The Role of Canadian Municipal Open Data: A Multi-city Evaluation
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In this thesis I undertake a study of Canadian municipal open data initiatives in order to assess the current state of the programs and to gauge the role(s) that these initiatives may play in regards to improving public engagement in local government issues. After an initial literature review, I adopt two separate approaches. The first approach involves the creation of an inventory and evaluation of the contents of all twenty three (23) Canadian municipal open data catalogues in existence during the summer of 2012. The second approach involves asking questions of key informants in the field through the execution of nineteen (19) semi-structured interviews with open data experts from both government and civic realms in ten (10) case study cities across the country. The results of the research illustrate the major differences and similarities between the structure, output, and roles of open data initiatives in various Canadian cities. The data provided by these programs mostly consists of politically neutral geographic data, though there are a few exceptions. I find two major program structures in Canadian cities: (1) The first type of open data program is created and operates within a specific municipal department and the (2) second type of program operates across a number of departments. Each approach has its own benefits and challenges. The open data initiatives across Canadian cities also appear to have different approaches to public engagement. Several cities have developed strong collaborative relationships with local open data advocates which are explored in some detail. Larger themes about the current state of open data, its current and future role, and the challenges faced by operators and users, are also described in this thesis. I conclude with some recommendations for improving municipal open data initiatives in the future.