Thursday, 19 April 2012

Open Government: Toward Greater Transparency and Improved Constituency Services

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Consistent with the principles espoused by the Open Government Partnership (OPG) [1] the Government of Canada is committed to cultivating greater transparency by focusing on three key strategic pillars:
  • Open Information designed to make it easier for constituents to find and access information by streamlining document and records management life cycle processes and by empowering citizens with single point of access to heterogeneous information sources such as publications, web pages and data from laptops, mobile devices and from tablets; 
  • Open Data, the objective of which is to provide government published datasets in a manner that may be repurposed for both academic research and commercial purposes; and
  • Open Dialogue, the focus of which is to cultivate interactions with constituents by leveraging the ephemeral nature of social media technologies as a means to seek input to and gage constituency sentiments relating to government policies.
Recently the Government of Canada published its Action Plan on Open Government[2] which outlines the go forward strategy for “fostering the principles of open government”. The Action Plan will be reinforced with a Directive on Open Government which is expected to be effective in fiscal 2012-2013. The strategic outcome of the Directive on Open Government is to “provide guidance to 106 federal departments and agencies on what they must do to maximize the availability of online information and data, identify the nature of information to be published, as well as the timing, formats, and standards that departments will be required to adopt. The clear goal of this Directive is to make Open Government and open information the 'default' approach.” 

Delivering on the promise of this ambitious agenda requires a coordinated effort that encompasses legal, policy and technology considerations. For one “open data” implies that its availability is unencumbered by privacy and security restrictions.   Addressing this issue is one of the principal tenets of the Action Plan on Open Government by providing a shared services-based document and records management platform designed to promote better record classification, declaration, retention and disposition best practices. Second, use of “open data” requires a licensing regime which empowers third parties to re-purpose content published by the Government of Canada.  The absence of such a licensing framework may create legal challenges as Copyright law protects original expression of ideas and under certain circumstances also protects the arrangement of raw data that requires some level of skill in compilation.[3]  Removing such restrictions fosters innovation by virtue of which such information may be leveraged for the public good. In fact, the Action Plan on Open Government contemplates the implementation of a “universal Open Government License” that obviates the potential legal impediments in leveraging published Government of Canada information.  It is interesting to note that very recently Canada Post launched a law suit for alleged copyright infringement by www.geocoder.ca, a website that provides geocoding services based  crowd-sourced database relating to Canadian postal codes.  The statement of defence is based on the argument that postal codes are facts and as such are not copyrightable.   Having clarity under which published Government of Canada information may be re-used is integral to the long term viability of the Open Government initiative.

Another interesting dimension of the Open Government initiative is one of economics.  Some studies suggest that there should be some form of cost recovery associated with providing such breadth of data for general consumption by corporations, and by citizens.   However the prevailing consensus is that the effort and costs associated with administering such a scheme would far outweigh  revenue streams that may be realized.  In fact such a scheme may well serve as a deterrent to accessing such information.  A far better approach is to encourage unfettered usage as it may stimulate innovation and thereby increased corporate and individual tax revenues collected by the Government from secondary publishing and associated services provided by the private sector.

Open Government may have profound transformative implications – that is democratization of information that has the potential to empower citizens to engage more directly in the policy formulation process on the one hand and stimulate private sector innovation by leveraging the data on the other hand. It may also have efficiency implications in “outsourcing” service access and delivery to constituents thereby reducing delivery costs while improving constituency service levels. Equally important is the network effect associated with open data. Metcalf’s Law states that the power of the network increases exponentially with each additional node added to the network. The positive implications of the network effect are evident in examples such as the human genome project[4].  The opportunities inherent in the Open Government initiative are enormous as unfiltered data may be transformed into meaning and applied in innovative ways in the form of knowledge and wisdom. The Open Government initiative is a step in the right direction although some argue it should go farther and faster.[5]
 

[1] http://www.opengovpartnership.org/open-government-declaration.  In September 2011 Canada is committed to join OGP.
[3] CCH Canadian Limited v. Law Society of Upper Canada, [2004] 1 SCR 339, 2004 SCC 13 is authority for the proposition that arrangement or repurposing of data such as directories and tabular information may be protectable under copyright.

1 comments:

  • 17 October 2012 at 04:16
    Adney Abram says:

    You have tell a great information . This is nice . Thanks and keep updating.
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