Last month I had the pleasure of traveling to Costa Rica to talk about open government. I attended the fifth annual regional conference on open government to further our partnerships within the open government community (AbreLatam) and open data (ConDatos). It was an inspiring, motivating experience, and I’d like to share a few of my top lessons.
Setting the scene
The conference attracted a fantastic array of participants, including regional open government leaders. There were government officials, private sector representatives and many members of civil society.
The agenda was ambitious. At the beginning of the conference, several hundred people from dozens of countries used post-it notes to outline their priorities for open government. Priorities included data privacy, open science, impact, demand for open data, business models, empowering marginalized communities… the list went on. We used those post-it notes to collaboratively create our agenda for the first day of the conference.
Why Canada cares about Open Government in other countries
I attended the conference to learn about open government in other countries. I also wanted to share Canada’s perspectives on open government and to support peer learning.
Canada has many advantages when it comes to open government. We have robust institutions and years of experience implementing relevant legislation and policies. We’ve leveraged these advantages and worked hard, and we’ve achieved results that make us proud. Check out our tracker, our open data portal, and the Open Data Barometer for examples of our accomplishments.
In spite of these successes, we share many common challenges with other countries. Like Canada, many countries are interested in consolidating support for open government, translating citizen participation into better governance outcomes, and ultimately, contributing to citizen services that improve lives.
What does the movement look like?
One of my big lessons from the conference was that, in Latin American, the open government movement is incredibly vibrant and inclusive. One of its greatest strengths is the participation rate from diverse representatives of civil society.
Academia is present from the onset, questioning the implications of openness for democratic consolidation. The start-up community is there, demanding access to data sets that can help them create jobs. The technologists and the accountability experts are there alongside the journalists and the funding partners. It would seem chaotic if it weren’t also an incredibly beautiful testament to the power of cross-sector collaboration.
What can we learn?
The open government movement in Latin America has started to produce great results. Governments in the region often continue to face challenges but they can count on support from dedicated partners in civil society. The region faces many opportunities for exciting partnerships to strengthen open government.
So how has the Latin American region created such strong cross-sector collaboration? Here are several elements that we can learn from in Canada:
- Leadership matters – Strong, public personalities can act as motivators and champions. They are critical to connecting the right players.
- Networks propel collaboration – From social media to WhatsApp groups, regional open government players are closely networked. They are friends and co-conspirators. They sympathize over common challenges and often build humorous tools to overcome barriers (check out the Ten Open Data Commandments (in Spanish only) as an example).
- Funding – Many of the strongest connections in the region have been enabled by activist funders (including Hivos, Avina and the Omidyar Network). Aligning funds can help mobilize networks.
- Careful thinking and proven success – The region benefits from major theoretical contributions (the most recent heavyweight is the new book From Open Government to Open State in Latin America and the Caribbean (in Spanish only)). It has well-publicized cases of civil society making positive contributions to public affairs that can easily be duplicated. For examples, check out initiatives from organizations like Chile’s Smart Citizen and Data Uruguay (in Spanish only) like A Tu Servicio.
It’s an exciting time for open government in Canada. We have the capacity and the leadership to experiment with bold new approaches. We have a strong network of engaged change makers within government, including strong provincial and territorial partners as well as dozens of municipalities.
Now is the perfect time for us to embrace the challenge of mainstreaming open government in Canada. We need to stop treating it like a project and instead approach it as just the way we do public policy in Canada. My experience collaborating with open government leaders in the Americas suggests that cross-sector collaboration can help.
About the author
Jaimie leads work to coordinate and implement the Government of Canada’s commitments on open government. She is an alumnus of the Government of Canada’s Accelerated Economist Training Program, the Organization of American States’ Fellowship on Open Government, and Action Canada, Canada’s premier leadership development program. Find her on Twitter at @jaimieboyd.