Canadians were invited to participate in the consultation on the government of Canada's Open Government initiative by answering a series of online questions (refer to Appendix A). Participants could upload a document that related to the consultation questions or send it to a separate email address. Responses came from individuals, organizations and associations. Some participants submitted additional documents, submissions, notes or letters, either in concert with answering the consultation questions or just as a means to participate in the dialogue using a different method. Correspondence such as the open letter by the Information and Privacy Commissioners of Canada, and other contributions received through postal mail were also reviewed.
Individuals who took part in the Open Government online consultation were asked a few demographic questions so that the Government of Canada could understand who was participating in this consultation. These questions were not mandatory and, in some cases, not all individuals responded to each question. Participants were from across Canada, with the exception of Nunavut and the Yukon. For a profile of online consultation participants, see Table 1.
|Age Category||Frequency||Percentage of Respondents|
|18 to 25||32||11.9%|
|26 to 35||84||31.5%|
|36 to 45||68||25.5%|
|46 to 55||48||18.0%|
|56 to 65||23||8.6%|
|Older than 65||9||3.4%|
We heard from students, seniors, programmers, public servants, professionals, librarians, civic technologists, independent scholars, several PhDs and MDs, companies making business proposals, and citizens.
Questions were asked about the three themes of Open Information, Open Data and Open Dialogue. Participants had the opportunity to provide their comments through questions that were open-ended such as the following:
Open data is government data that is offered in useful formats to enable citizens, the private sector, and non-government organizations to leverage in innovative and value-added ways. Open data refers to government information that is factual and usually statistical in nature, e.g. population statistics.
To determine what topics are of interest to Canadians, 11 categories were presented, with examples to help participants make their selections. Participants were asked to choose up to three categories and suggest additional data sets within those categories. A summary of those results follows.
In each of the categories listed, including the open topic area where participants could choose their own topic, without fail, participants indicated "all" or "all of it," indicating that Canadians want to have access to as much information and data as possible.
Respondents were asked the question "What type of open data sets would be of interest to you?"
Demographic data sets (e.g., Consumer Price Index (CPI), university enrolment, Canada's population) were the most frequently identified (41.1%) data set that Canadians were interested in. Specific data sets that Canadians identified were population-related statistics, Consumer Price Index, and household spending by postal code.
Public Finance and Expenditure data sets were identified by 39.6% of participants. Such data sets include budgeted and in-year expenditures, government assets and liabilities, businesses that are pre-qualified to supply goods to government, government expenditures by region, and details and breakdowns of federal budgets.
Health and Safety data sets, such as adverse reactions to health products, helmet use, immunization, number of police officers per province, were the third most popular (33.1%) type of data. Participants also wanted access to data on food and product recalls as well as health and wellness statistics.
Nature and Environment (e.g., insecticide use, greenhouse gas emissions, Canadian tides), including data sets on greenhouse gas emissions and pollution details were identified by 31.5% of consultation respondents.
Economics and Industry data sets (e.g., Gross Domestic Product (GDP), border wait times, home building starts) were identified as being of interest to 26.9% of participants. "Other" data sets, as identified by participants were as follows: geographic, mapping and/or geospatial related data/statistics; statistics and data that can be sorted and organized by postal code; and political and election data including expenses, and lobbying information.
Twenty-one and one-half percent (21.5%) of participants selected Science and Technology data sets (e.g., domestic spending on science and technology, spills, etc.). Participants also indicated the following data sets of interest: research data and results of government-funded research, science and technology spending by government by region, and data sets that show where government money is being spent.
The eighth most popular (17.7%) data set was Foreign Affairs and International Assistance (e.g., immigration application statistics, permanent resident statistics). Additional data sets suggested were statistics on the number of immigrants and permanent residents, including breakdowns of where immigrants come from, costs at each stage of the immigration process, and the costs of removing of illegal immigrants. Military spending, disaster relief and consular activities were also proposed.
Average income and wages along with Labour market broken down by industry, and geographic location were two additional data sets identified by participants under the Labour data set which was described by examples such as distribution of labour force, weekly earnings, and hourly wages.
The Labour data set, described by examples such as distribution of labour force, weekly earnings, and hourly wages, was of interest to 15.4% of participants. Average income and wages, along with labour market classified by industry and geographic location were two additional data sets identified.
Just under 12 % of participants identified the data set of Arts, Culture and History (e.g., radio listening time, soldiers of the First World War). Additional suggested data sets included the contribution of arts and culture to the economy, information on Canadian music and historical information, including military history.
The 11th data set most often chosen (9.2%) was that of Agriculture and Fisheries (e.g., farm operators' income statistics, import/export data for dairy/meat/poultry). Food production statistics and food quality and safety were also suggested as data sets to be offered by the government.
Finally, Parks and Recreation (e.g., spectator sports, travel by Canadians) data sets, including national park access and usage, were also suggested.
A summary of most-requested data sets is outlined in Table 2.
|Category||Frequency||Percentage Based on 260 Respondents|
|Total number of respondents||26||N/A|
|Public Finance and Expenditure||103||39.6%|
|Health and Safety||86||33.1%|
|Nature and Environment||82||31.5%|
|Economics and Industry||70||26.9%|
|Science and Technology||56||21.5%|
|Foreign Affairs and International Assistance||46||17.7%|
|Arts, Culture and History||31||11.9%|
|Agriculture and Fisheries||24||9.2%|
|Parks and Recreation||19||7.3%|
Many participants offered their ideas and opinions as to how data sets could and would be used.
"…Open datasets would enable completion of research projects and more importantly begin discussions with other citizens that would lead to innovate projects, research and advocacy. More importantly, open data means access to data that informs discussion among everyday Canadians. … Open data will also drive innovation as individuals and the private sector find interesting and useful applications of the data that benefit Canadians."
When Canadians were asked, "How would you use or manipulate this data?", responses ranged from the very brief – "to better inform my work." – to very detailed and specific, providing many examples, including links to various websites to illustrate the points being made. A few participants discussed using the information to achieve better understanding of current affairs to help them inform their opinion in order to have more confidence when voting.
"I would use it as a basis for formulating my own views on policy, and in deciding how to vote."
"I would use it to understand the state of my country, how my government is being operated, how government initiatives affect me, my family and my community, who to vote for."
Others indicated that they would use the information to be better informed about subjects that mattered to them.
"I would use to make life decisions, to be better informed on things that I find important to me and my family. Potentially be better informed when it comes to making important decisions, especially with regards to my finances and my environment. I don't have the skill set to manipulate the data, but I could definitely extrapolate and use what I need for myself. I am not a developer nor do I have the IT skills to manipulate the information."
Other uses for government data cited were for personal interests such as for travel, culture and heritage, and to assist in determining ancestry.
"I would use the history of my Uncle's service in WW1 to complete information for our family tree... Use the material to plan more Canadian holidays as we have a beautiful country."
There were indications of potential commercial uses for the data. For example, there was an interest in demographic data to support development and marketing activities.
"I would use it to cater my businesses to consumer needs. I would use it to contact other businesses I might be of service to. I would use it to come up with new products."
The use of this data was also identified as a source of information that could be of assistance with recruitment activities.
"This information could be used to assist with the recruitment and retention of highly skilled workers in the technology sector based upon regional demographics and projected trends."
Many types of commercial interests were identified for the various data sets, such as engineering, and health care services.
"Baseline data required for intelligent planning and design of engineering projects."
"Health system planning and inferential data mining with a focus on maximizing health care services across a large portion of my province. Manipulation would occur using statistical packages such as SPSS and SQL."
Other uses ranged from academic pursuits such as library support and other scholastic endeavours.
"I would use this data in my university classroom, to emphasize the role of statistical analysis in extracting information from databases."
"I'm a librarian, so I get requests all the time for data, and it is used for research and teaching"
"As a research library, all of the previous data listed is important to our research community which consists of graduate students, faculty members, undergraduates, visiting scholars, and the community at large. The library supports a lot of research done in the health sciences and public policy areas in particular so all of the fields listed on the previous page are of interest."
Participants listed other examples of how open data could be used, such as application development (i.e. apps), data dissemination models for different levels of users, and detailed, real-world situations. In some cases, some apps were already developed using open data.
"I would look for services that would be valuable to citizens, and I would build apps/services for citizens to make their lives easier."
"I'm already involved in a number of projects that use and share government data. Among those are Emitter.ca - which maps and shares NPRI pollution data and Recollect.net, which shares garbage calendar information."
"I work for an engineering consulting company that specializes in water resources. Our work includes: flood analysis and mapping; numerical hydraulic modelling; river erosion studies; studies to support bridge and dam construction; analysis of coastal erosion and coastal geomorphic processes; watershed restoration; fish habitat studies; etc. We would use this data to support various aspects of our work and in combination with more detailed data collected for a specific project. For example, we might use CHS bathymetric data of a larger area in combination with our own detailed bathymetric survey of a specific site."
Participants suggested making the Government of Canada Open Data licence terms more clear and cited other examples to emulate.
"In particular, I would recommend the use of the UK licence as adapted by the British Columbia government."
"The government should issue broad, generous public use licenses to the data, including commercial use, without any requirement for permission. If Crown Copyright cannot be ceded over this data entirely, as is the case in the US, then the data should be licensed with something very similar to a Creative Commons-Attribution license."
Technical suggestions consisted of such items as using standard or open formats for data sets or providing data in multiple formats so that the data was easier to work with. One person noted,
"It would be much easier to find and utilize the data if it was standardized and universally made available in a single location, far beyond the scope of the data.gc.ca pilot project. The information ideally needs to be available in multiple standard formats with an open license to allow anybody to utilize that data in multiple ways (commercially or otherwise)..."
Other improvements that were suggested included making datasets more user-friendly; providing clear listings and explanations of the datasets that were available.
"Ensure that all documents are published in a format that's easily indexed by search engines (plaintext, html) and that there are summaries and glossaries whenever possible. The best solution is to provide all data in machine readable formats for use by external websites so that others can work with it. API access to geo-tagged and other data mean that citizens can use the data in their own analysis and websites."
The most popular suggestion for finding and using government data online was to improve the navigation and ease of use of the Open Government website and datasets. Many cited improving the search capabilities so that Canadians could find and access data sets they were looking for more quickly and easily, specifically by improving the taxonomy, metadata or keyword tagging connected with the datasets.
Respondents also expressed that datasets should be classified in ways that made sense to the user in order to improve search functionality. They indicated a desire for a 'one-stop shop' that provides all government information and has powerful, federated search engines.
"The ability to use a simple search feature for all government departments would be the best solutions, as now one is required to go to each government department separately."
"To have all government data available through a single website, regardless of whether the information comes from CIC, HRSDC, Statistics Canada etc."
Currently, to find and aggregate the information from the various levels is challenging and time-consuming. Several participants proposed the idea of aggregating data from various sources either at the federal level (among the departments and agencies) and even across all levels of government. Having similar information collected and stored in some type of central repository "with a comprehensive indexing system and robust search engine would go a long way".
"Canada could lead a worldwide information revolution by opening scientific and statistical data to the public, and providing a forum for others to do the same. Creating a simple and centralized place for people to find information, and allowing (with fine print), other people and governments to contribute could produce incredible collaborations of research and development in many fields."
Open information is about proactively releasing information, including information on government activities, to Canadians on an ongoing basis. By proactively making government information available, it will be easier to find and be more accessible for Canadians. This includes Government of Canada information about government operations, e.g., expenditures on contracting or travel, signed collective agreements, and financial reports.
Participants were asked to provide a response to the question "What could be done to make it easier for you to find government information online?" Multiple responses or suggestions were accepted from participants. Their responses are presented in Table 3.
|Response Category||Frequency||Percentage Based on 229 Respondents|
|Improve the search engine/search capability/search engine optimization||60||26.2%|
|Have a single or centralized portal – have the data in one place||50||21.8%|
|Standardize the data presentation/formats, use more metadata, tagging, better indexing, greater consistency in organizing data, etc.||40||17.5%|
|Improve government websites and their organization in general – overhaul or simplify government websites||35||15.3%|
|Provide more data, be more open with Canadians, put policies in place making openness mandatory||28||12.2%|
|Communicate more effectively, use social media more effectively – let more Canadians know that the data is available||19||8.3%|
|Simplify language usage, use commonly understood language, no acronyms, better explanations of what is available||11||4.8%|
|Work with private sector and other governments to improve what the Government of Canada has to offer||7||3.1%|
|Make websites more interactive, more visuals, more videos, provide discussion/chat platforms, provide instructions||5||2.2%|
|Provide manipulation tools with the data||4||1.7%|
|This question is the same as previous question (#1)||17||7.4%|
|Off topic response||4||1.7%|
|Don't know / not sure||3||1.3%|
Participants were asked to select from a list which items they would like to see released on government websites. Participants were able to check off multiple items. As illustrated from the table below, the majority of participants were interested in all four items that were presented. As illustrated in Table 4, the majority of participants were interested in all four items that were presented.
|Category||Frequency||Percentage Based on 259 Respondents|
|Financial / public expenditures||196||75.7%|
|Reports commissioned by the Government of Canada||187||72.2%|
|Information submitted to Parliament by departments and agencies||185||71.4%|
|Statistical information about Human Resources within the Government of Canada||135||52.1%|
|Other (please specify)||83||32.0%|
Of the 83 individuals who proposed other items that they would like to see released on government websites, the top five suggestions were as follows:
Respondents expressed that the Government of Canada should do all that it can to make information available that is not currently provided to Canadians, and understand Canadians' needs for search, discovery and access to such information. As well, they indicated that data should not be withheld and that as much data as possible should be provided free of charge.
"I would only add that the government should proceed with the assumption that the information they hold belongs to Canadians, and that the default should be to make this information available to everyone at no charge. Governments at all levels need to stop trying to control information. Letting it flow and making it available to all will result in a more informed and prosperous citizenry."
"…The other thing is to make all the data available. One of the biggest hurdles for using government data is that everyone so used to it costing a lot and not being easily available, I think folks just don't bother. When the majority of data is free and easily accessible, then you have true open data."
"There is a tremendous amount of information available on line now. In general it is pretty easy to access. It would be useful to (1) have more Statscan material available at no cost (2) make more "raw data" available so that it could be used for a variety of purposes."
Open dialogue gives Canadians a stronger say in government policies and priorities, and expands engagement through Web 2.0 technologies. It includes opportunities to participate in Government of Canada consultations with Canadians.
Of the respondents who participated in the online consultation process, 29% had participated in a Government of Canada consultation within the past five years. The majority of respondents found it difficult to find out about Government of Canada consultations. This was echoed in responses to other consultation questions in which participants indicated that they wanted the government to improve its communications efforts.
"Notify all citizens of said consultations, either through direct mail (email) or advertising in alternative weekly papers and traditional media."
"... you can't ignore the traditional forms of consultation - letters, telephone, face-to-face, even though a significant portion of citizens will only want to use the internet for providing feedback..."
" I don't think open invitations for public feedback should be the only way to gather feedback because then you are only getting feedback from the most vocal and engaged citizens. I think you create regular feedback channels (focus groups, surveys) from randomly selected citizens who represent Canada's demographics."
Although the majority of participants found it difficult to learn about a Government of Canada consultation, only a quarter of the participants found it difficult to actually participate in the consultation. That was not the case when trying to discover the outcomes of their consultation participation and efforts; the majority of respondents (65%) who had participated in a Government of Canada consultation said they found it difficult (or very difficult) to obtain information about the outcome of that consultation.
"It is not so much an issue of consulting; the problem is that nothing is ever done once the consultation is completed."
"For one, after this consultation is complete, how will I be informed about the results, and the next steps? Often I find it is up to me to go digging later for information, which I do not know when the results will be tallied and what recommendations will come from it, it's always on the individual to do the work, rather than possibly gathering email addresses or contact information, which would then inform Canadians who took part in the consultation that the results are ready and it happened, there's a certain validation that my opinion counts when I know they inform me of what happened, etc."
Responses varied on whether using social media or Web 2.0 tools to participate in a Government of Canada consultation was easy or difficult. Approximately one-quarter of participants had not used social media or Web 2.0 tools in their Government of Canada consultation experience. Only one-quarter found these tools easy to use whereas approximately 37% found it either difficult or very difficult to use in the context of a Government of Canada consultation. When participants were asked how they would like to stay connected to Canada's Open Government initiative, the most popular methods listed were web updates (67%) and through social media (51%). In terms of the "other" category, the most frequent suggestions were: Facebook, Twitter and email alerts.
"The government has the challenge to appeal and interact with a younger population and using social media in a positive light to engage people. While this engages the younger generations, there still has to be the tie to the older generations and bringing them online to start using the technology and interacting with the younger generations will only strength the government and relationship that much more. The benefit for Canada and Canadians would be the sharing of information, that accessing of information making citizens informed and empowered (much as has been seen with the changes achieved within in India and the European Union)."
All participants, regardless of whether or not they had previously participated in a Government of Canada consultation, were asked whether they had any suggestions on how the Government of Canada could improve how it consults with Canadians. There were 211 responses to this open-ended question. One of the most common remarks made was for the Government of Canada to improve its communications and marketing efforts on public consultations so that more Canadians are made aware of the consultations that are taking place.
In addition, participants suggested improving the consultation tools or websites the Government of Canada uses to carry out consultations. This included suggestions related to making greater use of social media tools and making the consultations much more of a two-way or interactive engagement exercise where consultation participants could interact with each other as well as with the government.
Participants also recommended that the Government of Canada should make use of community-based forums and citizen panels to get the message out and help with participation. It was also suggested that the government do more to involve Canadians and the private sector in government. To that end, an Advisory Panel on Open Government was formed. This group of experts from civil society, business, and academia, including independent commentators from Canada and abroad, will provide advice to the President of the Treasury Board on Canada's Open Government Action Plan.
Consultation participants were asked if they were aware of any approaches used by other governments that they thought the Government of Canada could or should model. Some respondents provided detailed answers to this question and included links to specific websites of other governments within Canada and elsewhere. The top five most frequently mentioned governments were: the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, British Columbia, and New Zealand.
"Yes, several nations have begun developing very good open data initiatives. I would closely examine the USA, UK and Australia websites. They all have strengths. One thing they are doing that is very important is not only providing the data, but also helping to promote what their citizens have done with the data. If someone visits your government site, featured or random apps should be prominently displayed. Just because someone builds something for free doesn't mean they wouldn't at least like bragging rights. Citizens that champion government should be championed by government as well. In that sense, remember that the concept gov2.0 is two way communications between citizens and government. Open government is bound to evolve so remain flexible in your approach and transparent in your process."
Participants suggested that the Government needs to promote and engage in open dialogue through any means possible in order to reach the greatest number of its citizens. That means not only through electronic means but also through conventional face-to-face meetings and paper-based methods. Canadians without computers, Internet access or mobile devices – the digital divide – should not be forgotten.
"Send notices through partners - i.e. NGOs, service providers and contractors with govt departments, lobbyists, MPs, Dep. Ministers, and ask for wider circulation of consultations to contacts and networks. Face to face consultations should be the preferred, ideal format for consultation with Canadians. Ask yourselves: How can we reach those individuals who: - do not have internet access, - cannot read or write English or French, - may not have a postal code or permanent residence at the time of the consultation(s), - are Canadian citizens who have the right to equal opportunities to contribute to govt consultations."
"As long as we have a digital divide in this country, true open government will never mature. Democracy and Open Government will then become a luxury of those who can afford the technology to access it."
Participants suggested that clearer information, the use of plain language, and keeping communications simple should be the goal. As well, it was suggested that there is a need for the Government to update its policies related to the management of information, including the declassification of records.
"…the Information and Privacy Commissioners recommend that Canada initiate a systematic review and implement a declassification process for its government records."
At the end of the consultation, participants were asked a question that sought their final comments or suggestions pertaining to the Government of Canada's Open Government initiative. Some expressed skepticism and cynicism about this consultation, particularly where it would lead. Many of the respondents did, however, take the opportunity to praise this specific consultation as a good first step toward a more open Government of Canada. In general, they were hopeful that the Government would follow through quickly on what it heard from Canadians.
"I think it is a laudable initiative that should be pursued to the furthest degree. The more open exchange of information will better equip the government of Canada and Canadians to confront future challenges."