Enhancing Open Government

Posted by David Wrate on behalf of the DataBC team

In July of 2011, the Province of B.C. launched its open data and information initiatives. Since then, great strides have been made to provide the public with ready access to government’s data and information.

British Columbia is one of the busiest jurisdictions in Canada for FOI requests with an annual number of FOI requests comparable to that of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined. In the past five years government has responded to more than 45,000 FOI requests and there are currently over 3,600 datasets in the BC Data Catalogue.

What’s Changing?

Government is taking steps to improve access to information by issuing directives to proactively disclose several new categories of records routinely requested through Freedom of Information (FOI).

Effective April 29, government will start proactively releasing information on directly awarded contracts, Ministers’, Deputy Ministers’ and Associate Deputy Ministers’ calendars and regular summaries of gaming grants. This adds to the growing list of information and documents already released on a routine basis such as purchase and travel cards, as well as executive compensation.

This marks the first phase of the B.C. government’s work to meet or exceed all recommendations made by Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham and former Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis in his follow-up report.

The intent of this work is to help make routinely requested information readily available without the need for an FOI request and improve the service experience for FOI applicants.

Government is also implementing a new FOI search process, in which public servants in each ministry have been designated to help respond to requests directed to Ministers’ offices. Ministers, political staff and select employees in Deputy Ministers’ offices have received updated training on records management, privacy and FOI. Additionally, a new policy of presumptive sign-off will help speed up responses to FOI requests.

At the same time the Open Information website has changed to be mobile-friendly and its search functions improved with the ability to filter and sort results. People will be able to more easily find the documents they want, see other related documents and have the ability to sort the documents by tags such as date, ministry or names.

The Goal

The intent of this work is to help make routinely requested information readily available without the need for an FOI request and to make information easier to find.

By issuing these directives and improving the Open Information website, government intends to hold to its open government commitment and ensure information important to the public is made available in a timely manner and is easy to find.