These youth care about the future of open government

August 26, 2019

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Canada’s youth have the drive and the talent to break into the open government space and create projects that change the way we look at open data and open information. This is a reality underscored by the winners of the Open Government Student Challenge.

The challenge called on Canadian students to show us their work with open data and information available on open.canada.ca, for a chance to be brought to Ottawa to attend and participate in the Open Government Partnership Global Summit. After receiving over 40 submissions, the projects were evaluated on their impact, their achievements and their use of open data and information.

The winners, a mix of students specializing in environmental justice, women’s political empowerment and youth financial literacy, had no trouble showing their achievements. In May, three of the winners travelled to Ottawa to attend Canada’s 2019 Open Government Partnership Global Summit to meet more than 2,600 people from over 115 countries who also share the same passion of open government.

As a student working in open government, the chance to interview these winners was important to me, as I wanted to learn more about their path to change open government, for the better.

Here are excerpts from my interviews with Maral Mehran, Lisa Pei and Wendy Wang.

Molly Rock: Thanks for agreeing to talk with me. Tell me about your first impressions about the Summit.

Wendy: I am so impressed [by the Summit] and also very pleasantly surprised that there are so many people working on making open government a better reality for everyone. I think it's really amazing to see how we are all incorporating new ideas and being open to new ideas as well.

Maral: The diversity of people coming from all across the globe has been very cool to see. I feel honored to be able to sit at a table with experts who are coming from all around the world.

You’ve had the chance to participate in a number of sessions. What were some of your favourite moments?

Maral: I attended most of the Inclusion-themed sessions. But my favourite session was the afternoon of the Feminist Open Government day. I was in the group talking about gender and natural resource governance, which had an impact on my work with environmental justice. I learned a lot from people from other spaces as well, such as women’s political empowerment, gender violence and procurement.

Lisa: Wendy and I attended a session on open government and open trust between the government and the digital sector. Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer was there and was really keen to have open discussions on how the tech sector and the government [could] work together to form better policies.

Getting a youth voice in government policy making is important in Canada. What did you learn about youth involvement and inclusion in general in government?

Wendy: Lisa and I were talking about how we wanted to make our work more accessible. I think meeting people here who have interesting ideas, whether on education or youth engagement, was amazing. A lot of participants and speakers inspired us. Hercules Jim, from Papua New Guinea, was a great speaker from the youth discussion [session] we attended. It was inspiring to see how their government incorporated youth into multiple levels of their government and in parliament decisions. It was interesting to hear how he's using the ideas and the culture of youth to influence how parliament is run for the next generation.

Lisa: Jess Blair, from Wales, was really passionate about youth issues. She was my favourite speaker because she suggested alternative approaches to youth engagement.

Maral: Zara Todd, a disability activist from the UK, gave a powerful introduction to the work she is doing with both youth and the disabled community. It was one of those moments that is going to stick with me [because] it showed how marginalized groups can be empowered to take an active part in policy making.

How has your understanding of open government grown by attending the Summit?

Maral: I came into the open government space thinking it was a lot more to do with sharing research and data, really from more of a science perspective. Now, from being here, I’ve learned that it is a lot more about democracy and giving space for voices that aren't typically at the [policy making] table. Openness is not just about tangible products, but it is about the dialogue that you get to have within a country.

Lisa: Honestly, I don't even know where to start. I never thought that people from important positions would come year-after-year for these issues and answer questions from the audience. So [the Summit] has really changed my perspective knowing that [there is an active global community that] care[s] about democracy and open government.

So would you consider a career in open government?

Maral: I would love to do that. [Especially because] I see how much space is being created for gender mainstreaming and diversity in open government. I think that I have a lot to contribute since I am aware of the research and the classic issues to do with gender and feminist government. So I would love to take part in that conversation at some point.

Wendy: [Yes,] I think that's something that Lisa and I have also considered.

Lisa: Wendy and I have worked with [the Government of Canada’s] Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and have seen the amazing work that they do there [on open government]. So it's definitely on [our career] radars.

Congratulations again for winning our Open Government Student Challenge. Can you tell me about your winning project?

Maral: [My project was academic]. I am writing my masters final report on the value of using gender mainstreaming in feminist policy and intersectionality theory to guide environmental law and policy. [I’ve been using maps, health data and reports from open.canada.ca to explore the possibility of applying Gender-based Analysis (GBA+) to guide environmental policies and programs at Environment and Climate Change Canada.] [I want to] help marginalized groups achieve environmental justice and help prioritize the enforcement of environmental regulations in those communities. I hope that I will be helping to guide, or at least influence, the direction that environmental law and policy in Canada is going and to start prioritizing communities rather than industries.

Wendy: We founded the Financial Literacy Youth Network (FLYN) in Canada. FLYN is Canada’s first federally-recognized network focused on financial literacy for youth. FLYN is a network of organizations that work towards empowering Canadian youth by breaking down the barriers to financial literacy [by using data].

Lisa: Our main goals are to raise awareness of financial literacy and improve the accessibility of engaging educational resources. So, a lot of what we do at FLYN involves exchanging ideas and connecting people.

Judging by this interview, these students made the most out of their three days at the Summit, and have shown me that youth do have the drive to create real change, they just need to be given a chance to show what they’re capable of.

Curious about the student’s work? Stay tuned! Their projects will soon be featured on open.canada.ca’s up-and-coming Open Data Impact Stories section.

For brevity, this interview has been edited and condensed from multiple conversations.


Molly Rock
Molly Rock

Molly Rock is a Student Analyst at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat within the Open Government Outreach and Engagement Team. She is passionate about creating engaging social media content for @OpenGovCan, as well as the official Open Government newsletter and Open Government blog. While working with the team, she is also completing a B.A. in Communications from the University of Ottawa.

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