements with civil society and private sectors interests.

Milestone 1.3 Publish Implementation Schedule and Plan

The implementation schedule and plan for operationalizing the International Open Data Charter was developed in collaboration with members of the advisory committee for Commitment 1. This topic was the focus of the group's meeting of May 4, 2017. The Schedule and Plan were published online in December 2017. The implementation schedule is available at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/d6p4z87fuzhngkx/AAAduEneBi6Rvn6aUTbCkMXYa/Project%20Plans%20-%20Plans%20des%20projets/Adopt%20International%20Data%20Charter%20-%20Adoption%20de%20la%20Charte%20internationale%20sur%20les%20donn%C3%A9es%20ouvertes?dl=0&preview=Adopt+Data+Charter+Project+Plan.docx [last accessed 10 February 2018]

Milestone 1.4 Provide updated tools and guidance (Open data guidebook) for ministries and provincial agencies

This milestone also is largely complete for the purposes of this assessment but is, in fact, an ongoing dynamic process. An updated Open Data Guidebook was published online on the Ontario Public Service intranet in early January 2018. As of February 2018, this document remains behind a government firewall and has not been examined by the IRM researcher. Some 500 public servants have engaged in training about opening data, For information about the status of Open Data Directive Training as of July 10, 2017 see: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/19q3VVpUKyYD0RYKUuGjmEelHc7zLgCX6 [last accessed 10 February 2018]. The latter is, at the time of writing, the most up to date information available. members of the advisory committee have attended and audited the training, and in June 2017 Ministries were asked to develop their own open data plans in accordance with IODC principles. See, Open Government Executive Leads: Meeting Follow-up Email - Sent June 2nd 2017 https://docs.google.com/document/d/12RhFLUnChcAEeUOjBt4MjOVmEd4EgwEqNjsW2yQ3L_I/edit [last accessed 10 February 2018]. A key distinguishing feature of the training as compared to previous training activities is that it is broken down into modules. In accordance with feedback received from those who participated in the training sessions offered prior to July 2017, efforts are being made to better tailor the content to specific audiences, and to improve the format of the webinar sessions.

Early results: did it open government?
Access to Information: Major

The focus of Commitment 1 on strengthening the government's commitment to open government builds on the province's existing efforts at changing the organizational culture and practice within the Ontario Public Service. Commitment 1 combines the goals of increasing access to information and ensuring a more robust implementation of the Open Data Directive and maximizing the release of, increase access to, and promote great impact of Ontario's data. This was to be achieved by: (i) setting out clear time-bound actions for the release of datasets and inventories as well as concrete methods to demonstrate progress towards clearly defined and communicated targets; (ii) establishing concrete measures for proactive civil society engagement with data; and (iii) engaging with domestic and international standards bodies and other standard setting initiatives to increase the interoperability and comparability of Ontario's data. Civil society and government representatives attached great importance to adopting the International Open Data Charter, and early results emerging from the implementation of Commitment 1 suggest it is making a major contribution to opening government in Ontario.

The three implementation priority areas for Commitment 1 were: (i) provide updated tools, guidance and training; (ii) establish a feedback mechanism for datasets on Ontario.ca; and (iii) external data and standardized data. See, Open Government Partnership: Advisory Committee Meeting, Adopting the International Open Data Charter https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ms9hij0zzy8o7kv/AABYEL6CHkO-TJhJAGt-XI1ra/International%20Open%20Data%20Charter%20-%20Charte%20internationale%20sur%20les%20donn%C3%A9es%20ouvertes/July%2012%20-%20%2012%20juillet?dl=0&preview=Advisory+Committee+Meeting+Charter+FINAL.pptx [last accessed 10 February 2018]

Training about Ontario's Open Data Directive was conducted across the Ontario Public Service starting in March 2017, in the form of sessions lasting 90 minutes that took place in-person and via WebEx. Between April and July, members of the advisory committee attended and provided feedback on these training sessions, which included participants from 23 different government agencies as well as representatives from federal and municipal levels of government, the Canadian Forces, private sector organizations, and non-profit organizations. See, Open Data Directive Training as of July 10, 2017 https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/19q3VVpUKyYD0RYKUuGjmEelHc7zLgCX6 [last accessed 10 February 2018]. Of the 157 participants who responded to a post-training survey:

  • 83% reported having 'a greater understanding of the Open Data Charter and how it relates to Ontario's Open Data activities'
  • 82% reported having 'a greater understanding of how to identify data and complete an inventory of datasets'
  • 80% reported 'the training session was relevant to my work'

Training was one of the focus areas of the July 12 meeting of the advisory committee. Here, members expressed favouring a modular approach to training that meets the diverse learning needs of staff, and whose content spans from introductory to more detailed subject specific instruction. Suggestions also were made about developing specific courses for expert groups about topics such as freedom of information and privacy. In addition to emphasizing the need to measure training performance and address complaints, members advised the OGO to look to other jurisdictions and organizations for inspiration, and to build capacity by €˜training the trainers'. In terms of training content, it was noted that the inclusion of more information about standards, interoperability and related best practices would be beneficial. This feedback served to inform a September launch of revised training sessions that were divided into modules and which had specific learning outcomes. Likewise, the Open Data Guidebook was revised to include sections dealing with International Open Data Charter principles. At the advisory committee's November 7 meeting, members were updated on the revised training and asked to provide their feedback.

As a result of the actions undertaken in 2017, the look and feel of the data catalogue has been altered, and a user feedback mechanism for datasets released on the Ontario.ca data catalogue has been created and implemented. See, Survey: Ontario data catalogue. https://www.ontario.ca/form/survey-open-data-catalogue [last accessed 10 February 2018] The advisory committee for Commitment 1 played a key role in informing these changes. At the July 12 and September 20 meetings time was allocated for the OGO to present beta versions of, and received feedback from the committee members about, the beta feedback mechanism being developed. At both the September 12 and November 7 meetings the OGO specified how the tool had been modified in accordance with the previous round of committee members' input. The feedback mechanism went live shortly after the advisory committee's final meeting. The IRM researcher notes that the user feedback mechanism is not prominently displayed on the data catalogue homepage. This could limit its utility.

Issues pertaining to external data and standardized data were part of the discussions that took place at the March 1 and May 4 meetings. The input received from committee members highlighted the complexities involved on this front, which, in turn, informed the OGO's decision to €˜park' this idea for 2017. Nonetheless, ongoing efforts to establish relationships and engage with a diverse range of actors involved in all levels of open government and open data continued throughout the year.

In addition to the more tangible changes in government performance described above, the members of the Commitment 1 advisory committee were unanimous in asserting that their efforts around operationalizing the International Open Data Charter was changing the culture of government. In the words of one civil society member, 'we've come a long way.' The central change highlighted in this regard was a perceived increase in the frequency of conversations about open government and open data advisory committee members and their respective colleagues were having with entities inside and outside of government. For instance, the representative from the City of Toronto pointed out that since the Ontario government's adoption of the International Open Data Charter a growing number of the Ministries were engaging with the City to investigate collaborative opportunities around open government and open data. It was further noted that, the City's approach to user-centered design for program delivery was a matter of particular interest to the Ministries' whom were reaching out to it.

On the government side, it was noted that open data conversations were now taking placing with portions of government where previously this seemed impossible. The advisory committee Chair, Nosa Ero-Brown, was quick to note that the group's work had been

'an interesting journey€¦ It was a new team doing new work that brought together very different perspectives ready to come together. And, its worked quite well. People were honest about openness and this structure helped us breakout of old molds of working.'

In terms of future approaches, the committee members all supported the idea of continuing with similar forum structures, including more opportunities to interact between meetings.

Commitment 1 and its milestones explicitly focus on ensuring infrastructure is in place to support and facilitate access to information in a legal context that mandates government information be provided in both official languages (English and French), and that it meets a range of accessibility standards. In addition, in the case of Ontario we observe clear efforts to facilitate the obtaining user feedback, and to provide information in useful formats that transcend simply providing raw data. The changes in practice outlined above are expected to directly impact the amount and quality of data being released. However, it is still too early to measure whether this commitment has led to the release of more relevant and/or better information. This said, given the training that has taken place across ministries and the ongoing work at transforming the public service and government culture, expectations are high among participant civil society organizations and government. Echoing the importance that government and civil society representatives attach to adopting the International Open Data Charter in the move toward government that is more open, and the onus these parties place on 'getting the fundamental rights' the IRM researcher maintains that the ongoing efforts to strengthen Ontario's commitment to making government data open by default and the adoption of the IODC mark an important a step forward for government openness, that remains limited in scope or scale simply because still too soon to adequately assess the full implications of the outcomes discussed above. In accord with the definitions set out in the IRM Procedures Manual, the completion of Commitment 1 is deemed to have made a major contribution to opening government in Ontario.

Recommendations

It will be crucial in moving forward to implement monitoring and evaluation practices that assess compliance with IODC principles, the Open Data in Ontario strategy and implementation plan, as well as how and the extent to which Ministries are using the tools developed by the OGO. Equally important is the need to implement more effective record keeping, and more user-friendly information access practices. This, of course, points to the need for the government of Ontario to allocate greater resources to its open government activities as well as the monitoring thereof.