Inclusion, Participation, and Impact Are the Top Priorities of OGP’s Next Co-Chair

Canada is getting ready to be the next OGP co-chair, and will be hosting the Global Summit next year. The national government has included open government into its agenda, and is working on promoting more digital tools and inclusiveness throughout its provinces. I spoke with Jaimie Boyd, Director of Open Government at the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada, about OGP-related plans and international cooperation.

During #OGPGeorgia, you said that soon, all states would become resource-rich as data would be THE resource.

I see this incredible link between open and digital government, and I think that governments, which are starting to work on both of these things, have an absolutely transformative potential in their hands. Digital tools allow us to scale open government in a way we were never able to before. We can reach more users in user-centric ways, and we can really get the resources people need and want. On the flip side, open government is extremely important for digital government, because it allows for accountability using digital tools.

When we work with open and digital governments together, we can really change the way we run government, and we can benefit all, which is ultimately the point of everything that we are doing here.

How do you make sure that the new tools are user-oriented?

First, we need to design for our users. In Canada, we are very obsessive with using plain language, which is easy to follow and read. We try to provide visuals and make it easy for people to participate in the government. We also need to use feedback loops. We’ve just finished up the first stage of our engagement for Canada’s next action plan on open government, and for us, it was important to check in with Canadians to see how we are doing and how we can do better. By using digital tools, we were able to engage about 11,000 Canadians and ask them their priorities for open government in our country. Having those feedback loops and making sure that we speak directly to the users are the tools that can make open government higher impacted.

11,000 – is it a lot or little for Canada?

That was a lot. It was much more than we had in the past. I am particularly proud that the team was able to use so many different channels. We had our traditional tools such as our website where people can comment, and we also went where people were. We went physically into communities across Canada recognizing that not everybody is digital first. We also used other platforms like Reddit. We took content on Twitter and compiled all of it; it was our dataset to understand people’s stance on open government.

How do you cooperate with other governments?

Our first priority in Canada is working with subnational governments within our country because we have a federation, and there is an incredible diversity of open government efforts within the country. All the provinces and territories participate in the open government working group. We also have over a hundred municipalities in Canada working on open data. Just recently, we launched a federated search function with the province of Alberta. You can now index data from subnational government and find provincial data within federal website, which is exciting.

We are also working with international governments. Canada is the incoming co-chair of Open Government Partnership, and we are proud and humbled by this opportunity.

What are open government and digital plans in Canada?

In terms of open government, we have a number of priorities: inclusion, participation, and impact. Those are the three lenses that we would like to bring to Canadian leadership at the Open Government Partnership. When it comes to inclusion, it is about making sure that our reforms in open government benefit everybody including marginalized people. In terms of participation, we are trying to move along the spectrum as to invite citizens to use open data. In terms of impact, we want to make sure that when we reform and change the way of doing things, it does benefit people directly.

How does OGP strengthen cooperation between civil society groups?

Open Government Partnership is a powerful tool because it gives us a helpful structure for organizing some of our work. The fact that there are seventy five other countries that are going through the same process as us - coming up with national action plans every two years and being subjected to the IRM process, - does allow us to see that this is the way to do it. It helps with internal resistors. This is a legitimate thing and an international movement, and it has an incredibly transformative potential when it comes to deepening our democracies, mobilizing things like open data to create businesses and innovation, and encouraging greater participation in government. Having an international benchmark and movement that we belong to helps us move some of the reforms meaningfully.

How can activists and officials in democratic countries help emerging democracies benefit from open government potential?

There are many things we can do to encourage further progress and to leverage peer learning opportunities. When we work with other governments, it’s not just Canada as ‘beautiful democracy” saying, “Oh, follow us!” It really goes both ways. A lot of countries, particularly in the Global South, have more sophisticated tools for civil society engagement than Canada. We are very good on the technical side. Our open government data is high quality, and there is a lot of it. From that perspective, we have a lot of lessons to share, but we have a lot to learn from other countries that perhaps have been more aggressive in their open government reforms.

I think we can work out loud, we can talk about challenges and brag about different initiatives, we can collect case studies. We can embrace open, so when we push out code, when we use open source to build our tools, it makes it easier for us to copy and paste and adapt to each different national context. Working out in the open is incredibly important for this movement.

 
Authors: Anna Romandash
Filed Under: Champions