Friday, January 06, 2012

Open Government Consultation - my response

Here is my response to Canada's Open Government Consultation. Please note that responses are due by January 16, 2011!

Open Government Consultation – Response from Independent Scholar

First, congratulations and kudos to the Government of Canada for actively participating in the Open Government movement, and for providing this opportunity for citizens to be involved in this consultation. I speak as an independent scholar and librarian.

Open data

The keys to making open data as useful as it could be are to use open and interoperable formats and best practices for licensing. Because both are evolving, my suggestion is to just get the data up there and available with the best format and license for now, realizing that worldwide standards are likely to change over the next few years.

Opendata.bc provides a widely recognized good model for licensing of open data

The European Commission’s Open Data Strategy is one that I recommend consulting:

My interests cover the range of scholarly knowledge; any and all of the open data sets mentioned would be most helpful.

In addition, I would strongly suggest that datasets resulting from research funded by Canada’s federal funding agencies be required to be made openly available as soon as possible after collection, with appropriate privacy safeguards in the case of research involving human subjects.

Open Information

It is timely for the government to expand the agenda-setting Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Policy on Access to Research Outputs to all federal research funding agencies. Research funded by the Canadian taxpayer should be freely available to all. The optimum mandate would require deposit of the author’s final peer-reviewed research scholarly articles into an open access archive at a university (and/or PubMedCentral Canada), immediately on acceptance for publication. In the short term, an embargo date of up to 6 months might be set to allow scholarly publishers time to adjust to the growing environment of open access in scholarly communication.

As a librarian, I know that reports commissioned by the Government of Canada and information submitted to Parliament by departments and agencies often contain essential research or other information (that’s why these reports get funded in the first place), that are useful far beyond the original reason for commissioning the reports. To get full value from these reports, these reports should retained, archived, and made accessible. Ideally, today, this means putting the reports online for open access. Librarians are uniquely skilled in collecting such reports, preservation, and making the works accessible online, by providing expert metadata, and assistance to researchers. I urge the federal government to encourage and help its libraries to transition to a role of providers of information online. 

Open Dialogue

In 2010, I actively participated in the consultation on Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy, and commented at the time that this is an enlightened approach.

For someone like me, it is reasonably easy to find out about and participate in these sorts of consultations. However, I am a scholar whose work is closely related to the internet and public policy; I am often on the web and on the alert for messages about such consultations, and have a strong background for participation. I am not sure that all of this is true for most people in Canada, or would even be true for me at a different stage in life.  What I see as needed is active outreach. People need to understand the issues before they can provide fully informed opinions. Web-based consultations need to provide a means for people without ready access to the internet at home to participate. Public libraries can play an important role in this arena. We need to keep in mind that not every community is connected to the internet; other means are needed to engage these citizens.

Final Comments: Open Government Strategy

Are there approaches used by other governments that you believe the Government of Canada could / should model?

Yes! The United States has provided the whole world with an outstanding example in the freely available PubMed index and PubMedCentral fulltext archive. PubMed is the world’s premiere medical index; as recently as the 1990’s, I worked at a library at a small university college in Canada that could not afford to purchase access to what was then called Medline. Today, this index is freely available, around the world, to anyone with an Internet connection. Thanks to the policies of medical research funding agencies (including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Wellcome Trust, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, among many others), requiring public access to the results of research that they fund, 20% of the world’s medical literature is now freely available within two years of publication. This expanded access makes an enormous difference in finding solutions to medical problems. I am proud that Canada is one of the first countries to participate in the envisioned PubMedCentral international, through PMC-Canada.

As mentioned above, I recommend looking at:

Also, the City of Vancouver’s Open Data initiative:

Again, thanks for the opportunity to participate.

Heather Morrison
Vancouver, BC
Doctoral Candidate, Simon Fraser University School of Communication
The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics

Privacy note: the above links are to publicly available sites.

This is a response to the Canadian government’s Open Government Consultation

January 6, 2012