Now is the Time to Collaborate on Cultural Change

October 15, 2013


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(Originally posted on’s blog page )

"The Government of Canada remains committed to fostering the principles of Open Government. It offers Canadians greater opportunities to learn about and participate in government, in the economy, and in our democratic process."

The Honourable Tony Clement,
President of the Treasury Board of Canada

Government as a platform is a concept that was popularized in 2010 by Tim O’Reilly and other government technology leaders. The idea stresses that governments, big and small, can provide or become a platform that enables the public to build on existing government resources. This concept is most commonly contrasted with the analogy of government as a vending machine, whereby citizens pay taxes and get services in return, having little opportunity to interact with government in a more meaningful way.

The notion of government as a platform provides an exciting conceptual framework for implementing Open Government initiatives world-wide. Through the development of these Open Government initiatives, both Canada and the UK have recognized the potential of previously untapped information and resources. This new train of thought can significantly enhance the way government operates and provides services. Although change is imminent, the current challenge is to find common sense solutions to eliminating the cultural stigma of government operating as a vending machine, and to smoothly transition into a collaborative workforce.

As part of our Open Government initiatives, both Canada and the UK have released hundreds of thousands of open datasets, hosted public consultations, and implemented an Open Government licence that can be used by governments nationwide, enabling the public to reuse the information in a straightforward and standardized way. Still, with these milestones achieved, there is much we can improve upon.

Evident through our involvement in the Open Government Partnership and the G8, both countries have been, and will continue to be, committed to international collaboration. As the relationship between Canada and the UK remains one that is unmatched, it provides a unique opportunity for additional collaboration. This type of bilateral partnership greatly benefits both governments in building and delivering on their specific open agendas.

An example of this collaboration took place on October 11th, during the Transatlantic “Hangout on Air”. Canada’s President of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement, and Canadian app developer Sam Vermette were joined by Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Chairman of the Open Data Institute, and Paul Maltby, the UK Director of Open Data and Transparency, and Open Data entrepreneurs, to discuss how Open Data is being used to benefit citizens in terms of productivity, improved quality of life and cost savings.

Continuing this type of communication and collaboration helps to further advance our Open Government agenda and address the necessity of public service reform. It is imperative that government employees, who collect and use data and information, are empowered to become proactive agents. We must encourage the public service to explore and engage with citizens on how to share, reuse, and repurpose public sector information.

Policies and directives are key, but require solid implementation plans for success. If we want to meet the expectations of the public, we will have to expect more of ourselves.

This fall, the Government of Canada will release its Directive on Open Government, defining more clearly than ever before, the obligation that employees have to deliver open data, open information, and open dialogue to Canadians. In addition, our Blueprint 2020 initiative further challenges employees to envision the future of the public service. In the UK, the government has already started to address this need for culture change in the 2012 Open Data White Paper: Unleashing the Potential.

By working together, we can strengthen our ability to find new ways to harness the power of the public service. Our new public service needs to be more creative and proactive in releasing data, and in building relationships that optimize the use of that data. These relationships help to bridge the transitional gap of cultural change that is needed to spur opportunity for innovation and to revamp how the government provides high quality services to its citizens.

Stephen Walker, Lead, Open Government
Treasury Board Secretariat

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