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Friday, June 25, 2010

GovCamp Toronto speaks to converted but that's the point for now

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Some (lengthy) musings on GovCamp Toronto June 17, 2010. 

COT Representation

First up, attendance was great form the City of Toronto. Is that important? I think so.  Among the many were CIO, Dave Wallace (my ultimate boss here in I&T), Howard Wunch (a more immediate boss in the Web Centre), Trish Garner (OK she is my direct boss). Outside of  I&T, Neil Evans from 311 and Michael Williams the General Manager for the EDC division (which is all about Economic Development & Culture - hence the EDC tag) were there. That's two heavy hitters showing interest.  In all I counted about 20 City staff there. I think that shows good uptake from us.

David Eaves

What can you say about David Eaves that hasn't been said by those who've heard his "pitch"?

What most impressed me was how, in a few short minutes, the value added of opening up data becomes clear. A colleague of mine has been suggesting that the Open Data discussion is a bit like the Climate Change issue - meaning those on the "need to have open" side are facing similar barriers in uptake etc as those who believe Climate Change is "impacting" right now (I am encouraging him to prepare a post here about it).

If we follow this analogy, David Eaves could be the Al Gore and Inconvenient Truth of the Open movement. I think a documentary of his presentation is in order for use in presentations where he can't be there LIVE. It would be very useful right here in the City of Toronto for communicating about what "open" is all about. I want more than his PowerPoint slides for this.

Table Sessions and results
My previous post talked about my own table experience. In a bigger picture sense, the more camps you go to following the same motif, the more you see what needs to be completed but the more you see the task not being done.  Discussion goes only so far before you need to action it in deliverable bits. At some point soon, dare I say it, working groups are going to have to solidify to get the job done. It's kind of a blending of old school/new school means to the end.


All table facilitators had the opportunity to pitch their table - picture above is my view as I made my pitch.  Then, of course, you get to it.

There were lots of topics to choose from - maybe too many but it's a bit of an attendance ratio game afoot to cover the potential numbers and interests. The set up and functioning works well enough for the process and Mark Kuznicki, does a fine job as chief facilitator/enabler. Kudos Sir.

But now what?
Further to my first point, everyone interested in the area has got to figure out and resolve the legislative barriers (some would say protections) to get the data flowing on a regular basis.  I'd like to see specific focus on just this item at the next effort.

As an insider from the Gov side, I think the #1 impediment to getting data out is the process of release approval.  There is so much privacy legislation in effect the process simply is not "simple". To work through this is likely to take months if not years.  I should note I am speaking entirely personally here - not for my group or the others on toronto.ca/open when I say this. It is just my personal observation after some 16 months dealing with open issues.

Private vs rights to see it
Clearly not all data is private but the process of looking at data inevitably requires an assessment by privacy representatives. Even if it's a no brainer, it still needs sign off. Here is where everyone from legal to FOI staff to legislators need to enter the Camps and participate.  Otherwise, the ideals and efforts of all the rest are just blowing in the winds. So, lots more discussion needs to get down and dirty to resolve how you can manage releasing data and still have protections for the tax payer/citizen.  If the law is too stringent, then it needs to be changed.  If the law is reasonable in how it protects citizens, then the expectations for what data you can have has got to change.  I think it's an aspect of "open" government that is somewhat conflicted actually. For sure it isn't black or white. And that's where the style of a camp just isn't going to get "it" done.

Norway puts everything out including tax returns 
With no uptake at my own table, I moved on to take in some of the other action and dropped by "Table 14" which was talking about ways to reach citizens.  There, the group was talking about how citizens may trust governments with things like their drivers license numbers and SINs but really didn't want the areas having this information to actually use the information for us. Take Revenue Canada as an example. Do we want them to push data our way if we happen to be on a Revenue Canada page? (Analogy here is to someone nearing retirement and, as they happen to be on Revenue Canada site, they get pushed some info alerts about CPP or the like).  

I offered it's a schizophrenic audience we are trying to reach.  The reference to Norway came up around this time in the discussion. 

For those who aren't aware, it is true Norway releases everything publicly - you can find out what your neighbour earns to the last cent by checking out the tax returns.  I just can't imagine the Feds, the Province or the local governments here in Canada ever getting with that program.  There is an historical reason why Norway ended up doing this (see this article for more deets).  I think it's really useful to have the discussion that drills this deep by the way since I'm pretty sure we are going to have trouble reconciling "transparency" with our feelings around our own information being a part of it. That's where evangelizing the benefits is going to be prime. 

I roamed around several other tables and everyone was engaged with great passion.  The pluses of a Camp format do stand out as you observe this kind of interaction. There is great legitimacy in finding like minds and like enthusiasm.

Next Steps
There will be more camps - talk of November is already happening. I would hope the internal government folks can do some meet ups as well to try and work on barriers from within.  As well, I'd like to see Advisory Boards or some equivalent come up where "citizens" can contribute and push.  

I'm a Mac and this is PC

I took this shot at my table - kind of hard to see but a Mac was right beside a PC for note taking purposes by the users. 

So on a final note, if PC and Mac can coexist at a table like this documenting the same discussion - then it may very well be possible for open data and the rest of the dreams around it to happen. Kind of abstract but I wanted to end this on a positive note.

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Michael Cayley said...

Here is a post that covers the follow up points that I covered verbally at the camp.



Keith from the TO web re:Brand team said...

Thanks Michael for the comment sin both posts. Here is your link to your post activated http://bit.ly/db595E

Keith from the TO web re:Brand team said...

I've commented on Michael's post as well. Go to: http://bit.ly/db595E and join the dialogue - there or here - er, preferably here (speaking selfishly).