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The Future of Municipal Open Data



the future of MUNICIPAL open data


The OCI team at PSD has been overwhelmed with the response that the OCI Virtual Round Table Series, and the OCI project overall, have received. What was once a taboo topic in the government sphere, open data initiatives are now pervasive in public sector organizations, with momentum growing at the municipal level. Since its inception in 2015, the results of the annual Open Cities Index have shown that municipalities are committed to open data work and it is PSD’s intention that OCI provides a benchmark measurement for communities to improve and enhance their own initiatives by way of learning from others.

Contact us to learn how you can participate in our final virtual round table discussion. 

This is the third and final discussion paper of the 2017 OCI Virtual Round Table Series. The two previous papers focused on (1) Municipal Open Data Governance and (2) Performance Measurement and Open Data. This paper focuses on the Future of Municipal Open Data and is guided by four overarching questions:

  1. What are leading municipalities doing to increase citizen participation/usage of municipal open data?
  2. How are leading municipalities creating case studies and dynamic interfaces to increase engagement with their open data portals?
  3. What does the future of open data look like in Canada, from federated datasets (province/regional) to new platforms, industry associations and enterprises?
  4. How will municipalities strengthen their open data programs through collaboration?

The comments and examples discussed in this paper were provided directly by our municipal survey participants from across Canada. Their forthcoming response to our annual survey in and of itself demonstrates the growing municipal commitment to not only open data initiatives, but to improving the outcomes of their programs. The end goal is not to simply enter data into a portal, but to enable better decision-making, improve service delivery, and support innovation through the provision of high quality datasets. Framing those datasets with case studies, offering training and engagement programs to better connect end users to the data, and partnering with industry and other public sector organizations to layer data and federate datasets, will only accelerate the impact of an open data program. Prior reports in the OCI Virtual Round Table Series clearly demonstrated the limited capacity that most municipalities still face in implementing an open data program, however, OCI participants have also provided incredibly insightful examples of how progress can be made despite those limitations. The future of municipal open data in Canada looks bright with the caliber of local leaders at the helm like those awarded our Open City Champions awards this spring in Ottawa.


Citizen Participation

The value of open data is far greater than simply ensuring accountability and transparency of government; it provides citizens with agency to develop innovative services that can enhance the everyday lives of residents while also highlighting various issues facing communities. Some of these examples were discussed in the Performance Measurement and Open Data discussion paper, such as from Darkhorse Analytics. Darkhorse Analytics has used open data for a multitude of projects including comparing grades in schools across Alberta. More so than ever before, open data provides citizens with the resources to create products and services for the people through government data – a responsibility that was once restricted to only the hands of policy makers. We are seeing more and more examples of citizens developing projects and initiatives using open data, and we will continue to see this trend in the years ahead. Ensuring that citizens are aware of their access to open data is a fundamental priority in efforts to more greatly reap the benefits of open data for society as a whole.

Question eight of the Readiness section of the Open Cities Index survey asks, “To what extent does your municipality provide external educational resources to build awareness of your open data portal and increase engagement across your community?” 32 percent of respondents reported that there are no resources available whilst 25 percent of respondents reported little resources available. Likewise, question nine posed the question, “To what extent does your municipality provide internal educational resources to build awareness of your open data portal and increase engagement across your municipal departments?” 38 percent of respondents stated that there were little resources available. Even more, 39 percent of respondents, reported that their municipality did not have a local civic-tech group while a small group of 16 percent reported that their municipality supports and promotes a local group.

One example of a such a partnership is the Guelph Lab - a partnership between the tech community, the University of Guelph, and the City of Guelph. In its attempt to address municipal issues, such as streamlining city procurement and support for immigrant farmers, the Guelph Lab is a prime example of a collaboration between experts, policy makers, and the local tech community using open data to address municipal projects and develop local solutions.

Case Studies & Data Personas

Question 54 asks, “Has your municipality created case studies or open data personas to provide context for open datasets?” Case studies highlighting how open data is being used can encourage other residents and citizens to use open data in new and innovative ways, while also legitimizing the importance of open data for a community. 59 percent of respondents reported no case studies or open data personas, but 20 percent noted that they had case studies and or data personas associated with their open data. The City of Edmonton called these “stories,” which provide context and narratives to some of their open data. One such example is the open data list of City of Edmonton facilities containing asbestos. Accompanied with the list is a history of asbestos, safety precautions, and its effects. Furthermore, the City of Oakville created a dashboard to exemplify how open data is working towards achieving their vision to be the most livable town in Canada.

The City of Kamloops created three specific personas that are accessing and using the City’s open traffic data: (1) General Web Map Users (Contactors, Developers, Engineers, Construction/Trades workers), (2) Property Appraisers, and (3) Realtors. These groups receive email notifications informing them of changes, enhancements, and new features relevant to their group. Being aware of who is accessing and using your open data allows your open data team to focus more on that data, such as ensuring that the data is continuously updated and tracked. It also provides information on how to enhance your open data program, as exemplified by the City of Kamloops creating an email list to send notifications to those accessing the data when new datasets are available. When open data work is seen as valuable by those that use it, more and more citizens will begin using open data as well.

Federated Datasets & Collaboration

Beyond increasing citizen participation and engagement with open data, municipalities can look to strengthening their open data work through collaboration and creating federated datasets.

Combining and interconnecting all open data into one domain is the most ideal model for convenient access to all government data. While this model may be out of reach for a number of years (read Sachin Aggarwal’s take on this model in his piece, “Global Leadership Through Data”), municipalities are taking steps to create regional federated data sets. 23 percent of respondents noted substantial regional/provincial collaboration on their open data sets, with another 29 percent and 25 percent reporting moderate and little collaboration respectively. For example, the Regional of Waterloo has a federated open data portal with datasets from the City of Kitchener, the City of Waterloo, and the City of Cambridge – a portal created collaboratively with ArcGIS. As datasets continue to grow, whether be it federated or not, collaboration is going to be vital.

Figure 1. Q37: “To what extent does your municipality collaborate with your region/province on open data?”

Referencing Question 50, “Does your municipality collaborate with local innovation centers of business” 18 percent and eight percent of respondents reported moderate and substantial collaboration respectively, while 16 percent and 12 percent had little collaboration or were in the process of collaborating in the future. The City of Toronto noted their collaboration with Datachilli, a platform that transforms data and an IT team that provides recommendations on how to improve data quality. Collaborating with the City of Toronto on their Open Data Master Plan and Open Data Best Practices Guide, Datachilli provides invaluable data knowledge. While the City of Toronto is not small nor under-resourced comparatively to smaller municipalities, such a collaboration can be used as a model for communities that do not have an open data team or are still in the process of creating their Open Data Master Plan and/or policy.

Figure 2. Q50: “Does your municipality collaborate with local innovation centers of business?”


Without question, open data is becoming one of the main interfaces between government and the public. The Open Cities Index has proven that municipalities are adopting and implementing open data work at an unprecedented rate. The next step in the open data realm is engaging residents and stakeholders with open data. When this is encouraged at the municipal level, it will come as no surprise the enormous number of innovative products and services addressing municipal issues that will arise.


Mark your calendars!

Open Cities Index 2018

The launch of the 2018 Open Cities Index Survey is on August 1st, 2018.

Geospatial Maturity Index

The Geospatial Maturity Index is the latest addition to the suite of public sector benchmarking initiatives developed by the Public Sector Digest. The Survey was launched in May 2018 and the results will be released July 23rd, 2018. Stay tuned!