Open Government: A Transformative Opportunity for a Changing World

Disruption seems to be the watchword in 2018. Disruptive politics. Disruptive technology. Economic disruption.

Our world is changing. In many countries, trust in government institutions is low. Threats to democracy and the world order are emerging. New digital tools are raising both opportunities and expectations.

In this kaleidoscope of global disruption, Canada is honoured to accept the role of lead government co-chair of the Open Government Partnership for 2018-19. The ambition of this reform-minded organization of 79 countries and 20 subnational governments and civil society groups has never been more needed, and I want to thank the Government of Georgia for the opportunity to contribute as their supporting co-chair in 2017-18.

Open government has a critical role to play in this new world to ensure that people are served by their governments in ways that are responsive, efficient and fair.

Along with co-chair Nathaniel Heller of Results for Development, we are excited to take the helm of the global open government movement that’s engaging with partners in government and civil society worldwide to promote the values of openness, transparency and accountability. Open government connects governments to people, which can help make policies and services more inclusive, more citizen-centred. This, in turn, can help restore trust in government worldwide.

In this role, we commit ourselves to a transformative, hopeful vision for government that will focus on three priorities: inclusion, participation and impact.

“We want to connect people and empower them to become involved in how they are governed.” – Scott Brison

We commit to focus particularly on marginalized or under-represented citizens. As co-leads, we’ll build on the work done to date to further strengthen the Partnership’s governance, operations and membership. Our goal is to work in the interest of all democracies around the world and enhance transparency.

Scott Brison. Photo by Techvibes.

For any of this to work, for open government to be a force for change, citizens must be involved. They may need tools to strengthen their digital literacy. They may need support to participate in government and make their voices heard. They may need encouragement to demand that governments open up, and to use this power to improve the services and programs governments deliver to them.

“In Canada, we’re seeking to offer a different vision of government to our citizens: a government that’s open by default and rebooting for the digital age.” – Scott Brison

We’re developing government websites that are easier to understand and navigate, based on user feedback, and we’re expanding the proactive publication of internal documents. Since Budget 2017, for example, we’ve made all the data from Budget charts and tables available in near real time for analysis by citizens and parliamentarians. We publicly post the titles of briefing notes prepared by Department of Finance officials on a regular basis. And we’re expanding public use of open data and information: average monthly downloads of datasets have increased by 75 per cent since 2015, and now has 75,000 monthly users.

In addition, we’ve created the position of Chief Science Advisor to ensure government science is fully available to the public, and we’re encouraging government scientists and subject-matter experts to speak freely about their publicly funded work. Coming soon, we’ll debut a new user-friendly, online Access to Information portal.

The early results are promising, and our efforts are being recognized. We were recently ranked number one in the world in the World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer, a global measure of how governments are publishing and using open data for accountability, innovation and social impact. This is progress to celebrate, but we recognize we still have a lot to learn from other countries and civil society organizations in the Open Government Partnership.

The Partnership’s ultimate goal is to use open government to truly change people’s lives for the better. We’re committed to this goal, and over the next year, we will work with a strong international community to achieve it. In May 2019, Canada will host governments and civil society from around the world at the next Open Government Partnership Summit in Ottawa.

We look forward to seizing this transformative opportunity to improve trust in government worldwide.

Scott Brison is Canada’s President of the Treasury Board as well as the Minister of Digital Government.