• Collections
  • Products
  • Projects
  • Stories

How to co-create data governance with your citizens

Anthea Foyer, Culture Planner for the City of Mississauga shares the importance of data governance and practical implementation tips from her own city.

Data Governance / Data ManagementCitizen Engagement

Mississauga, ON


gallery media 1


Data: The crux of local government innovation

I can already see your eyes glazing over when I start to talk about data. If I add the word ‘governance’ the chances are that you have already started to think about what you are having for lunch as you nod and smile politely at me. But, if I can pull you away from thoughts of your soup, let me tell you what it is and why it should matter to you.
At its core, data is information. And the information collected in a local government, if used correctly, can be instrumental in improving service delivery, gaining valuable insights from your community, and operating more seamlessly across traditionally siloed departments.
In my opinion, anyone striving to innovate needs to first look at the collection and use of data across one’s organization. And this is not a small task.
Here, I’ll break down some of the ways local governments are using data, potential partners for collaboration around your data, and how to approach the use of data in a way that protects the privacy of your citizens. I’ll also leave you with some practical guidance on how Mississauga (my city) is developing a framework for the use of technology and data as we strive to be more data-centric and responsive to the needs of our community.
Municipal governments, like Mississauga, use data to understand citizens, services and activities throughout the city. Some of this data the city gathers, some is gathered by the province (i.e. state), and some from the federal government. This information is shared to help enhance quality of life for residents and is regulated through various laws and policies to ensure its proper use.

Here are just a few of the ways local governments are using data:

  • Traffic, pedestrians and bikes: Cities gather this data to help with moving people around a city. By understanding when and where cars and people are going, they can adapt traffic lights, add in crosswalks, and put bike lanes in the right places. They can also connect into regional systems and traffic flows.
  • Waste/ Garbage: Data helps governments optimize routes for waste pick up.
  • Transit: Data can help us understand where bus routes should go, and at what times of the day we need to move the greatest number of people around the city.
  • Safety: Data from incidents around the city help us identify which areas may need extra attention.
  • Libraries, Public Squares, City Parks: Data helps us know who is using these facilities and when so we can ensure that they are staffed appropriately and have programming relevant to community interests.
  • Flood Detection, Air Quality and Other Environmental Data: This data helps us to monitor and prepare for environmental activities and their effects.
These examples seem fairly simple, but when you start adding in the amount of data required to figure out movement throughout a city (A LOT!); or to discuss where is the line between security and surveillance on our city streets; or when we start to add in new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence or 5G that will generate huge amounts of data – it gets a bit more complicated.

Understanding how others plan to use your data

I have yet to hear about a local government organization who has access to in-house R&D. So we work with a range of community partners, consultants, institutions, and companies to ensure we are using up-to-date tools and services. Each technology product, institution, and community partner has its own need for data. You should be aware of how others may benefit from the data you share so that your policies for data governance protect this asset when possible, and to ensure you are protecting the privacy of your citizens. Here is a quick overview of how others could leverage your data:

  • Industry: Data is used to enhance their products and services; better market their products to their customers; create opportunities for venture capital and other investments; increase shareholder buy-in; sell your data as a product.
  • Institutions (i.e. Universities): Data is used to further their research; support student and faculty education; attract new students; improve services and tools; apply for funding; attract donors. `
  • Community Partners (i.e. United Way, Food Banks, etc): Data is used to understand community needs; understand where, when and with whom to provide support and resources; share with funders for reporting and for new or ongoing funding; increase community support and fundraising opportunities.
  • Local Governments: Data is used to improve tools and services; understand community needs; engage and educate the public; improve citizen satisfaction; share (including Open Data); as a public resource.

What is Data Governance?

Now that this is getting more complicated, this is where the ‘governance’ piece comes in.
Governance, at its most simple, is how society or groups within it, organize to make decisions. It has three key features – authority, decision-making and accountability. In regards to data, there are currently several processes that govern our data:
  • Laws: Examples include the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA); the Privacy Act; the Freedom of Information Act; and others
  • Internal Policies: Examples include Mississauga’s Open Data Policy; Mississauga’s Accountability and Transparency Policy; and others
  • Procedures / Best Practices: Examples include ensuring data is stored in Canada (applicable to CA local governments); ensuring up to date cyber security procedures; and others

Why should I care?

Data governance is critical as local governments amass data, share data and use this data to drive decision making.
If you care about your community, data Governance can ensure fair and inclusive opportunities across the city.
If you care about money and resources, data Governance can help create efficiencies in government systems and processes.
If you care about innovation, data governance can provide clear information and business processes as cities work with industry, and enable innovation through open data and other resources.
If you care about quality of life, data Governance can help support activities that make your city safe, vibrant and active.
If you care about democracy, data Governance can engage citizens and create opportunities for engagement between a city and the public.

Data governance in action

This is still an emerging way of working, but this is how we in Mississauga co-created Data Principles with the public:
And of course, it begins with Smart City Mississauga adding one more policy to the pile.
Our Smart City Policy is being developed that will help govern how smart city technologies – and data specifically – are used by the City. It will be based on Smart City Data Governance Principles that have been co-created with the public.
The principles I refer to were developed through a series of workshops (for more information on our various workshops, see the resources section in this story) that included educational talks from experts including city staff and external stakeholders, as well as hands on human centred design activities. We had people from a wide range of backgrounds, professional experiences and ages, from retirees to a 13 year old girl who came to every session and was an active participant in the process.
Here is a rundown of the eight principles the City of Mississauga came up with in collaboration with our community (and I imagine would be good guiding principles for any local government):
  • Modern and People Centred Digital Services. People centred digital services that are fast, clear and easy to use for people of all abilities. (from Better Connected Strategy Vision)
  • Clear communication, accountability and non-discrimination of data, content and algorithms. Clearly communicated, understandable, and accurate information about the digital, algorithmic and artificial intelligence systems that impact their lives, and the ability to provide feedback on biased or discriminatory systems.
  • Control, Consent and Comfort in regards to Privacy, Data Protection and Security. Providing reliable data, that is trustworthy, accurate, and secure to ensure services feel safe and secure. Ensuring privacy and control over personal data in both physical and virtual spaces to ensure digital confidentiality, security, anonymity, and sovereignty over their data including the right to know how their data is being used, by who and for what purposes.
  • Open, Transparent and Interoperable. Data generated through digital means will be Opening by Default, when possible. Digital tools, services and associated data will be built to work together to create efficient and clear processes. Information such as Open Data will be easy to access, manage and understand.
  • Participatory Democracy, Active Participation, Inclusion, Diversity and Accessibility. Ensuring collective participation, including diverse, accessible, transparent and equitable digital processes and tools. Providing all Mississaugans opportunities to engage in shaping local tools, services, infrastructure, and policy.
  • Equal Access and Digital Literacy. Providing the opportunity for everybody to have equal access to participate in the digital world by providing tools, services and educational opportunities to overcome the digital divide.
  • Digital for Public Good. Ensuring the socially responsible use of data, digital tools and processes to improve quality of life for Mississaugans and our neighbours locally and around the world. This includes social, environmental and sustainable practices.
  • Preparing for the Future, Innovation and Adaptability. Preparing for the future by implementing adaptable and future focussed systems and processes to ensure community stability within an uncertain future.

Cross governmental collaborating to develop best practices

Once these aspirational principles were developed, we had the difficult job of starting to creatively imagine how they could be integrated into our bureaucratic systems. An opportunity arose to take part in a cross Canada program called the Data Governance Lab, which would provide support in developing strategic and practical solutions to achieve this goal.
Mississauga was chosen as one of three cities across Canada, along with the City of Calgary and the City of London, to take part in the Digital Governance Lab, led by Future Cities Canada and MaRS. Working with the other two cities was invaluable as we could learn and grow together. You can see what we worked on in more detail here.
During this process we discovered strategies for using existing city processes that could be leveraged to implement these changes such as additions to procurement, changes in internal process and training, and realigning processes such as including privacy impact assessments to the front of the process instead of at the end and ensuring that a data plan.

Where do we go from here?

Mississauga’s Smart City Policy is currently in development and should be released to the public within the next six months (and made available as a resource on our government page on Govlaunch). It will be an ongoing and agile process as both city staff and the public continue to understand more deeply how data has taken root in all areas of our lives and our cities.
I pride myself on working for a progressive and innovative city that gives me the opportunity to work on projects such as this. While Mississauga is a larger city (population just shy of 900,000), I would encourage local governments of all sizes to look closely at how you are (or aren’t) using your data. Start where you are, with what you have. It doesn’t require a huge amount of money or resources to start to think more broadly about how to incorporate the community, research the broader context of data, and develop policy that reflects the changing data ecosystem.
Smarter use of data (including responsible data governance) is the future of local government. Only then will be able to offer optimal services that truly meet the needs of the citizens we aim to serve.

Anthea Foyer is a strategic leader, creative director, storyteller and artist with expertise in smart cities, digital culture & strategy, arts & culture, city building & government. She believes complex problems can be solved by using creative tools and collaborative processes to share knowledge, engage audiences, shift mindsets and, ultimately, design a better future for us all. Anthea currently works as a Culture Planner for the City of Mississauga, Canada.


🚫 To join the discussion, sign up. It's free!



Culture Planner at ON



In Progress


SMRTCTY Speaker Series

Related Stories

story cover image

a day ago

Derby, KS shares a small government’s path to innovation

The small city of Derby, KS shares their work underway to redefine their city and the challenges in engaging their citizenry without the technologies to do so...and unsure where to start.

story cover image

13 days ago

What drives Adelaide’s ‘designed for life’ goal? Innovation.

The innovative City of Adelaide remains open to new ideas and opportunities to help drive city initiatives when it comes to engaging their residents and improving service delivery. A true innovative city ‘designed for life.’

  • Help
  • Blog
  • Terms of Service
  • Privacy
  • Cookie Policy
  • Contact

© 2021 Govlaunch Inc.