Blog post

Canada Does Not Raise the Bar on Open Government

By Andrea Di Maio | April 12, 2012 | 3 Comments

open government data

The Canadian Federal government has published its Open Government Action Plan, after a consultation with Canadian citizens launched last fall.

The document is a well-rounded account of almost everything one can find in open government strategies and plans at federal, state and local level around the world, and is certainly influenced by Canada’s willingness to participate in the Open Government Partnership.

It starts very well by making an explicit reference to three grand challenges, i.e.

  • increasing public integrity,
  • improving public services and
  • effectively managing public resources.

The document proudly states that Canada has been a leader in service delivery and solid fiscal posture, assuming that open government can help maintain such leadership.

It is structured into three different streams.

  • Open Information, i.e. proactively releasing information on government activities on an ongoing basis, making it more accessible to Canadians and easier to find. This includes modernizing access to information, creating a virtual library, opening and improving access to public records, providing transparent information about international aids, and a one-stop-shop on the web for information search
  • Open data, i.e. making raw data available in machine-readable formats to citizens, governments, not-for-profit and private sector organizations to leverage it in innovative and value-added ways. This includes the usual data.gov store and data about government spending and performance.
  • Open dialogue, i.e. giving Canadians an opportunity for two-way dialogue with the Government of Canada on federal policies and priorities. This includes on-line consultations on policies and regulations.

Like the vast majority of open government initiatives, the Canadian plan puts a lot of emphasis on transparency and on creating a platform for engagement, by improving how information and data can be accessed and providing mechanisms for feedback. What is missing though, is a more explicit connection with the grand challenges above, despite a table that connects each activity stream to each of the challenges.

In order to maintain its leadership on service delivery, the Canadian government needs to promote the use of open information, data and dialogue for actual service delivery. I assume they have in mind the well-tested (but not yet hugely successful) business model based on applications developed by third parties to leverage open data. But this has not been enough elsewhere and won’t suffice in Canada.

There is no mention of how citizens or other parties can be engaged and collaborate on something else than policy making (such as service delivery or redesign), and there is nothing about how open government would help better resource management, besides the generic benefits of transparency. Especially in a place like Canada, which has been in the leading spot for e-government for a long time by achieving a fair level of service e-enablement and integration, the next wave of improvement can come only by putting employees – and not only citizens or other interested parties – at the center of the transformation process.

While the value of applying web 2.0 principles comes from recognizing and leveraging the diversity of purposes that drive participants in different communities, the plan will

develop a standard approach to the use of social media and Web 2.0 by federal departments to augment their engagement activities with citizens and businesses, as well as pilot a crowdsourcing initiative to involve Canadians in developing ideas and solutions for greater online dialogue and engagement on public policy initiatives…. […] will enable the use of common online tools to support engagement activities

Despite what some open government gurus say, standardization and use of common platforms do not play in favor of empowering individual employees and triggering their willingness to challenge existing processes and procedures so as to move service effectiveness and efficiency to the next level. This limitation characterizes also the Web 2.0 guidelines published last year (see previous post).

Unless Canada seriously addresses the employee-centric dimension soon enough, it will keep sitting on its laurels and gradually lose the leadership in service delivery and efficiency it is rightly so proud of.

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3 Comments

  • Gray says:

    Did you really just write that Canada has states? Sad.

  • Gray, I know quite well that Canada has provinces. “Federal, state and local” is a classification of government tiers in the world, as clearly indicated in the text.

  • Hardassi says:

    It is pretty difficult to take seriously anything the Canadian government says about ‘open-government’ when they have a gag order on government scientists, made drastic cuts in science budgets, and have reduced the completeness and accuracy of the census.
    Has there been any actually progress in posting government data, or just talk and reports that there is intention to post?