"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Not quite getting this "openness" thing (Part II)

On December 5th, the Office of Public Engagement released a wonderful collection of reports documenting some of the things they have learned through their internal and external consultations over the past number of months.

Records on the internal consultations, sounding out government's own employees on issues of openness and disclosure, are fascinating reading. It is quite clear that when it comes to transparency and access to information, there are many inside government who "get it".

And then there are the others. The ones who are still cowering like sand crabs in a shell of paranoia, second-guessing who wants what information and why. The ones who keep coming up with supposed technological and other obstacles to sharing information that exist only in their imaginations, and not in the real world. The ones who obsess over "misuse" of information — whatever that is.

A sampling:

Making Government more open
  • Careful not to put too much data info out that is too much and becomes not useful or used.
  • Will it be interesting to people, or will it be of minimal interest?
  • The people who were interested might only be mildly interested
  • We don’t have the people power and money to upload all of this in presentable forms
  • The problem with making everything free, there is a potential misuse of information
  • Why put up the information public if it has only 4 views?
Improving Public Engagement
  • Do away with Fridays
  • We have already proactively disclosed of a lot of information, like expenses and salaries and it doesn’t really make much of a difference
Improving Collaboration
  • Putting policies up online can be open to interpretation, so that can also cause a problem when uploading them
  • Hard to talk about collaboration when approval to travel to this session was questioned.
Information Sharing
  • Try to limit the amount of information that has to go through a democratic process
  • Tricky to decide what information needs to be released and what doesn’t
  • Putting information up on the website has increased the sensitivity internally about what is shared.
  • The release of some of the ATIPP requests online actually deter some from requesting information
  • Then there is a problem of people paying for information currently, then everyone gets it anyway
  • But without putting money on it, then people will make frivolous requests and ask for multiple things and all the information
  • I think there is a culture of ownership of government works and that it can’t be shared
  • Need to get over the fear of releasing the information.
  • Sometimes the information that public is seeking is not going to help me do my job. I wouldn't take the time to collect.
  • Government needs to “get over” the fear of providing information
Data Sharing
  • How do you decide what is meaningful to share; need to have dialogue with people to understand that (Combination of pillars!)
  • Does the public really want such information and is it worth it compared to the costs to do this?
  • Are people doing anything with it? Are we just liberating data for no reason, is there a net outcome?
  • Unless there is a demand, should it be released?
  • More is not always best
  • Formats would have to be the same across government
  • The volumes of data make it impractical to share everything
  • Need to figure out what people need to know
Additional Comments
  • Is it really the public that wants this or is it politics?
  • Maybe some people just want government to do their jobs
  • Ensure that released data is indeed appropriate to be released (quality, privacy, etc.)
What We Heard: Data Session
  • Personal privacy is an issue—must be protected; what is the intent of people wanting such information
  • Formats that aren’t accessible to broad public i.e GIS mapping
  • Types of information can be left open for interpretation
  • Ever changing data – when do you draw the line
  • The public don’t want a table full of data
  • You don’t want just the ticked off people
  • We have to keep in mind political sensitivities

This corner, for one, would truly be fascinated to learn more about this idea of abolishing Fridays.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Not quite getting this "openness" thing (Part I)

Over at, there's an interesting proactively-disclosed Access to Information request.

In it, the requester asked the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture for:
Copy of the review prepared for the provincial government by Burke Consulting Inc. on a review of the minimum processing requirements - as noted in a press release from DFA dated Sept. 13, 2006.
Given the apparently weighty nature of the document requested and released, it's a bit surprising to find that the PDF of the release is only 313KB and four pages long.

That would be because, as yet another example in a broader pattern, the release package bears the following annotation:

Potential copyright material

If you wish to obtain a copy please contact the ATIPP Office at (709) 729-7072 or
Well, sure, you could do that.

Or you could just go over and download the report — or at least a redacted version thereof — from the DFA's website.

The Ministry of Openness could use a refresher course in the governing party's long-standing committment to openness and transparency. In their 2003 platform, the Progressive Conservatives under what's-his-name promised:
A Progressive Conservative government will ... release to the public every government-commissioned report within 30 days of receiving it, indicate the action government will take on a report's recommendations within 60 days, and ensure prompt public access to all government reports in hard copy and on the Internet.

It would seem bizarre and illogical that the government is now relying on (rather dubious) copyright grounds to avoid releasing copies of reports it has commissioned, and, indeed, published elsewhere in its little web empire.

Perhaps it would assuage the nervous legal nellies in if government were to make it a standard requirement for all outside consulting contracts that copyright in the resulting work either be transferred to the government, or at very least that government obtain an unlimited license to the third-party reports it commissions and pays for.