It’s Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and I have much to be thankful for. Last Thursday, I participated in a panel discussion at the BC Government’s annual OCIO Connect Conference in Victoria, and shared a story that’s been over a year in the making. As I reflect on it now, I’m truly grateful for that opportunity and to all of those who made it possible.
It actually all started by chance. Last fall, I attended a legal conference and heard a talk by David Hume, Executive Director of Citizen Engagement for BC, about the Province’s recent initiatives for increasing open access to public sector resources. One in particular, the BC Laws API, captured my attention: direct & integrated access to all of the provincial laws & regulations in a highly structured data format all under an open government licence. Intrigued, I sought out David after his talk and he happily put me in contact with the Queen’s Printer team leading the BC Laws API.
After an introduction and brief overview of the API’s capabilities, we were off to the races. I can’t overstate the extent to which the BC Laws API was truly a catalyst to our early development. Our content scope increased by an order of magnitude instantly. We went from displaying 3 laws to over 700, based on integrated access to the provincial database.
It also directly addressed one of the main questions repeatedly voiced by our early users, namely “Where are you getting your data from?” No one wants to use a legal research tool whose content is anything less than accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-date. By going directly to the source (the BC Queen’s Printer), we were able to address these legitimate concerns in one fell swoop. Being able to partner directly with the government sent a strong signal, both as a quality assurance for our users and a seal of approval for our company.
What’s more, it fostered a crucial win-win situation. Taking a step back, it’s important to recognize the BC Laws API as but one project that’s part of the larger BC Developers’ Exchange. The BCDevExchange is a first of its kind in Canada, an experiment in tech innovation that “aims to make it easier for the B.C. public and tech sectors to innovate and collaborate on digital products and services.” Still in its early stages, the Province was eagerly looking for local tech companies interested in engaging with the government and leveraging the public sector digital resources being made available. Equally important to the initiative is the notion of exchange, which inherently involves a mutual transfer of value that benefits both parties.
Over the following months, I’ve participated in several events to share our story of collaboration. While the format varied from Discovery Days & Meetups, to OpenData BC events during Vancouver Startup Week, and connecting with the Kamloops Innovation community, the message was the same. This type of public-private collaboration serves as a model partnership that actively benefits all involved and generates added value for citizens in the process. In this sense, it’s actually a win-win-win.
All of which brings me back to the OCIO Connect conference last week. Once again, I happily shared our story of collaboration with the BC Laws API and the mutual benefits of the BC DevExchange. But it also became clear that in order to truly serve as a public legal resource that benefits all stakeholders, we must continue to break down the silos between different sources of legal information and expand our scope to include case decisions, forms, and other government publications.
It’s no small task that any one of us can accomplish alone. Indeed, increasing access to legal information, and more importantly access to justice, requires the active involvement of all stakeholders from both the public and private sector, and key organizations like the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). As I spoke with representatives from various government branches, it was apparent there’s a groundswell of interest and support to make this happen. Together, we can create a legal resource that enables meaningful access to legal information and empower all audiences. And for that, I am truly thankful.