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Richard Pietro's Open Government Tour - Winnipeg Retrospective

It began with this tweet. On replying I learnt of Richard’s plan to tour Canada promoting democratic engagement. This past summer, in cities across Canada, Richard modeled civic engagement as an art form, curating discussions about Open Government with public servants, programmers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and citizens.

Open government is the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight. source: wikipedia

On August 11th 2014 Richard Pietro’s Open Government Tour (OGT14) attracted a crowd to the Millennium Library in downtown Winnipeg. The event was sponsored by Open Democracy Manitoba, and hosted by Community News Commons and the Winnipeg Public Library.

Richard Pietro with Motorcycle

Above: Richard Pietro with the motorcycle he drove across Canada raising awareness about the Open Goverment movement.

Although we’d spoken during the video chat planning sessions with other OGT14 “City Champions”, I first met Richard in person the day of the event. Fellow ODM member Ken Harasym and I met him in the morning at a motorbike shop on Pembina, followed by breakfast at the Pancake house. Despite the bike problems he was dealing with Richard was in good spirits. With his bike out of commission, I voluteered to chauffeur him around for the day. This meant I was able to join him discussing Open Government and Open Data with Dahlia Kurtz on her CJOB radio show. We also got to spend the day chatting and getting to know each other.

The Winnipeg OGT14 event was co-moderated by Richard and myself (Kyle Geske of Open Democracy Manitoba). The evening started with Richard defining Open Government and Open Data and why they are important, with the help of a few memes.

The crowd was eager to hear Richard and guests introduce the Open Government movement while discussing local Open Gov / Open Data ideas and initiatives. A number of city journalists and three mayoral candidates for the 2014 Winnipeg Election, Brian Bowman, Robert-Falcon Oullette and Judy Wasylycia-Leis, were in attendance along with 70+ engaged citizens.

First Half: Access and why it’s important

The first panel of guests included Mary Agnes Welch of the Winnipeg Free Press, Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and Dennis Lewycky of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. We were also joined by Keith McDonald from the City of Toronto’s Open Data team via Skype.

Some Highlights

  • Richard: Open Data is about restoring trust in our government.
  • Colin: Open Data and FIPPA Requests can be used by citizens or organizations to push government for policy changes.
  • Keith: “Paper is to Open Data as KFC is to the Canadian Food Guide.”
  • Mary Agnes: Data in journalism as starting place for stories that might otherwise have been missed.
  • Dennis: A reminder that technology is not objective. Different metrics used to quantify and explain data can create bias.

When asked by audience member Dan Bernardic about what all this means for the average citizen, I tried to express what I see as the importance of Open Government. That government accountability isn’t something that comes pre-packaged with a democracy. We the citizens are the accountants, but accountants need their spreadsheets. ;)

Second Half: Meeting the Makers

The second panel of guests included Kirk Cumming, manager of data & application service for the City of Winnipeg and Charles Thrift of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Jose Javier, Senior Policy Analyst at Ontario Ministry of Government Services, and Andrew Fogg of joined us by way of Skype.

Some Highlights

  • Kirk: The City of Winnipeg’s Open Data journey begins The three types of users being API users (programmers), data analysts (researchers/reporters), and the general public.
  • Charles: Peg is providing Open Data as a Non-Governmental Organization to inspire action on community health.
  • Jose: The Open Government Licence establishes rules for governments and citizens. Encourages people to use Open Data.
  • Andrew: as a way for non-programmers to extract data that exists on public websites.
  • Richard: Instead of getting on the government case when data is incorrect or poorly organized, let’s get together and clean up the data.

Kirk also fielded a number of questions from the journalists in the audience regarding the city’s randomization of locations details in their open datasets.

Richard’s Summary of the Winnipeg Event

Kyle Geske, Ken Harasym, Jody Gillis, Andrew Burton, Tessa Vanderhart, and Noah Erenberg were the folks that brought the #OGT14 Winnipeg event together and man, they couldn’t have been more awesome, and for so many different reason.

First, we had the perfect venue, awesome invited guests, lots of food, a dedicated person live tweeting the event, PLUS two cameramen capturing the event. The event ran like clockwork and afterwards the organizers told me their group had never organized an event before! If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see how good their events become once they become seasoned veterans lol.

Read the rest of Richard’s Winnipeg OGT14 experience.

The Twitter Summary

The event was live-tweeted by Tessa Vanderhart. Tessa’s currated collection of tweets from the evening is no longer available (the Storify platform no longer exists) but her tweets can still be seen by following this link and scrolling down to tweets from August 11, 2014. The tweets are in reverse-chronological order, so you may wish to start at the bottom.

Part Two - The Return of the #OGT14

On September 6th we held a smaller Open Government Tour event when Richard stopped in Winnipeg on the return leg of the tour. This event was much more informal that the previous one. We gathered at Cousin’s Deli and discussed Open Government over a few drinks. Richard gave us a recap of the western Canada portion of the tour. We also discussed the dataset available on and how best to promote Open Government as a citizen.