Expert Panel Report Warns Canada Needs to Allow More Access to Open Data

An expert panel report that outlines the opportunities to achieve sustainability through information and communication technologies (ICTs) is warning that Canada’s ICT sector should foster more open data.

The report, Enabling Sustainability in an Interconnected Worldreleased today by the Council of Canadian Academies, finds Canada at a “crossroads” and that the nation is “a long way from realizing their full potential.”

It’s a wide-ranging report that actually came at the request of Environment Canada, which asked the Council to assess the existing or potential opportunities for ICTs to contribute to a “greener” Canada. The Panel focused on a three-pillared concept of sustainability, which encompasses economic, social, and environmental benefits.

As such, while ICTs have the potential to expand access to information, generate economic benefits, and improve Canada’s environmental performance, the Panel determined that no single technological opportunity will achieve sustainability for Canada on its own.

It noted that while Canada has a well-connected society and its industry and higher education institutions are leaders in ICT research and development and knowledge generation, Canadian businesses continue lag behind in ICT investment and the ability of firms to adopt technologies has been weak. In addition, the country is not highly ranked in terms of ICT penetration and diffusion among individuals.

The report’s suggested solutions ranged from small-scale changes, such as the use of applications that inform consumers of household water use, to large-scale changes like replacing aging utility networks with smart grid technologies.

panel photoSome of the more practical examples included:

  • Smart grids that could transform how utilities are produced and delivered across Canada minimizing environmental impacts such as electricity and water losses in distribution, reducing costs for operators and consumers, and ensuring reliability of service.
  • Smart motors that could make manufacturing equipment and processes more efficient, reducing GHG emissions, and decreasing operating costs.
  • ICT-based irrigation systems that could improve water efficiency and change how food is moved from farm to table.

Open data remained a clear limitation though, for a country who’s recent initiatives in providing its public with government data (like the C.O.D.E hackathon) would suggest otherwise.

Those new technologies listed above can be “unleashed” through open data policies ‎and by improving connectivity. “Open data can foster collaboration that can lead to the development of transformative solutions,” read the report. “Fast and reliable access to broadband networks is fundamental to all opportunities and will help to maintain Canada’s competitiveness with other advanced economies.”

“The integration of ICT is fundamental to its success,” said David Miller, chair of the Expert Panel. “For example, wireless sensor networks in remote areas could provide valuable baseline information to both decision-makers and the public about water and air quality. However this requires reliable broadband connectivity, analytics to make sense of the data, and a proper level of standardization and openness so that the results can be used to inform decisions.” 

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