The path to Canada’s open dialogue engagement principles

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May 24, 2018

Working in open government means learning how to listen to citizens and stakeholders. When it comes to how the Government of Canada approaches citizen engagement, over and over again we have heard a recurring theme: it must be authentic and meaningful.

To help us achieve this goal, we’ve developed a set of principles and guidelines with the goal of ensuring that the Government of Canada engagement on policy issues is:

  • Transparent
  • Relevant
  • Inclusive
  • Accountable
  • Adaptable

This post answers how we got to those principles, and what’s behind them.

Stages to our co-created principles

Our first really large engagement process was conducted in 2013 to support the development of Canada’s second Action Plan on Open Government. Talking to Canadians, we heard concerns about meaningful engagement and turned that advice into a commitment to “Develop a set of principles and standards for public consultations in discussion with citizens and civil society.”

To meet this commitment, we started with an environmental scan to see what others around the world were doing.

After reviewing existing practices, we took our show on the road. We conducted workshops with the federal government’s regulatory community, our resident experts who are required by law to consult when revisions or changes are being proposed. We also raised the problem for discussion with the academic community at the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences in June 2015.

The next step was the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum where we helped co-create a set of principles with more than 200 participants from civil society, government, academia and business during a two-day conference in March 2016. Before, during and after the event, participants debated and pulled together ideas and reactions, which resulted in a draft list of 16 principles.

We kept on consulting, refining and editing to ensure that both the government and our community was satisfied with a document that reflected openness.

Along the way, we got some things wrong and needed to alter course, even after a lot of discussion. For example, at Govmaker in 2016 we proposed the principle that “participants should know what’s on and off the table” to maximize relevance. The counter-argument – with which the room agreed - was that if the process is truly “open” then nothing should be entirely off the table.

We also heard that the principles were written as though the Government of Canada would decide the issues, decide the approach, and take responsibility. Instead, we heard calls for co-creation of engagement processes and shared accountability, which are now reflected.

The result of this effort was a set of principles for engagement between government and citizens.

Today

We are now experimenting with applying the principles to public consultations, and are working to develop more detailed guidance about applying these principles in action.

We are also working on using the principles as a basis for measuring the effectiveness of different types of public engagement activities being run by the Government of Canada. One of the most crucial needs is to keep working on effective relationships and engagement with indigenous peoples and nations.

What’s next

Watch this spot for a future blog post on measuring the effectiveness of the principles and exploring the relationship between engagement and trust in government.

Thank you, and we look forward to learning with you.

Thom Kearney and for the Open Government Team


Thom Kearney

Senior Project Officer, Open Government, Chief Information Branch, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Thom Kearney is an award winning teacher, passionate learner and public servant helping to tell stories and navigate changing landscapes.

In 2009, he helped Government of Canada departments be more open in their dealings between each with the GCpedia enterprise wiki. That experience convinced him that open really is better, and today he works to improve Canada’s plans on open government.

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