Brave New Work Newsletter #3
Five big things we learned at Brave New Work Conference and AI anxietyFriday August 16, 2019
By: Kent Aitken
The digital landscape is changing people’s expectations of government. It is driving new demands for transparency, creating new forms of engagement and allowing citizens, businesses and other institutions to reimagine how they might participate in policy development processes.
In 2012, the government of Canada signed on to the international Open Government Partnership to respond to these expectations. Ontario has recently joined as well, and well over 50 other jurisdictions in Canada have open government teams or websites running.
The partnership’s vision is “that more governments become sustainably more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive.”
And yet, a few years into articulating that vision (much longer for some), we’re often still a little vague on what it means — and especially what it meansfor citizens.
What is open government?
For starters, open government is not a thing. It’s a broad category of ideas and is different for different people, in different countries, at different times. Worldwide, it can include principles and projects like these:
The concept is constantly evolving over time as public demand and the government’s responsiveness changes. Jurisdictions can choose to define and set the scope of open government however they like — though stakeholders may vocally and publicly disagree.
Here’s a short, generalized version: Open government is a commitment to making data and information about government operations and decisions accessible to citizens, and to creating opportunities for people to engage in public decisions that interest or impact them.
What does that definition look like in practice? Here’s the range of views, from most to least cynical:
For me, the “period of acceleration” view is a reasonable lens. (You can read a long explanation of that concept on Samara’s site). Seen this way, open government is a relative concept. Unless you want to get into extremes (“no information, open never” versus “all information, open always”), a country’s goals for openness are typically framed in reference points that are, to be honest, arbitrary. That is, “open government” tends to mean “more open than we were before.” For example, compared with global standards, Canada is a leader in access to information laws. However, because we brought in our first laws in 1984, we’re demanding a higher standard for ourselves now.
With a working (if amorphous) concept in place, the next article in this series will turn to how governments in Canada are doing at delivering on open government.
As published on Policy Options, August 2017.