A primer on the Third Biennial Plan to the Open Government Partnership

July 6, 2016

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By the Open Government Team

Today we released the Third Biennial Plan to the Open Government Partnership, a set of commitments to move Canada towards a more open and accountable government. We highly encourage you to read it, but we also recognize that it’s a pretty long document. So we wrote this blog to explain the plan, why it’s important, and what we think will be different in two years because of it.

Open government is about a changing relationship between citizens and their government, and we want more people to feel like stakeholders – with both a say in the planning and a stake in the outcomes.

Where are we going?

There’s no standard playbook for open government. There are recurring themes among the members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), but different countries, cultures, and contexts demand different commitments.

Where some countries might commit to creating freedom of information laws, Canada is committing to improving our existing Access to Information Act. While some countries are just starting to open their data, Canada has already established a data portal and an open by default policy, so what we need to do is work with partners toward higher quality, greater value, more variety, and stronger standards.

Because we are not new at this, portions of the plan describe a period of acceleration, building on areas where Canada has a strong foundation but recognizing that we can do better.

New directions

We’re exploring some new territory as well. We’ll work to open up more scientific data and publications and to engage more with Canadians on federal science.  A new Chief Science Officer will be named and tasked with ensuring that government science is fully available to the public.

We’re also changing how we look at fiscal transparency. The Government of Canada’s financial reporting and disclosures are generally targeted at Parliamentarians, parliamentary researchers, economists, and auditors. We recognize the need to provide tools that make government spending more transparent and understandable to a much wider audience.

Where Canada has previously focused primarily on open data and information, we now have both a commitment and a plan to make greater progress on open dialogue and open policy making. We will be setting a higher standard across the government and will provide training, resources, and support to execute exceptional citizen engagement practices, more consistently.

We’ve also committed to creating an ongoing collaboration forum (what the OGP would call a “permanent dialogue mechanism”) to make sure that our work on open government – in this plan and any future plans – is supported by collaboration with civil society.

This only scratches the surface of the changes we’re making. The plan leaves room to grow – if we’re successful at building a stronger culture of openness in government and providing the right leadership and support, then the federal government will bring in more initiatives focused on openness, transparency, and public engagement as a matter of course. To help get there, we’ve also committed to providing training and resources to help public servants develop the skills they need to support a more open and transparent government.

Better government for Canadians

So what will be different about the federal government when we look back in two years?

There will be distinct milestones that clearly reflect a new approach to governance. These might include Canada-wide public engagement opportunities or releases of new types of information and data.

But we hope that the impact will also be felt by individual Canadians. The standardization of Grants and Contributions data may not be of interest to everyone, but for someone trying to understand the landscape of the Canadian not-for-profit sector, this could be revolutionary. For someone else, the changes we are bringing through this plan could mean participating in their first public meeting on policy development. For another person, it might mean reading a newspaper article that is based on open government data, maybe without even knowing anything about the concept of “open data”.

Overall, the impact is that there will be more information, for more people, provided in formats that are more useful – information flowing from government to citizens and vice versa.

Open government is an ongoing project. It’s a lens we apply to the constant evolution of government, where openness and transparency should be a consideration in everything from complex policy questions to our day-to-day administration.

So that’s the plan in a nutshell. If you’re interested, you can read the whole plan, or just take a look at the commitments in the table of contents to see if anything intrigues you. If something does, please let us know in the comments below, or share it with others via Twitter using the hashtag #OpenGovCan.

Remember, you can sign up for email updates to stay informed on our progress in implementing this plan over the next two years. In the coming weeks, we will also let you know when we publish our What We Heard report summarizing the input we received that helped us to develop the plan.

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