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The OGP: Putting citizens at the centre

Scott Brison|

I am honoured to serve as Canada’s representative to the Open Government Partnership (OGP). My career in both the private and public sectors has proven to me the value of embracing partnerships to drive transformative change.

Partnerships like the OGP can be powerful catalysts for change, helping countries to better serve their citizens and improve lives. I think it’s particularly important for us, as legislators and policy makers in an era of globalization, to participate in international organizations like this one, so we can find inspiration, but also learn some tough lessons.

In September, Canada, along with its civil society partner Nathaniel Heller of Results for Development, agreed to serve as co-chairs of the OGP.

Three leadership priorities

Canada does not take its leadership of the OGP lightly. It is an opportunity to deepen our collective resolve on open government and help restore trust between government and citizens. That’s why we’re taking on 3 ambitious co-chair priorities:

  • Inclusion… enabling under-represented citizens, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, to participate actively in policy making

  • Participation… developing public policy in partnership with citizens and creating opportunities for people to get involved, which leads to more trust in government and better policy outcomes

  • Impact… making it easier for citizens to understand how our work on open government affects their day-to-day lives. This makes government accountable for results and puts the focus on initiatives that make a difference.

Learning from each other

In our new roles, Nathaniel and I had the pleasure of attending last month’s OGP Americas Regional Meeting in Buenos Aires.

The gathering in Buenos Aires was an opportunity for OGP members, civil society organizations, academics and citizens to come together to strengthen our bilateral and regional partnerships.  

Canada has a wealth of experience we can share. Our government opened the doors for Canadians to see Cabinet ministers’ mandate letters, which had never before been published. We now are reporting on how far the government has come in keeping its promises, by publicly detailing efforts made on mandate commitments. We’ve also brought forward legislation to strengthen our access-to-information regime. The proposed measures in Bill C-58 break new ground by giving Canada’s Information Commissioner order-making power, and creating a new part of the Act legislating mandatory proactive publication of a wide range of government information.

I have also been inspired by many of our partners in the Americas, who have shown that close collaboration between government and citizens can lead to better, more effective public services.  

The potential for bringing citizens more intimately into the policy-development process is significant. Crowdsourced data, participatory policy making, and coordination across branches of government can strengthen our open government work and fundamentally change the way governments operate.

Investing in modern democracies

Over the course of the meetings, the message I heard consistently is that the global open government movement is ‎at an inflection point. While we are all at different places on our individual paths to more open government, we are all faced with the challenge of building and maintaining the trust our citizens place in our civic institutions.

The concepts of openness and transparency have been around for years. But exciting new digital technologies mean that people expect more from their governments. Our citizens are calling for greater participation in government; they want to be engaged and help shape the decisions that affect them. They want public institutions to be more responsive and accountable. And they want and deserve the assurance that comes when a government is transparent and acts with integrity.

This evolution towards open government is about trust. It’s about putting our citizens at the centre of our respective governments’ work. It’s also about supporting other countries and investing in the success of modern democracies around the world.

The continued success of this movement will require leadership from individual governments and civil society organizations working every day towards healthier, more credible public institutions shaped by citizens.

The way forward

As we look toward next year’s OGP Global Summit in Georgia, we recognize there is a lot of work ahead.

No country, Canada included, is free of challenges as we move open government forward, but our progress will be more meaningful, and ultimately more sustainable, if we take every opportunity to learn from each other and grow. 

That is precisely why our partnership is so important. And Canada looks forward to working with you to achieve its objectives.

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