Open as a Foundation for Digital Government

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August 17, 2018

Open Standards, Open Source Software, Open Markets and Open Culture

The Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board, was recently appointed the first Minister of Digital Government, just one of several fundamental changes the Government of Canada (GC) has made in the last year to adopt a more focused digital approach. With so much positive change happening in the public service, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come and what lies ahead of us.

Open Government Partnership

Canada’s Third Biennial Plan to the Open Government Partnership sets the stage for continued advancements in our approach to open government. The plan emphasizes the importance of openness and transparency as fundamental elements that ensure Canadians’ trust in their government and in democracy overall. Citizens have come to expect more from their government; through increased openness and transparency, governments can be held accountable for delivering real, meaningful results, in a manner that is efficient and responsible. Consultations just ended for Canada’s Fourth Plan on Open Government giving Canadians a final opportunity to share feedback on the 10 open government commitments.

Here in Canada our government has made significant progress in achieving greater openness with Canadians. In 2012 we introduced the Open Government Portal, which hosts a vast library of the GC’s open datasets and digital records. The portal empowers Canadians to access information about their government, furthering our commitment to greater openness and transparency. Since 2012, Canada has been an active member in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and in September 2017, was delegated a seat among the OGP Steering Committee members, confirmation of the success of our open government approach. Canada will also be hosting the OGP Global Summit in Ottawa in May 2019.

While Canada and its government have come a long way, there is still much work to be done. There is a lot of untapped potential for digital technologies in government; moving forward we’ll be considering how we can adopt open standards for data, information and communications, how we can leverage existing Open Source Software (OSS), how we can contribute to the upstream development of OSS, and how we can release code developed internally under OSS licenses.

Digital 7

In October 2017 the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United Kingdom (UK), committing to supporting each other in achieving greater digital government, including adopting principles of digital development, such as open standards, open source and open markets. This MOU set the foundation for greater international collaboration. In February 2018 our efforts were recognized globally when Canada officially became a member of the “Digital 7” (D7), a group of leading digital governments. Canada signed the D7 Charter, joining Estonia, Israel, South Korea, New Zealand, the UK and Uruguay, committing to working towards core principles of digital development, with a focus on user needs, open government and a commitment to share and learn from other member nations. Additionally, the D7 Charter established commitments to adopting open standard and OSS. Following this milestone, in May 2018 TBS signed an MOU with Estonia, a leading nation in the D7 and the OGP, committing to cooperation in the field of digital government and economy, furthering our progress in digital government.

The GC is committed, through international agreements and through its OGP membership and recent D7 membership, to becoming an open organization and shifting to a more open culture.

Setting direction at home

During this time, we updated the GC’s Strategic Plan for Information Management and Information Technology 2017 to 2021 to include, among other things, an action to introduce a strategy for the use of open standards and OSS. TBS will lead the development of a strategy to set direction for the government on the use and release of open standards and OSS that will then be ratified by the GC Enterprise Architecture Review Board. Following this update, the review board members endorsed the formalization of a common GC-wide approach to the adoption of OSS within government, resulting in a more robust open community within the GC.

Evidence of our progress developing a formal approach, policies and guidance can be seen in the Open First Whitepaper, which aims to define the business need and drivers for change as well as to explore benefits, risks and best practices around open standards, OSS, open markets and open culture. The first version of the whitepaper is currently with the recently established Open Source Advisory Board and will then be shared with the Enterprise Architecture Review Board for endorsement. Supporting this work is the Digital Playbook, currently in development, which will detail how teams across the GC can achieve greater openness and adopt principles that encourage working in the open and using open standards and open source software.

What’s next?

The Government of Canada is focused on publishing its Open First Whitepaper and the Digital Playbook. The Open Source Advisory Board working groups will continue to collaborate on a business case for open standards and OSS in the GC. The forthcoming Digital Policy will be an integrated, single set of rules and guidelines for GC departments and agencies that will support the adoption of open standards, the use of OSS and a more open culture of collaboration.

Our continued work in this space has provided great opportunities to engage with and learn from our partners in the D7, for example, by aligning and collaborating with the UK Open Standards Board to select open standards for government.

A growing community

Many civil servants and colleagues in other sectors have come together to help make government more open through the adoption of Open Standards and OSS in the GC.

During fall 2018, the GC is hosting an “Open First Day” where you can learn more about our various initiatives. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Linkedin and GCcollab, the GC’s open collaboration workspace, for details about the event and how you can register to participate!

We’ll be at the Open Source Summit (North America), which will be held in Vancouver, B.C. on August 31, 2018. Come join us!

Most importantly, get involved! Participate in the Working Groups for the Open Source Advisory Board, in AGORA, the Government of Canada’s social meet-up for open source, by contacting members of our team:

Ashley Casovan (‘ashley.casovan@tbs-sct.gc.ca’) @AshleyCasovan

Guillaume Charest (‘guillaume.charest@tbs-sct.gc.ca’) @GuillCharest

Sébastien Lemay (‘sebastien.lemay@tbs-sct.gc.ca’) @smellems


Marc Brouillard

Marc leads the Government of Canada (GC) Information Technology policy, strategy and oversight functions. He has had a long and successful career as a senior public and private sector executive in information management and technology. Prior to becoming the GC Chief Technology Officer, Marc served as deputy departmental Chief Technology Officer (CIO) and acting departmental CIO at Treasury Board Secretariat. Prior to joining the GC, Marc was Vice-President of Business Development for a local eCommerce Services start-up. Prior to that, he spent 13 years at MONTAGE IT Services, a division of MTS/Allstream, where he held numerous positions in technology consulting and business development.

Blog comments

Guy Levert - August 26, 2018

Great blog. I really liked the vision and learning about the progressive work under way. Thanks for the many links to important documents!

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