As the footer of this page says, OpenNWT is an initiative working to make government more open and accountable. To do this, we are focusing on technology projects that make public information more accessible.

While information published by governments is, for the most part, in the public domain, it is often hard to use, analyse or even find. As a result of this, we’ve decided to do what we can to take bits of information that we think are buried or difficult to use and create information portals to them.

What is Open Data?

As the first line of the Wikipedia page on Open Data states, “Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control”. The concept that public information should be free for use is not a new one but, something that’s being made easier by the internet and innovations in technology.

What started as community initiatives have often become full government programs dedicated to sharing information with the public in more accessible formats. Take a look at Wikipedia’s Open Data page for some interesting facts and links about the global open data movement.

Where did OpenNWT come from?

The inspiration for OpenNWT as a community initiative comes from a number of similar projects cropping up around the world. Even here in Canada there are a number of separate organizations developing open data projects. Some of these include OpenNorth, a non-profit focused on tools to improve democracy, CivicAccess, a group of citizens working to advocate that governments publish data in open and free ways.

Outside of Canada, there initiatives around the world working on open overnment and open data initiatives. One of the larger organizations, located in the USA, is the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit advocating for open government globally and uses technology to make government more accountable to all.

From a global perspective, the UN has sponsored the Akoma Ntoso project which has created an open standard for all parliamentary democracies to make use of. This includes standards based legislation, Hansard, meeting agendas, and more. By agreeing to, and making use of, open, standards-based document formats it becomes easier to share information and build tools to analyze it.

Who created OpenNWT?

This initiative was put together and primarily developed by David Wasylciw. Although, many others have helped out with ideas, graphics, data entry, and a host of other tasks that are necessary to develop a site like this. You can reach David directly via e-mail at david@wasylciw.com or on Twitter at @DavidWasylciw.

What is the role for government?

All of these projects have one thing in common, regular citizens working to make our governments more accessible. In a number of cases, governments around the world have embraced the idea. This has lead to the some larger open data projects including the UK’s data.gov.uk portal and the USA’s data.gov portal. A number of other governments have since gotten involved including some here in Canada. The Canadian Government has put more emphasis on open data in recent years creating the data.gc.ca portal. As well at the provincial level there has been an increasing involvement including, BC’s DataBC portal, and Ontario’s Open Data Catalogue.

However, even when governments don’t fully embrace the open data concept, there are small things that can be done. For example, rather than only publishing data in PDF format it can be accompanied by CSV, or Excel files. Even this small but, fundamental change in business practices can make a big difference as to how the public can use information.

Around the world, individuals and organizations have used open data to implement projects that government officials hadn’t considered or didn’t have the resources to do themselves. The European Parliament has also released a number of the standards and tools that they use to develop legislation and other EU-wide regulations. By doing this on a European wide basis it has pushed all European countries to consider what they can do.