Land Information Ontario – The Journey to Open Data

October 23, 2019 Chris North

Land Information Ontario (LIO) is a part of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). It helps organizations and individuals find, access and share geographic data. Geographic information distributed by LIO through its GeoHub includes information on Ontario’s roads and transportation networks, wetlands, boundaries, and more, and can be accessed here: www.ontario.ca/GeoHub. The MNRF has been using Esri technology since the 1980s and launched the new GeoHub site in the spring of 2019. In this blog post, I chat with the MNRF’s GeoHub Project Manager, Mike Dunkley, about the journey to simplify and modernize access to Ontario’s authoritative geospatial data using ArcGIS Hub.

Ontario Forest

CN: This isn’t the first implementation of an Open Data portal from Land Information Ontario (LIO). Can you share LIO’s history with Open Data and why you decided to migrate to this new platform? 

MD: Land Information Ontario (LIO) has made geospatial data available to Ontarians under an open data licence for over two decades. A 2018 review of ArcGIS Hub indicated this could improve our current discovery and download solution, allowing users to access data more efficiently. The ability to integrate our existing infrastructure as a data source greatly influenced our decision to migrate to ArcGIS Hub.

CN: Can you tell me a little bit about the team that built the Ontario GeoHub? What was your role in the implementation?

MD: The team consists of support officers, technical specialists and a mapping and geomatics data administrator. As project manager, I coordinated the team’s efforts and engaged our stakeholders. Configuring the ArcGIS Hub product was the easy part. Our greatest challenges were achieving compliance with legislation and addressing pre-existing data licenses, policies, and business processes.

CN: What kind of data can one expect to find on the platform and who will use it? 

MD: Our goal is to make it easier to find and use authoritative geospatial data. We currently have 500+ items provided by 17 Ontario ministries. We have raster and vector data, data services, imagery packages, and more. Over 200 of these data classes have API’s, which allow GIS professionals direct access to the most current data possible. The total number of items available is growing every day. As part of Ontario’s Open Data commitment, Ontario GeoHub will provide service to all Ontarians.

CN: Besides data, what other types of content can users expect to find on the Ontario GeoHub? 

MD: In addition to data, Ontario GeoHub allows users to discover and access metadata, documentation, web mapping applications, data licensing agreements and more. For sensitive or restricted data classes Ontario GeoHub provides information on the approval process to gain access.

Accessibility

CN: The French Language Services Act requires the Ontario Government to provide content in both French and English. How do you create (or design?) an Open Data portal that meets this requirement? 

MD: To be compliant with the French Languages Services Act, we required a fully bilingual user experience. To achieve this, we created two separate ArcGIS Hub sites. Both sites reference the same source data, but data owners must maintain the items’ metadata separately in French and English. The English items are shared with Ontario GeoHub while the French items are shared with CarrefourGéo Ontario.

CN: The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) aims to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for people with disabilities. AODA WCAG 2.0 is an internationally accepted standard for web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Can you explain the steps that you took to ensure that the Ontario GeoHub is accessible and barrier free?  

MD: Land Information Ontario is committed to providing accessible customer service. Within the Ontario Public Service, we invited the Land and Resources Cluster GIS Centre of Excellence, as well as the I&IT Accessibility Centre of Excellence to test our beta Ontario GeoHub site. Next, we provided the site to Esri Canada for review. The feedback from all three parties was shared and used to improve the beta site. Finally, we engaged the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). Working with CNIB was very beneficial for everyone involved in this project. Our team learned how a non-sighted person would navigate the site to discover and download spatial data. CNIB’s input played a critical role not just in modifying the site to comply with the legislation, but in creating an enhanced experience for users with disabilities. This exercise will influence how LIO delivers accessible services in the future.

Delivering Open Data

CN: Mike, how do you plan to promote this new portal to your users, new and old? What sort of change management processes have you considered for your existing users?

MD: In May of this year, LIO announced the launch of Ontario GeoHub to the 3,000 GIS users within the Ontario Public Service, and to the 700 organizations partnered with LIO under the Ontario Geospatial Data Exchange Agreement. In addition to email bulletins, LIO has presented the Ontario GeoHub to ministry user groups, conservation authorities, the Ontario Council of University Libraries and others. Feedback has been positive. One of the main attractions of the Hub product is its easy-to-use interface and as a result, the demand for training or support has been minimal.  

CN: Can you explain the Custom Data License that you publish your data under?

MD: Data available from Ontario GeoHub is published under the Open Government Licence – Ontario. Under the open data licence, users can copy, modify, publish, translate, adapt, distribute or otherwise use the Information in any medium, mode or format for any lawful purpose.

CN: How has your new Open Data portal made it easier to publish data and easier for your audience to consume data?

MD: Our internal processes to manage metadata and publish data to Ontario GeoHub are simple. The real value of the ArcGIS Hub solution is the ease with which a user can discover and consume Ontario’s data. All the items made available to Ontario GeoHub have been published to the Esri Open Data community. Users can search directly from ArcGIS Desktop or ArcGIS Online to find and consume Ontario’s authoritative geospatial data. Administrators of other ArcGIS Hub sites can choose to make Ontario’s data discoverable via their own Hub site. The doors of collaboration have been opened wide. We are excited to see how our users benefit from this LIO service.

Partnerships

CN: What is the Ontario Geospatial Data Exchange and how does an organization participate?

MD: Public organizations can easily share data with other organizations by becoming a member of the Ontario Geospatial Data Exchange. The Exchange allows organizations to share geospatial data about Ontario through a single agreement administered by Land Information Ontario. There is no cost associated with joining. Contact Land Information Ontario at lio@ontario.ca for more information.

CN: Can you talk about a few of your key partners and the types of programs you’ve worked on? 

MD: Land Information Ontario is composed of 17 Ontario ministries. These partner ministries are responsible for creating a vast array of spatial data products. This data is used to support forest fire fighting, urban planning, tourism, resource sustainability, flood plain analysis, ecosystem management, agriculture, geology and everything in between. We even help to make Ontario’s species at risk become, well, less at risk.

CN: Who are the audiences that you’re hoping to enable with access to your authoritative data? 

MD: Land Information Ontario helps public and private organizations and individuals find, access and share geospatial data. Whether it’s a preschooler learning about maps for the first time, an emergency services worker, a planner, an environmentalist, a teacher, or the everyday citizen, our goal is to make the authoritative geospatial data easily available for every Ontarian.

CN: What’s next for the Ontario GeoHub? 

MD: More data. LIO is encouraging data owners to review an additional 150 data classes to be made open and available via Ontario GeoHub. Moving forward, Land Information Ontario will be working with Ontario’s Treasury Board Secretariat to build a synchronization process between Ontario GeoHub and the Ontario Data Catalogue, allowing users to search and discover open, restricted, sensitive, spatial and non-spatial data.

About the Author

Chris North

Chris North is the Director of Industry Solutions for Esri Canada. With over 20 years of experience in geomatics, Chris is an accomplished GIS professional who brings an in-depth understanding of enterprise GIS and technology trends to the company. He was previously the principal at 43 North GIS Consulting. Prior to starting his firm, Chris was an executive with DMTI Spatial responsible for product strategy and customer advocacy. He has a master's degree in GIS from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and an undergraduate degree in Geography from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Chris is also a graduate of the Cartography Program at Sir Sandford Fleming College, Ontario. He is the recipient of several industry awards and continues to be involved with many industry groups. Chris is currently chair of the GIS and Cartography Advisory Board at Sir Sandford Fleming College.

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