Building an Inclusive Open Government

How can we create an open and transparent government for all of Canada?

Why It Matters

With an increase in access to technology, there’s a growing movement for democratizing access to data. Part of that shift has been a call for open government — making government data more accessible and involving citizens in decision-making. To explore the benefits of open government to the world of social impact, we sat down with five passionate public servants leading this work.

We started #FutureOfGood Twitter chats to dive deeper into hot topics that have been resonating with our community. It’s hosted Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. ET.

We recently spoke with five advocates in Canada’s open government space about inclusion and transparency in open government. Read on below for our conversation with members of the Open Government team at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS): Thiago Fernandes, Open Government Partnership Global Summit Lead; Jillian LeBlanc, Outreach and Engagement Advisor; Lucas Beal, Analyst; Leslie L. Cheung, Senior Advisor; and Natalia Little, Analyst.

 

 

What is open government? What is one critical reason it’s important to society today?

 

Natalia Little

Open government is taking democracy beyond the ballot box and empowering citizens to be more involved in governmental decision-making. It’s also proactively sharing information that is collected and produced by the government to establish trust with citizens — which is a critical foundation for collaboration.

In today’s society, where democracy is being destabilized by the spread of disinformation on digital and social media, open government is crucial for restoring citizen trust and tackling the polarization of communities through multi-stakeholder collaboration.

 

Lucas Beal

Giving citizens more insight and dialogue with their government and promoting trust! It’s critical to make sure government services meet the needs of those that use them, while having an understanding of how decisions are made.

 

Leslie Cheung

Open government, to me, is a concept that promotes government transparency and accountability. Practically, we open data and information to help people in various sectors and communities do their work better — e.g., making informed decisions about their work. I also think we’re trying to bring people into the policies and processes of government by giving them more information and by welcoming them into the discussions.

 

Thiago Fernandes

Open government is a new way of governing where people have access to government data and information and are also empowered to speak up and even make collective decisions. Think of participatory budgets, for example — where communities get to participate in decisions around how local budgets are spent.

 

Jillian LeBlanc

Open government is a concept and practise which aims to provide citizens with their government’s data in a way that is accessible and user-friendly. TLDR: we want citizens to be more involved in civic life, while getting them the information they want or need.

 

 

Give us an example (or two) of what open and transparent government looks like in practice.

 

Lucas Beal

Check out GC InfoBase! It’s an interactive data visualization platform which transforms complex government financial and resources data into simple visual stories. Or you can check out the original structured data on Canada’s open government website.

 

Natalia Little

In practice, open government looks like the government providing co-creation opportunities that meet the needs of diverse groups. For instance, hosting engagement sessions in spaces where marginalized communities normally congregate and can easily access, and equipping participants with information in advance so they’re prepared to provide input.

Other supports for co-creation opportunities could be in the form of paid child care services, covering travel costs, and partnering with trusted local organizations.

 

Thiago Fernandes

An open government looks like one where citizens have access to government data and info and use it to create better communities. You use Google Maps, the weather app, bus apps — they are fuelled with government data.

 

Jillian LeBlanc

Co-creation, collaboration, co-designing, involving your stakeholders in the process, agile development, open source, protecting civic space, open by design.

 

 

How can we create more inclusion in the open government movement?

 

Natalia Little

By actively participating in knowledge exchange with governments and civil society actors across the world; sharing lessons learned, failures, and best practices with each other; and using experiences as a source of inspiration to test and design new approaches to enhance inclusion.

 

Thiago Fernandes

Be an inclusionist. We can create more inclusion in the open government movement by proactively seeking out and engaging with minority communities, such as youth, women, Indigenous communities, LGBTQ2S+, visible minorities, immigrants, and people living with disabilities.

It also means celebrating and valuing minority groups and their needs when we engage — by providing accessible spaces and gender neutral washrooms, engaging in land recognition and reconciliation, and celebrating multiculturalism.

 

Lucas Beal

We need to collaborate with civil society and organizations that work with underrepresented groups and communities to ensure our programs and services are easy to use and benefit everyone who uses them.

 

Leslie Cheung

We have to better understand what parts of open government resonate with different populations. That means engaging in targeted outreach, going to where people are, and talking about their priorities. Basically, we have to be good at listening — and then turning what we hear into action. It’s easier said than done, but our National Action Plans are one of the mechanisms in which Open Government Canada do this.

 

Jillian LeBlanc

Ensuring diversity on your team and in your organization! Making sure you’re constantly engaging with new people. Ensuring your in-person and online events are built with accessibility first! Using an intersectional feminist lens in all your work. LISTENING TO PEOPLE!

 

 

Canada hosted the 2019 Open Government Partnership Global Summit. Tell us, what was one surprising takeaway that you left with?

 

Leslie Cheung

Making things accessible costs extra, but it is worth it to enable participation. We made efforts to increase accessibility at the summit, but we always have work to do to build accessibility into the design of all of our work.

 

Jillian LeBlanc

I was surprised by the global interest around increasing inclusion and mainstreaming feminist open government — I also loved meeting so many rad Open Heroines (a community of women-identifying individuals in open government, open data, and civic tech) in real life. 

 

Lucas Beal

The desire to continue to advance inclusive open government practices and commitments! And the need for international collaboration on Open Government Partnerships’ commitments

 

Thiago Fernandes

The power of group thinking! When we create space for dialogue and collaboration, magic happens. Countries learn from each other and share resources for the public good.

 

Natalia Little

We brought an impressive group of youth leaders to the Summit for a specialized program and I was surprised by the high degree of passion and commitment they brought. They continue to push their agenda post-Summit through the OpenGov Youth Collective. You can read their piece on youth power in open government on the Open Government Partnership blog.

 

 

Can you share an example of a team or initiative in government that’s knocked open governance out of the park? What can we learn from them?

 

Leslie Cheung

Canadian Heritage has been doing some great work consulting their stakeholders to prioritise their open data and digital services.

 

Natalia Little

Shout-out to the cross-jurisdictional work being led by [Treasury Board Secretariat Senior Advisor] Moses Iziomon through Canada’s Open Government Working Group! Impressive initiatives like the federated open data search, which allows citizens to access and integrate data from multiple levels of government in Canada. 

Other countries can learn about Canada’s approach to standardizing and prioritizing the release of open data in a federation. Contact Moses Iziomon for more info!

 

 

Jillian LeBlanc

The Canada.ca team at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat working out in the open on their content improvement projects

 

Lucas Beal

Open Government Canada has been doing amazing work, including creating the Feminist Open Government Toolkit with Jillian LeBlanc and organizing youth involvement with Natalia Amy for the Open Government Partnership Global Summit! 

Also the Project Naming initiative with Library and Archives Canada, which empowers Indigenous peoples to engage in the identification of individuals in photographs from Canadian archives.

 

 

How can Canada’s open government community focus on priorities Canadians care about — such as the climate crisis, transparency, and fiscal responsibility — so that the public can meaningfully participate in the movement?

 

Lucas Beal

We need to have data owners to engage with data users and prioritize the release of high value datasets to these users’ needs!

 

Natalia Little

The Open Government Multi-Stakeholder Forum provides advice and oversight on the development and implementation of Canada’s open government commitments. It’s important that Canadians’ priorities are reflected in the composition of the forum and its activities, and at the forefront of its meetings.

 

 

What is the foundation of open government if not open source and open standards?

 

Leslie Cheung

People are the foundation of open government. We have to engage people from all sectors and communities, and we need people to see themselves implicated and participate — both internal and external to government.

 

Lucas Beal

The tech is a big part of open government, and we also need to embed both engagement practices and the culture of being transparent into our policies and programs! Putting the people first.

 

Jillian LeBlanc

A citizen-focused service delivery model!

 

 

Can you explain how a not-for-profit or social enterprise could benefit from open government?

 

Natalia Little

NGOs and social enterprises can use Canada’s National Action Plan on Open Government as a mechanism to formalize government commitments on addressing issues that they want prioritized. Open Government Canada will begin engaging the public on ideas for the next plan soon.

If you work in an organization that would be interested in providing input on potential open government commitments for Canada’s next plan, follow the @OpenGovCan Twitter account and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on engagement activities! 

 

Thiago Fernandes

They could use open data to identify communities or environmental areas that need the most help. Or use the power of community to collect data — e.g., citizens measuring the quality of water in lakes.