Support Local, Go Global: Open North on Data Governance
Words by Open North Team • Mar 13 2023
In this blog post, Open North introduces its work and approach to data and technology as Code for All’s newest associate member.
Effective local governance is essential for upholding democracy and promoting the common good. The impact of services provided by municipal, community, and civil society organizations are immediately felt and seen by residents of urban and rural communities. In our daily lives, we might bike on bike-only lanes, enjoy an outdoor concert organized by a local art collective or, as in my hometown of Bogota, Colombia, we might be frustrated by the long queues every morning and evening to catch ride on the Transmilenio rapid bus transit system.
The minutiae of everyday life influence the way we perceive, relate, and interact with local authorities. When we repeatedly experience an expected service or benefit in a positive manner, we build trust and confidence in local authorities, and our willingness to engage in a constructive way grows. Notoriously, political scientist Robert D. Putnam explores this relationship, which he labels “democratic institution building” and “social capital”, in his seminal works Making Democracy Work and Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.
Incrementally, local authorities and social services organizations rely on data to provide effective services, inform decision-making, strategize long-term plans, and prioritize the needs of residents. In some contexts, this data can be collected, processed, and analyzed through sensors, dashboards, and various technology platforms. In others, it might be collected manually or through informal processes. Regardless, city officials, community organizations, and others providing services to residents must balance challenges connected to data and management, public consultation, procurement, and/or digital literacy and capacity, to name a few. This is where our work at Open North comes in.
Open North is Canada’s leading not-for-profit organization specializing in data and technology for the public sector and community organizations. We provide support around Open Smart Cities, digital modernization, public consultation, climate action, open government, and data governance, among others.
Our mission is to advance the responsible and effective use of data and technology in service to transparent, accountable, and inclusive communities. We support partners to reimagine how to govern with and for data and technology and make informed decisions for the common good. Guided by a values-first approach, our staff works at the service of communities, especially the most vulnerable ones.
Vulnerable populations, including but not limited to those with intersecting identities such as women in minority and Indigenous communities, LGBTQ2S+ individuals, and newcomers, often remain underserved and are particularly impacted by gaps in telecommunications services, digital access, and data literacy.
Moreover, data used in decision-making might not accurately reflect these populations due to methodological biases, gaps in data collection, or low data capacity, resulting in public services that do not meet the needs of vulnerable populations. On the other hand, digital transformation, data, and technology have the potential to mitigate past harms, integrate marginalized communities and make service delivery to underserved populations more efficient and impactful by leveraging better data governance for informed decision-making.
Our Offer: A Journey to Better Governance
Open North’s service offerings aim at working collaboratively with authorities to address the needs and wants of local communities. We talk and walk hand-in-hand with municipal officials, local community leaders, civil society, and the public through existing and aspirational technology, data assets, and processes. We then co-create and collaborate with all relevant stakeholders to develop a journey that lays out a path forward to creating a better, more inclusive, and more sustainable future for the communities and the people we serve.
We advise, implement, iterate, and adapt our methods as we navigate complex systems with our partners, focusing on sustainability, transparency, and self-sufficiency. Our end-deliverable takes many shapes based on the identified needs of each partner, from targeted and low-cost digital capacity-building workshops and courses to the co-creation of bespoke data governance and technology procurement strategies, the moderation and animation of digital data partnerships, or a combination of the above.
Our approach purposefully rejects a future in which a limited number of large tech companies control community and city services with no oversight. These companies serve narrow interests that don’t represent the community at large, and they rely on complex and obscure technological solutions. Instead, we accompany partners and implementers through their journey as they transform local governance into effective, transparent, inclusive, and sustainable government and community services.
Local Actions, Globally (And Vice Versa)
Local actions have global impacts, both negative and positive. Collaborative efforts tend to go global as partners and collaborators learn and apply to different contexts and in their respective networks. For example, our work in data for public consultations developed in Montreal was adapted in Ukraine to make legislature and policy more transparent and accessible. Concerted efforts by civil society in Uruguay and Argentina using gender data to highlight violence against women inform our case studies and capacity-building activities.
At Open North, we recognize that solving complex governance challenges brought on by technology and data requires a variety of perspectives, experiences, and ideas of what it means to work together toward the common good. We look forward to participating in the Code for All network.
Please do not hesitate to reach out at info@opennorth or through our Twitter and LinkedIn pages with ideas, partnership opportunities, or to learn more about our work. Our diverse and globally-minded team speaks English, Spanish, and French, among many other languages!