Jonathan Brun

Québec Ouvert – a new citizen initiative

My blog has been a bit quiet of late, due largely to the launch of a new citizen initiative for open data – Québec Ouvert. This effort follows a similar format and model to the successful effort in Montreal (Montreal Ouvert).

One notable difference will be the strategy and the data sets we target for release. By nature, provincial services are more removed from the citizen’s daily life than municipal services. Municipalities offer street cleaning, public transit, roads (some), and parks. Provinces most used services include healthcare, education and larger infrastructure. It could be said that you interact with municipal services on a daily basis, with provincial services on a monthly basis and with federal services on an annual basis. Consequently, we will be working with a different strategy and a wider perspective, while trying to bring our narrative to the individual level – hospital wait times, road construction and high quality education. Specifically, we will be encouraging the province to embrace open data as a tool to fight corruption.

I recently penned two articles on major issues in Quebec – how to use open data for a clean environment and the potential of open data to limit the increases in school tuition fees. The Québec Ouvert initiative is entirely in french and brings together people from Québec City, Montréal and Gatineau. We will keep you posted as we progress towards an accessible and open province!

Published on April 2, 2012

The next quiet revolution – how Wikileaks, Open-Data and Citizen expectations will change the world

Things change quickly. Prior to the 1960s, Quebec was run by Maurice Duplessis and the Catholic Church. Upon his death in 1960, a radical change in government took place as power over health care, education, and much of Quebec society, perviously held by the Catholic Church, was ripped away and given to a democratically elected government. This non-violent revolution took place in the span of one decade and lay the foundation for today’s society. Just as that revolution saw the power move from one shadow government, the Catholic Church, to a more representative government, today’s shift transfers power from the hidden parts of our government back to the people.

Western governments are crippled with debt, which simply means they are trying to do too much with too little. You can argue their management is inefficient, the systems are too old or they are not competent – either way, the people are tired of it and are demanding change. Citizens live in a connected, digitized world with email, Facebook, and other amazing tools. When citizens, especially young ones, arrive at a government website, a hospital or a public school, they fail to understand how they are run so inefficiently. Of course, these institutions have inherited decades of legacy technology and practices, but that is still not a satisfactory answer. The people have expectations and governments are failing to live up to them.

Three major pressures are coming down on governments around the wold – Citizen expectations, Open-Data and Wikileaks.

Citizen expectations are born out of their daily lives. They communicate through email, Facebook and Twitter, see photos and have access to amazing tools. They consequently expect governments to rapidly embrace these same tools to improve the standard of living and better deliver existing services. However, governments are often burdened with so much responsibility they cannot easily pivot and change according to new technology. It is thus important for governments to begin offering the raw data so that third parties – citizen’s, non-profits and business can help deliver services to society. This raw data feed is a new trend that is rapidly growing into the global Open-Data movement.

The Open-Data movement, of which I am part, requests that governments offer their information in a format that can be reused and turned into practical tools. Advocates of open-data want governments to open up their databases of information so that citizens can peer inside, see problems and help fix them. Citizens want governments to embrace crowd-sourcing, leverage experts in their communities and be more efficient. While many governments resist, we should remember the cries of outrage when parliament was first required to publish the Hansard, it is now consider obvious that parliament would act in a transparent manner for all citizens to see.

The third force acting on governments today is fear, fear of Wikileaks. Wikileaks illegally takes information from governments (and corporations) and exposes it for all the world to see. Even in democratic countries, governments have little experience with full and complete transparency. In many ways, the elected government is a superficial level of a shadow government which runs continuously through election cycles and whose power is out of sight of most citizens. It manages the society through meetings, diplomacy, statistics and more. In fact, Assange and Wikileaks want to pull the structure of secrecy out from underneath government bureaucracies. By removing the secrecy of their communication, Wikileaks forces them to either revert to secrecy, which slows down their operations, or open-up, which forces them to act in a moral and appropriate way. The best summary of Wikileaks’ motivation can be found here.

The traditional, semi-closed, hierarchical bureaucratic government institution has served well for over 40 years, but it is time to change. Citizen expectations, Open-Data and Wikileaks will change it by increasing transparency, efficiency and fundamentally making it more representative of the citizenship. Make no qualms about it, society is undergoing a revolution, but a quiet one. The power structure we have now will radically change as citizens and organizations push for honesty through transparency.

Published on December 9, 2010

Resto-Net.ca exposes health inspections in Montreal

Open-Data is dear to my heart, since July 2010 I have been working at Montreal Ouvert to bring an open-data policy to the city. Open-data basically means that the government (in this case Montreal) publishes its information in an open, accessible and legal format that allows for re-use.

To show our fellow citizens the potential power of open-data, I convinced the amazing Jeff Wallace to build Resto-Net.ca. The site that takes the health inspections, currently available on the city website, and presents them in an easier to use format – along with some great analytics prepared by James McKinney. So, what is missing? A lot. The city should be doing the following:

  1. Publish the information in a machine readable format
  2. Create an API to get real-time updates of health inspections
  3. Publish warnings, inspections and other information – not just fines (which is what they currently do).

On November 11th, 2010, CTV News is airing a special report on health inspections in the city of Montreal and yours truly will be featured. Tune in at noon or 6PM.

To give you an idea of the fines our there, take a look at this chart:

Published on November 10, 2010

Montreal Ouvert – my new project!

I am very happy to announce the formal launch of Montreal Ouvert.net, a citizen’s action group to encourage the city of Montreal to embrace Open-Data. Open-Data is the practice of releasing information in a form that can be easily downloaded, used, merged and distributed. This means: centralized information, not in PDFs, and without copyright.

This project was born out of discussions with Michael Lenczner of Ile sans fil fame and now includes two other amazing co-founders, Jean-Noé Landry, a democracy consultant, and Sebastien Pierre of Form Function, a data visualization company. We are working hard to meet with relevant stakeholders in the city of Montréal and to raise awareness of this issue. Sadly, Montreal lags behind other Canadian cities, all of whom have embraced open-data practices. We hope to help Mayor Tremblay and his administration move the city’s data into the 21st century.

Together, we plan to coordinate efforts in the city and eventually help propose a council resolution that will allow and oblige the various city departments to publish their data in an open and useable format. The best way to familiarize yourself with our ideas is to visit the project’s site at Montreal Ouvert.net.

You can also follow us on Twitter at here.

We are always looking for help, ideas and assistance, so do not hesitate to contact me at jbrun@jonathanbrun.com

Published on August 6, 2010