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Municipal Open Data Governance

OPEN CITIES INDEX REPORT SERIES

 

MUNICIPAL OPEN data governance

 

PSD’s Open Cities Index (OCI) is Canada’s first benchmarking study for municipal open data initiatives. The OCI launched in 2015 with 34 participating municipalities. 2017 marked the third consecutive year of the study with 61 municipalities taking part. The Open Cities Index Results: 2017 provides the most up-to-date overview of the state of municipal open data programs in Canada, including a list of Canada’s Top Twenty Most Open Cities.

The Open Cities Index Report Series discusses the most notable overarching themes found in the 2017 survey results. Specifically, the purpose of this report – the first of three – is to analyze open data governance. After the publication of each OCI Report, PSD will convene a virtual round table of municipal open data practitioners to discuss the report findings, identify areas for additional research, and facilitate collaboration and the sharing of best practices across the country.

Contact us to learn how you can participate in an upcoming virtual round table discussion. 

 

report highlights
  • 45 percent of municipalities surveyed have an open data committee in place
  • Of those respondents with an open data committee, very few are having regular meetings
  • The vast majority of respondents are either considering an open data policy (33 percent), are in the process of implementing one (7 percent), or already have an established policy (45 percent)
  • While few municipal respondents have an open data strategic plan currently in place, more than half are considering a plan or are currently implementing one
  • 69 percent of surveyed municipalities report having internal educational resources in place for their open data program, while 51 percent report having external resources available for the community

 

Municipalities have made significant strides with their open data efforts since the launch of the first Open Cities Index study in 2015. For most local governments, open data work was an ad hoc task, performed reactively rather than proactively. As open data became a more central priority for municipalities, it became clear that a governance structure was needed to direct daily activities and ensure that staff were working towards common strategic goals. Today, open data policies, procedures and plans are far more common at the municipal level.  

For the purpose of evaluating the maturity of a community’s open data governance, PSD asked survey respondents about their activities related to open data committees and meetings, policies, strategic plans, and educational resources. The majority of the questions surrounding open data governance were unscored and all were in the Readiness section of the survey. This report provides a summary of respondents’ answers, and in analyzing 2017 results and subsequent future Open Cities Indexes, PSD seeks to find trends and patterns in the maturity of open data governance across the country. 

 

open data committees and meetings

With open data still being a relatively new area of interest to municipalities across Canada, the structure of open data teams still widely varies. Most small to mid-sized municipalities do not have a dedicated open data resource, but rather assign open data work to existing staff (see our 2016 report on Open Data Capacity for more details.) With ongoing strategic work being conducted by several individuals off the corner of their desks, it is paramount that an open data committee is in place to help coordinate efforts, clarify lines of communication, and ensure there is accountability. In 2017, PSD asked its 61 OCI survey respondents, “Do you have an open data/open government committee in place to assist with the governance of your open data initiative?” As depicted in Figure 1, 45 percent of respondents reported having open data committees in place, with 33 percent of respondents indicating that they formed their committee over a year ago. 27 percent of respondents report that they are considering forming a committee, and another 27 percent report that they are not considering forming a committee. What is apparent in Figure 1 is that the majority of respondents recognize the importance of an open data committee, whether they have created one or not.

Of course, simply having an open data committee in place will not solve all challenges – in fact, an ineffective committee that lacks buy-in from participants can hurt a municipality’s efforts to mature an open data program. It is important for municipalities to take the time to design a committee that works for the specific dynamics and challenges of a respective local government. A well-crafted open data policy can assist a municipality with the development and sustained governance of the committee (see policy section below). 

Survey respondents who had an open data/open government committee in place were asked to list the titles of committee members. Their answers provide insight about the current make-up of open data committees in Canada. There were six different types of titles of committee members reported by respondents including those in the fields of Information Technology (e.g. IT Manager, IT Director); Open Data (Open Data Communications & Marketing Consultant, Open Data Lead, Open Data Supervisor); Chief Information Officer; Web (Web Coordinator, Web Specialist); Marketing Manager; and Geographic Information System Coordinator/Manager. 

An open data committee that doesn’t meet regularly is not going to be of great value to a municipality. Structured regular meetings will ensure that committee members are accountable for their responsibilities and deliverables, and provides the opportunity for staff from various departments to touch base, share ideas, and move forward together on common goals. In order to identify a baseline for Canadian municipalities, survey respondents were asked how frequently their open data committees meet. As seen in Figure 1, 54 percent of respondents indicated that there are no open data committee meetings taking place, in accordance with the sum of respondents who stated that they do not have an open data committee in place (27 percent) or are considering creating one (27 percent). Only 13 percent of respondents indicate that meetings are monthly, while 18 percent report quarterly meetings and another 15 percent report ad hoc meeting. No respondents reported annual meetings.

Monthly meetings may be far too onerous for smaller communities with less capacity for ongoing open data work. The key, however, is to move away from ad hoc meetings, as regular anticipated meetings encourages participants to plan ahead and prepare to report on deliverables at the next meeting. Quarterly meetings may work best for smaller municipalities, providing the opportunity for staff to receive four updates throughout the year and stay on track with annual goals. Some communities may choose to incorporate internal open data training into their quarterly meetings to continue to build program maturity and buy-in across the team (see educational resources section below).     

Figure 1

open data policy

Like any area of municipal governance, an open data policy helps a local government structure its ongoing activities, minimize risk for the organization and clarify roles and responsibilities. Our survey respondents were asked whether they had an open data policy in place, and if not, were they considering implementing one. As shown in Figure 2, although 16 percent of respondents reported that no policy was in place, the vast majority of respondents are either considering a policy (33 percent), are in the process of implementing one (7 percent), or already have an established policy (45 percent). 38 percent of respondents have an established policy that has yet to be updated, while a smaller group (7 percent) reported having a “living document” that has already been updated as the needs and requirements of an open data program inevitably change. An open data policy is an important tool that legitimizes open data efforts, providing guidance and clarity on open data objectives and goals that a community sets for itself.

Edmonton, who ranked first again in the 2017 Open Cities Index, has a clear open data policy. The policy reads, “As an Open City, the City of Edmonton will create opportunity for diverse input and participation, inviting Edmontonians to play a larger role in shaping the community and enabling social and economic growth.” By creating a policy, municipalities have a resource to reference as open data projects grow and evolve. Each community should decide whether creating a specific open data policy fits best with the goals and structure of the municipality, or if it would be more meaningful to embed open data protocols within a broader open government/open city policy. 

Figure 2

open data strategic plan

Building on the foundational policy document, an open data strategic plan offers municipalities a more detailed roadmap for future activities, as well as an assessment of open data priorities and objectives. Nearly half of survey respondents (48 percent) stated that they are considering implementing an open data strategic plan, indicating strong interest in the sector in strengthening planning and performance measurement in the open data space. Another 12 percent of respondents reported that a plan is currently being implemented, while 14 percent have an established plan in place (7 percent have an updated plan). Just 20 percent of respondents have no plan in place and are currently not considering implementing a plan.

The City of Surrey, British Columbia – who ranked fifth overall in the 2017 study – has a comprehensive strategic plan readily available on their website. The plan includes an Open Data Roadmap that states the overarching goal and subsequent objectives to reach that goal, highlighting what has been completed, what is currently being delivered, and what is in the discovery stages. The report, while setting out the municipality’s goals and objectives, also offers citizens a transparent look into the community’s open data priorities. Like the open data policy, the strategic plan is imperative to legitimizing a community’s open data program. A detailed and comprehensive open data strategic plan strengthens the validity of an open data program and can build buy-in from council as staff works to achieve established goals. Again, an open data strategic plan may be a stand-alone document, or it may be part of a larger open government plan. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the plan will rely on the ability for staff to contribute to the development of the plan, measure success with implementation, and revise as needed. An open data committee will need to be in place to ensure this ongoing work can be completed, and an open data policy will be needed to ensure that the committee has clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

Figure 3

open data charter

Founded in 2015, the International Open Data Charter upholds and ensures that government data is published freely and was created as a resource for governments around the globe to align their open data efforts. The Charter is based upon six internationally recognized principles: open by default, timely and comprehensive, accessible and useable, comparable and interoperable, for improved governance and citizen engagement, for inclusive development and innovation (a thorough description of each principle can be found on the Charter’s website.) The Federal Government of Canada adopted the Open Data Charter in 2016 and in 2017, Edmonton was the first municipality to adopt the Charter in both Canada and North America. To adopt the Charter, governments are required to curate a public statement announcing the adoption of the Charter. Within the statement, the following requirements must be included: appointing a person to be responsible for upholding and implementing the Charter, a discussion of how the Charter will be implemented, time-bound actions, and a description on how the Charter deliverables will be monitored and measured. Municipalities looking to adopt the Open Data Charter may wish to integrate the process into a wider initiative to develop a plan and policy.

 

educational resources

Once municipalities have an effective open data governance structure in place, one of the next priorities may be to strengthen open data program capacity through training and the development of educational resources. Survey respondents were asked, “To what extent does your municipality provide internal educational resources to build awareness of your open data portal and increase internal usage?” As seen in Figure 4, 36 percent of respondents reported that little resources were available for internal learning, while another 23 percent reported having moderate resources in place for internal purposes. Only 10 percent of respondents indicated that they have substantial resources in place to assist staff with internal training relating to open data. As staff across departments become more aware of the data available in their organization’s open data portal, as well as how to use the data, there are greater opportunities for internal efficiencies to be found. Municipalities report that every year, countless hours are spent across departments searching for data that may already exist within an open data portal. Staff also report finding new approaches to problem solving through the use of open data. These benefits alone justify the effort of creating some internal educational resources to build open data awareness and capability organization-wide.

Survey respondents were also asked, “To what extent does your municipality provide external educational resources to build awareness of your open data portal and increase engagement across your community?” The largest segment of respondents (31 percent) indicated that they have no resources available for external learning, with another 18 percent reporting that they are considering providing external resources. Only 5 percent of respondents have substantial external educational resources available, with 46 percent of respondents offering little to moderate resources. In order for an open data portal to provide value to a community in the form of greater transparency, accountability, efficiency and innovation, the community must be aware of the portal, its datasets, and the potential applications of the data. External educational resources are great tools to build engagement, and they don’t need to be elaborate.  The City of Winnipeg – who increased their ranking by a commendable seven spots since the 2016 study placing them third overall in 2017 – reported substantial resources available for both internal and external purposes. Likewise, the City of Brampton – increasing their ranking by ten spots since 2016 earning the eighth spot in 2017 – reported having moderate resources available for external education and substantial resources available for internal education. Certainly, a correlation between available and accessible educational resources and a higher OCI ranking is predicted and educating staff is one of the most valuable steps in getting more people aware of the benefits of having an open data program in place.

Figure 4

Join the Discussion

Please contact us to discuss how your municipality can participate in our virtual round table series and start advancing your open data initiative.

2018 Open Cities Index Virtual Roundtables:

  1. Open Data Governance - January 30th 2018
  2. Performance Measurement & Open Data - April 24th 2018
  3. The Future of Municipal Open Data - July 17th 2018

 

Look forward to the launch of the 2018 Open Cities Index survey this summer, followed by the publication of the 2018 results in the fall.