The Internet has changed how organizations operate and people live. One of the most important changes that online connectivity has introduced is the advent of Open Data (OD), a new technological trend that is transforming access to information. Every day, countless people are able to find new information that is open, accessible and re-useable in ways that pre-digital systems simply could not facilitate.
The Open Data Institute defines OD as information that can be used by anyone for any purpose and at no cost. OD is information that is available electronically and in a machine-readable format such as Extensible Markup Language (XML), Comma-Separated Values (CSV) and dataset. In most cases, OD is made available through the Internet and is free to be used and re-used without any copyright restriction. This is made possible through the use of license agreements that allow individuals to openly use and re-use data. For effective re-use and whenever possible, OD should be time stamped, available and accessible in an open format using a non-proprietary or open source software, accompanied by useful metadata and geospatial information, which provides innovative and interactive opportunities to aggregate data with maps.
As part of the efforts for driving innovation and economic opportunities, the Government of Canada (GC) launched their online Open Data Portal in March 2011 to centralize freely available data. In April 2012 the GC joined the International Open Government Partnership (OGP) and endorsed the core principles of the multilateral initiative for Open Government Data (OGD). Today the TBS is responsible for the governance, including guidelines and policies, applicable to data, and since its launch the portal has increased its federal department participation and available datasets. The GC is expanding its Open Government initiatives along three main streams: Open Information for the release of information on government activities, Open Data for making information available in a machine-readable format, and Open Dialogue which gives citizens the opportunity to dialogue with its government about policies and priorities. In addition, TB is working on the release of a new and common Open Government Licence for OD and developing a new Directive on Open Government.
Today’s modern technology is providing users’ newfound flexibility to access more information than ever before. Through efforts such as those undertaken by the GC, it is evident that the proliferation of content available on the Internet is empowering citizens and is changing governments. Open Government is part of an effort to use these technologies to make government more open and accessible.
Challenges surrounding the dissemination and release of OD can sometimes prevent or limit its benefits. Publishing OD may involve a number of labour- and time-intensive tasks, such as changing data formats, making sure that information is up-to-date, aligning datasets with existing licenses and meeting criteria for releasing information that could be sensitive. Despite these possible obstacles, the process of publishing data is critical for governments because it is the first step to engaging users and demonstrating transparency. In addition, it can foster internal changes to organizations, such as the implementation of new standards and technologies, and/or changes to organizational and cultural behaviors. It also begins the interactive process needed to validate and achieve a level of quality data.
The success of OD is dependent on the quality of the information. In order to assure that OD is of high quality, related information must be made available. Metadata about the datasets can provide users with information about the data and allow for ease of use by improving public understanding and incorporating other information, such as geographical information.
This paper will focus on examining the benefits and challenges of publishing OD for government organizations. It will attempt to identify advantages of OD published from the GC Open Data Portal. It is presumed that open and accessible data offers multiple benefits, including improved openness and accountability, as well as an increase in innovation and economic growth. This paper aims to help public organizations make sound and informed decisions for extending their OD initiatives by determining the social, economic and environmental benefits of shared data from public organizations, thereby creating a more cost-effective, transparent, efficient and responsive government.