Defining Open Dialogue

Friday, March 4, 2016

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

There's a conference program -- the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum -- that caught my eye earlier this week. The conference is trying to answer the question How can we realize the potential of open government in today's policy making environment?

It's a good question that likely merits further reflection. How we define the potential of open government is likely in flux as the new administration continues to refine its public policy agenda and distance itself from the previous administration. Given what I can discern about the organizers, the speakers and overall agenda, the conference could offer a unique opportunity to influence that refinement; especially on anything that relates to the broad mandate letter commitment, which as Kent rightly points out all being parsed all around town right now (See: An Honest Question on Responsible Government). To wit:
We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government. It is time to shine more light on government to ensure it remains focused on the people it serves. Government and its information should be open by default. If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians. It is important that we acknowledge mistakes when we make them. Canadians do not expect us to be perfect – they expect us to be honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest.
Not to mention the more specific ones:

  • Take a leadership role to review policies to improve the use of evidence and data in program innovation and evaluation, more open data, and a more modern approach to comptrollership
  • Accelerate and expand open data initiatives and make government data available digitally, so that Canadians can easily access and use it.
  • Work with the Minister of Justice to enhance the openness of government, including leading a review of the Access to Information Act to ensure that Canadians have easier access to their own personal information, that the Information Commissioner is empowered to order government information to be released and that the Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

Moreover, having spoken with one of the principal organizers (a friend of mine) I can say that a lot of thought (and some enabling technology) has gone into trying to find ways to facilitate dialogue and co-creation with and among participants to bring them to ground on the conference theme. It's something that I've tried to architect in the past -- albeit with the old school technology of table guides and dedicated time for discussion and reporting out -- so I can say that it is a fairly ambitious undertaking that can produce some interesting insights and identify talent and/or expertise.

Hopefully there's room for discussions about the need for greater experimentation in policy development (See: Experimenting with Policy Development), about the relative maturity/immaturity of online tools for public engagement (See: Thinking, Fast and Slow about Online Public Engagement) and on the organizing principles of policy making in a digital era (See: On Organizing Principles: Policy or Delivery). These discussions are often too distributed to have significant impact and could benefit from catalyzing events such as these.

If you are in Ottawa on March 31/April 1 you might want to check it out.