Open Government

INTRODUCTION

Open Government is a new way of thinking about government – as a publicly accessible platform, using technology to improve services for citizens, and encourage greater public participation.

Based on the principle that good ideas come from everywhere, Open Government has transformed the halls of power – and improved peoples’ lives – from Brazil to Latvia, Toronto to Nanaimo. (Many of these movements are banding together through the worldwide Open Government Partnership.)

It’s time for Victoria to get with the program.

BUT HOW DOES OPEN GOVERNMENT WORK – AND WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

TRUST

The idea: A government that the citizens trust is a government that can be effective on a wide range of issues with support from engaged citizens.

Examples:

Open Council Meetings
Nanaimo Live Streaming and Video Archived Council Meetings – Since 2009, the City of Nanaimo has posted video of all its council meetings online. The neat part: click on an item on the agenda, and the video zips directly to the part of the meeting that interests you. It took the City’s tech staff two weeks and $2,000 in software licences to develop the system, and only costs $15 a week to operate.

Open Data
Property Tax Comparatron – Using online information, the Open Data BC group has created an interactive, animated graph showing how property taxes in various B.C. municipalities have evolved over time, relative to house value. Victoria’s remain relatively low in overall percentages, although that may be cold comfort, given Victoria’s high house prices.

Disclosure of Spending and Contracts
Proactive Disclosure Canada – Using now-available B.C. government financial databases, Kevin McArthur has created a deceptively simple search engine showing what companies and individuals deal with the province, and how much they’ve been paid.

FixMyStreet shows which boroughs get the job done, and which ones don’t

ENGAGEMENT

The idea: Engage and collaborate with citizens. Involve them in open discussion online, social media, and provide multiple ways for citizens to participate.  The community will create ways to engage given the opportunity and if they think government will listen.

Examples:

Fix My Street – A simple online tool, created by a UK nonprofit society, helps residents directly report problems such as graffiti, broken lampposts or potholes to their municipal government, and locate the problem on online maps for faster response.

EveryBlock – A hyperlocal news service, compiling everything from real estate listings to school announcements, enables residents in many U.S. cities to meet their neighbours, and organize their communities. A service Victoria could use for greater earthquake preparedness.

INNOVATION

The idea: bring down the barriers to innovation so citizens can create more value for themselves and their community.  Get more done with less.

Examples:

One Bus Away – Real-time transit information, with the exact locations and arrival times of buses at your stop, developed by students at the University of Washington.

Recollect – A simple tool using City of Vancouver data to remind residents by email on the day their garbage or recycling is to be picked up.

Homeless Shelter Finder – In development, a tool to help everyone in Vancouver to find a bed for the night, by knowing at a glance which facilities have space.

Open Victoria strives to provide a platform to demonstrate and share these new tools, showing citizens of Victoria – and City Hall itself – what is really possible!