February 6, 2023

Five Questions with Merlin Chatwin of Open North

by Evergreen

This Innovation Series features some of the inspiring people working on smart solutions in communities across Canada

Title: Executive Director

Organization: Open North / Nord Ouvert

What are you working on right now?

We have some really important streams of work coming out of our Community Solutions Network Advisory Services at the moment. As always, our service offering is responsive to the needs of municipalities and communities.

What are communities most interested in learning about?

Two of the most prominent themes that have surfaced have been procurement of technology and data governance. In response, we are working with the members of the Community of Practice to explore the challenges and opportunities that exist for procurement. For many communities, digital transformation involves identifying an unmet need and looking outside the organization to bring in new technologies and processes. Determining the best solution for their needs (and making a strong business case to decision-makers) requires a methodical assessment of digital capacities.

For data governance, which to us lies at the heart of good digital transformation, we are supporting communities to develop an understanding of their data lifecycle from creation to destruction. Without appropriate data governance all digital transformation projects are in danger of misusing data and putting their stakeholders – and their stakeholders’ trust – at risk. We are working directly with Community of Practice members to identify how to best layer data governance into their digital transformation.

What excites you most about this work?

These challenges are relevant and timely to municipalities and communities across Canada, so the learning created through the advisory services and the community of practice are transferable. Demonstrating the value of integrating these practices into their digital transformation projects sets us up to support many more municipalities and communities in helping create widely accepted standards.

What are some common threads you’re seeing among the participants?

Beyond what is mentioned above, we’ve talked to a lot of members about the challenges of collaboration across municipal or regional boundaries. Increasingly, municipalities and communities are seeing the benefits of sharing data or developing a strategy together, it’s the ‘how to facilitate this’ that most struggle with. Creating spaces with things like our Community of Practice help to provide the opportunity for discussion and sharing around how best to lay the foundation for cross boundary collaboration.

Why are open data, data governance and open smart city initiatives important for communities and cities to pursue?

The use of new technology and the governance of the data it creates cuts across any project or service that municipalities are developing. It’s hard to imagine a project going forward that doesn’t have a strong digital component to it or that is not using and/or collecting data. If we don’t integrate approaches and policies for these initiatives we run the very real risk of losing out on opportunities, struggling with value for money, and most importantly putting residents at risk and thereby their trust in local government at risk.

Merlin Chatwin lives in Cambridge, Ontario and has a PhD in Geography from Western University. His research area is urban policy and local governance with a focus on evaluating digital, data and participatory approaches.

Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter

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