Google Hangout, April 6

The Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board, hosted a Google Hangout panel to generate discussion and ideas for Canada's Action Plan on Open Government 2016-18. You can watch the previously captured video and read the transcript of the event.

Transcript of the April 6 Google Hangout

Colin McKay: Hi everyone and welcome to our Google Hangout on air. We're here today with the Treasury Board President, the Honourable Minister Scott Brison, along with Jean, Jean-Noé Landry, the Executive Director of Open North, Jane Hilderman, the Executive Director of Samara, Mary Francoli, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, and myself, from Google Canada.

Our topic of course is Open Government and how we can make this government more transparent, more open and more accountable. We want to discuss as a group here in this hangout, but also from our, we want to hear from our interested listening via Twitter. So please send along your ideas and your questions for the group here in the room and to encourage a further dialogue once we've completed this hangout and the Minister continues with his consultation.

You can use the hashtag #OpenGovCan, or in French #GouverCan, or by email to open-ouverte@TBS-SCT.gc.ca. And please do that during our conversation here today because we'll be feeding the con-, the questions to our panel and we'd really like some participation from the broader audience that's interested in Open Government and in Open Data.

I'd like to start off with giving Minister Brison a few minutes to make some comments about our goals today, as well in the broader consultation.

Hon. Scott Brison: Thanks, Colin. It's great to be here and I want to thank you and Jane and Mary and Jean-Louis (ph) for taking the time to do this. Look forward to the discussion.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that as a government, we need to listen and we need to engage. We know we don't have all of the answers and open dialogue with citizens help us make the best decisions. When we really benefit from a diversity of ideas and from drawing from the collective wisdom of Canadians.

Last week, I announced two series of consultations. The first will be the, will help the government develop our 2016-2018 Open Government Strategy which will be finalized later this spring. This is why we're here today. Second, we'll guide our overall changes to the Access to Information Act. The Access to Information Act in Canada hasn't been updated since 1983 when it was first introduced. We're updating the ATIP regime to, in two phases.

First of all, we're going to be implementing our, our election platform commitments making the Prime Minister's office and Ministers' offices subject to ATIP, giving new powers to the Information Commissioner, eliminating all Access to Information fees, except for the initial $5 fee, and making improvements identified, other improvements that may be identified through the consultation process.

And then we'll be doing a whole review of the act, and we're going to be engaging Parliament and Canadians in that. And the dialogue is going to be an important one. We need people's views. Today, this is, this is an important part of it, and we're, it's my, my first Google Hangout but I'm certainly, certain it's not going to be my last.

Canadians expect and, and deserve and they, they, they need to have a better understanding of why we're making the decisions we're making as, as government. They need to be engaged in contributing to those decisions, including the identification of problems and the identification and the development of solutions.

Ce sera pas facile, mais on doit le faire. Il faut pas manquer cette occasion. Une de mes priorités comme président du Conseil du trésor, c'est de faire des changements réels et importants pour rendre le gouvernement plus ouvert et plus transparent. Je veux aussi établir une coutume d'ouverture à travers tout le gouvernement.

Concretely, what that means is, is firstly, we're going to engage Canadians meaningfully in government decision-making. Secondly, we're going to move further and faster on open data. Thirdly, we're going to make government information open by default, and I look forward to the discussion around that. Fourth, we're going to get better at open dialogue with the, within the public service.  

When we talk about open dialogue with Canadians, I find in government, we don't have enough open dialogue between public servants, sometimes even in the same department or agency. This is the, the first in a series of public consultation we'll be doing over the next few weeks and months. We're looking forward to hearing your feedback online. And I'm eager to hear your views on what Open Government means to you and your ideas on how we can achieve that as government.

These conversations will lay the foundation of our forward-looking plan for Open Government in the years ahead. And I'm looking forward to hearing from our panelists in terms of some of the work that they've done to date and some of the ideas they have to contribute to our government as we move forward. Thank you very much.

We're going to start with Mary Francoli.

Mary Francoli: Okay, well, thank you for that. I, I'm really excited to have the opportunity to speak today and I hope you can see me, it's not too sunny. I think it's a really interesting question we're tackling around engagement and I'm really happy that this discussion is, is taking place.

So in my role outside of academia, I work as the independent assessor for the Open Government Partnership. So that's where a lot of these activities around Open Government are happening and I've had, I guess, the privilege, if you want to call it that, of assessing the first two Canadian action, national action plans on Open Government. I'm looking at the engagement activities that have occurred around the first two action plans.

So in the first action plan, the engagement activities were really limited and really weren't well done, and the government recognized that as well. They were very open about it, to their credit. In the second action plan, the one that's just coming to an end shortly this summer, we saw a lot of improvement but there's still a lot of room for improvement. So I think there's a number of things that we need to be working on.

So I'm not sure, did you want me to just jump in, Minister, with some (inaudible – technical difficulties) or –

Hon. Scott Brison: Ab-, ab-, absolutely. I mean, this is open dialogue. I'm not running it. (laughter) Hear from you.

Mary Francoli: I didn't know if maybe I missed, like, a specific question or there's a little bit of cut-out with my audio here.

Hon. Scott Brison: So the, I'd be interested in your thoughts in terms of how we can strengthen the actual process of dialogue over the next period of time, but on, on an ongoing basis, as, as government, how can we use open dialogue to improve government decision-making?

Mary Francoli: I mean, I think there's a number of different ways. There's no one right way to improve open dialogue. It depends what your dialogue is for. So I would say that is very contextually based. So I think you need to first understand what the problem is that you're trying to, to get feedback on or trying to engage people around and then think about what are the audience or who is the audience that you need to engage around that particular problem, because it doesn't always necessarily need to be all of Canada as a whole. You might be addressing very specific audiences and very specific groups with certain expertise.

So once you identify your audiences, then you need think about okay, well how can I engage with those people? How can I engage with those audiences? What are the most appropriate mechanisms to do that? And, you know, what happens in a lot of countries that have membership around the OGP is they get very excited about using technology for engagement and there's actually clauses in the OGP, the OGP declaration, the Open Government declaration about using technology and how that can be great.

But it's not always the mechanism to use or you don't always need a technological platform. So, sometimes there's other ways of engaging that are more face to face or maybe more old school, if you want to call it that, that might be appropriate. So I, so really kind of, I feel like a wishy-washy answer in some ways to say that there's no one way of doing it appropriately, but it really is contextually based.

I think that there's definitely a couple of things that this government can keep in mind. One of the things I identified in my most current review of the Open Government national action plan is that Canada doesn't really have a concrete permanent dialogue mechanism around open governance. We don't have a way for the government to connect on a regular basis with Canadians (inaudible – technical difficulties) the issues related to Open Government.

And some other countries that belong to the Open Government Partnership do have those sorts of dialogues. So that's something that I, I think needs to be thought about. And there's a couple of different ways of maybe pursuing that.

One way might be to make better use of the advisory panel that you currently have set up but that hasn't met for almost two years now. It'll be two years in June, but I think it still exists. The people on it that I've spoken to think that they're still on it and it still exists. So maybe making better use of that body. It's a body that has some very intelligent people from diverse sectors that really can provide some ongoing input.

And then another mechanism would be to work with civil society organizations and engage them in a regular way, and there's a Open Government Canadian Civil Society Network that's just getting going. That would be a, one outlet for you to do that. So Jean-Noé maybe can, can tell you a little bit about, more about that.

Jean-Noé Landry: Sure. So, just a bit more about the, the Canadian Open Government Civil Society Network that was just launched earlier last week. So good timing, so right before the discussions that took place around Open Government dialogue in Ottawa.

We launched this, this initiative with a number of civil society organizations, very much in recognition of some of the issues that Mary just highlighted in terms of the, the gap that exists within civil society to also self-organize, to seize the opportunity to come together and to be a, a collaborative, a responsible partner with, with government to (inaudible – technical difficulties) opportunities as a permanent mechanism to engage with government.

So civil society has to do its own share of its work to come together. And this is what we're doing. Since we launched last week, we now have 19 organizations that joined and 40 individuals that joined the network, and we're growing. This is within one week. So clearly, there's an appetite and a hunger for, for, you know, engaging with government on Open Government issues.

And I think the key to having a successful consultation process and dialogue process is the, the values that underpin, you know, this type of initiative, right? If you talk about openness, well what does that mean in terms of inclusivity, in terms of being able to, you know, have transparency in terms of decision-making, understanding the way that government also works internally. If there are different departments, for example, that put forward different commitments themselves.

In the past, or the previous national action plans, we didn't have access to those, those types of commitments as they were articulated by different departments. There's a range of different ways that we could work together, not the least in terms of, you know, facing one of our big challenge in Canada, which is our, our geography, which is also one of our (inaudible) in terms of, you know, our federation. So how do we get provinces and different levels of jurisdiction to collaborate and really achieve this, you know, this vision that we have of, you know, an open government from coast to coast to coast.

Hon. Scott Brison: Thank you (inaudible).

Colin McKay: Great. Thanks Jean-Noé. (inaudible – technical difficulties) we'll give Jane an opportunity to, to weigh in as well.

Jane Hilderman: Okay, great. I think maybe I'll back up. Sa-, Samara Canada, the charity that I work for, is committed to reconnecting citizens to politics. So I speak from, I think, a broader set of values experience in doing that work over the last several years. And it kind of, I think, takes off from where Jean-Noé was leading. What are the principles that really will guide sort of the success of Open Government.

And I think Samara's experience working to engage citizens in politics, and these are citizens who are already quite engaged, as well as citizens who haven't seen themselves in politics don't necessarily believe that they have a voice to share. How do you, how do you reach them? And so we always think about how you can show citizens that they're actually in a position of power vis-à-vis Open Government.

I think that's important because obviously, you see this as a leadership piece for government and you have data to share, but how can you use a frame that lets (inaudible) citizens, really what matters to them, as a way to signal their position in that relationship with you around openness.

The second thing that we're very keen to try to see developed is a positive feedback loop. And that means encouragement, sort of the uptake of the consultation and that positive feedback as well as reporting on the outcomes that you gather from this result and, and surveying people for feedback so that there's a culture of improvement. And I think this is already underway, as Mary described. But, embracing those things are so important to actually having that dialogue piece and that interactive improvement that you should expect to have.

And finally, the most important, in many ways, principle is keep it simple for people to participate, for people to be involved in the process. And I know that is so obvious, but it can be lost very quickly sometimes in terms of, like, an absolute essential value when you're undertaking consultation and engagement.

Jean-Noé Landry: So there's a bit of a conflict there because in discussing the, the Civil Society Network, and, and the complexity of (inaudible – technical difficulties) actually have a specific goal they want to accomplish in dealing with Open Dialogue and Open Government and Open Data. They actually have a program challenge they want to achieve.

Hon. Scott Brison: Right.

Jean-Noé Landry: And you were both describing having departments describe in more detail their own particular goals and objectives from Open Government, and Mary, you were talking about how there's a, there's a possibility here to be more transparent about how those Open Government plans are arrived at.

That does come in a bit of a conflict with this keep it simple stupid principle. And to me, it sort of sounds like there's, there's actually two separate challenges for both the Government of Canada and provincial and municipal governments, which is you need to be able to have a dialogue process that engages with Canadians at a, at a, at a rational (inaudible – technical difficulties) level while providing the two actors in the process the opportunity to really accomplish something, something quite substantial.

I mean, what do you see, in terms of, we talk about open by default. That sounds like two systems.

Hon. Scott Brison: Right.

Jean-Noé Landry: Maybe just (inaudible – technical difficulties) kind of points about the conversation we're having right now so far that relates to what you're saying. In other countries, because the OGP is probably a, an institution, a network that not many Canadians know about, you know. So let's use this opportunity also to encourage Canadians to go and, and, and learn more about the OGP and what it represents because it does have an impact on the way that, you know, Canada shapes its policy framework in terms of Open Government.

But more specifically, I think in other countries, what we're seeing in their national action plans, civil society, then organizations then become associated with specific commitments and then they have the mandate of ensuring and following the, the monitoring of its implementation. So there's ownership, responsibility that's taken and this collaborative relationship and trust that (inaudible – technical difficulties) in, in those area. [sic]

And the, the issue of organizing Open Government around issues, as Mary and, and Jane also highlighted, I think it's a key point here. You know, if you're talking more broadly about Open Government, it means a lot, it means a lot to different people. And as well as we talk about open by default, that resonates in different ways to a lot of Canadians and decision makers as well.

So one way that we're seeing also internationally, in the development of national action plans, is having thematic roundtables. So we know that Canada, Canadians care a lot about climate change, for example, so why not have a Open Government roundtable around the issue of climate change. How do we (inaudible – technical difficulties), how do we use data? How do we (inaudible – technical difficulties) resources, you know, that (inaudible – technical difficulties) that, to be able to solve these big, big problems that we're facing, not just in Canada but internationally. And that's what the OGP is about.

So I think there's conflicts, but I think the, the mechanisms, once they're put in place, you know, together with government, I think this is, this is a great opportunity that we can't afford to miss.

Colin McKay: There was a, there was a conversation last week at the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum around culture change. And, and it kinds of splits into three communities, which is one, the people like the people on this hangout that deal with culture change and issues of openness on a daily basis have created mechanisms in order to engage both with their own communities as well as the public servants to try and drive results.

Then there were public servants that are facing this challenge that they are now being asked to provide data-driven decision-making and they're being, they're being challenged to create a dialogue process that is as open and transparent as possible. And then third, there is the broader community that, as you just described, may not actually understand either, either of these two previous communities, but have heard the promise of, of more efficient government and more relevant government and are looking for results.

To me, it sounds like what you were doing, Jane, at Samara around political results, there's the opportunity to build real and concrete relationships to move culture change among those three communities, so that it's not just a weight leaning on, leaning on any one of them.

And maybe, Jane, with your examples, with your experience, maybe you have some observations about that.

Jane Hilderman: Well, I think it's important that, yeah, that third stool, in addition to citizens and public servants, we don't forget our political leaders as well in this conversation and Parliament, Open Government and Open Parliament, I think, are both examples of organizations from the frontline that citizens interact with and shape this perceptions of democracy day to day. Citizens don't always differentiate between the two.

And so I think they, there needs to be a sense of strategic allying happening between both parliamentarians and public servants as they undertake that openness. And I think for citizens, they're, they're trying to figure out what this means as well and including as much as possible that conversation so that, I mean, I think parliamentarians can help explain and, and also model openness in their own work, will be really quite critical to instilling that culture shift all the way from, you know, Ottawa to the local community as well.

Colin McKay: Great. And Mary, in your experience reviewing Open Government Plans, I mean, Jean-Noé just mentioned that the, this experience and importantly, the authority devolved to civil society groups in other plans, do you have any observations about what sort of level of commitment there has been across (inaudible) a range of plans or the sort of success we've seen now that we're several years into the OGP?

Mary Francoli: I mean, most of my work is focused on Canada, not as much looking at other countries, but I know in other countries, there's certainly a stronger link between civil society and government. So there's more ongoing communication and meeting in terms of the development of the plans, but also in terms of the implementation and assessment of the plans as well.

Also, it's kind of like this initial period that has just been announced right now where it's, kind of, you know, a consultation to build a new plan but it, it continues through the life cycle of that national action plan. So in the UK for example, there's a very coordinated civil society group and they take some ownership over certain commitments or kind of sub-lead our partners with certain commitments. It might not be appropriate in all cases, it depends on what commitments you put in your national action plan.

And we haven't seen that here in Canada. I'm not sure, I mean, we're seeing that, I guess starting really now with the work Jean-Noé and, and the Network are, are trying to start up. But, I mean, in part, civil society organizations in Canada don't tend to be kind of as (inaudible – technical difficulties) as they are in some other countries, like in the US with the Sunlight foundation for example.

So we see, you know, that kind of lack of support to help the civil society organizations do the work that they need to do. And then we also see a bit of a problem with communication strategies around Open Government. So we (inaudible – technical difficulties) I think it's improved since we first joined the OGP, but at first, nobody knew about the OGPs and nobody could engage about the OGP.

The first, we (inaudible – technical difficulties) I did to try and interview somebody for the first national action plan assessment that I did, I got the most negative answer, you know, I've ever had from anybody when I requested an interview. It was like are you kidding me? Are you with the Harper government? I'm not talking to you about Open Government. This is laughable, you know, kind of phone slamming in my ear. And they just, they didn't know, they didn't know what the OGP was, they didn't know, you know, that there was this independent assessment mechanism.

And so it kind of, I realized, it took a lot of work for me to frame it and present myself and to present the OGP. And over the last two action plans, which is almost four years, it's just been a lot of explaining to people. This is the Open Government Partnership. Yes, Canada is a member of it, and this is how it relates to you. So I, I think that, you know, kind of that communication piece, that outreach piece around open governance has been weak and (inaudible – technical difficulties) improving that might, might really help as well.

Colin McKay: Good. That's, that's a very important observation that actually (inaudible) our question that we got on Twitter from Richard Pietro (ph), which is about, about how Treasury Board is motivating other departments into adapting the Open Government initiative. And to me, they're, they're separate elements. There's both Open Government and then there's this (inaudible) Open, Open Dialogue. And then separately, as I mentioned, this, this push towards the, the decision-making where there's extreme interest from very specific audiences and there's a relevance between, between all of them.

Everyone in this Hangout recognizes that there's a relevance. And I know it's a little early in your mandate, Minister, to ask you this, but being able to bridge all of those areas to, to im-, to emphasize that relevance to the members of the other departments in the government, to try and help move this process and culture change along, I don't know if you have any observations?

Hon. Scott Brison: Well, well personally, the tone has been set largely by, by our Prime Minister in terms of open by default, and effectively open by default, the, the onus shifts from citizens, you know, saying why, why they deserve to have information to government saying why it can't provide the information. But in terms of, of dialogue, and it was mentioned earlier the idea that we should, whether it's on climate change or budget making, do more to engage citizens as part of Open Dialogue.

We've started that and, and we're doing more of that. But within government itself, creating Open Dialogue within government, within one department, within one agency is, is, is something that is really exciting and really important and we need to do more of it. Right now, there's not enough cross pollination of, of ideas within, within government, certainly not between departments and agencies. Treasury Board is central to this. I mean, we, we are a central agency. We work from a policy perspective, and right across every government department and agency.

We are in, as a central agency, there's, there's no one that plays a more important role in terms of establishing metrics, in terms of measuring results and so to move this forward, Treasury Board is, is going to play a central role. There is a cultural change that has to occur and we, we will be with, along with other Ministers and particularly, the Prime Minister, leading that change in culture. But we also have to change how we do things and, and there will be some policy changes coming up in the not so distant future. We're going to be working with Parliament as, as part of this.

I think the point on Open Parliament is, is really critically important. Just allowing committees to contribute meaningfully to policy development and not using them as branch plants of Ministers' offices, which has been the case in, in governments in the past. Engaging parliamentarians, a lot of parliamentarians come to Parliament with a great deal of expertise in a particular policy area, and then become frustrated because they can't actually share or use that expertise.

But the broader question is we see it in terms of Open Dialogue, is there's a lot of expertise out there in the broader Canadian citizenry and people who actually want to contribute to better public policy. And if we engage them in the identification of, of issues and problems, and also in the development of solutions, what will happen is better public policy that will co-emerge with a community of support because people have actually been engaged in helping build the, the, the public policy.

And I think that's what's really exciting, is that you're going to end up getting better government as, as we, we demonstrate and prove that Open Government creates better government.

Colin McKay: That's great, because you've actually just answered another question we got from Twitter from Mike Gifford, (ph) on how does making government open truly make it better? And maybe we can close off our, our conversation today just by having our participants from outside government give some observations about how they see Open Government being relevant for them and how they see it, making both the political and the, the public administration process better.

I'll, I'll start with Jean-Noé and then we'll go to, to Jane and Mary.

Jean-Noé Landry: Just briefly, very pleased to hear your enthusiasm about Open Parliament as well. It's something that we're seeing internationally, so you know, I definitely want to pursue that. I think, you know, it's going to be about specific actions and commitments that the government does that'll speak, you know, to, to the Canadians. And you know, there's specific things that it can do in terms of releasing inventories of data and information held by government, for example that you know, conveys a clear message.

Releasing, releasing non-personal, you know, responses to Access to Information requests for example. Investing more resources, we're already seeing this in, in the, the budget that was just adopted for government departments to, to move forward with this. Or, you know, very specific things like considering a government-wide waiver on Crown copyright.

So these are, you know, specific things that the government can do, but the mechanism needs to be there to do it with Canadians. And so I encourage everybody who's listening today to go on opengovdialogue.ca, and join the network, be part of the conversation.

Colin McKay: Great. Thanks. And Jane?

Jane Hilderman: I think far too many Canadians have indicated to us that politics to them has been a bit of a black box, so this is, like, a wonderful conversation to be having about opening that up. It speaks to, like, the long journey this is going to take and I think that we are starting to hear a very clear vision about what is needed about, bringing citizens into public policy making and having them share a voice. And now, the challenge will be mobilizing and motivating public servants, political leaders, Canadians to undertake that work together.

And to echo some of the take-away from this conversation, the role of civil society groups will be so important as an intermediary between all those three groups to assist with that effort.

Colin McKay: Great. Thanks. And Mary?

Mary Francoli: Well for me, I mean Open Government is important because it, it leads to better decision-making, it leads to greater accountability so citizens can see what the government is doing and it leads to increased transparency. So really, it just provides a much more stable foundation for Canada and (inaudible – technical difficulties) you know, a much better country to live in, and ideally (inaudible – technical difficulties).

Now, you kept saying evidence-based policy making or data driven policy development, I think that's really important and I think the national action plan also needs to be driven by, by the need for results or by a, a particular problem. So you know, not just to have commitments that are kind of sporadic and all over the place but a clearly identified problem that the commitments in the national action plan are responding to. So I think, you know, engaging with Canadians to understand what they feel the problems are helps to frame the, the national action plan as a whole.

Colin McKay: Great. And we've come to the end of our time for this Google Hangout, and I want to know if you had last few words you wanted to make, Minister, to close our conversation.

Hon. Scott Brison: Well, I want to thank everyone who participated in this today, but I, and I want to do more of this. We've actually already been receiving ideas and input on our open.canada.ca site. We're, we're reviewing those, we're going to be moving forward and, and, as we engage Parliament and Canadians in this important dialogue. The, the idea, one of the things that we didn't talk about is, is why diversity is important to good decision-making.

The more diversity we have in terms of people participating actively in decision-making, the more perspectives we have that ultimately it creates better decisions. That's the same in, in a Cabinet room. When you have a diverse Cabinet, the decisions are going to be different and I believe are going to be better.

The more we engage openly across Canada, across, well, within Parliament and outside of Parliament, I think this idea that you end up with better government because you end up with better public policy decisions is, is one that may seem obvious to us, but I, but I think it's, it's, it's one of the ones we've got to talk about more and it's going to be really important as we move forward with this, that we're doing this in part because we really do believe it will improve the decisions we take at all levels of government.

Colin McKay: Fantastic. And on behalf of Google Canada, I'd like to thank all of you for taking the time. Jean-Noé Landry from Open North, Jane Hilderman from Samara, Mary Francoli from the University of Ottawa and you, Minister.

Mary Francoli: Carleton.

Colin McKay: Oh. (inaudible)

Unidentified Male: Oh no. Oh no. (laughter)

Mary Francoli: Eww. Just kidding. There's very good people at the University of Ottawa, but I'm at Carleton.

Colin McKay: You're Carleton. I'm sorry about that. So thanks very much and have a good afternoon.

Hon. Scott Brison: Thanks everybody.

Participants

  • The Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board
  • Colin McKay, Google Canada
  • Dr. Mary Francoli, Carleton University
  • Jean-Noé Landry, Open North
  • Jane Hilderman, Samara Canada

Scheduled and past events