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MUNICIPAL OPEN DATA BUDGETS, RESOURCES & CAPACITY

 

OPEN CITIES INDEX REPORT SERIES

 

MUNICIPAL OPEN DATA BUDGETS, RESOURCES & CAPACITY

 
PSD’s Open Cities Index (OCI) is Canada’s first benchmarking study for municipal open data initiatives. The OCI launched in 2015 with 34 participating municipalities. In fall 2016, the second iteration of the OCI was published with 68 municipalities, representing 61 percent of the Canadian population. The 2016 OCI Report includes an overview of Canada’s Top Twenty Open Cities and national trends in municipal open data initiatives.
 
Leading up to the launch of the third edition of OCI in the fall of 2017, PSD will publish four quarterly reports exploring municipal open data challenges, solutions and best practices. Each themed report will include further data and analysis generated from the 2016 Open Cities Index study. After the publication of each OCI Report, PSD will convene a virtual round table of municipal open data practitioners to discuss the report findings, identify areas for additional research, and facilitate collaboration and the sharing of best practices across the country.
 
Contact us to learn how you can participate in an upcoming virtual round table discussion. 
 
Report 2) Municipal Open Data Budgets, Resources & Capacity - See below
Report 3) Metrics & Mechanisms to Measure the Impact of Open Data Initiatives – Coming May 2017
Report 4) Models for Open Data Partnerships & Collaboration – Coming September 2017
 
 

MUNICIPAL OPEN DATA BUDGETS, RESOURCES & CAPACITY

 
This report – the second in the OCI Report Series – looks closely at the open data budgets and resources available to municipalities across Canada. For many areas of municipal governance, change comes about from either the push of provincial or federal legislation or the pull of provincial or federal grant funding. The 2016 federal budget doubled the Treasury Board’s resources for open data initiatives, providing an additional $11.5 million over five years. Likewise, several provincial governments have made strategic investments in open data initiatives within their own organizations. 
 
To date, no provincial or federal funding nor legislation has been introduced to directly advance municipal open data initiatives. As such, cities across the country have introduced open data programs in response to demand from their residents, in order to support strategic priorities related to government transparency, or perhaps in genuine recognition of the innovation and efficiency that can emerge from making government data publicly available.
 
Regardless of the reason, municipal champions of open data have had to make the case to their managers and city councillors for investing limited time and resources in a “new” service area. In a time where Canada’s cities face mounting infrastructure deficits, housing crises, and significant population growth or decline (depending on the geographic region in question), pitching a new expense to city council is no easy task.
 
Through the 2016 Open Cities Index survey, PSD asked 68 Canadian municipalities what level of investment they have made in their open data programs to date. What is evident from the survey results is that while some financial resources are needed to advance an open data initiative, the greatest predictor of success is the introduction of an open data plan or framework that can drive progress for a community. Of course, most communities – especially small and rural municipalities – have such limited resources that the development of an open data strategy, policy, or plan is too onerous to complete in-house, thereby requiring a budget for outsourcing. Until open data becomes a more central priority for all local governments, open data champions must work collaboratively with other communities, organizations and networks to share best practices and build capacity. Regular benchmarking of progress, which should include the celebration of early wins, may help champions to make the case for an open data budget next budget season.     
 

MEASURING CAPACITY

For the purposes of this research report, PSD has used two primary metrics to determine the capacity of municipal governments to introduce and develop open data initiatives: budgetary funding and staff time. There are certainly many other contributing factors that help or hinder a municipality’s efforts to establish and sustain an open data program. These may include the level of buy-in from senior management and city council, the level of in-kind support available to the community from partners or other levels of government, and how well-equipped the municipality is to introduce additional strategic priorities. This study limits the analysis to the two most direct and well-defined indicators of municipal capacity: funding and human resources.
 

OPEN DATA BUDGETS

To ascertain the level of municipal funding available for open data initiatives in Canada, PSD asked OCI survey respondents “What budget has been allocated to your open data initiative in 2016 (absolute number)?” Note that the results for this survey question were not incorporated into the Open Cities Index ranking. Figure 1 below depicts the correlation between the reported open data budgets of the participating municipalities with their overall rank in the 2016 Open Cities Index. There is a clear trend demonstrating that more funding contributes to a better developed open data program. An established budgetary allocation for open data not only provides a municipality with support to develop its open data initiative, but limits the risk in future planning for the advancement of an initiative.
 
 

Figure 1

 
Also apparent in Figure 1 is the number of municipalities reporting no budget for open data. As previously discussed, open data budgets at the local level are the exception, not the rule. While the average level of open data funding for the OCI Top 20 communities in 2016 was $136,016.70, the average for the remaining 46 municipalities was $12,255.31. A budget of $12,000 is likely an initial seed fund for communities just starting to develop an open data initiative. While it is insufficient to support a full-time hire to lead a municipality’s open data work, it could fund the research and policy development necessary to lay the groundwork for a more robust open data program. Note that 2 municipalities of our 68 survey respondents did not provide their open data budget information.      
 
Among the 66 municipalities included in this analysis, there are some clear outliers. The City of Ottawa, which scored 8th in the 2016 Open Cities Index, had the smallest reported open data budget of the top 10 cities at $56,000. London, Halifax, Kitchener, Victoria and Windsor all secured a spot in the top 20 without any budgetary allotment for open data. Without the budget for a full-time open data lead, these communities have assigned open data responsibilities to existing staff, in some cases within one department and in other cases across departments. Finally, a number of communities ranking lower in the 2016 Open Cities Index had more substantial budgets than the average, indicating perhaps that recently allotted budgets have not yet had an impact in advancing their open data initiatives. The 2017 Open Cities Index will allow for an analysis of the longer term impact of funding on the advancement of an open data program, as well as trends in open data funding changes across Canada.  
 

OPEN DATA STAFF

As previously discussed, many municipalities have assigned staff time to open data despite the absence of budget allocations. Respondents of the 2016 OCI survey were asked “How many weekly employee hours are spent on your open data initiative?” Municipalities were asked to report the total number of hours per week that staff members spend on average working on or supporting an open data initiative. Figure 2 below shows the total weekly employee hours spent on open data initiatives against the municipality’s overall rank in the 2016 Open Cities Index. Again, it is evident that there is a correlation between an investment in open data capacity and the advancement of open data initiatives. In this case, more employee hours spent working on an open data program tends to result in a better OCI ranking. The average weekly employee hours among the 2016 Top 20 communities was 40, compared to 6.7 across the remaining 46 municipalities. There are outliers, with some communities near the bottom of the OCI ranking reporting significant employee hours devoted to open data. On the opposite end of the spectrum, several municipalities in the Top 10 reported fewer than 40 weekly hours spent on open data work – less than a full-time staff person.
 
 
Figure 2
 

POPULATION SIZE

In Figure 3, overall rank in the 2016 Open Cities Index has been plotted against population size for each municipality. Generally, population size is a strong predictor of capacity for a municipality, with larger cities offering a greater and more sustainable tax base for local governments to draw from. When it comes to open data, this correlation appears to be weaker. The Top 20 includes a diverse range of population sizes, as does the bottom 46. Canada’s largest cities are certainly clustered near the top of the OCI ranking, which speaks to the more robust financial and human capacity available to these local governments. Much smaller communities, however, have succeeded in leveraging their limited resources to advance their open data initiatives.   
 
Figure 3
 
 
Combining the impact of population size and budget, Figure 4 demonstrates that there is no correlation between per capita budgets and rankings in the Open Cities Index. Of the 66 survey respondents, 63 spent less than $0.40 per capita on open data initiatives – a very modest investment. Although larger municipalities tend to have larger open data budgets, their per capita expenditure is proportionate. For comparative purposes, in 2015 the per capita expenditure on police services in Canada was $312. 
 
Figure 4                                                                                                                   
 
 

OPEN DATA PLANNING

Overall, it appears like there is some correlation between budget and employee hours and the success of an open data initiative. When a municipality puts resources behind a new initiative, it not only ensures that there is at least some capacity to support the initiative, but it also demonstrates to staff and the public that the municipality values that initiative. These are the intangible benefits of “putting your money where your mouth is.” However, as this analysis indicates, money isn’t everything. There are communities of all sizes across Canada that have managed to accomplish great things with their open data initiatives with limited or no financial resources.
 
Likewise, establishing a full-time open data lead will help to ensure that an initiative has stable long-term leadership, however many communities are managing to advance their initiatives without dedicated full-time staff. As an open data initiative continues to grow, those tasked with monitoring and contributing to the initiative as an add-on to their regular responsibilities may become overburdened. At that point, the municipality would likely need to move toward a dedicated staff person for open data or risk losing momentum. If an open data initiative is successful, the demand for more data should grow, requiring greater attention and likely additional investments in skills and technology.  
 
In order to ensure that resources are being used efficiently and effectively, municipalities must clearly identify their strategic goals, measuring progress via well-defined indicators of success. Figure 5 shows the same municipal budget data against 2016 OCI rankings, but this time colour-coded to indicate whether the municipality has a strategic open data plan in place. It appears that those municipalities that have a living open data plan in place, meaning that the plan is regularly updated, have the most robust open data programs (see light blue circles in Figure 5). Furthermore, those communities with a living open data plan in place as well as a sizable open data budget are at the very top of the ranking.  Those communities not yet considering adopting an open data plan (represented by light green) predominately scored lower in the Open Cities Index. Among the Top 20 OCI communities, all have either implemented an open data plan or are considering implementing one. There are a few outliers where communities with no plan have scored well on the OCI, as well as a few that are currently implementing a plan but have scored lower on the ranking. No community with an established plan, however, scored outside of the Top 20. Planning takes time, and measuring the results of planning takes even longer. What is clear is that above all else, investing time in preparing and implementing a thorough open data strategic plan, with buy-in from staff and council, will help push an open data agenda forward. 
 
 Figure 5                                                                    
 
 

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

On February 16th at 1pm ET, Open Cities Index member municipalities will gather virtually to discuss the findings in this report and share best practices in building open data capacity. Following the virtual round table session, PSD will share a synopsis of the discussion with participants.
 
Please contact us to discuss how your municipality can participate in our virtual round table series and start advancing your open data initiative.