New Brunswick·Opinion

Imagining New Brunswick as a world leader in open data

New Brunswick should aim to be a leader in open data and open government, according to Nick Scott, the executive director of the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network.

Nick Scott says the New Brunswick government has an opportunity to innovate with open data

We have all heard the doom and gloom reports for New Brunswick: our economy is failing, our population is dwindling, our literacy levels are worsening, voter turnout is at a record low leading to an erosion in the social licence our leaders need to make decisions effectively, and companies can’t find the talent they need to run their businesses.

So what can be done?

Big policy decisions are met with resistance and much of the discourse is polarizing.

The last two provincial elections resulted in two unprecedented one-term governments. All this to say: our systems appear to be failing.

You see our systems were built in a different era, in the industrial age. 

Along with other changed conditions, the context in which government operates and serves citizens have changed. 

Shifts in culture, economy, society and technology are driving this change and governments need to adapt.

U.S. President Barack Obama issued an open data directive shortly after being elected. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
This is the information age and we need governments that are designed to function in today’s world and that are ready for the future ahead.

Redesigning our systems and addressing complex social challenges are not easy feats.

As U.S. President Barack Obama said in his Open Government Directive: “The challenges we face today — from saving our planet to ending poverty — are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck.”

Our relationship with government can and needs to be different. To paraphrase Tim O’Reilly, we need government as a platform and not a vending machine.

Vending machines are simple. You put your currency in, punch in the code for what you want, and out it comes.

But when you don't get what you want what do you do? You complain. When that doesn’t work: you shake the vending machine (risking personal injury). That’s it.

Our relationship with government is much too similar. Once you have paid your taxes, voted, complained and protested, you’ve run out of ways to interact with your government.

It can be different. It needs to be different.  Government should not be a vending machine but rather a platform for good.

3 open government principles

Open government is founded on the principles of greater transparency, participation, and collaboration.

The best strategy is for governments to work with society to develop solutions and redesign systems.

The New Brunswick government has an opportunity to embrace open data, according to Nick Scott, (CBC)
If you had the power to design New Brunswick’s healthcare system, education system, elder care system, or food system, what would it look like?  

What could government do to facilitate that change? Non-governmental organizations? Post-secondary institutions? The private sector? The GovMaker conference on Nov. 24 is seeking to transform citizens’ relationship with government in New Brunswick.

There is a growing movement to open government; to advance citizen engagement and create a more participatory democracy, while making data open to drive evidence-based decision making and public service enhancements.

This innovation is being driven at all levels, from the international Open Government Partnership and the federal Open Government Action Plan 2.0 to the municipal and community levels.

Right now in New Brunswick, we have the opportunity to do things differently and be a world leader.

The beginning of a new provincial government term presents a prime opportunity to do just that, especially when these changes align with its platform.

Our government can update infrastructure to support opening data, and make the necessary policy changes to protect citizen privacy while maximizing the value of data.

Data as a natural resource

Data is the natural resource of the knowledge economy.

If New Brunswick is going to thrive in the information age, it needs to get proactive about open data.

The new government can be more participatory, collaborative and pursue policy innovations by developing methods and systems to facilitate cooperation across sectors. 

Essentially, open data can help improve services and make your life better.- Nick Scott

An example of an innovative method is a policy/social innovation lab. These labs work to foster greater collaboration by bringing together governments, foundations, corporations, non-governmental organizations, academia and the greater community to help unravel complex problems from the citizen’s perspective.

The new government can be more transparent and empower citizens by making data available. GovLab defines open data as, “a publicly available data that can be universally and readily accessed, used, and redistributed free of charge. Open data is released in ways that protects private, personal, or proprietary information. It is structured for usability and computability.”

You can do innovative things with open data.

A few tangible examples of open data you are already using include: weather data, public transit information and global position system (GPS) data.

Some data that is open in many other jurisdictions include energy and water consumption data, restaurant inspection data and for an individual’s personal use; personal health data.

Estonia has completely put data ownership in the hands of its citizens.

Furthermore, the ease of open data allows academic researchers to generate knowledge, citizens to derive social value, governments to become more effective, and businesses to produce economic value. 

Essentially, open data can help improve services and make your life better.

We have heard the doom and gloom news reports about New Brunswick. Now imagine New Brunswick as the No. 1 innovator and implementer of open government and open data.

The New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network is hosting the GovMaker Conference on Nov. 24 and 25 in Fredericton, focused on the importance of open data and the citizen’s role as a GovMaker. 


Nick Scott


Nick Scott is the executive director of the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network. The network has a mission to advance evidence-based policy development and citizen engagement by facilitating relationships and enhancing collaboration across sector