The Rise of Civil Analytics: How Big Data is About to Explode Policymaking As We Know It

“In the post-fact era of mistrustful populism here is a compelling case for governments to double down on evidence, Big Data and predictive analytics. Lenihan and Pitfield argue that “civil analytics” holds the alluring promise of delivering powerful cures for today’s most wicked policy problems. It is a promise of effective, value-for- money government that everyone should welcome.”

Giles Gherson
Deputy Minister, Ontario Ministry of Economic Development + Growth Ontario

How Big Data is about to Explode Policymaking as We Know It is the first of a series of papers Canada 2020 will release on data and policymaking. In it, Tom Pitfield and Don Lenihan explain the shifts that will occur thanks to massive amounts of high quality data and a new capacity for data analytics. Using the right analytics tools, and involving the right leaders, could be considered an answer to the postfact politics that seem to be rising up all around us.
Civil Analytics, as Pitfield and Lenihan have defined the term, is a holistic approach to data, the tools that can be used to analyze it, and the various people who should be engaged to examine it. As agencies and individuals with various interests are included in the process of understanding the data and creating policies, they will feel a greater ownership over them, which results in easier adoption.
Pitfield and Lenihan have big things to say about history, technology and politics, and this essay should be of interest to anyone watching where policy is going and what big trends are on the horizon.
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Open Government in Transition

A Pan-Canadian Conversation on Open Dialogue and Open Data

Last April, Canada 2020 and PubliVate co-sponsored CODF 2016, a two-day conference in Ottawa on Open Government and Open Dialogue, co-chaired by former Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters, and Ontario Deputy Premier Deb Matthews.
The co-chairs also hosted a private Delegates’ Dinner to discuss Open Government with senior officials from across the country, who discussed their governments’ approaches to Open Government. While everyone agreed that using digital technology to liberate data was essential, there was a shared sense that this is only a first step and that the challenge now is to put this resource to work—what one participant called “leveraging” the data.
Our conference theme of “Open Dialogue” provided the perfect backdrop for this discussion. Presenters offered some stimulating examples of how multi-stakeholder engagement processes can be combined with Open Data to support informed policymaking, better transparency and accountability, and product innovation; and this, in turn, provoked our dinner delegates to consider the implications for Open Government.
Now Canada 2020 is building on the conference and dinner with a cross-country consultation process led by Don Lenihan to identify and examine innovative initiatives where federal, provincial, or territorial governments are successfully leveraging Open Data through Open Dialogue to achieve Open Government’s goals.
The process includes a one-day, intra-governmental roundtable in participating federal-provincial/territorial capitals with about invited 25 participants, including senior and elected officials, as well as representatives from academia, civil society, and the private sector.
So far, events have been held in the Northwest Territories, New Brunswick, and Nova scotia, with others planned for Nunavut, BC, Alberta, Ontario, PEI, and Ottawa in January and February. More governments are expected to confirm their participation shortly.
An intergovernmental roundtable will follow in Toronto next March with reps from all participating governments, and about 10 other invitees. Together, they will review a draft of a final report. The final report will be published on the Canada 2020 website and circulated to all participants, as well as to our 15,000 subscribers.
A second national conference on Open Dialogue will follow. Policymaking in the Digital Age: Open Dialogue Meets Big Data will be held in Ottawa on April 26th – 27th. The conference will be co-chaired by Matthew Mendelsohn, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Results and Delivery), who is heading the Government of Canada’s initiative on “Deliverology.” A second co-chair will be named shortly.
Further information on both the cross-country roundtables and the conference will be posted on this site as they unfold.
Thank you to our partners:

Open Text


Open Dialogue: A Q&A

Open Dialogue
Next week, Canada 2020 is co-hosting the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum in Ottawa – a conference that will see hundreds of policy, business and thought leaders come together to talk about how to make our policy process more open, accessible and transparent.
In advance of next week’s Forum, I sat down with Don Lenihan, our resident-expert on open dialogue to ask some basic questions about the concept of open dialogue, open government and what it means for the future of policymaking in Canada.


Hi Don. I guess the best place to begin is with the basics – what is Open Dialogue, and what does it have to do with government?

The terms “public engagement” and “open dialogue” can be used interchangeably. They refer to formal processes by which governments involve individuals, communities and/or organizations in government planning, policymaking or the delivery of public services.
While governments have always had such processes, over the last few decades new forms have been proposed and tested, which aim at involving the public more deeply in issues of concern. Digital tools are taking this to a new level. Knowing which processes and tools to use where and when, or how to design an effective engagement process, can be difficult and confusing. A key challenge going forward will be to develop the knowledge and skills to match the right process with the right issues and to design and deliver processes that are effective.

So there are some governments already using public engagement to create policies collaboratively. I presume this is met with varying levels of success. Who is doing Open Dialogue well?

Internationally, the UK is a leader in Open Dialogue through its Open Policy Making initiative. Open policy making is about using collaborative approaches to ensure policy is informed by a wide range of input and expertise and leads to better outcome. Open policy making also involves applying new analytical techniques and digital tools to ensure that policy is data-driven and evidence-based.
Here in Canada, Ontario has been an innovator in Open Dialogue. Ontario’s condominium sector provides a timely example. Over the last decade, it has undergone remarkable growth and change. As the sector expanded, so did the range and complexity of the issues around condo ownership and management.
In response, Ontario recently carried out an 18-month public-engagement process to renew the Condominium Act. Over two thousand people were involved. At first, the discussion was fraught with disagreement, but once people saw that the process was open, inclusive and fair, and that their government had entrusted them with an important mission, they got down to work.
They listened carefully to one another and worked to accommodate their differences. Everyone made compromises. No one got everything they wanted. In the end, there was very significant agreement on some 40 pages of recommendations, which were then incorporated into a bill that was passed into law last spring.
The Government of BC provides an example of a leader in the use of online tools. Its recent Liquor Policy Review attracted over 75 thousand British Columbians to its website. Thousands more provided comments through an online blog, email and social media.

Collaborative policymaking is a new concept. What’s the biggest challenge Open Dialogue faces? What stands in the way of Open Dialogue growing in popularity?

Perhaps this biggest barrier to progress on Open Dialogue is fear and misunderstanding. Some people inside and outside government worry that Open Dialogue means losing control of the discourse – that they are handing over control of their agenda over to interest groups. There is sometimes a fear that the “dialogue” will quickly degenerate into a free-for-all that paralyzes decision-making or saddles the government with bad policies. They still need to be convinced of the value of public engagement.
In fact, a growing body of evidence shows how and why well-designed dialogue processes can make a significant contribution to policymaking and the delivery of public services. They can help ensure legitimacy by increasing transparency, responsiveness and inclusiveness. They can also increase effectiveness by bringing the right mix of people, skills and resources into the policy process to ensure the best decisions are made, validated and implemented.

A lot of people think ‘Open Data’ when they  hear ‘Open Dialogue.’ I know Open Data is part of this process, how does it fit into it?

Open Data uses digital tools to make a government’s data holdings available to the public to support evidence-based decision-making. Open Dialogue involves citizens and stakeholders more directly in planning and decision-making, especially through the use of digital tools.
When it comes to evidence-based decision-making, these two processes are two sides of the same coin. On one hand, data can guide and inform discussion, debate and decision-making. Without evidence, decision-making is thrown back on anecdotes and speculation.
At the same time, dialogue is essential to the interpretation of data and to making the best choice of which datasets will shed light on an issue. Open Dialogue thus brings a mix of voices to these tasks to ensure that the interpretation and choice of datasets is balanced.

Canada 2020 and Publivate are co-hosting the Open Dialogue Forum on March 31 to April 1. What do you think will be their biggest takeaway from this event?

I think people will see great ways to make open dialogue work and how it can create policies that are good for multiple stakeholders. Open 2016 draws on examples and experiences from Canada and abroad to show how and why well-designed dialogue processes can make a significant contribution to policymaking and the delivery of public services.

Register for the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum 2016 here

Privacy Protection in the Federal Public Service


In one single day, the 23rd of March 2015, the privacy protection issue in the Federal Public Service was under the spotlight, for two reasons: the Ottawa Citizen headlined that complaints relating to the weakness of the security measures protecting personal information in the Federal Government had reached a never-before-seen record, and the CBC as well as Radio-Canada disclosed new Edward Snowden revelations questioning the legality of gathering of personal information by the   Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC).
As is the case for all other institutions, privacy protection in the Federal Public Service in the digital age has become an unprecedented challenge, in its importance as well as in its nature. Even experienced managers find themselves unequipped to deal with the convergence of two towering phenomena: an information technology that is wreaking havoc with all traditional patterns of data protection, and a public security environment that calls for the collection and analysis of personal information at an unprecedented rate. The coupling of totally new data collection capacity with a new interest for it, forces a questioning of the acquired schemes of protection, and development of new measures in this area.
Beyond the technical measures required by these new information technologies, the Federal Public Service must update its policies relating to privacy protection so they reflect the unique challenges of these technologies. If no corrective legislative measures are taken — there is no real appetite — the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) becomes the main source of standards for privacy protection in a digital environment. I propose five main steps, which result from observations I made during the time I managed the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) over almost six years. I start with the main challenges found by OPC studies within the Federal Public Service and that resulted from the arrival of digital technologies:

  1. Management of new information technologies’ vulnerabilities
  2. Definition of personal information in the digital environment;
  3. Debate on the storage of personal information in the cloud;
  4. Differential repercussions of the Internet on the need for public transparency and privacy requirements; and,
  5. Emerging challenges.

I will treat them separately in order to define the issues, and propose policy directions for the protection of personal information.

Management of New Information Technologies Vulnerabilities

One can summarize the risks affecting personal information protection brought on by the arrival of new information technologies in the Federal Public Service, as is happening everywhere else, as follows: i) their complexity is such that it overwhelms the common abilities of employees and senior staff, ii) these technologies collect data on such small devices that the best controls can miss them, and on such powerful devices that if the data is lost, the private life of thousands of individuals can be compromised in one fell swoop, iii) the virtual mode of access of these technologies complicates the control over this access, and iv) permanent files created, correctly or erroneously, have massive dissemination possibilities, appropriate or not.
Through all these violations to privacy protection, especially in relation to the digital environment, I saw these risks materialize around four constants: i) the small size and the enormous complexity of the devices became increasingly challenging because of insufficient employee digital training; ii) governance structure is incomplete relative to the realities of the risks; iii) protection from indiscretion is lacking, and iv) new technologies are adopted without proper assessment of the risks involved.
To illustrate the lack of digital literacy, an employee left a USB key uncoded on the desk of a colleague, without any physical protection, thinking that a USB key was more secure than an e-mail. To this day, the USB key is missing. It contained medical information concerning approximately 6,000 individuals. In another case, a lack of digital literacy caused an employee to record on his electronic organizer the reason for a meeting with another employee (for disciplinary action), unaware that the content of his organizer could be read by 17 people who, by the way, knew the employee.
This lack of literacy is due to governance weakness, which does not ensure proper training of employees before letting them use information technology devices.
These incomplete structures of governance have been found in studies by the OPC, even in the case where departments run excellent personal data protection policies. Simply put, these policies were not accompanied by an efficient implementation mechanism. For example, movable devices were not identified, or registered, or entrusted to anyone. With no one responsible, protection of the devices was totally lacking. The devices that contained personal data were lost and never found because there was no mechanism to protect them, hence to find them, or at least to permit tracing of persons responsible for the protection of these devices.
This lack of protection from indiscretion is also quite frequent: the studies of the OPC, from 2008 to 2014, have uncovered the severity of the problem within the public service as well as in the private sector. In the Federal Public Service, we witnessed employees searching in the medical records of a former lover, employees distributing tax returns of celebrities, or accessing tax returns of new lovers and their family. Even if these indiscretions are quite rare, they reveal the systemic weaknesses that make them possible: access authorizations are too wide, controls such as journaling and reviewing are insufficient.
We already know that the main differential repercussion of the digital environment is the following: the smallest mistake can cause enormous damage. For example, a file that really got my attention made me write in 2012 “Ten Thing HR Professionals Need to Know“. It was a case whereby a Director General had her abilities assessment mistakenly sent to 321 colleagues. The mistake being: someone has hurriedly pressed on the button without even being aware of the consequences of the act, furthermore, the department had not restricted the distribution through e-mail of human resources information. The result was: the humiliation of the person and the damage to her reputation. It also triggered an inquiry by the OPC. I would venture to add, along with the damages to the person: the loss of employee confidence in the management of personal information in the department.
How can these blunders be avoided? My recommendations are in “Ten Tips” regarding the digital environment:

  • Avoid sharing sensitive information electronically, even though it is the current method of communication for all other types of communications;
  • Continuously ensure that the technology is mastered by the employee before handing it to him as a working tool, and test the capabilities of the person using it; and,
  • Develop a regime of access authorizations, as restrictive as possible while preserving the functionality of the organization, and support this regime by establishing a journaling process, and regularly review the access data it contains.

However, the complexity of information technologies does not affect employees exclusively. Higher level management in the public service, economy and political science experts, do not necessarily have the reflex of owning, as they should, the issue of their privacy protection on new technologies devices. This is what the 2010 audit of the OPC concluded on the use of wireless technologies within five Federal entities.  Those entities had all adopted those technologies and none had implemented an adequate risk assessment. The expected consequences occurred: the employees did not protect their devices through a solid password, the devices were not kept in a safe place, and the adequate protection policies had not been established because the risk had not been determined. I believe, however, that this complacency has now been replaced with greater acknowledgment of the risk, especially since the loss of a hard drive at Employment and Social Development Canada containing the financial data of some 600,000 individuals.
My recommendations in this regard were part of the Special Report of Inquiry relating to this incident and submitted to Parliament on March 25, 2014. Briefly, they were:

  • Protection of personal data in the digital environment should be addressed as an ecosystem of interacting components, i.e., physical, technological, administrative and employee security checks, including the digital literacy needed to handle those work tools.
  • Protection of personal data must be considered as being an institutional issue and not as a distinct and separate issue, that is, of the exclusive domain of the administrators of information technologies or of the office of access to information and privacy. Its implementation must be accompanied by a governance structure that:
    • Reflects the accountability regime established by the Privacy Act, which defines the attribution of this responsibility to the very senior public servants within an organization ; and
    • Insures that the necessary supervision imposed by the Act is present at all levels in order to abide by this regime of personal information protection.

Definition of Digital Personal Information

Internet has challenged the established definitions of both the “personal information” and the private sphere. Two notions that have been challenged in the last while within the Federal Public Service: the privacy aspect, or not, of the Internet subscriber’s data and the IP address, as well as free or protected access to personal accounts on the social networks.

1. Personal Data on the Internet

The question as to whether proprietorship of IP (Internet Protocol) addresses (name, address and other identifiers of the subscriber) or personal data, do or do not constitute personal data, was pressing in the last few years as regards the many successive bills that would have allowed access to these data by the executive and security authorities without court approval. Much of the argument touched on two different contradictory understandings: one concluded that the IP address and personal data, and the relevant personal data of a subscriber, do not carry more value than a phonebook, and that the absence of such a phonebook for Internet cannot determine the judicial statute of the data. The other, of which I approve, said that the subscriber’s data contained in the IP address of the subscriber constitutes a key to the subscriber’s interiority by giving access to his Internet searches – i.e., his areas of interest, his worries or his allegiances – and, consequently, should be considered a static and limited data of a physical address and a phone number.
In June 2014, in its decision re. R. v. Spencer, the Supreme Court ended the debate: it declared that the subscriber’s data in the IP address, allowing access to the Internet searches, is so revealing as to constitute protected personal data, to which the controlling forces can only have access after court authorization.
The consequences for the Federal Public Service are mostly felt within the RCMP and CSIS, but they also have a wider reach: the Privacy Act has just been modified to include, within the interpretation of personal information, the name to which the IP belongs.
Consequently, the federal institutions have to abide by the following constraints:

  • The subscriber’s data in the IP address, or the IP address that can lead to the identification of the subscriber, can only be collected if there is a direct link with the programs or activities of the institution ; and,
  • These data must be obtained through their owner, unless that constrains the use for which these data are intended (for example, a police inquiry).

The analytical framework of the OPC  A Matter of Trust: Integrating Privacy and Public Safety in the 21st Century,  published in 2010, gives the four steps of applicable considerations for integration within the measures of public security, of the relative obligations towards privacy protection. They also apply to a regime of access to personal data on Internet:

  • Establishing the legitimacy of the measure on the base of empirical data, which proves its necessity, its proportionality and its efficiency compared to the need and absence of less intrusive alternatives;
  • Implementation of security measures in order to protect data gathered and used legitimately;
  • Development of an internal governance framework that ensures conformity with these security measures; and,
  • Development of an external and internal supervision framework that ensures the accountability of the organization in regard to its duties regarding privacy protection.

Therefore, privacy protection is not a hindrance to the carrying out of the main duty of Canada’s government, i.e., to protect the security of its population. It rather provides an implementation framework that protects fundamental freedoms as well as personal security.

2. Access to Personal Accounts on Social Networks

The right of access, or not, of federal institutions to the personal accounts of individuals has been contested in at least two major cases of the OPC: a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) of the factors involved in the private life of a program that would have allowed the surveillance of accounts on public servants’ social networks in order to control their political activities, and a study on the surveillance by two departments of the Facebook account of an activist.
In the PIA’s case, OPC’s reaction had a sobering effect on the project: it violates Section 4 of the Privacy Act, as there is no direct link between the project and the activities or programs of the institution. Even if public servants are mandated, in different capacities, to stay away from political demonstrations and the public service is entitled to ensure that this rule is obeyed, the wide gathering of data inherent to the surveillance of the accounts on social networks would have widely exceeded what was deemed necessary in order to ensure that these restrictions to partisan activities are respected.
The project has been vehemently criticized by the upper echelons of the public service following the comments of the OPC, nevertheless, it constitutes an illustration of the consequences such straying can have on the digital surveillance ability without a framework.
One other illustration of this phenomenon was noted in a study by the OPC in 2013. An activist alleged that two departments had gathered her personal information from her Facebook account. None of the departments denied it. However, both said that they had not broken the Privacy Act, as Facebook accounts are in the public domain, hence, the information appearing there is also public and not protected by the Act.
The OPC rejected this argument: the information available does not lose its personal confidentiality just because it is available on Internet. The information still belongs to an identifiable person and is destined to selected people, not the government. And if there is no direct link with the department’s program or activities, it remains out of bounds for the department in question.
The study highlights the uncertainty stemming from the legal status of personal information deliberately posted on Internet. In order to clarify this legal status and the obligations of international institutions in this regard, the Special Report of the OPC to Parliament on January 28, 2014, Checks and Controls: Reinforcing Privacy Protection and Oversight for the Canadian Intelligence Community in an Era of Cyber-Surveillance recommends:

  • Regulating access to sources of open personal information sources accessible to the public; and,
  • Developing outlines defining specifically the gathering, use and dissemination of personal information on line and on social media sites.

This recommendation remains valid … and awaits implementation.

Hosting Personal Information in the Cloud

The commitment of governments towards protection of data on Internet has caused some to ask for the government to have its data hosted on its territory. In practice, this excludes government institutions from financial and functional benefits of the cloud because suppliers of cloud computing are mostly Americans. Edward Snowden revelations in June 2013 have increased mistrust to the point where governments that had planned a loosening of these rules had to backtrack.
The Government of Canada has, wisely, not imposed hosting of electronic data in Canada. However, the Canada Revenue Agency reserves the right to allow, or not to allow, the storing of accounting and financial information outside of Canada. The increasing use of cloud computing casts a doubt on the pertinence of this rule, which has, at least, to be explained within the cloud computing environment.
British Columbia and Nova Scotia governments require their institutions to store their data within Canada, except for a few conditions, excluding or complicating the use of cloud computing. I think that the residency requirement of the electronic data in Canada, with all its good intentions, weakens the security of personal data because it eliminates a particularly secure platform for hosting data: the dependable supplier of cloud computing.
I will now move to the strategic factors that should guide Federal institutions for converting to cloud computing.

1. Benefits and Risks of Cloud Computing

A policy paper published jointly by the OPC, the Office of the Information and Privacy  Commissioner of Alberta and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia, and a Fact Sheet authored by the OPC, describe the benefits and risks of data stored by cloud computing hosts: in its favour, cloud computing is an on-demand Internet service that does not require the user to have his own technological infrastructure, allowing for “on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and measured service”. As a result, the user saves money, benefits from a lighter management load, improved efficiency, and the supplier being dependable, enjoys greater security of the data because it is handled by professionals. In this regard, OPC clarifies:

“For businesses that are considering using a cloud service, cloud computing could offer better protection of personal information compared with current security and privacy practices. Through economies of scale, large cloud providers may be able to use better security technologies than individuals or small companies can, and have better backup and disaster-recovery capabilities. Cloud providers may also be motivated to build privacy protections into new technology, and to support better audit trails.”

In stating the potential risks of cloud computing, the OPC refers to physical distance of the data hosting locales, the multiplicity of clients of the supplier, the possible misuse of the data, i.e., using them for other ends than what they were gathered for, and, because of the low cost of storage, the keeping of excessive amounts of data.
The OPC concludes that, in regard to the implementation of cloud computing, “Privacy is not a barrier, but it has to be taken into consideration.”
One can summarize as follows the relevant factors the Federal Government should consider when implementing cloud computing:

  • How is the existing infrastructure improved if cloud computing is adopted?
  • Which data can be stored in the cloud, and according to what criteria?
  • How would users of government services know that the data is in the clouds?
  • Is the cloud supplier dependable, certified ISO/IEC 27018 in privacy protection in cloud computing?

This brings me to the perfect combination: one where technological security of cloud computing by renowned suppliers pairs with a contractual mechanism that ensures conformity with certified ISO/IEC/ 27018 cloud computing security.

2. The ISO/IEC 27018 Standard for Privacy Protection in Cloud Computing

The OPC acted upon its beliefs concerning cloud computing: for a long while, the Office provided its expert advice for the development of standard ISO/IEC 27018 Information technology — Security techniques — Code of practice for protection of personally identifiable information (PII) in public clouds acting as PII processors, adopted on April 25th, 2014.
This standard increases dramatically the security of personal information in the cloud by creating a security certification base that combines the supplier’s technological strength with a framework that ensures that the conformity is really solid: by contract, the observance of which is checked through audits, the client organization using cloud computing keeps its control over the data and the supplier cannot use it for any other purpose than that defined by the client. Moreover, the supplier must support the client in respecting his own legal obligations. Finally, the obligations of the cloud computing supplier are subject to audit by the client as well as by the certifying organization, to ensure the level of adequacy. To be certified, the supplier must implement all the security measures required by Standard ISO/IEC/ 27018. Not only does a supplier that does not respect the standard lose his clientele, he also loses his certification.
How is this normative development relevant to the Canadian Public Service? It allows, at lower cost, a maximal protection of personal data by storing it in the most sophisticated technological infrastructures, as per the most efficient and demanding governance model. Standard government institutions are being asked more frequently to share their data beyond Canada’s borders and to hire suppliers that would enhance the efficiency of their services, when they do not possess the required resources to be able to render these services. The ISO/IEC 27018 Standard is universal and is accepted by the various players in the transborder flow of data.
Following the recommendations of the OPC, the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) has published, in the framework of its policies of information management, the document Privacy Matters: The Federal Strategy to Address Concerns About the USA Patriot Act and Transborder Data Flows, as well as the Guidance Document: Taking Privacy into Account Before Making Contracting Decisions. These documents should now be supplemented by the ISO/IEC 27018 Standard. But first, let’s have a look at the ISO Standards.
ISO, International Standardization Organization, and IEC, International Electrotechnical Commission, constitute the specialized system of international standardization. Both have members, states, institutions and experts. They are at the heart of the certification of compliance to some ISO standard by an accredited organization to do so. (Rewrite.) Certification is maintained, or revoked, following regular audits.
TBS already uses the universal standards, the ISO Standards. For example, the TBS Standards for the geospatial standard is based on the implementation of ISO Standards 19115 and 19128. The ISO/IEC 27018 Standard would be the perfect and most comprehensive contractual model in order to implement the conversion of federal institutions to certified cloud computing, thus achieving economies of scale and greater data security.
Avoiding cloud computing is obsolete, adopting it without guidance would be irresponsible. The adoption of the ISO/IEC 27018 Standard by TBS would show other Federal institutions the way towards secure cloud computing for personal data according to universally recognized settings.

Balance Between Public Transparency and Privacy

The legislative framework defining the balance between transparency and privacy is based on the complementarity of the Privacy Act (PA) and the Access to Information Act (AIA). Section 19 of the AIA bridges the gap between transparency and privacy. It forbids a public servant in charge of a Federal institution from communicating documents that would contain personal information as defined by the Privacy Act, i.e., information relating to an identifiable person. Three exceptions: the identifiable person agrees to this communication; the public already has access to the information; or, the AIA allows for a special case communication.
The weakness here stems from the fact that the disclosure imperatives emanate from principles that rival in strength the fundamental right to privacy in relation to administrative tribunals since Internet became public. In reality, I am of the opinion that transparency of judicial tribunals must be reviewed within the framework of the differential consequences of Internet. But judicial tribunals are not part of the Federal Public Service. Administrative tribunals are, and are therefore subject to the Privacy Act.
The Federal Public Service has eleven administrative tribunals, of which four work regularly on personal data issues: Canada Agricultural Review Commission; Public Service Labour Relations Board; Human Rights Tribunal; and, Social Security Tribunal. The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal also publishes decisions that contain personal and even very sensitive information, but they are subject to such disclosure restrictions that the tension between transparency and privacy is resolved within the legislative framework applicable to the tribunal. Furthermore, the other tribunals are proceeding quite cautiously towards a resolution of the natural tension between transparency and privacy.
In 2009, the OPC published, jointly with its provincial and territorial counterparts, a Guidance Document Electronic Disclosure of Personal Information in the Decisions of Administrative Tribunals. The incentive to act came from an observation of real cases of differential consequences of Internet on the materialization of the transparency principle. It is worth noting that, in the Internet environment, the transparency principle does not give prominence to the tribunal, although it is subject to the principle that ensures its impartiality; it gives it to the parties whose identity is of no public interest. The massive and permanent distribution of this information can unjustly damage the parties’ reputation and would cause them to lose all hope of finding work due to such an insignificant cause. And this hinders the access to justice, due to the fact that complainants decide not to exercise their rights, fearing loss of reputation due to the Internet posting of their cause.
The Guidance Document of the Canadian Commissioners of Privacy is based on Section 8 of the Privacy Act, which restricts the communication of personal information without the consent of the concerned individual, except in very rare exceptions that seldom apply to the decisions of administrative tribunals. In summary, here are the proposed parameters, subject of course to the specific rules applicable to each tribunal:

  • Employees of the tribunal should inform the parties, as soon as a recourse has been filed, of the risks relating to privacy and what the safeguard measures are, and encourage the parties not to disclose more personal information than what is strictly needed;
  • The decisions should not divulge any identifier, directly or indirectly. Transparency applies to the reasoning of the tribunal and not to the parties. For example, names should be replaced with initials and addresses deleted or generalized. ISO/IEC 27018 becomes crucially important in the transborder flow of data and the outsourcing services;
  • The decision might contain an identifier when, in accordance with Section 8 (2) m) of the Privacy Act, it is in the public interest to publish the parties’ identities (for example, in criminal or fraud cases);
  • The tribunal would develop criteria to exercise its discretion in the application of the public interest concept.

This discretion is an absolute necessity for personal security reasons (a plaintiff contesting her disability pension was threatened by thugs who, having seen the tribunal decision on Internet, knew her address, the amount and payment date of her pension), but also for reasons relating to reputation and financial integrity (two complainants couldn’t find employment for ten years because any Internet search concerning them revealed their grievance).
The TBS must pick up after the OPC and issue policies aimed at re-establishing a fair relation between public transparency and privacy for administrative tribunals in the digital era.

Conclusion: Emerging Challenges

I summarized, from the start, the actual and important challenges that face the Federal Public Service in relation to privacy protection, and the double effect of two fundamental transformations in our means of communication: the arrival of new, complex, powerful and vulnerable information technologies; as well as the increase in cyber-surveillance capacity in a public security environment largely dependent on personal information.
The growing number of new security technologies is clearly moving ahead, mainly in one direction: risk assessment is being refined and multiple technological restrictions are being used following the risk analysis. New applications, like information hubs, where information management is centralized but respects the separation of the different databases, abide by the Act in this regard.
However, the limits of Internet surveillance in a free and democratic society have yet to be defined in view of its progress as well as the evolution of risks concerning physical security.
Privacy protection challenges to Internet surveillance are at the heart of the relationship between the citizens and the state. Section 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights illustrates eloquently this essential character of the right to privacy by declaring:

“Section 12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Brought ahead in the debate on Bill C-13, the current Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, the issue of the legitimacy of Internet surveillance reappears in Bill C-51, whose short title is the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015. While the Bill traces the legislative process, it also highlights the manner in which the Internet surveillance capabilities force an upgrade of public service obligations towards privacy, i.e.:

  • Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects against unreasonable surveillance, which under the Privacy Act includes all gathering of data that have no relation to government programs or activities, which in turn includes the legitimate purposes of inquiry based on a reasonable suspicion, and individualized;
  • Restrictions that regulate the sharing of personal data between government agencies in order to avoid citizen profiling that produces new information beyond what has already been collected from the individual himself, and over and above the reason for which the data was gathered;
  • Natural justice principles of impartiality and accountability, specifically within Internet surveillance, which is meant to be secret and, thus, has to define its own form of accountability to the citizen.

The other double-edged sword of technological evolution resides in the analysis capabilities of data, leading to possible data mining.
As, on a smaller scale, the Census data supported, even anonymously, the government’s decisions at all levels, as well as the business decisions, according to demographic, social or economic movements, we therefore will have to develop an ethical framework for the analysis of Big Data that we store to draw conclusions for the greater good of the citizen. These data can improve the government’s services, refine decisions and adequately adapt the programs. Solutions seem to favour a governance framework based on anonymity, necessity and consent, i.e.:

  • When the public service develops efficient policies and programs and needs unidentified demographic data for census purposes, the Privacy Act does not forbid it, on the condition that an efficient anonymization process be applied. This would include the separation of data between demographic and nominative data that are pertinent in such a way as that the demographic data do not relate to an identifiable person, because the re-identification would be so difficult that it would become improbable.
  • For all nominative data needed by the operations of a public institution, Section 4 of the Privacy Act allows their gathering, and Section 7 allows for their compatible use.
  • If the Public Service needs to use personal data for other purposes than the ones that justified its gathering, even if it is in the public interest, it has to request and obtain the consent of the person concerned. For example, if a department wished to contact people for medical research purposes, it would have to explain the purpose of the research, how the personal data would be used, and ask if, in the interest of science, they would consent to this new use of their personal data.

These basic parameters show a general trend, insufficient, though, to settle the ethical challenge between reconciling privacy and public interest within the analysis of big data. This subject of conversation, like the one relating to Internet surveillance, must be raised more frequently, in order to ensure privacy protection within a new technological frame.
At this point, the priority of the public service should be to develop a normative framework that reflects what Canada considers to be legitimate in relation to the gathering and use of data in the digital age. In a certain way, Bill C-51 has provoked this debate, concerning both Internet surveillance and the analysis of personal data. But this debate is not what it should be: the die is cast, and the discussion is framed in a limited and political debate instead of within a social blueprint taking into account the real challenges, in a thoughtful and empirical manner.
That’s the next step we need to take in order to preserve privacy in the digital age, and it has become urgent.


Chantal Bernier, Legal Counsel, Dentons Canada LLP, is a Senior Fellow at The Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), University of Ottawa and Former Interim Privacy Commissioner of Canada. For more information, visit

Open Government in Transition

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Open Government is a new movement whereby governments around the world are making their vast data holdings available to the public to use in the development of new knowledge products, to support more evidence-based decision-making, and to make government more transparent.
Government data holdings range across every area of human interest, from health and finance to labour markets, culture and the environment. These datasets are said to be to the knowledge economy what natural resources were to the industrial economy: they are the raw material from which wealth in the knowledge economy will be created. They are among our most important public assets for the future.
The Canadian Geomatics Community Round Table (CGCRT) is a multi-stakeholder body whose members come from across the geomatics community,1 including governments, private-sector organizations, NGOs, universities and colleges, and data/service consumers. It operates as a collaborative body that neither has nor seeks the authority to make decisions that are binding on its members or on other organizations. 1 Geomatics is the discipline of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information.
At present, the CGCRT’s primary focus is on the development and delivery of a pan-Canadian geomatics strategy. The origins of this project are rooted in major technological changes in the field of geomatics, underway for more than a decade, and in the economic opportunities created by opening up the access to government geospatial data.
In the fall of 2007, Canadian governments launched a country-wide consultation process to re-think the way the geomatics community operates in a digital world. The final report identified eight “elements” on which a new national strategy was to be based.
However, it soon became clear that these elements were less a strategy than elements that needed to be included in a strategy. For example, while the report called on the community to collaborate more effectively to modernize the sector, it provided no real direction on how to make collaboration happen.
Over the next three years, a second wave of conferences and meetings was convened to discuss what a real strategy to modernize the sector would look like. During this period, two key developments took place.
First, a Round Table was formed and eventually emerged as an independent body whose main purpose was to act as a multi-stakeholder advisory group to existing government bodies. However, views on this began to change quickly, which lead to the second development.
Some participants argued that the geomatics community needed a credible and influential body that could propose and advocate for broad directions for the community as a whole. To compete globally and to become leaders in the global geomatics industry, the Canadian sector needed to distinguish itself; it needed to find a “Canadian niche.”
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Rebuilding Public Trust: Open Government & Open Dialogue in the Government of Canada

Introduction: Trust in Government

A long list of polls and studies tells us that people are turning away from politics and that public trust in politicians has plummeted, but do we know why or how to fix it?
When people watch newscasts or check out political debate online, what do they actually see or hear about politics? Increasingly, it is little more than the shrill and hyper-partisan tone of the “constant campaign,” from cynical negative ads to the barrage of talking points and political spin.
Nor is it clear how or why important policy decisions are made. Too often, they emerge from a black hole or reflect short-term political gain, rather than the public interest. Looked at through this lens, it is not hard to see why people are questioning what politics has to offer them.
This disconnect between citizens and politics appears to be part of a long-term trend that may be reaching a critical point, as the following slide by Frank Graves from Ekos Research suggests:
Chart 1 - Trust in Government
The blue and green lines show a stunning drop in the number of Canadians and Americans who trust their national governments to do what is right. According to these figures, over the last 50 years trust has plummeted from a high of about 78% into the low twenties here in Canada and the teens in the US.
If accurate, we think this should be of deep concern to the policy community. In a democracy, the legitimacy of governments arises from citizens’ participation in the democratic process, especially elections. A collapse in public trust is likely to be followed by a collapse in participation; and that, in turn, means loss of legitimacy. There are worrying signs that this is already happening: voter turnout is falling, especially among youth; and, as Graves and others have been warning, public trust appears to be tumbling.
We think this trend is connected to two others that have unfolded over the same time period: globalization and the digital revolution. Together, these two forces have transformed our world, making it far more fast-moving and interconnected.
As a result, events and trends are increasingly difficult to predict and manage. Big shifts can happen with little or no notice, such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008, or the collapse of oil prices in 2014.
Nor is anyone sure how such events—or our responses to them—will impact on other systems and trends. But if we have learned anything in recent years, it is that, in an interconnected world, they will.
So the speed of change, the interconnectedness of events, and a general volatility around public affairs are defining features of the contemporary world. Making and implementing decisions in this environment requires new ways of gauging public support and establishing legitimacy. The less engaged or trusting citizens are, the more difficult this becomes for governments.
Rebuilding public trust and reengaging citizens should be one of a government’s highest priorities. We believe that Open Government is the way forward on this. It sets new standards for governance that will put an end to many of the cynical or outdated practices and establish new ones that are far better suited to our needs and to citizens’ expectations.
This paper sketches the way forward for a new Parliament after the next election. It begins with an overview of Open Government and explains our reasons for focusing in on one key aspect of it: Open Dialogue. The Open Dialogue Initiative we propose provides a compact and cost-effective plan to build a new capacity for Open Dialogue in Parliament and across the public service, as quickly as possible. This, in turn, will ensure that a government that wants to pursue Open Government after the next election will have a plan that is fully formed and robust enough to make a major contribution to reengaging citizens and rebuilding trust.

2. What is Open Government?

The Open Government Partnership is an international movement of some 65 countries who have joined together to promote better governance through the innovative use of digital tools and a deeper commitment to transparency, openness and public engagement.
The Government of Canada joined the partnership in 2012 and in its initial Action Plan identified three streams of activity: Open Data, Open Information, and Open Dialogue. Open Data calls on departments to make their data holdings available to the public to use to develop new knowledge products, support more evidence-based decision-making, and make government more transparent.
Open Information calls on departments to advance freedom of information. Lastly, Open Dialogue recognizes the need to engage the public more directly in the policy process. Open Government results from the convergence of these three streams, as follows:
“Openness” is not a new concept. Citizens have always needed information to hold government to account and to make informed decisions. However, Open Government is taking this to a new level.
In 2014, a second Government of Canada Action Plan recognized the principle of “Open by Default” as the basis for these three streams. This implies that government information and data should be available to the public by default. When information is withheld, the onus should be on government to explain why.
If fully implemented, we think the principle of Open by Default would be transformative. It implies nothing less than a reversal of the culture of secrecy and control that surrounds governments. And this, we think, is the key to renewing government for the digital age. While there is a long way to go, the principle has now been officially recognized and adopted by the Government of Canada. The challenge for a new government will be to implement it.

3. Focusing on Open Dialogue

Much of the progress so far on Open Government has focused on Open Data. Many government data sets are in a format that allows them to be shared easily and their content is relatively uncontroversial, so observing the principle of Open by Default requires little change to the culture of government and, from a political viewpoint, is largely risk-free.
The Government of Canada currently has a fairly ambitious plan to advance Open Data and officials are hard at work on it. While adjustments to the program might be needed, a government that wanted to pursue a comprehensive Open Government would not need to reinvent it.
Open Information is more challenging. Documents that contain policy advice, program performance assessments or information on the state of the government’s finances are usually treated as confidential and released only when a government feels ready to do so. Declaring that they should be freely available to citizens—Open by Default—would require a major reversal of the culture of secrecy that now dominates the federal government.
Nevertheless, Freedom of Information has a long history in Canada and elsewhere and has provided policymakers with lots of experience, so the risks are well known. The question for a post-election government is mainly one of leadership: will a new government be willing to take this step?
For at least one party, the Liberals, the decision to move forward on freedom as already been made. Justin Trudeau’s Private Member’s Bill outlines a plan to renew Canada’s 1983 Access to Information Act based on the principle of Open by Default. As a result, all kinds of confidential information and documents would become accessible to the public.

Of the three streams, Open Dialogue is the least well understood and for many politicians and officials, the most worrying. They fear that it could turn over control of the policy agenda to interest groups, saddle ministers with bad decisions or degenerate into a free-for-all that paralyzes decision-making. Such concerns leave them wondering about the upside of Open Dialogue.
In our view, many of the concerns over Open Dialogue are either unfounded or relatively easily mitigated. We also see Open Dialogue as vital to the success of Open Government. Open Data and Open Information are not enough to prepare government for the digital age. As noted, policymaking today occurs in a highly interdependent, fast-moving and volatile environment, often involving many stakeholders. In this environment, dialogue processes can make a major contribution to policymaking in two basic ways:

  • They can help ensure legitimacy through key “process values,” such as transparency, responsiveness and inclusiveness.
  • They can increase effectiveness by bringing the right mix of people, skills and resources into the policy process to ensure the best decisions are made and implemented.

But to achieve this, the processes must be well designed and well executed—something the current Conservative government has shown little interest in exploring or improving. It has been unwilling to invest time or political capital in building the capacity or skills needed for Open Dialogue. In most departments, traditional consultation (see below) remains the standard approach.
Indeed, what the government often refers to as “consultation” is barely even that. Often, it is little more than an “information session,” where the government announces its plans, provides limited information about them and minimal opportunity for feedback, and then pushes ahead regardless of what others say.
We think this refusal to listen and respond to public concerns is a major contributor to the falling levels of public trust, as well as to a deeply worrying trend in which public policy increasingly conflicts with expert opinion and/or lived experience. As a result, Ottawa is falling further and further behind other national (and provincial) governments, such as the United Kingdom, which has made itself an international leader and trend-setter on Open Dialogue.
Given the Conservatives’ refusal to allow the public service to experiment and evolve, a different government in Ottawa would find that within the public service the pressure to advance Open Dialogue has been building for some time. A new government must be ready with a plan that can address this deficit quickly, while ensuring the job gets done properly.
The Open Dialogue Initiative, to which we now turn, is designed to ensure that genuine capacity-building on Open Dialogue occurs within the federal public service as quickly as possible, but in a discipline way; and that the learning, skills, relationships and culture-change that result become institutionalized and are shared with the broader public policy community.

4. Objectives for the Open Dialogue Initiative

The Open Dialogue Initiative has five key objectives:
Make Open Government the standard for the digital age
Through the principle of Open by Default, Open Government sets new standards for governance in the digital age. The Open Dialogue Initiative will establish Open Government as the “brand” for improving governance in the Government of Canada and introduce the Canadian public policy community to the key ideas behind it.
Establish Open Dialogue as the indispensable third stream of Open Government
The Initiative will examine, test, document and demonstrate the critical contribution Open Dialogue makes to Open Government; and, in particular, to reengaging citizens and rebuilding public trust.
Ensure that Open Dialogue is guided by a principled policy framework
The Initiative will produce a comprehensive policy framework to guide Parliamentarians and officials in designing and delivering effective Open Dialogue processes at the federal level.
Assess how digital tools can be used to support and strengthen Open Dialogue processes
The Initiative will explore the contribution digital tools can make to Open Dialogue. How effective are they at overcoming distance and including large numbers of people? Can they support genuinely deliberative discussions? Are there new tools or techniques on the horizon that might prove to be “game-changers”?
Build a group of Open Dialogue champions who will foster further experimentation and culture-change within Parliament and the Government of Canada
The Initiative will build a group of Open Dialogue champions at both the political and public service levels, who will be informed, experienced and able to speak authoritatively about Open Dialogue processes and their role in the future of governance.

5. Towards an Open Dialogue Framework

A key objective of the proposed Open Dialogue Initiative is to develop a principled policy framework to guide the development of Open Dialogue processes. In fact, much work has already been done on the foundations of such a framework and, based on this, we believe the Open Dialogue Framework should rest on four distinct kinds of dialogue processes:
A transaction is a one-way relationship in which government delivers something to the public. This could be information, but it could also be a form of permission (licence), an object (drugs) or a service (policing). Transactions thus include not only information exchanges, but also the delivery of many public services.
Consultation provides members of the public with an opportunity to present their views on a subject to public officials. The process ensures they have a chance to make their views known to government. Once they have done so, the officials retreat behind closed doors to review the arguments, weigh evidence, set priorities, make compromises and propose solutions. Their conclusions are then presented to the government, which makes the final decisions.
Deliberation allows participants to express their views, but it also asks them to engage one another (and possibly government) in the search for common ground. Whereas consultation assigns the task of weighing evidence, setting priorities, making compromises and proposing solutions to officials, Deliberation brings the participants into this process.1
Collaboration involves sharing responsibility for the development of solutions AND the delivery or implementation of those solutions. A government shares these responsibilities when it agrees to act as an equal partner with citizens and/or stakeholders to form and deliver a joint plan to solve and issue or advance a goal.
Open Dialogue makes appropriate use of all four types of processes. At present, policymakers in the federal government tend to reply on just two approaches—information sharing (transactions) and consultation—for almost every issue. Too often, this results in a mismatch of processes and issues that leads to solutions that are ineffective, difficult to implement or that lack buy-in from citizens and stakeholders.
The motivating idea behind the Open Dialogue Framework is simply that different kinds of issues should be approached differently. The Framework is supposed to help officials choose the right kind of process for the issue at hand.
However, if Open Dialogue rests on recognition of these four generic types of processes, we should not lose sight of the fact that every government is different. The challenge in developing an Open Dialogue Framework is not just to identify the four types and provide criteria to match them with the right kinds of issues. It is also to provide guidance on how to design processes that incorporate or respect the special or unique characteristics of the community in question.
The Open Dialogue Initiative would use the demonstration projects to produce a “made in Canada” approach to Open Dialogue that is appropriate for the Government of Canada. For example, the new Framework would recognize and incorporate our commitment to federalism, the historical place of aboriginal peoples, and the role of official languages.

6. The Project: Who are we engaging?

The Open Dialogue Initiative that we are proposing includes two distinct but complementary streams of activity: the Public Service Stream and the Parliamentary Stream. The former focuses on how Open Dialogue would transform the work of ministers and the public service; the latter on how it would make the work of Parliament and parliamentarians more meaningful.
The public service stream would include five major demonstration projects from five departments (a single project could involve multiple departments), and the parliamentary stream would include three to five projects from the House of Commons, possibly including the Senate. The two streams would proceed in parallel.

A. Open Dialogue Initiative: The Public Service Stream

The Public Service Stream would be led by a new Open Dialogue Centre in the Treasury Board Secretariat. The Centre would scout out departments that were planning to launch a significant consultation initiative on an issue and then hold meetings with the officials from that department.
Through these meetings, the Centre would be looking for consultation processes that were also good candidates to be transformed into deliberative or collaborative processes. The Centre would discuss this with departmental staff. If the prospects were promising, staff, in turn, would discuss this with the minister.
The Centre’s goal would be to identify five promising projects from various policy areas that could be completed within 18 months or less. Following discussions with the minister and his officials, the Centre would invite those five departments to participate in the Open Dialogue Initiative by redesigning their consultation processes as deliberative or collaborative ones and then allowing them to be used as demonstration projects for ODI.
Each demonstration project would still be planned, managed and executed by officials from the sponsoring department. However, the Centre would also strike and chair an interdepartmental committee, with representation from each of the departmental project teams. This committee would provide advice and oversight to all of the departmental teams to help ensure that the five projects conformed to basic principles and best practices of Open Dialogue.
The committee would also be responsible for consolidating learning from the projects and producing the new Open Dialogue Policy Framework for TBS. This would eventually become the official policy framework of the Government of Canada for Open Dialogue.
In addition, the Centre would be responsible to inform and engage the public service and the broader public policy community on the progress of the projects. It would also work with the Canada School of Public Service to develop a training program and materials based on the projects.
The Open Dialogue Initiative would conclude with a national conference to educate the public service, MPs, the broader public policy community, and governments across the country on the merits of Open Dialogue and to showcase the results of the project.
Finally, development and execution of the five projects should require few new resources. The principal cost would lie in executing the demonstration projects. However, as each one would be a process that the sponsoring department had already planned to carry out, resources would have been allocated to the project through departmental budgets. In this way, ODC would leverage existing resources and commitments to carry out the work to produce the new framework.

B. Open Dialogue Initiative: The Parliamentary Stream

Many MPs today feel removed from decision-making, which increasingly is vested in the executive, in party leadership and, at times, among political staff.
The Parliamentary Stream of the Open Dialogue Initiative would provide an opportunity to change this by striking special committees of MPs and assigning them the responsibility of leading an Open Dialogue project.
First, House Leaders would meet to identify a list of multiparty issues that could be the focus of such a dialogue. A “multiparty issue” is one that transcends partisan lines enough that members of a special committee could reasonably be expected to work collaboratively. House Leaders would then agree to strike three to five special committees, each with a mandate to use Open Dialogue to find solutions to their respective issues.
A committee’s mandate would charge its members with leading either a deliberative or collaborative discussion aimed at producing a consensus report. House Leaders would agree to a hands-off approach, as long as a committee continued to work within the boundaries and parameters defined by its mandate.
The committees would contain equal representation from each of the official parties in Parliament. Committee members would agree to engage in a non-partisan dialogue and, where the public was involved, to play a new kind of “facilitative” role through the committee.
In our view, the Library of Parliament is well positioned to assume a new and important role in helping Parliament build capacity and carry out successful engagement processes. Its value here was clearly demonstrated in a 2002/3 study on CPP (Disability), when it provided special support to the Sub-Committee on the Status of Persons with Disability.
The government would make a meaningful commitment to act on consensus recommendations, as long as they remained within the boundaries of the mandate and met any special conditions set out there, such as guidelines on recommendation that involve spending.
Should the committee members fail to reach consensus on their recommendations or reach beyond the committee’s mandate, the government’s commitment to act on the recommendations would be invalidated.

C. Realigning Parliament and the Executive

In the final stage of the Open Dialogue Initiative, The Open Dialogue Centre would convene a meeting with members of the parliamentary committees, ministers responsible for the demonstration projects and their senior officials, and representation from the Prime Minister’s Office. Together, the group would discuss the lessons from these exercises for how Open Dialogue could be used to help realign the relationship between Parliament and the Executive.

D. Deliverables

The following is a list of the principal deliverables from the Open Dialogue Initiative:

  • Establishment of the Open Dialogue Centre in TBS
  • Completion of five Open Dialogue projects in five departments, involving stakeholders and/or individual citizens
  • Completion of three to five all-party Open Dialogue projects in the House of Commons, possibly including the Senate
  • Completion of an Open Dialogue Framework that establishes an official approach to Open Dialogue for the Government of Canada
  • Development of a suite of public engagement learning tools to help build capacity in the Public Service of Canada
  • Establishment of a community of articulate and experienced champions for Open Dialogue
  • Review of the lessons for realigning the relationship between the Executive and Parliament

7. Conclusion: Back to Public Trust

Since the beginning, modern governments have relied almost exclusively on two basic processes to involve citizens and stakeholders in the policy process; what in the framework above we called information sessions (transactions) and consultation.
But if the engagement approach hasn’t changed much in 200 years, the policy environment has. Citizens today are far less willing than their grandparents to allow governments simply to make decisions on issues of the day. They often want a say on issues that matter to them and they regard this as their democratic right.
Further, globalization and the digital revolution have transformed our world. Issues, events and organizations are often so interconnected that governments are unable to determine how the different options are likely to impact on the environment. To find the fairest and most effective solutions they must engage citizens and/or stakeholders in their deliberations, as they are often far better positioned than government to assess how a policy will impact on them.
Finally, good policymaking often requires more than public involvement to identify solutions. It also requires public involvement to implement them. Community health is an obvious example. Citizens may come together to discuss and develop a promising community health plan, but unless they also commit to acting on it little progress will be made. Engaging them in the deliberations that forge the plan is not enough. The process must go a step further and also secure a commitment from them to help deliver it—and that is a different discussion.
We believe that building the capacity for a more ambitious use of Open Dialogue processes to address issues like this would greatly enhance both the legitimacy and effectiveness of government decision-making.
Our goal is to ensure that democracy continues to work between elections; that citizens and organizations can meaningfully engage with government and Parliament to help shape the direction of a government after it has been sworn in.
As we plan for the next 150 years of Canada, we should be putting in place the processes and institutions that will assure Canadians there are better ways to participate in the policy process than yelling at their televisions or, worse, just turning them off. Meaningful participation should be palpable and therapeutic. Open Dialogue would be an effective antidote to the cynicism that is infecting our democratic institutions.
And this, in turn, would go a long way toward the essential task of rebuilding public trust.

Lenihan: Fixing our broken politics

Originally posted on National Newswatch (available here)

Is politics broken? Yes, but we also know how to fix it. Through the ages, politics has been broken many times, yet people have risen to the challenge. The question now is whether we will do so again. Let’s start with a few examples before turning to the solution.
When King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, he was under pressure from the barons, who felt politics was broken. To fix it, the king had to agree that even he was not above the law. The Rule of Law has since become the rock on which our political system rests.
Or consider the American and French Revolutions in the late 18th century. They were based on the idea that the source of government’s authority was not the king, but the people. The principle of the Sovereignty of the People rallied the people behind democracy.
During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed the New Deal, where government took on a new responsibility to provide relief and jobs for the unemployed. Today, the principle of Equality of Opportunity underpins a vast array of social programs, such as social assistance, education, unemployment insurance and healthcare.
These three periods were marked by profound social changes that made the political system of the day obsolete: politics was broken and it had to be fixed. In each case, the solution came through a new principle that placed new limits or responsibilities on the leaders.
History is at another turning point. The rise of digital technology has changed our society, vastly increasing the speed, complexity and interdependence of events; and turning the system of nation states into a global village. Huge amounts of data and information on everything imaginable—health, weather, traffic, trade, finances—are streaming through cyberspace.
The tools to organize and “scrape” this data are evolving daily. Statistics Canada reports that it can now get all the information it needs for the census by scraping 500 government databases, and at a fraction of the cost. Within a decade the census will be gone.
This is a sign of things to come. If content is now pouring from cyberspace like an open faucet, soon it will be gushing like a firehose. New “smart” devices of all kinds are getting plugged into the internet, from cars to lightbulbs.
By 2020, over 50 billion devices will be pulsing out data on their surroundings and their users. New artificial intelligence systems will supercharge the capacity to scrape, organize and use this data, radically advancing our knowledge of DNA, nanotechnology, the environment, the global economy, security, transportation, and so on.
This capacity to integrate Big Data from a range of sources marks the beginning of a new era in human knowledge. It could also vastly improve policymaking, if we use the data well. And that brings us to politics.
Last week, Samara Canada released its Democracy 360 report on the state of democracy at the federal level. Among other findings, fully 60% of Canadians now think MPs only want their vote, and only 40% of us trust them to do what is right. Another 39% say they haven’t had a single political conversation in the last year.
No one should be surprised. This is the logical result of a trend that began centralizing power in the Prime Minister’s Office under Pierre Trudeau. Today, the policy process is run out of the PMO. It is utterly lacking in transparency and parliament has been reduced to little more than a shell.
Of course people are cynical. They know where the real decisions are made and that public debate over them is a facade. That is why politics is broken and needs to be fixed. But how? As with the other examples from history, we need a principled way to reverse this trend.
There is a new principle that I believe can do this. It is called Open by Default and was formulated by the Open Government movement to guide governments around the world as they transform themselves for the digital age.
The principle turns conventional government thinking about data and information upside down. It declares that in the digital age they must be defined as a public asset. The role of governments is to act as stewards of this resource, rather than owners of it who are free to use it as they wish.
Under this principle, these assets must be openly available to the public, unless legitimate concerns, such as security or privacy, dictate otherwise. When they do, the rationale for confidentiality must be given and proper oversight ensured.
According to the Treasury Board Secretariat website, the Harper government now accepts this principle. I’ll return to this below. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also endorses Open by Default in his Private Members Bill on freedom of information.
But Open by Default is about more than data and information. It also applies to the dialogue and debate that is needed to put this asset to work in the service of better policymaking.
For example, it we want to map the issues around a community’s health needs, we must combine data on a range of factors, such as the environment, food consumption, education, exercise, income, cultural background, and so on.
This transforms the usual two-dimensional picture of a policy issue into a dynamic, three-dimensional model. Different combinations of factors produce different models and may lead to different conclusions.
Arriving at the best policies to solve issues on the environment, poverty, pipelines or national security thus is not simply science. Evidence-based decision-making is about exploring these options to make the choices that best meet our needs and aspirations as a community. It is a democratic exercise based on dialogue and debate that is open, informed, fair and inclusive.
So here is the deep question Open by Default raises for democratic process: Will this new approach to policymaking be conducted openly, with MPs, experts, officials and the public involved? Or carried out in secret by a coterie of analysts and then “sold” to the public?
This question has moved from pressing to urgent. For two decades, the public service has been building a vast new network of digital infrastructure to handle Big Data. Notwithstanding its alleged commitment to the principle of Open by Default, the Harper government has signaled its willingness to use its power to bring this infrastructure under its control.
Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill, will establish a massive new information-sharing regime to improve security, yet the government appears unwilling even to listen to arguments about new forms of oversight to monitor how the data is being used. For those who thought centralization couldn’t go any further, it has apparently entered a whole new phase.
The only way to fix politics is to reverse this centralizing trend. This will take a range of major reforms, both to parliament and the public service. And there will be cries and claims about the damage they will do to our system of government. Every age has its apologists for the status quo.
But to succeed, first and foremost, reformers must unite behind a single, clear and powerful idea of the kind of change we want to bring to our governments and why. That idea should be to put an end to government secrecy and to establish a new age of openness and evidence-based decision-making. It should be to make our governments Open by Default.