Canadian Open Government Civil Society Network

The Canadian Open Government Civil Society Network

Every two years, Canada and 68 other countries create action plans as members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Canada’s first two plans each contained twelve commitments aimed at improving access to information, civic participation and public accountability.

Canada is required by the OGP to engage in public consultation in preparing and implementing its plan. There have been issues with the scope and nature of this consultation over the last two action plans. So, this year, we established a Canadian Open Government Civil Society Network to coordinate civil society input and make sure our voices are heard.

Our vision for the network is to establish a permanent dialogue mechanism through which the government first co-develops commitments for its action plan with civil society representatives, and later co-implements those commitments and then co-assesses its performance.

During the consultation on the action plan, dozens of civil society organizations signed our letter of intent. We are pleased to see that the final plan includes our proposal. Our next step is to negotiate the details of this ongoing dialogue mechanism with the government.

To join the network as a civil society organization or an individual and receive updates about our progress, contact join@opengovdialogue.ca.

Once the dialogue mechanism is established, it will be a powerful tool for network members to push for commitments that are specific to their areas of activity — whether it’s health, education, homelessness, environment, or any other area.

We are still in the early stages of determining the structure of the network and growing our membership. We have created an interim steering committee to take the work forward for now:

We will in due course adopt proper terms of reference (read our draft) and elect a new steering committee.

The network was formed in March 2016. Canada started its consultation for its third national action plan on March 31, 2016 and published its final action plan on July 15, 2016.

Open Government

Open government is the simple but powerful idea that governments and institutions work better for citizens when they are transparent, engaging and accountable.

Open government has three parts:

  1. Transparency – opening up of government data and information on areas such as public spending, government contracts, lobbying activity, the development and impact of policy, and public service performance.
  2. Participation – support for a strong and independent civil society, the involvement of citizens and other stakeholders in decision making processes, and protection for whistleblowers and others who highlight waste, negligence or corruption in government.
  3. Accountability – rules, laws and mechanisms that ensure government listens, learns, responds and changes when it needs to.

Good open government reforms can transform the way government and public services work, ensuring that they are properly responsive to citizens, while improving their efficiency and effectiveness, and preventing abuses of state power.

The Open Government Partnership

The Open Government Partnership is an international initiative that provides a platform for reformers inside and outside governments around the world to develop reforms that “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.” Since its foundation in September 2011, over 2,000 commitments have been made by 69 participating countries, covering a third of the world’s population.

Countries must meet a set of basic eligibility criteria and agree to an Open Government Declaration to join. Once a member, governments must develop a National Action Plan with civil society in their country on a biennial basis. The government must regularly report on its progress and work with civil society to achieve the agreed reforms. Progress is evaluated at regular intervals by an independent researcher appointed by the OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism. The OGP emphasises partnership between government and civil society at all levels. Its steering committee is formed of equal government and civil society representatives, with co-chairs drawn from each.

Canada became a member of the Open Government Partnership in 2011. You can find official resources and announcements at open.canada.ca and at the OGP’s Canada page. As well as its domestic role, the Government of Canada has been a co-anchor of the OGP’s Open Data Working Group since 2013.