The citizens need leadership

Published: May 3rd, 2007

By: Sandford BorinsI was at the Lac Carling Congress earlier this week for a stimulating discussion on service delivery and technology issues with leaders in both fields. The results of real-time polling of the group of approximately 100 are particularly sobering. When asked if they believe that citizens, given the opportunity, want to become more engaged in service delivery issues, only a slim majority (55 per cent to 45 per cent) said yes.Then, when asked if citizens are prepared to let governments share their personal information more easily to get better service, a slightly larger majority (60 per cent to 40 per cent) said yes. Data-sharing is at the centre of service improvement, and if the experts' reading of the public mood is that it's so cautious, we have a serious problem.The Crossing Boundaries working group's final report, Progressive Governance for Canadians, makes the case for going beyond a must-ask philosophy of data sharing (government must ask citizen permission in every instance of data-sharing) to a public resource philosophy (information is a public resource and citizens can trust their governments to share it appropriately).These results suggest this latter philosophy is unlikely to win public acceptance. I'd like to see some actual polling of public views about information sharing. If the experts at Lac Carling have judged the public mood correctly, then leadership is needed for Canada to move forward on service delivery improvement. Where will the leadership come from: the politicians, the bureaucracy, or civil society itself?