Open North begins crowd-fundraising for municipal open data projects

gov gears

Open North a Canadian non-profit focused on improving citizen engagement and opening governments announced three new municipal open data initiatives in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. The goal of the work is to effectively create online city halls for each locality. The online platform will launch in all three cities this summer, and the group has created a crowd funding page to attract donors and developers now. will be a free, open source platform for citizens to learn about, track and influence the decisions of their city councils. The platform was modeled on existing initiatives in other countries including a question and answer site for the German Parliament and work in the US done by the Sunlight Foundation opening up federal and state legislative actions to the public.

James McKinney, the organization’s executive director was tasked to become the technical lead on the projects, through a partnership with the Participatory Politics Foundation according to Ellie Marshall, Open North’s communications manager who spoke with CivSource this morning. McKinney previously contributed to Montréal Ouvert – a citizen initiative to promote open access to civic information, and is well known with in the Canadian government for his work on open data projects.

Users of the platform will be able to set up email alerts and get updates on issues they care about, as well as, asked councilors publicly tracked questions and get answers. “We are developing a platform and an open data standard that will make it easier for municipalities to share their work with the world,” Marshall says. “We think data is of the highest value when users can see it and interact with it as its going before decision makers.”

Councillors can use to engage constituents in new ways and to better understand which issues matter. Open North is working with partner organizations to ensure the website presents government information in a way that is easy to understand and use. Open North will also invite community leaders to workshops to receive their feedback, to ensure the platform meets citizens’ needs and empowers them to act. Similar platforms will also be launching in US cities – Philadelphia, San Jose, and Washington DC through the organization’s partnership with the Participatory Politics Foundation.

Marshall explains that the projects do not have an official government mandate, but officials in all of the cities are aware of their work. She notes that projects like this need some kind of open data initiative already in place, and all of these first round cities have such projects. “We may explore information requests in the future,” she says. The project is fully open source and the code is available on GitHub. Marshall hopes developers will also start to work with it adding on features.

As CivSource has reported Toronto has had an open data project underway since 2010. In the US, Philadelphia has launched an Office of New Urban Mechanics, in an effort to leverage technology to improve service delivery. Washington DC has also been a hot spot for leading civic app contests and building out a startup community for civic minded IT projects at all levels of government.

“We hope that in future election cycles users will go to the website and see which councilors have been interacting most with constituents through our question and answer feature. Initially, we’re going to be focused on putting up information around municipal decision making, but we plan to add budget and other data in the future. We hope that our partnerships with developers will also yield new tools,” Marshall said.