Championing Open Government in the Public Health Agency of Canada

June 18, 2018


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Craig Cluney

In November 2017, the President of the Public Health Agency of Canada asked me to serve as the Agency's Open Government Champion. Like other Champions, my primary role is to ensure that the initiative becomes part of the culture and way of doing business in the organization and remains a priority with senior management.

Starting in this new role, I was aware that being open and transparent was in our Minister's Mandate letter.  I also saw value in the principles of open government as a taxpayer and federal employee. I have to admit though, I hadn't put much thought into how the Agency fit into the bigger open government agenda.  As the Champion, I needed to think about what we were required to do and challenges we might encounter in meeting the government's priorities. I would like to share what I have learned since.

Advice for Those Starting Out

From my experiences over the last few months, I can suggest some starting points for people trying to champion Open Government:

  • Bring the community together: even a quick, informal event is a great platform to share learning and to make connections between people interested in the idea;
  • Reach out to your network: there's already more collaboration and openness taking place than you might realize; and,
  • Learn all the time: there are experiments happening constantly across the Government of Canada.

Bring the community together

We have people working on open government across the agency.  Current efforts include open data, open science and regulatory openness and transparency.  In January, we put together a small workshop to further baseline what was taking place at PHAC and across the Government of Canada.  We made sure that we had representation from areas across the organization, including from our portfolio partners in Information Management and Communications. We used this opportunity to identify key areas that we could improve upon.  Our first priority area was open government awareness and how to increase it.

To address this priority, I hosted an agency-wide information session in March with speakers from across the Government of Canada. The goal of this session was to highlight some of the interesting initiatives taking place, what some of the challenges other departments experienced when testing innovative ways to be open. I wanted to invite a broad audience to ask questions to departments that have been leading the way towards an open government.

Reach out to your network

Building on momentum from the session, we continued our conversations within the organization and across government. From these discussions, I was pleased to learn that like us, there are passionate people across government who are eager to make it more open and transparent. We all have our challenges though.  Most challenges pertain to resources, time, and building momentum across different areas. It is also clear that adjustments are necessary: agreements should consider data ownership, and whether department/agency-wide standards must be developed from the onset.

For us this means leveraging the fact that we are a science-based, data rich organization with stakeholders that are interested in our information. As an example, Provinces and Territories consult the National Advisory Committee on Immunization which issues statements and recommendations for timely vaccine advice. Similarly, stakeholders use FluWatch, Canada's national surveillance system that publishes weekly influenza reports on the spread of flu and flu-like illness. For others it might mean building open government principles into work processes from the get go, meeting the minimum requirements set out in the Open Government Guidebook, and creating opportunities for dialogue; all which will help us become progressively open by default. 

Learn all the time

For myself going forward, as I learn more and navigate the layers of openness and transparency, I will leverage and continue to support the good work of my colleagues. Whenever I can, I'll seize opportunities to promote Open Government initiatives, contribute to TBS' initiatives and share best practices with my colleagues at the Agency, in the Health Portfolio and across government.

Craig Cluney

Craig Cluney

Director, Results-Based Management Division, Office of Strategic Policy and Planning, Public Health Agency of Canada

Craig is an innovative and high-achieving executive with over 20 years of experience from a variety of departments and agencies. He is a proven change catalyst that can move quickly from idea to hands-on execution by interpreting business strategies into human and organizational implications as evidenced by his recent receipt of the Public Health Agency Policy and Program Merit Award.

Craig's client first collaborative approach makes him a natural fit to champion OG for the Agency. His day job as Director of the Results-Based Management Division has him engaging with stakeholders daily to advance the Government's results and delivery agenda ensuring transparent and responsive reporting for Canadians.

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