Channel can help feds ready for Government 2.0

A new report from Deloitte says governments around the world are embracing the idea of using technology, the Internet and social media to improve public policy, and make public information such as expenses, patent information, crime statistics and health information available in “reusable” formats that can be leveraged by the public. While other nations are leading though, Canada is just getting started.

In the report, entitled “Unlocking Government: How Data Transforms Democracy,” Deloitte argues that the social media culture is driving governments to open-up, both to garner more input to lead to better policy-making as well as to fulfill the belief that the public has a fundamental right to access and leverage public information from its government.

Known as Government 2.0, making public information available in formats that can be leveraged by application developers, either for the government or the private sector, can allow for the creation of a number of innovative services and tools. In Canada, the cities of Vancouver and Edmonton have been leaders in opening-up their data sources, leading to a number of interesting applications.

The revolution is a little more nascent at the federal level, however. Paul Macmillan, Deloitte Canada’s National Public Sector Industry Leader, said the federal level is just getting started.

“The U.S., Australia and the U.K. are further ahead than Canada,” said Macmillan. “We haven’t seen the same kinds of fundamental statements in Canada (supporting open government).”

As governments do look at embracing open government though, Macmillan said there will be a key role for the channel in assisting them to build the necessary architecture to enable that information sharing. It won’t necessarily mean new platforms, he said, but rather when designing core infrastructure and implementing new platforms ensuring the architecture is designed to allow data sharing.

“They should be designing their architecture under the expectation of the need for transparency in how the solution is architected to promote ease of access, while of course protecting confidential information,” said Macmillan. “Data governance is clearly an issue. There are lots of areas where government will want help in figuring-out how to architect and offer-up machine-readable data.”

Macmillan added there will be applications for this data that governments can’t even begin to anticipate, as third-parties mash it up with other data sources in innovative ways, so the key is to design as open an architecture as possible.

“The more open source design concepts that are built into this, the better,” he said.

We can look for federal leadership to likely come first from Statistics Canada, said Macmillan, which has a history of making data available to researchers and the private sector. It will still require a re-think though, as there have often been strict controls on access to raw data. Natural Resources Canada, which has a wealth of database information such as geological surveys, forestry information and mineral deposits, is another likely candidate that is exploring just how it can and should make data more freely and easily available.

There are challenges to be overcome though. Some government organizations have charged for access to such data historically, but must now consider if this data should be considered a commodity or a public asset. Privacy considerations must be balanced. Should third-parties be able to monetize on their applications that leverage public data? And there’s also the fact it will require government IT investment to facilitate this information sharing, at a time when government budgets are tighter than ever.

Macmillan said governments shouldn’t look at open government as an expense, but rather a fundamental part of its mission and a right of its citizens. As for data mash-ups, Macmillan said governments shouldn’t be opposed to third-party application developers monetizing on their mash-ups that draw on publicly-available information. Most successful mash-ups, he said, will draw on data from five or six sources, so the value-add is worthy.

It should be noted though that many of the early third-party mash-ups we’re seeing though are non-commercial, developed on a not for profit basis by data enthusiasts.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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