Open Government Starts With You

On April 12th the Canada School of the Public Service hosted an Armchair Discussion titled Open Government Starts With You (OGSWY) in Ottawa with a fantastic set of panelists Beth Simone Noveck, David Hume, Jean-Noe Landry, and moderated by the Government of Canada’s newest Chief Information Officer, Alex Benay.

Back home in New Brunswick, I had the pleasure of participating in the preceding with a group of civil servants from across the Government of NB. This was somewhat serendipitous since I recently started in the role of Executive Director, Open Government and Innovation; and in this role I want to work across silos to answer the questions: What are the things we do today that can move us forward on open government now and how can we accelerate those things? OGSWY was a great opportunity to get us started with a shared definition of open government, networking and peer learning clear across the Internets. Below is a summary of some of the take-aways we discussed.

Defining Open Government

Open gov is crucial to achieve better outcomes, not just transparency

“public servants should think of #OpenGov as set of tools for getting innovative ideas for solving public problems” — Beth Simone Noveck
“Open government is a set of tools that helps unearth value for the public and public servants” — David Hume

3 Key Tools of Public Innovation

Beth Noveck identified three key tools governments can use to innovate: 1. problem definition, 2. smarter crowd sourcing, and 3. data collaboratives.

  1. Definition of problem — Government needs to get into the habit of clearly articulating the problems it wants to solve;
  2. Smarter crowdsourcing — Avoid “Democracy Theater”, go beyond simply harvesting opinions and get to understand the needs, passions, and skills citizens can bring to creating public value (We need to flip the script on citizen engagement);
  3. Data collaboratives — Use government convening power to unleash open data from private sector sources, not only government-owned data.

4 Major Trends in Open Data

Jean-Noe Landry blew our assumptions about open data out of the water with these 4 major trends: 1)Being “data smart” to empower communities; 2)Data sovereignty; 3)Data ethics; 4)Data poverty — what are the gaps in the data we’re collecting? Who are we missing? How do we get meaningful data while respecting privacy in sparsely populated areas?

Understand the Citizen/ Be User-Centred

How many of the committees/working groups/task forces do you serve on that have evidence about citizens’ needs front and centre? Bringing evidence about Canadians to the table helps build common ground for collaboration and avoid unintended consequences of our policy solutions.

Culture Change

To change the culture we need to start small, demonstrate success, look for relevant precedence, and do the research. In the end people learn from and WITH their peers (and will change with their peers). We need the evidence on what works and what does not to inform our decision making and shift to a culture of open.

The success of open government is incumbent on outsiders (e.g. academics) to research, outline, explain what works and help innovators on the inside. This reminded me of the role the NB Social Policy Research Network plays in brokering knowledge and expertise between government and academia.

David Hume’s statement that we need to fall in love with comms and legal folks really resonated with us. If any open government initiative is going to scale to become the new standard we need folks in those roles on board. Don’t treat them like obstacles, treat people like people with important contributions to make. Be open and professional. Don’t be a cowboy.

Now What?

What does this mean for New Brunswick? What opportunities exist to try out more open approaches to policy development, problem solving and service delivery?

In NB we are in the process of developing a digital strategy and human resources strategy. This means there could be lots of opportunity to set a solid foundation for more open government.

We are currently in the middle of our annual Opportunity Summits, this time we are trying out simultaneous online engagement and making all of the inputs from the session available in their raw form online (Transparency FTW!).

Innovation Week starts next week and we are opening the doors to government to hear your ideas about how we can change for the better.

We will soon be running a Policy Hack inspired by the province of Nova Scotia to build innovation capacity across departments.

Over the next few months I will be making a concerted effort to map the sticky policy challenges in NB (we need to get into the habit), identify barriers to innovation, and map existing initiatives that have an open government trajectory (and accelerate them).

Got ideas or opportunities? Send me a note and share your thoughts!

“Start small. Think big. Work together.” May become the #OpenGovNB mantra.