Evidence of meeting #41 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David Hume  As an Individual
David Wallace  Chief Information Officer, Information and Technology, City of Toronto
Vincent Gogolek  Executive Director, BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Shawn Murphy

I will now call the meeting to order.

On behalf of all members of the committee, I want to welcome our witnesses here today.

This meeting is in continuance of our ongoing study into open government, and the committee is very pleased to have three witnesses with us today.

The first witness is Mr. David Hume. Mr. Hume is the executive director of citizen engagement for the British Columbia provincial government. However, I should point out that he's appearing today as an individual in his own right.

The second witness is Mr. David Wallace. Mr. Wallace is the chief information officer for the City of Toronto. As we all know, the City of Toronto has been doing some interesting things on open government.

Mr. Wallace is not in his seat, as you can see. We understand that his flight has been delayed, so hopefully he will be joining us in the session.

The third and final witness is Mr. Vincent Gogolek. Mr. Gogolek is the executive director of the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

Again, welcome.

We're going to start with opening remarks from all three individuals. Perhaps we'll start with you first, Mr. Hume.

3:30 p.m.

David Hume As an Individual

Thank you very much.

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Shawn Murphy

Just before you start, Mr. Hume, I want to point out to the members of the committee that Mr. Wallace, whom I have already introduced, has arrived.

Welcome, Mr. Wallace.

Mr. Hume.

February 2nd, 2011 / 3:30 p.m.

As an Individual

David Hume

Thank you very much to the committee for having me. It's a great chance, actually, to be of service today, so I hope my remarks to you are helpful.

In my day job, I'm a public servant with the British Columbia public service, as the chair mentioned. My focus there is on citizen engagement in policy development and service improvement. But I would like to make clear to the committee that while my remarks are certainly shaped by that experience, today I am on my own time. I took some vacation to come out, and I'm speaking for myself, so the views expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of British Columbia.

With that disclaimer, let me briefly lay out what I'd like to cover today.

First is why open government matters, not just as a democratic principle but as a strategy of public management; an example of how open strategies, based on open government approaches, can help solve public problems in new ways; the importance of thinking beyond provision of data and information to working to engage people with data and information; and a short word about the requirements of political leadership around open government.

One thing we need to recognize is that the skills of governing in the 21st century are very different from those needed in the 20th century. We face two significant and basically unavoidable problems in government in Canada, as does the rest of the world: we are mostly broke, and our demographics dictate that our public sector workforce is likely to be shrinking dramatically very soon. So if we have little money and very few people, how are we going to get good things done for the country?

My basic answer to that question is that governments will need to learn to collaborate. Whereas before they could afford to be top down—“we think it, we decide it, we do it” kinds of organizations—today governments find themselves grappling with highly complex issues that they cannot solve alone. Challenges such as poverty and climate change cannot be legislated out of existence; nor can healthy communities and safe streets simply be created, as much as we want them. Instead, these problems require coordinated and collaborative action from many actors, including individuals, for us to make progress.

This theme has lately been taken up by political leadership in the U.S. and the U.K. One version of this theme is President Obama's campaign tagline, “Yes we can”. Another version has come from Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, who said during the launch of his campaign:

We can deal with our debts. We can mend our broken society. We can restore faith in our shattered political system. But only if millions of people are fired up and inspired to play a part in [their]...future.

Taken in this context, open government, and particularly open data, becomes more than a discussion about transparency and democracy. It can be seen as a strategy to empower the public to collaborate with government and with one another to understand and accomplish goals. It's about effectiveness as much as it is about principle.

I recognize that this is a broad statement, and some folks may think it's a bit of a wild claim, but my recent experience demonstrates that such an approach is possible.

A project that I was involved with in my work in B.C., called Apps for Climate Action, was a contest for web and software developers to take freely available government data and apply their ingenuity to creating web and mobile applications that help people understand and deal with the impacts of climate change. The contest produced 16 qualified entries, some of which I would say were frankly brilliant. And the contest helped B.C.'s Climate Action Secretariat make the most of new technology, create media interest, and reach out to a whole new demographic of people to inspire them to get busy around taking action on climate.

The important thing I want to point out is that while it was coordinated by the provincial government, the contest was sponsored by businesses and not-for-profits that had an interest in open data and climate action. The $40,000 in cash and prizes that we raised for the contest entrants came from sponsors. We also received “in kind” contributions from sponsors. For example, the contest website was developed by a small web company based in Vancouver, contest entrants had access to usability experts from a Vancouver firm to help make their apps more user-friendly, the Vancouver Aquarium hosted the awards ceremony, and David Eaves, who spoke to you earlier this week, also donated his time and advice.

We made the sponsorships work not by doing a classic procurement whereby government commissions specific solutions to specific problems. Instead, B.C. issued an opportunity notice that described the problem we were trying to solve, signalled the kinds of resources we were looking for to help us, and then invited those who were interested in helping us achieve the goal to apply. Basically, we were open to working with anyone who wanted to work with us, and the response was really excellent and significant. Really, what we wound up with were groups that were passionate about climate action and were prepared to meaningfully commit their resources, with us at the province, to help create a great contest.

As I hope is clear, the result of being open—this is connecting back to open government—to other ideas and resources meant the provincial government could accomplish far more than it ever could accomplish on its own.

There have been a series of open, data-based apps contests around the world, and they have their strengths and weaknesses. Many have been far better structured and have enjoyed more success than the one I was involved with. I commend Apps for Ottawa and Apps for Edmonton, which were two recent contests in Canada, as examples of how open data can be used to engage the public. Those were both, I think, wild successes.

But for me the lesson of the contest was how effective data-driven collaboration can be and how many resources are out there for governments to leverage, provided they know how to ask.

I spent a lot of time at public events promoting the contest, showing people data, brainstorming with programmers and non-programmers, looking for patterns that could spark a prize-winning idea. The conversations with members of the public were amazing. There was passion, positivity, focus, creativity, and analysis. There was a true creative ethos, and participants were looking to themselves to take the next steps on the part of the problem that meant the most to them. They weren't waiting for government to offer solutions; they were looking to create and implement their own. It was an awesome citizenship, let me tell you, and there is a lot of it out there.

This brings me to the gap that I see in many open government strategies, particularly around open data. It's not enough to simply publish data or information. Work needs to be done to focus people on it, build community around ideas and analysis, see how it applies to real problems, and set the norms of responsible use of this valuable public resource. Otherwise, the data may not meet its full potential.

In my view, this is the new definition and challenge of public policy work for public servants: to find ways to benefit from the insight and expertise of those outside government's walls prepared to work on it together in a shared agenda, because, returning to the theme of demographics and finances, we're going to need those people in the very near future.

We're seeing early signals of this approach internationally. The U.S., for example, has appointed what's called an open data evangelist to reach out to communities, schools, educational institutions, and others. It is building partnerships with educational institutions to build more capacity for data literacy in the United States.

New Zealand is integrating open data into its public consultations, particularly around technical subjects, to encourage a common basis of analysis for those who provide submissions.

While I can't authoritatively say how well these experiments are working, I do know that they are important. Should you recommend open data to the government, I believe you should also recommend that resources to encourage engagement with the public come along with it.

Since this is a political venue, I want to say one quick thing about the importance of matching open government and political leadership in Canada. I'm hopeful that our leaders, you, begin to see the power and possibilities of using mechanisms of open government to collaborate more deeply with the public; that instead of simply offering solutions to win votes, political leaders can see how effective and necessary asking the right questions is to bring the right people together so that lasting solutions to the big problems that challenge us—health care, climate change, to name two—can be meaningfully addressed.

This means that our leaders challenge groups and individuals to take responsibility for problems and commit their own resources to solving them. It also means that all concerned are accountable for delivering their piece of the puzzle. Government has a part, but isn't necessarily on the hook for delivering the whole.

Open government, and in particular open data, offers a way of working towards this possibility because of the collaborative capacity it creates. Open data can become a platform for collaboration between government and the public, and I hope we as a country can seize it.

As the committee continues its work, I'm looking forward to seeing how you draw on the remarkable reservoir of Canadian expertise in thinking about governance and public engagement. Many of the ideas you've heard from me are inspired by people like Don Lenihan of the Public Policy Forum and Thomas Homer-Dixon of the University of Waterloo. I brought a list of other folks whom I can refer you to if you're interested, and we can get into the conversation.

In particular I would like to recommend colleagues in British Columbia to speak to you about British Columbia's Government 2.0 plan, which includes references to open data and open information. In particular, the deputy minister of the Ministry of Citizens' Services, Kim Henderson, and Allan Seckel, the head of the British Columbia public service, would be excellent spokespeople for the provincial government's direction in this area.

With that, I'll thank you very much. I'd like to conclude my remarks.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Shawn Murphy

Thank you very much, Mr. Hume.

We're now going to go to Mr. Wallace.

Mr. Wallace, your opening comments.

3:40 p.m.

David Wallace Chief Information Officer, Information and Technology, City of Toronto

Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity for speaking with you today. I'm very much looking forward to the discussion this afternoon.

I believe you received the brief that I sent forward, so I'm just going to centre on some select slides to emphasize the messaging and to actually build on what David has been talking about.

I think the key thing, from a municipal perspective, is that as the government closest to the people, we're in a lot of interactions with them, and we're seeing a lot of requirements and demands for opening up government, for making it more transparent, and basically for being able to track how we're doing from a performance perspective and making sure they have a voice in their local government. I believe that's potentially across all governments. We're seeing that right across Canada, around the world, as David was saying, and also right up through to the federal government in terms of some of our discussions, such as with Natural Resources Canada and some other very forward-thinking areas.

What we believe in our space is that in this local government, where we're the closest to the people, we're starting to see this very large transformation happen, and it's starting to gain momentum.

I'm going to select a few slides here to focus in on some of the work we've done and to hopefully put some information out there to get you to ask some questions and drill in further.

I'm partnering with my city clerk, Ulli Watkiss, who is the information lead in our city--as in most municipalities--and we're looking at it from both an information management and an IT perspective. We also work with the divisions who are the program deliverers.

In terms of the presentation material I have for you, the introduction introduces some of the challenges and some of the reasons why there's this new culture of open government that we see, open government as the default, which is really “that's the starting point” and we go from there.

I'd like to direct you to page 4, where you see the concept of “Toronto at your Service”. This is when Mayor Rob Ford, who was recently elected, came to power. He came to the first council meeting and laid out four specific priorities. The first one was to improve customer service, the second to make city hall more transparent and more accountable, the third to reduce the size of government and the cost of government, and the fourth to improve transportation.

Well, even the last one can benefit from open data. In fact, all of them can be done, improving customer service and efficiencies, because, again, the data is out there, everything from better scheduling from the TTC, when the next bus is coming—and we've had apps built on that data—right through to better customer online services to participating in enabled e-government. In all ways, open government and open data are enhancing what the mayor is aiming at in terms of priorities.

The next slides talk a little about some of the growth in this area and the number of transactions that show the web as an increasingly preferred channel. The telephone still is the top one, but very rapidly the gap is closing so that the web is becoming a very preferred channel. That's also indicating that 98% of Canadians have some type of Internet access, which means, again, that open data online can be very accessible.

I want to define open government and open data because I think there are so many different definitions. And it was included in your package, but I want to emphasize that it's more than just the data. It's this concept of open interaction and engagement, and civic engagement, and getting people to make deputations and being involved, whether it's online or in person, and then sharing that experience with others and benefiting from leveraging the unique decision-making capability of that wider space.

I think that's really important, because at the end of the day, what we see at the local level is that open government and open data increase the trust in government, and confidence, in particular in their most local government and the one they have the most dealings with. But we think in all governments that's the case.

On the next page you'll see that we have a system called the Toronto meeting management information system. Now this is a really important system, because if you go, and the link is there, you can see that everything about the city government is online—all the agendas, all of the reports, everything is there—and also the data about it. I think there are links in here that you can explore that with.

One of the elements about this in our strategy is the basis of both proactive and routine disclosure. Proactive is where we put the data or the information online, and routine disclosure is where we can quickly get the information there in terms of a normal request. This has reduced our freedom of information requests by half; therefore, the cost of government goes down, people's responsiveness to the information goes up, and again, trust goes up and improves consultation.

We've also been talking to Dr. Ann Cavoukian, who I believe is either coming or has been here. She talks a lot about privacy by design. Designing it in a system like this ensures that people have access to their government.

We also support it with checklists, information, and advice, both from the city clerks on a policy perspective and from ourselves and IT from a technology perspective.

The next few slides talk about our election system and some of our key developments online, in terms of just shooting through the roof in terms of access to online services.

In slide 11 we talk about the value chain of open data. Open data requires work, but it is work based on what you do every day. It doesn't add to your tasks or add extra resources. We believe it's part of what we do every day. What I mean by that is we have systems there to help us with our professional program delivery. We have information systems there to help with the delivery of government process and to improve the citizen's situation.

We live by three basic principles. We provide data that already exists; we don't go out and create new data just for the sake of opening up data. This is just part of what we do every day, and we put it up on the web. We offer both raw and aggregate data. And most importantly, we put it on a refresh basis and put the metadata or context around it so people know what the data means.

We also need to make sure of the source--that we can actually share it, that the right format is there, and that the proper governance is in place. You can see that we have lots of governance, but that is to make sure the right data is there and it is truly part of our strategic directions.

This value chain has been ongoing since 2009. It has been a very good process and has worked very well. We've had a lot of good response from the community.

On the next page you can see what we launched. I think you've heard of Mark Surman of Mozilla, the Firefox provider. He challenged the City of Toronto in 2008 to think like the web, look to the web, to look to people out there, look for help--government doesn't have to do it all itself--open up “crowdsource” and ask for help to sponsor the development of further uses of open data.

In that light, a community site was developed at the same time we launched this, called datato.org, or data Toronto. This was created by community people on their own time. It also spawned dataott.org, which is data Ottawa. Again, it involved community players putting the demand side, or part of the input, saying, “Here's data we're interested in. What do you think?” We've been working with them on other points of interest to get the data out on the web. That's been very helpful.

The next slide shows you a breakdown of the most popular data sites and downloads. Again, the critical success factors for open data are that it's relevant data, regularly refreshed, and in the proper context. Otherwise you don't know what you're getting. In the earlier uses of open data sites, part of the problem was data getting stale, and people didn't know what the data really stood for.

The other thing we do is open up and work with the Web 2.0 or Gov 2.0 perspective, saying, “What do you think of what we're doing?” We ask through Twitter and different means on our website and processes. We've had lots of different comments, which are included. Some of the feeds from Twitter are there.

We've also seen some great results. There are some application examples included in the slide presentation. One of the most interesting ones was around someone who created an iPhone app, so when you're walking to the bus stop you already know when your bus is going to get there. That's pretty exciting. There are other ones, like DineSafe, to make sure the restaurant you're going to is good.

The other side of it, just like in Ottawa, is 311. We have the largest in Canada and the second-largest in North America. With 311 you think of the telephone, but it also has a lot of self-service features now on the web. We're opening up the knowledge we capture and advice we give out to citizens. We put that up online so you can self-service that. We're also going to be putting up the request data very soon on our open data site.

We had over a million calls in the first year, and it just keeps building in popularity. It's a great connector out to the populace, as it is here in Ottawa.

You'll see in the presentation, again on the next slide, some of the feeds that come in, because through Twitter they also track how things are going.

The other thing I'd like to focus on--and again, the next few slides show some of what our web is doing--is next-generation open data. Just putting open data up there in raw form, in machine readable form, is very helpful. As David was saying, there are contests and different ways you can get developers to develop new and interesting applications, but not everyone is a developer. Not everyone has the capabilities to develop applications, or perhaps even wants to, but everyone does want to know about their city or their government and what's going on.

There is something now called a data blog. That means you have a variety of different data types, and if you want to look at a spreadsheet or a visualization of data or raw data that you want to download and develop an application with, those would all be available on the website. New York City has done this, and we're looking to do this for our 311. I know it's a little bit unclear on the slide there, but there are different examples there about visualization. We also want to get our budget data up there with a navigator, because budget data is some of the most complex data. We've actually been working with the open community through a “hackathon”, which happened in December, through which people are building a navigator application so they can actually work through our budget data. That's going to get budget data out to the public more quickly, which is going to help in the debate around our rapidly changing budget situation.

With the next slide, I want to just finish up with what I mean by a transformation journey. This takes time, but it isn't a sequence of events. It's many things happening at different maturity levels at the same time. It's really understanding the citizens' needs, working with them, understanding, keeping the pulse on them, bringing the government close, anytime, anywhere, to people, and ensuring that you're continually listening and building their confidence by offering out more and more about the government through open data and open government.

You've heard from Chris Moore, I believe, and I believe Guy Michaud is coming. We've also been working with Vancouver through something called G4. If you're interested, we can share the recent report. The cover is shown in your presentation there. It's fairly deep, but it has a lot of good information. If you're interested, we can certainly share that with you. The key recommendations are noted on the slide speaking notes there, and these really focus in on what different municipalities can do in opening up their data even more. We believe there are some common areas of focus, such as licensing formats and sharing our experiences.

To conclude my speaking points, I will say that change will just continue to happen. Certainly it's happening in the City of Toronto, and I know it's happening here in Ottawa and at the provincial governments too. The challenges are not going to stop. They're going to continue to evolve. We believe by working through new thinking and by reaching out and working with the public itself and other levels of government within these important frameworks, we can make government better and more open and in fact more responsive.

Thank you very much. Those are my remarks.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Shawn Murphy

Thank you very much, Mr. Wallace.

We're going to hear from Mr. Vincent Gogolek right now.

Go ahead, please, Mr. Gogolek.

3:55 p.m.

Vincent Gogolek Executive Director, BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, members of the committee, for inviting us. I presume to provide a somewhat cautionary note amidst all the optimism.

We do applaud the committee for taking up the cause of open government, although we note that the very first episode of the BBC television series, Yes Minister was entitled “Open Government”, and it featured this exchange between the two lead characters, Bernard Woolley and Sir Humphrey Appleby, whose equivalent would be deputy minister:

Bernard Woolley: “But surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby: “No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt: ignorance has a certain dignity.”

If Canadians and their elected representatives really do wish to have open government, it will be vital to keep the Sir Humphrey Applebys of this world away from the task of creating it. They will want to preserve the citizens' dignity at all costs.

FIPA supports the increasing push for routine electronic disclosure of information by governments and public bodies. Public debate and public policy development can also be helped by making more and better information available to everyone. What has come to be known as “open government”, the enhanced availability of data to the public by electronic means--

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Shawn Murphy

Mr. Gogolek, can I interrupt just for a second? I think the translators may be having a little difficulty keeping up, so if you could just slow it down perhaps by about 20% or 30%, that would be great.

3:55 p.m.

Executive Director, BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Vincent Gogolek

Ah. Okay.

What has come to be known as “open government”--the enhanced availability of data to the public through electronic means--will hopefully allow anyone interested in a subject area to be able to do better research, provide better input to public consultations, and improve their representations to government as a result.

This is a good thing, but it is not the only thing. And it does not mean that bringing in electronic open government will bring about a truly open government.

I've set out three ways that government information becomes public. I'll just skip through them quickly.

Because most, if not all, records now exist in electronic form, much more government information should be available on government websites. The access to information review task force report in 2001 set out a number of recommendations for improvement for the release of information. Recently a number of governments have gone down this road. The U.S., the U.K., Australia, and a number of sub-national governments, many of them municipalities, have undertaken this challenge.

There is no insurmountable challenge preventing the Government of Canada from moving forward with a similar initiative. Information Commissioner Legault has outlined several manageable concerns, some of which are common to open data schemes everywhere. Others, like the requirement of translation to meet official language requirements, legal and constitutional, are particular to this country and especially to the federal government.

In B.C., our Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act has been subject to three different committee reviews--there's a five-year review of the act--and each of the committees has recommended more routine release, more use of electronic data, and more routine disclosure by government. We have yet to see it.

The second method is access to information requests. If routine disclosure is the push from government out to its citizens and to the rest of us, access to information provides us, as citizens, with the ability to pull information from government. It's a complete code for making access requests. It also provides a process of review. It's a vital link in the chain of citizens’ ability to find out what their governments are doing, and it provides a balance between the rights of citizens to information and the legitimate requirements for confidentiality in certain clearly defined, limited circumstances. However, it was not intended as, nor should it be, the primary method of release. The primary method of release should be routine disclosure.

We won't go into the many deficiencies of the ATI system. This committee has gone through that. I will spare you a recap of it. We will come back to it, though, because the ATI system is vital for any true system of open government.

Finally, there's unauthorized unrequested release, which is basically what happens when there's no system, or it breaks down. It's leaks. WikiLeaks is an example. This is another way that information sometimes comes out.

In B.C. we also have a section in our act that puts an obligation on heads of public bodies to release information, even without a request, about a risk of significant harm to the environment or to the health or safety of the public or a group of people, or the disclosure of which, for any other reason, is clearly in the public interest.

I'd also like to take you through some potential pitfalls of open government. One is that open government, open data...essentially becomes electronic brochures. Government puts these up now, and what we have.... The risk is that government will just push favoured content out onto the web, that it will not be able to be manipulated by citizens, that it will not be in a very usable form.

There's probably no way around this. We have to have a certain measure of faith in our public servants and in our government that they will put out information that is...and will not unreasonably restrict the type of information being disseminated. However, that has not been the experience under ATI under different parties, different prime ministers, and different responsible ministers.

Without a way to compel disclosure, there is little reason to believe that the information that is routinely released will be much more than electronic brochures.

The reluctance of governments to allow broad disclosure of information they don’t favour releasing is very well understood, but a current instance in B.C., in which we are directly involved, provides an outstanding example.

We're involved in one of the longest-running FOI requests probably anywhere in this country. We're now into year seven of a contract between IBM and the provincial government. The government has taken us to court a number of times. They have invoked a number of exceptions. The exceptions have all been rejected. They're now off to court again.

Our ultimate point in this is that major government contracts should be readily available online for public scrutiny. The B.C. government has acknowledged the public interest in making contracts available by routinely posting public-private contracts online.

The government has not seen fit to put this contract up, despite the Information and Privacy Commissioner suggesting that this and similar contracts should be put online. The commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has said, “Proactively releasing these contracts would save everyone considerable time, money and paperwork.”

At the end of the day we may have to put it up ourselves, pending the result of litigation or a change of heart by the government. This should serve as a cautionary example for anybody who thinks that open data is something that will come about easily.

Another potential pitfall is that by becoming entranced with the potential of open data--and there is real potential--we bypass the access to information system and ignore the serious problems it has. The current information commissioner and her predecessors have appeared before you and outlined many of these. This committee has looked at this in the past and made reports attempting to remedy this situation.

It also appears that the amount of information being released is on a downward path. According to the information commissioner, “During the past ten years, the number of cases where all information has been disclosed has decreased from 41% to 16%.”

Much is being made of the idea of putting documents released through ATI online for everyone to see, but there is little point in doing this if requesters are essentially unable to get that information because the system is so dysfunctional.

This leads me to the other question. It is something we have run into in B.C. that we call “trompe l'oeil transparency”. We're currently involved in a complaint involving BC Ferries, which is a government-owned corporation that runs the ferry service in British Columbia. It was put back under the FOI regime late last year as a result of an investigation by the province’s comptroller general, who thought this would be a way of improving governance.

Their policy states that any records released to requesters will immediately be posted on the BC Ferries website. The result is that requesters are deprived of the first use of the information they obtain, which in turn takes away much of requesters’ motivation for investing the time and resources in making FOI requests. To state it plainly, we have here a covert attempt to stifle FOI requests in the guise of the noble aim of allowing greater public access.

If you make it so that the information you get is essentially unusable or you're not able to use it as a reporter or however, there will be fewer and fewer requests that will be posted online.

It's not the first time a public body has tried to do this, but BC Ferries is the first one to make it official policy and to use it to actively discourage requests.

The policy works this way. Requesters are required to go through the normal processes for FOI requests. BC Ferries charges fees to the person requiring the information, to the maximum permissible in every case. Any released records are posted to the BC Ferries website. If information is requested electronically, the requester will receive it at the same time it is posted. If sent in hard copy, the records will be posted within 24 hours of their being mailed to the requester.

We have direct experience with this. We had stuff sent to us. We got it three days after it went up.

I'm just going to move it along here. I'd like to conclude by saying that FIPA's view is that we have to ensure that overdue moves toward routine release and the use of technology to make government information more widely available must also make this information usable for all Canadians.

Canadians must also have the ability to request specific information from their government and to receive that information in a reasonable time at no or minimal cost. This means creating a functional system for access to information.

No one wants to head toward a dystopia where governments push out electronically information that no one uses or trusts, while occasional dumps of WikiLeaks-type documents raise the issue of serious damage to legitimate state, business, or personal interests.

We hope that your work on open government will be a big step toward bringing about real openness in government.

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Shawn Murphy

Thank you, Mr. Gogolek.

We'll now go to the first round of questions. We're going to start with Dr. Bennett for seven minutes.

4:05 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Thanks very much, Chair.

And thank you. This was very helpful. In particular, the interactive piece is of huge interest, this idea that you not only put the data up but also actually actively engage Canadians. When the Information Commissioner was here, she said that involving the public in any consultations was one of the five principles she felt were important.

As you know, we're hoping to incorporate that principle into the study, as we go forward with the e-consultation and ask citizens to help us with this, in terms of what they would want to see in a federal government open government policy. I would like to know how you would recommend we do that and whether you have any recommendations with regard to drilling down into civil society and into the places that have the expertise you've talked about, and in terms of young Canadians and using their enthusiasm and savvy to solve problems in this new collaborative way.

If you were us, what would you be doing?

4:10 p.m.

As an Individual

David Hume

The key thing for me is it's never really good practice to do a consultation when you're not very clear on what you need to know from Canadians. As well, it's not a good idea to have a consultation in which information, background, and context for people aren't well developed, understood, and presented in ways that are accessible and usable.

You want to try to have a structuring conversation so that a lot of different perspectives can come forward--public service, advocacy groups, developers, software communities, and others--and try to show the spectrum of things that open government, open data as a piece of that in particular, could really mean for the country.

Within that, you can start to look at the big questions. When you begin to examine that you can present it to people in a way that's really simple for them to access, really clearly and quickly, if possible, but also in a way that offers an opportunity to draw them into deeper conversations, maybe face-to-face conversations in their communities, maybe in a way that offers them chances to bring groups of people together to talk to one another and to report back in creative ways, in different ways--not necessarily through text but through video, through audio, through other forms of presentation--to the committee what the possibilities are, what the concerns are, and these kinds of issues.

That would be a great place to start. Be clear about what the process means, what kind of information and what kinds of questions it really needs, where those will be going, how they will be used, and how you as a committee can report back to Canadians about what you've heard from them and how it's incorporated well into the process. That would be my advice.

4:10 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Is there a best practice that you can think of? There could be a library on the website of things that people could read. Looking at David Eaves' reference to the Australian report, we see there are a number of things on a reading list we could put up to bring people up to speed. When we did the study in 2002-03 at the disability committee, we had three tools: an issue poll, a “tell us your story”, and a “present your solution”. Is there a process for developing open government that you really like? Toronto had a process. Maybe David can tell us a little about that. Maybe you could leave a reading list with the clerk, a process for best practices, together with names of people we could talk to. You mentioned Don Lenihan and Tad Homer Dixon. Maybe we could have a look at them.

Do you think the committee should consider a conference, a way of bringing people together to thrash things out? At that disability meeting, we brought some of the neat people we'd met online together to look at the draft report. This was the first time that had ever been done in Parliament.

4:10 p.m.

As an Individual

David Hume

Beth Noveck was the director of the open government initiative in the White House. She has recently left the White House and is now a professor at New York University. She helped lead some significant consultations with the public about open data and transparency that fed into the structuring of the Obama administration's open government directive. This included conferences and online brain storming. So if she's available, I would definitely recommend that you get Beth up here. She's sort of a hero of mine. I'd love to watch her talk.

4:15 p.m.

Chief Information Officer, Information and Technology, City of Toronto

David Wallace

In Toronto, back in 2008, we didn't know the surprising power of Web 2.0, Gov 2.0. Open data was just starting to become a popular term, although proactive routine exposure nomenclature had been around for quite a long time.

We planned a summit, and I partnered with Sue Corke, one of their deputy city managers. We were trying to educate our people and get some insights from developers and community people, counsellors, and industry people. We also decided to open it up just to see if we could find out what this new Twitter thing could do. So we had about 300 people attend. At the end, there were over 1,200 people--900 online participating in a constant Twitter feed. We were taking more questions from out there than in the room. It opened our eyes to the amount of interest, to this two-way street of government. People actually wanted to be involved.

What came out of that was also a challenge from Marc Sermon and this “unconference” approach. In an unconference approach, you go in there with some structure, but not too much. You go in with a board of ideas and themes, and you work with a conference to build the program from the themes. You have breakout groups and discussions. So we had one of these. We call them “change camps”. I think there were some up here. We had this at the MaRS Building in Toronto, which is a medical research area. We had an amazing number of people come out to chat, whiteboard, and work with us. We gained a lot.

And there was a lot more. There was also a mesh conference, the recent hackathon I mentioned. Each of these encounters opened us up not just to developers but to everyday people—children and teachers and community leaders who wanted to be involved. So it's a powerful forum. Don't overstructure it. Allow the messiness of Web 2.0, Gov 2.0, and open data to inform you, but have a clear purpose and get a clear report back on value. Don't overcomplicate the process itself. Let it grow and be evolving. That's what we found to be helpful, because it opened our eyes. We didn't come in with naturally formed restrictions. We came in wanting to learn, and we continue to look for that on our website and in different lines of business every day.

We can offer some reports. There are the people who spoke at those various meetings. Mark Kosinski is a good example in Toronto. He's a developer who helped found the datato.org site. There is David Eaves, of course. There are many different advocates, but they're just everyday people who want to be involved and prove things too.

4:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Shawn Murphy

Thank you very much, Dr. Bennett.

Madame Freeman, vous avez sept minutes s'il vous plaît.

4:15 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Thank you for being here today and for sharing your experience with us, Mr. Hume, Mr. Wallace and Mr. Gogolek. This is extremely interesting.

Mr. Hume, you have a public presentation about your integrated cyberdemocracy. It was one of your projects. It dealt with access to raw data and about interactive tools being used in policy development. It was really interesting. Now could you tell us about your experience, in New Zealand in particular. You went there to meet parliamentarians in order to look at how open data was being handled. I would like to hear any comments you have about it.

My next question goes to the three of you, Mr. Hume, Mr. Wallace and Mr. Gogolek. You are giving us the benefit of expertise that comes from your respective situations. Mr. Wallace's experience is municipal, and we have heard from a good number of people with that background. I think that the cities of Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto are working together to improve their access and their methods. Cooperative work is being done with a view to providing more services, but it is at municipal level.

Mr. Hume, I know that you are here as an individual, but the fact remains that your experience is with provincial issues. That is very interesting. The issues are not the same. We understand very clearly how this can be used at municipal level. It is very accessible. Mr. Eaves, in fact, gave a comprehensive presentation on the practical aspects and the use to which this is being put municipally. I would like to hear your comments on what could be done provincially and federally, and to know where it all could lead. Of course, we always have to assume that there is the political will to make things like this a reality.

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

David Hume

Could I start with the New Zealand question first?

4:20 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC


4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

David Hume

When I went to New Zealand, I was there working as a consultant with the State Services Commission, which is sort of an oversight body, kind of close, I think, to what Treasury Board Secretariat is here. It focuses on public sector management. In particular I was working with the e-government program there in New Zealand. This was back in 2006.

At the time, they were advancing ideas, and one of the key streams in their e-government strategy as a public service was the idea of participation. A key gap that I think is clear in most jurisdictions is trying to understand how well members of Parliament actually manage to cope with all of the input they get from the public when the public does engage.

I'm highly sympathetic to members of Parliament with regard to the challenges they have with information management and the challenges they have in terms of hearing from the public and how they understand what comes in to them when people communicate with them. I remember sitting across the table from a cabinet minister who had just recently come from a television interview and had wound up with 6,000 e-mails in his inbox in the moments after his television interview. The question was, as a function of good governance, was that member and that minister really going to be able to listen when there was that much information?

I think for members of Parliament in particular, open data has a huge potential, not only in terms of your role of scrutiny of government, in your role of holding government to account, but also, I think, because good information management practices that are embedded in things like open data can make your jobs a lot easier if you can bring this data together.

4:20 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

I appreciate what you are telling us, but my question was more specific. We understand what happens at municipal level in terms of services being provided to the public. At federal level, we would like to make available all the information and research funded by public agencies and public money. I know that we are going to have consultations in order to find out what people want. In a way, we could restrict access to the data, pick and choose from it, and provide the information that we want to provide. In your opinion, what kind of information should a transparent government have available at federal level?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

David Hume

Is your question what sort of data should the federal government start with?

4:25 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC


4:25 p.m.

As an Individual

David Hume

My own sense of that is, certainly, you should start with whatever you're publishing already and bring that together. I would recommend you look closely at Statistics Canada data. That has some profound implications for how Canadians understand the nation. Data that I've seen say that most people are very interested in public safety issues, so understanding any data related to public safety I think would also be incredibly powerful and useful. Those are a few places to start.

I'll turn it over to my colleagues.