It’s time to make information and information management – not just information technology – a topic of serious public debate.
In this column, we aim to promote the idea that the rapidly expanding information holdings of governments, and the infrastructure to organize, integrate and use it, are a major new public resource for the 21st century.
In Canada, we have made great strides in becoming one of the most IT connected countries. We have the second highest broadband penetration rate in the OECD, closely following South Korea. Our governments are world leaders in their use of IT to deliver services in more cost efficient, effective and relevant ways.
Accenture and the United Nations have respectively ranked Canada #1 and #7 in the world for its use of information technology.
All this is to say that Canada’s capacity to produce, collect and disseminate information and knowledge for a wide range of social, political or educational purposes will soon be second to none. Of course, more can still be done. Governments recognize the need to work more closely with each other, to identify opportunities to collaborate as a means of reducing information technology costs, while improving service delivery and making better use of information for the benefit of Canadians.
One of the key questions that will be debated in governments, the broader public sector and the private sector is how best to provide transparent and equitable access to information while putting in place the necessary privacy safeguards (processes and technologies) to ensure that sensitive information is adequately protected and disclosed to only those that are authorized to use it. Governments will have a primary role in setting standards to shape how information is managed and how society can use this information.
Over the coming months, we will use this space to explore issues around the role of government in information management, how it can be used as a public resource and what obstacles may persist. Our work will draw on our extensive experience in the public service, as well as the research and consultations of the Crossing Boundaries National Council (www.crossingboundaries.ca). The Council is a group of senior public servants and politicians from across Canada that seeks to foster debate and actions as Canada moves forward as an information and knowledge-based society.
As Council members, here’s what we think governments should be focusing on in terms of the use of information to support a knowledge-based economy. We have three basic ideas:
First, governments need to collaborate and form networks with other jurisdictions and private sector partners. Why? Knowledge and information on a wide range of issues is needed to effectively address some of today’s public policy debates – and this information is often scattered across governments, the broader public sector, and the private sector. Collaboration and networks are practical ways to make sure that knowledge and information are being used effectively to produce the right results. Governments need to support this approach by fostering an environment that encourages open sharing of information and the creation of networks and partnerships.
Second, we have mentioned the need to focus our efforts on public goods; to do so, we need an engaged citizenry, a vibrant democratic culture and transparency of government. Engaging citizens is critical to fostering a knowledge and information culture. Citizens will want meaningful avenues for their views to reach decision makers. How to build them will be a major challenge, especially for elected officials.
Third, this is a knowledge-based economy, and governments need to support Canadian people and businesses in making the most of it. Canadians will expect a level playing field where information and knowledge is available to everyone to help them in a wide range of tasks, from developing new products and services to carrying out research. Supporting Canadians, their businesses and communities with the right networks and services to help them make the right decisions to prosper in the knowledge-based economy is critical for a bright future.
As information flows more freely, it will transform what we do and how we do it. Changes are already under way. The opportunities are too big to miss. It’s time to start the debate about how to seize them. 051285
John Milloy is MPP for Kitchener Centre and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in Ontario; Maryantonett Flumian is Associate Deputy Minister at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada-Social Development Canada and Deputy Minister of Labour. Both are members of the Crossing Boundaries National Council (www.crossingboundaries.ca)