The Government of Canada's Open First Day



October 16, 2018

Crowd gathers for Open First Day EventThe Government of Canada (GC) hosted Open First Day on Friday, September 28.  It was a really interesting opportunity for hundreds of people in public/private sector to get together and share their experiences.  

I’d like to start by congratulating them on the title of the event.  It wasn’t Consider Open Source Day or Learn about Open Source and Government Day.  It Was Open First Day. Open Standards, Open Data, Open Source and Open Government.  

The site for this conference was also forward thinking as it was all built on GitHub.  More and more government microsites are hosted on GitHub because it is quick and easy. By leveraging a WxT implementation of Github Pages the public sector is building on years of accessibility, usability and performance work. Using Jekyll to drive static HTML sites is totally brilliant. Content is edited in Markdown managed through a centralized version control system (Git) and then maintained for free.

Now GitHub is a proprietary company that supports a lot of the open source community and is now owned by Microsoft.  There are definitely alternatives like GitLab and BitBucket. I’m personally a GitHub fan as they have a critical mass that new developers to get more exposure to good open source projects & processes.  As far as Microsoft, they’ve done a 180° & Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said 'We are all in on open source'.

It was great to see good representation from the GOSLINGS community at the event. There were quite a few people who have been advocating for open source adoption in government (some for about 2 decades).

I have to say that i was very impressed by Kirsten Burgard’s keynote (1:01).  Kirsten came from the USA State Department and talked about some of the struggles that they have had implementing open source.  She’s worked for a variety of federal departments that have tried to leverage open source. Kirsten is the lead behind Drupal GovCon, an annual conference organized largely by and largely for the public sector.  Through her presentation it became clear that governments needed to focus more on how they maintained projects and were able to leverage open source. Far too often governments release open source projects and then stop working on them or don’t take community contributions. 

Kirsten gave the first of several big shootouts to the WxT team who not only developed a great framework, but have been maintaining it for a very long time. The Web Experience Toolkit is one of Treasury Board’s first initiatives into the Open.  In her talk, Kirsten asked people who had contributed to WxT to stand up and it was impressive to see the number of people in the room who had.

Panel presentationFollowing the talk there was a panel discussion (1:38) involving Pierre-Antoine Ferron from Ville de Montréal, Kirsten Burgard from US Government, Sean Boots from Canadian Digital Service &  Mélanie Robert from TBS Open Government. There wasn’t anywhere enough time but really appreciated some of the excitement around the reasons to support open source approaches. It was great to hear government officials call for end of corporate welfare & to stop vendor lock-in. Pierre-Antoine reminded the crowd of the importance of being generous.  He also encouraged technical people to explain the “big picture” when talking to people about open source. This is so much more than a set of technologies, but and more a process for collaborating together with technology.

There was also a talk by Julianna Rowsell and Jeffrey Stark from Shared Services Canada (3:15).  Jeffrey has been in the trenches in government IT security for ages and gave a good presentation working to build empathy with the crowd.  Julianna talked more about future efforts with things like EPUB3 and opportunities with the Canadian Accessibility Act.

There were two amazing presentations by StatsCan too.  

The first was by Alessandro Alasia, who gave a great presentation (4:28) on their use of open microdata and their use of Open Street Map to crowdsource new information about Canada. They used open source and open data to engage with many stakeholders. He talked about how this organization is gathering information to help deepen their understanding of Canada. He touched on the innovative work they are doing to collect data on building infrastructure in Canada. Highlighting open data sources like OpenAddresses that have authoritative data that citizens and governments can benefit from. Was also useful to learn about Microsoft's large contributions to the Open Streetmap Datasets and collaboration discussions with Canada. He talked about their new Open Business Repository software which they released on GitHub.

William Presenting for StatsCanAndrew Sinkinson, Laurent Goderre and William Hearn also presented about their work (5:27). All three have been engaged in promoting open source inside from long “before it was cool”.  William needs a shoutout for giving the most presentations in a single time-slot. He listed so many cool tools that they are using to link together their cloud environment at Statistics Canada. Would so love for this to be the norm in GovIT! William was the lead of the Drupal variation of the Web Experience Toolkit before digging into DevOps & Kubernetes

Erin Kennedy also gave a good talk (6:51) about Robot Missions. Open Source Software & Open Hardware too.  Erin’s done some great work in the clean tech sector working to engage communities using robots to help get rid of garbage.

One Team Gov organized an unconfrerence track that ran in parallel to the main speakers throughout the day.  I didn’t go to any of them, but really liked the process used to inspire more discussion between participants. Lots of people wanting to learn how to do basic things like “have the tools that they need to do the job at hand”.

I should also add that Robin Galipeau of gave an entertaining and insightful talk about one of their Drupal implementations leveraging the Drupal variation of the Web Experience Toolkit.

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.