D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Sask 3.0 Summit–Moving to Open Government

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 7:45 AM

More and more we’re hearing about Open Government and its become a buzz word over the last few years. Those two words conjure up varied imagery based on who you talk to, and my own bias was this idea that Open Government simply meant a bunch of data was made available to citizens. What I’ve learnt after day one of the Sask 3.0 Summit is that exposed data is just one trait of Open Government, but its truly a shift in thinking on how to govern. You can’t do morning scrums on a Waterfall project and call yourself Agile no more than exposing data in machine-readable format makes you Open Gov.

The concept of Open Data can’t be discounted as an important part of Open Government, but the data that is exposed is only the end result of internal government changes to embrace transparency. Governments are political entities which work in a public arena where perception is a precious commodity. There’s risk in exposing data. Yes, its the citizens data and yes people really should have a right to it, but the pain in exposing that data isn’t in the technology enabling its sharing – its the philosophical change of the people running our governments that is the biggest barrier to entry.

Open Government is about efficiency as much as accountability. It’s about service to citizens as much as it is transparency to government data. It’s about deeper collaboration and connection with citizens as much as it is enabling self-service and streamlined service offerings.

Gary Dickson, Information and Privacy Commissioner for the Government of Saskatchewan, listed some key factors for moving to Open Government:

Political Leadership – You need people in the government to buy into the concept of Open Government. As I mentioned above, they need to understand the paradigm shift of how to govern that Open Government brings with it.

A Plan – Initiatives like Open Data alone require detailed analysis on privacy and security concerns (as Gary said “You can’t just open the vault.”). But internally you also need a plan for how to communicate and implement the various process changes that Open Government requires.

Dedicated Team to Execute the Plan – Moving to Open Government is not a part time endeavour and its not something that anyone can volunteer for. You need the right people and provide them the required time and resources to effectively manage the change. I’ve worked on many IT projects where new systems were rolled out, and the ones that focussed on the change management aspect – not of the data or systems but of the end users – were the ones more successful. Why? Because a system alone doesn’t address the business processes and functions that must adapt to use it properly. And so it is with Open Gov.

Modern Access to Information Legislation Regime – Canada’s access to information and privacy laws are 30 years old, and do not properly reflect the changes in technology or society since then. Every Open Government needs be lobbying for changes at the federal level which will in turn enable a richer local Open Government experience.

So what’s the benefit of moving to Open Government? Well for one thing, improving services results in happier citizens.
Roda McInnis with the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service, talked about survey results on how Canadians rated their government. She showed a graph on one slide that showed a line wavering around 60 out of 100 for more than a decade.

Let me state that again – For more than a decade, Canadians have been 60% pleased in service levels of their federal government.

When her group broke down the key drivers to citizen satisfaction, they identified these:

Ease of Access


Government Staff

Positive Outcomes

Recent experience with Public Service

And in Canada what was the most important driver across all services? Timeliness! Timeliness had the biggest impact, and speaks to how Canadians expect our governments to react similarly to businesses in the private sector when it comes to services.

Open Data plays well into this. Aneesh Chopra, former CTO for President Obama, spoke about how they took a NetFlix approach to facilitate finding information on government sites. Instead of requiring citizens to go to the government’s website to find data, access to the data was exposed and multiple vendors wrote applications – the idea being that the more applications are out there using your data the better. The specific data for this required some level of authentication, and oAuth was utilized for it – so Open Data is not just about the freely available, its also about enabling access to improve service.

On the free side of Open Data governments get the benefits of their citizens knowledge and expertise to help solve problems they may not have known existed. David Eaves shared how one journalist discovered that top charitable organizations according to government records were actually tax evasion schemes and alerted the Canada Revenue Agency. Now while this is fantastic, remember I mentioned the change in philosophy that needs to happen. On the surface the CRA should have been able to detect this and it took a citizen to point it out – that’s not good traditional government where perception is king. It is fantastic Open Government, where collaboration and cooperation between governments and citizens rules.

Open Government can be scary to those holding on to the traditional government model. It breaks down the walls of silos and mini-kingdoms that we hear about constantly being erected within our governments. It addresses the cultures of fear and protectionism that ultimately hinder innovation and impact service quality to citizens. But from what I’ve seen at the conference, those jurisdictions that adopt Open Government reap the benefits – better services, better collaboration, better transparency.


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