Referring to themselves as the G4, the cities of Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver came together over the past year to collaborate on a national open government initiative. The intent was not to replace other existing collaborative bodies, such as the Municipal Information Systems Association (MISA) or the Public Sector CIO Council, but to quickly address an immediate issue to avoid duplication and deliver results.

Each city had recently launched into the open government space and created open data catalogues. All were struggling to understand how to best meet the objectives of open data without the benefit of experience or additional resources. A common driver for each of the cities was an increased public awareness and interest in open data.

Further, each of the G4 members had been making steps into the Gov 2.0 space, including opening up social media use for their departments and staff. Each saw open data as an opportunity to build upon the principles of Gov 2.0 with public participation and collaboration.

The goals of the group were simple: share notes on experiences with open data, identify common problems that could be worked on together, provide leadership in the open data space, and support other jurisdictions looking to develop open data catalogues.

Since each city had taken a different approach, each offered different resources to the G4. Benefits of the collaboration have been immediate.

  • Vancouver had launched its site first ( and had put in a tremendous amount of work to create a suitable terms of use (ToU) for people using data from their catalogue. Vancouver provided its work for everyone else to use freely. This cut down on the other cities’ workload while simultaneously providing a common license for citizens using the data catalogue.
  • Ottawa City Council passed a motion to host an open data contest. Edmonton (Apps4Edmonton) had recently concluded such a contest and not only shared lessons learned but also the technical platform from which it ran the contest so that Ottawa was able to reuse it with no capital investment.
  • Toronto had worked with members of its community to develop, an independent platform that allows members of the public to suggest which data sets the city should release and to vote and comment on those suggestions. This allows the city to understand the priorities of the community in order to focus its efforts. Toronto and its partners facilitated the reuse of this tool by others, such as Ottawa with the creation of, again at no cost to the city (or its residents).
  • Edmonton has been working with community members and stakeholders to advance its Open Government initiative. In addition to the Apps4Edmonton competition, it has hosted several unconferences, workshops and training sessions for those interested in learning more about or contributing to the Open Government movement. All of the information collected at these events has been shared with the G4 and is available on the Civic Commons Wiki.

The group decided that a review of work done by other jurisdictions and G4 members would be useful and created the Open Data Framework. The framework, prepared by the eGovFutures Group and its principal Jury Konga, covers governance, principles and policy, standards, technology and data, operations, and human resource allocations.

The report has been used by the G4 to structure next steps collectively and individually, and has been shared outside of the G4 to a wide range of jurisdictions, mainly municipal, to be used as a guideline for building a successful open data program.

The G4 has also worked to update and improve the terms of use that each city initially put in place. The ToU for open data sites determine how the data can be used by the public, including re-use, re-distribution, attribution and liability. Naturally, the intent of an open data site is to permit the free re-use and re-distribution of government data. However, for the protection of the jurisdiction it is important that some restrictions or limitations are put in place.

Each of the cities heard from their communities that there were portions of the current ToU that were limiting use of the data sets, but also that they wanted common licensing agreements. Common licenses make it easier for developers, researchers and other users of the data to ensure they remain in compliance with the ToU when using data from multiple jurisdictions, as well as being able to re-deploy to multiple cities open data applications such as mobile applications for 311 reporting or transit apps.

The G4 asked the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) to review three things: the ToU already in use by the member municipalities, the Open Data Commons-By and PDDL licenses (ODC-By, PDDL). The report, available on the CIPPIC website, provides a detailed clause-by-clause comparison of each of the licensing models.

Unfortunately, neither the ODC-BY or PDDL licenses are suitable alternatives to the current ToU. The G4 has turned its focus to the ongoing work by the government of British Columbia around open data. In the spirit of inter-jurisdictional collaboration, B.C. has shared both its draft ToU as well as the analysis for selecting its licensing model. The G4 is actively investigating its adoption, supporting the possibility of creating a pan-Canadian open data licensing model.

The G4 continues to work together and has plans to focus their attention next on data standards and facilitating collaboration among open data cities and the other levels of government.


Robert Giggey is a strategic support coordinator and the open data lead for the City of Ottawa. Ashley Casovan, Edmonton; Darrin Fast, Vancouver; and Trish Garner, Toronto, helped with this article.