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Shifting institutional cultures to open through smart policy

May 19, 2009  |  by Jason Mogus

It's one thing to talk about transparency and change in an election campaign, and quite a different task moving a beauracracy towards unchartered territory. Last year we took a turn at politics and were part of the team who helped Gregor Robertson win the Mayor's City of Vancouver home pagerace, and one of the most exciting parts of his platform was the focus on supporting creative industries in Vancouver, with City Hall's new spirit of innovation, transparency, and open government.

Last week the city went public with a bold new legislative push to do just that! The buzz, which started on Twitter and in blogosphere, was kicked off by David Eaves' post. It's now hit mainstream media across the country, with The Visible City in the Globe and Mail and City Business Will be Online, All the Time in today's Vancouver Sun.

Vancouver is being heralded as a national leader in the growing open government movement. And passing motions like this is one of the strongest things institutions can do to put out clear signals to their staff, partners, and customers that they are ready to do business in new ways. These kinds of motions seem small but can support a lot of innovation. 

I had a small hand, working with David and councillor Andrea Reimer, in some of the key elements of the motion going before council this week. Here's an excerpt for those who missed it:

WHEREAS the City of Vancouver is committed to bringing the community into City Hall by engaging citizens, and soliciting their ideas, input and creative energy;

WHEREAS the total value of public data is maximized when provided for free or where necessary only a minimal cost of distribution;

WHEREAS when data is shared freely, citizens are enabled to use and re-purpose it to help create a more economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable city;

WHEREAS Vancouver needs to look for opportunities for creating economic activity and partnership with the creative tech sector;

WHEREAS the adoption of open standards improves transparency, access to city information by citizens and businesses and improved coordination and efficiencies across municipal boundaries and with federal and provincial partners;

WHEREAS digital innovation can enhance citizen communications, support the brand of the city as creative and innovative, improve service delivery, support citizens to self-organize and solve their own problems, and create a stronger sense of civic engagement, community, and pride;

WHEREAS the City of Vancouver has incredible resources of data and information, and has recently been awarded the Best City Archive of the World.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of Vancouver endorses the principles of:

  • Open and Accessible Data - the City of Vancouver will freely share with citizens, businesses and other jurisdictions the greatest amount of data possible while respecting privacy and security concerns;
  • Open Standards - the City of Vancouver will move as quickly as possible to adopt prevailing open standards for data, documents, maps, and other formats of media;
  • Open Source Software - the City of Vancouver, when replacing existing software or considering new applications, will place open source software on an equal footing with commercial systems during procurement cycles; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT in pursuit of open data the City of Vancouver will:

  • Identify immediate opportunities to distribute more of its data;
  • Index, publish and syndicate its data to the internet using prevailing open standards, interfaces and formats;
  • Develop a plan to digitize and freely distribute suitable archival data to the public;
  • Ensure that data supplied to the City by third parties (developers, contractors, consultants) are unlicensed, in a prevailing open standard format, and not copyrighted except if otherwise prevented by legal considerations;
  • License any software applications developed by the City of Vancouver such that they may be used by other municipalities, businesses, and the public without restriction.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED THAT the City Manager be tasked with developing an action plan for implementation of the above.

David says it much better than me, the benefits this motion will bring for the city. If you are as excited about what this means for our city (and the Open Government movement in general), please make plans to write a letter or speak at the council meeting happening Tue, May 19. VanChangeCamp

And if you are a real geek on this stuff, make sure you make plans to attend VanChangeCamp, an unconference on opening up govenment happening in Vancouver on June 20. There will be some great examples from the BC Government and hopefully Vancouver city presenting case studies and looking for help, as well as lots of models of how citizens are self-organizing, supported by technology, to get their own needs met.

These are exciting times for anyone interested in how web values like transparency, participation, and collaboration can help the most powerful institutions of our times become more nimble and responsive to citizen needs in a changing world. Stay tuned for more fun. And congratulations city of Vancouver!

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