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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Open Canada: Trudeau's Number

Lots to cover, so let's dive right in - and, as Katie always suggests, I'll include a call to action at the end.

Justin Trudeau has made some bold commitments around Open Government and Open Data.  These particular promises were more than a way to define the Liberals as different than the Tories - changing the way government works is something his inner circle has been committed to for a long time.

One commitment that has a lot of people both outside and inside the public service excited:

– Involve Canadians in policy-making: The Liberals would use technology to engage more Canadians in the development and evaluation of public policy.

So, here's a question:

How can Canadians play a meaningful role in policy-making, impact-checking and avoiding unnecessary duplication, gaps and overlaps?  Government has a hard enough time doing this on its own, which is why silo-busting change management/culture development are popular pursuits right now.

Policy Hacks and Civic Engagement

Under Tony Clement, the federal Open Government team has done some amazing work around opening data and engaging Canadians with the goal of empowering citizens to turn public data into profitable enterprises.  The Canadian Open Data Experience was the largest hackathon in Canadian history.

At the same time, some Virtuous Schemers from that team have been exploring ways to strengthen engagement between the public service and every day political citizens with the intent of addressing structural concerns and wicked problems like poverty and climate change.

All of this should continue.  In addition, it would be amazing to see more engagement/hackathons between public servants and other players to hack policy issues and solutions that don't necessarily have to originate from government. (Think Civic Design Camp, Civic Tech, Community Solutions Lab)

Displaying IMG_20151026_145521.jpgMP Committees and touring consultations and whatnot are great - imagine they could tap into local/regional/national policy-making groups that were using open data to assess, prototype and refine policy, programs, co-design opportunities that could be citizen-led and private-sector/foundation funded?  Imagine government was a facilitator of civic leadership rather than CEO?

This is all happening in small-scale ways across the country.  What's needed to bring it all together is a stone in the soup, a source of inspiration (and, let's be honest, permission) - in short, someone like Justin Trudeau.

ACTION ITEM #1: Task the new President of Treasury Board/their Parliamentary Secretary to do a landscape assessment of groups, orgs and initiatives already in this space and start convening them in collaborative ways, offering them moral support, connections to funders/partners.

Open Data/Data Stories 

Opening up public data for public use is a monstrous task, not made any easier by the fact that different levels of government and even different departments of government aren't all in agreement with processes or platforms or even definitions.  There are even governments out there with significant caches of data still being kept on paper.

Worth remembering - what we're talking about here is a massive culture change.  If you've ever had a secretary who was insistent on keeping paper records because they didn't trust/feel comfortable with computers, picture that on a national scale.

As has emerged from Ontario's Open Data Directive process, it's not enough to make new demands of the public service - major culture change, support and a shift in agency to younger staff more comfortable with new ways of doing this is required to really make Open Government a reality.  More on this in the next point.

Beyond all this - who is Open Data for?  Is the goal to reach out to hackers or entrepreneurs, foundations focused on impact investment or not-for-profits?  If it's for everyone, what needs to be done to make it easier for Canadians in general to be aware of open data and comfortable navigating it?

This is a mighty challenge, but a doable one.  If Apple could transform computers from tools for the elite into necessities in daily life, there's no reason Canada can't do the same thing with data.

ACTION ITEM #2: Develop a national campaign geared towards increasing public awareness of Open Data and its value.  This campaign will also target governments, encouraging/enticing them to strengthen existing efforts to standardize data and data presentation.  (sales analogy: public = kids, government = parents, data = cereal)

That's Open Data - what about Data stories?

No offence to Katie; numbers may tell, but stories sell.  Stories also have the power to transform complex data sets into narratives people can wrap their heads around (instead of focusing on ingredients, talk about what those ingredients can make)

Here's where maps come in - GIS, data layering, money-tracking and all that fun stuff.

Picture sitting down at a computer and opening up a map-based portal that allows you to layer data in comprehensible ways to see how different sets interact.  Imagine this portal could even animate data presentation so you could see changes over time (and even predict them to a degree, like weather maps).

An example - I go to this portal with a particular interest in, say, Eastern Ontario.  I'm given the option to pick some data layers to add in:

- age demographics
- employment rates
- existing/planned healthcare infrastructure
- time frame of 2000-present

The portal would create a map that displays all these things in visual terms (a bit more sophisticated than what WellbeingTO does) and let's me see how they have evolved over time.  Down the road, the system might even add value by recommending related sets to add in for a more robust picture.

From another angle - imagine this portal could map demographics, quality-of-life-indicators, services offered locally, providers and funding.  Where is money being spent to achieve specific goals, but those goals aren't being reached?  What best practices exist on a small scale in one region that could be invested in and expanded?

Displaying IMG_20151026_145127.jpgA platform like this would address so many concerns funders, service-providers and end-users (citizens) have right now.  Entrepreneurs looking for new markets and new opportunities could use this platform to find gaps - as could governments themselves.  Government wouldn't need to be the owner of such a tool, just a supporter. There are brilliant young changemakers playing around with concepts like this right now like Oohee Lee (not even a Canadian citizen, worth noting, but none-the-less a person adding incredible value to the country).

Fun side-bar - when you create platforms like these, either in person or online, you end up with entire communities dedicating themselves to support solution-making in communities not even there own. Case in point: Pakathon. Can you think of anything more Canadian than that?

ACTION ITEM #3: In conjunction with the Open Data capacity building campaign, have a challenge/hack/competition that empowers the Canadian community to develop a digital data hub which allows individuals to access public data and use it to tell stories, identify challenges in user-friendly way.

Open Government/Responsible Society

There is a big challenge that comes with Open Data which hasn't been fully addressed.  As more and more data becomes open, we're going to see more and more examples of government getting things wrong.  Money has been spent without results.  Important problem areas have been missed or avoided.  Presenteeism is a big issue in our public services.

Imagine heeding the call and becoming a public servant, excited to make a difference for your country, only to find yourself in a culture where your expertise is dismissed, you're rarely allowed to see the big picture and you're regularly on eggshells, terrified of being the next Public Servant Zero.

That's a common story right now, and this is before open by default has become common practice.

Some big challenges to open:

- a culture of gotcha politics
- a public that has become used to reacting against negatives instead of contributing to solutions
- a culture class between traditional, top-down management structures and a more Millennial, flat-org approach to engagement
- stakeholders focused on what they want/what they aren't happy with rather than systems thinking

It's not enough to say "government, be open!"  There is a lot of supportive work that needs done to enable a culture of openness and engagement within the public service and, just as importantly, between governments, the private/not-for-profit sectors and civil society.

Where to begin?

Real change begins at home.

Government culture change, new forms of internal engagement/cross-pollination, even redesigning working spaces to facilitate the sorts of engagement and results we collectively want are all tough nuts to crack, but great strides have already been made.  There are some cool partners out there to work with, too.

A selfish example - the Centre for Social Innovation has pro-actively developed the kind of working environment and culture that government should be looking to emulate.  Heck, the CSI model is being studied and borrowed across the globe; even Kathleen Wynne has mulled the idea of a CSI Queen's Park.

What would a CSI Parliament Hill look like?

How could the right culture-change and space development empower engagement, resiliency, a can-do mentality and all the soft stuff necessary to help public service transition to Open By Default?

The key thing is that the answer isn't going to come in the form of one-off sessions on culture change; it has to be engaged into the every-day operations of government.

ACTION ITEM #4: Develop a culture change-management strategy for the Canadian Public Service (and Parliament) that emphasizes emotional resiliency, collaboration, systems-thinking, #HowMightWe vs #YouCantDoThat thinking, etc.  

ACTION ITEM #5: Pilot a CSI-style collaboraiton/community animation space on or near Parliament Hill to facilitate cross-pollinated engagement and solution-finding for public servants and beyond.

It's not enough to have a government that's open, however - you need a society that's comfortable and supportive of the bumpy transition it'll take to get there.  Make no mistake - change at this scale is messy.  There will be a lot of things that happen and even more discovered that could (and should) make communities and stakeholders angry.

This is a big reason why successive governments make promises about new ways of doing things, transparency, etc. and don't follow through.  It's not just about falling into behavioural traps; it's a big challenge to change when the public wants change to be painless.

If you want a government that is truly open, you need a society that is willing to work with government through the process that will get there.  You can't have an Open Government without a Responsible Society.

So how do you nurture that?

Anyone in politics has the answer to this question, even if they don't realize it.  What sells a person, product or process best is a third party validator.

Lucky for government, there is an entire movement of people and organizations already playing that role.  It's not just a national thing, either - it's international.  The world wants open.

And if Canadians can position themselves as global leaders of open and engagement, the catalysts for government/civil society engagement change everywhere, I think you'd find a steadily growing amount of Canadians would happily join that movement.

Especially youth and New Canadians.

Which brings us back to our first point about involving Canadians in the policy making process.  If the people see themselves as active, valued participants in a shared mission of transforming Canada into a world leader and catalyst for open, transparent, engaged - moving forward together/leaving no one behind - everything else will fall into place.

ACTION ITEM #6: As part of their landscape assessment, the new Treasury Board President/Parliamentary Secretary will actively nurture relationships with the Open Community (including support of Open events through attendance, social media promotion, etc).  

ACTION ITEM #7: The Open Outreach campaign will develop awareness, capacity and appetite for open gov/open data, but with an emphasis on why this matters and what we might collectively achieve.

Katie Telford likes numbers; numbers tell a story.

To pull a page from Justin Trudeau's book, here's my number - one.

One singular vision of the #countrywewant that can rally, inspire and engage Canadians in common purpose to be active participants in shaping a Canadian whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

It doesn't matter what this vision gets called, though it will definitely help to have a catchy brand.

What matters most is that the leader embodies it.  When that happens, others will follow.

There are 7 action items in this post - that's the number of ideas an organized mind can keep afloat in its working memory at one time.  The last two are really tag-ons to the first two, so you could even say there are just 5, which is a number most Canadians can hold on to.

Which leads to my call to action.

There is nothing on this list that isn't being tackled in one form or other already.

We have hackathons.  We have partnerships between public servants and community groups.

Open Data Days and related events are all trying to build community and empower people to be agents of change.

Speaking of agents of change - CSI is helping empower good ideas for social impact in a variety of ways.

And virtuous schemers are attempting the Herculaneum task of changing government culture from the inside out.  These are unspoken heroes whose efforts probably won't be felt for a generation and whose impact they'll never get credit - but they do it anyway.

You can be part of this change.  In fact, the change we seek can't happen without you.

Get informed, get engaged, make a difference.  It's great if there's a central leader who gives us the inspiration, but ultimately the power is ours - and always has been.

Here's one last number to help you get started - 200.

Canada's bicentennial will be celebrated in 2067 - far enough away that we can't predict what the world will be like at the time, but close enough that we could play a major role in actively shaping that future if we put our minds to it now.

There are countless Canadians doing just that, right now.

Are you with us?

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