“Digital governance is the central challenge facing governing institutions in the coming decades where no one owns information, power is dispersed and authority and accountability need to be reconceived.”

The Digital Governance Partnership was established by nine academic and public interest organizations with the support of a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Carleton UniversityDalhousieUniversity, Ryerson University, the University of Regina, the Institute on Governance (IOG)OCAD University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Toronto, and the University of Victoria have come together to build an applied digital governance research network. This partnership is exploring the historic challenges and opportunities facing governing institutions in the digital era.

Through its multi-year research and engagement program, the Digital Governance Partnership is creating a network equipped to understand the governance challenges of the digital era and to help governing institutions meet them. Key collaborating institutions include governing institutions from multiple levels of government, non-profit and civil society organizations, and private sector supporters – and the partnership is expanding.

What We Are Doing

 

Understanding digital governance

Digital governance is the central challenge facing governing institutions and societies in the coming decades where no one owns information, power is dispersed and authority and accountability need to be reconceived. What is digital governance and why is digital a governance issue? Westminster parliamentary democracy is widely credited with a high capacity to adapt to societal evolution. Its ability to adapt to the realities of a digital society is putting this claim to the test. Westminster governments were never designed with the digital era in mind. Two forces – digital and governance – are meeting like tectonic plates, shifting the landscape and giving rise to new peaks and valleys around key governance questions that all Canadians need to be concerned about: Who has real power? How should decisions be made? How can all players make their voices heard and ensure that account is rendered?

A platform for discussion

Research on digital technology and governance is emerging, but we have yet to have a national conversation on the issues and possibilities – we will be providing a platform for those discussions.

Engaging stakeholders and leaders is key

We will create a community of shared interest using a multi-tiered approach that includes research, ongoing engagement of stakeholders, and new media. Given the nature of the challenges and their scope, the partnership’s activities aim to have national impact and visibility, providing evidence based research and engaging Canadians to develop practical solutions.

From digital technology to new leadership and governance

We recognize that the discussion must move beyond technological change to an understanding of the disruptive nature of digital transformation as an historic opportunity to recast the role and responsibilities of governments, citizens and other actors.

Thinking broadly and specifically about evolving practice

We will explore emerging governance challenges and possibilities, but also specific practice areas such as evidence based policy analysis, advising ministers and legislators, citizen engagement, modernizing service delivery and realigning administrative systems to meet new and ever increasing demands on the part of governments at all levels.

But looking beyond Westminster

We recognize the pressing need to examine the new and emerging governance challenges of the Westminster system in light of the advent of digital, and to determine the transformative and evolutionary changes required of government and non-government actors in an evolving democratic environment across Canada.

Moving from challenges to competencies

We aim to determine and articulate the new, core competencies required of all stakeholders and institutions (e.g. politicians, public servants, citizens, the private sector, and students) in the digital age.

Aligning milestones with opportunities

We agree to design our research program with windows of opportunity in mind in order to maximize impact and generate practical impetus for change.

Modeling what we preach

We will articulate the value we bring to key stakeholders and include open, transparent and participatory methodologies on an ongoing basis.

Working Applied Domains

 

Through its research and engagement activities, the Digital Governance Partnership is working in the cross-cutting applied domains listed below.  Click here for more information on our priorities, themes and challenge questions [link to Priorities and Themes tab].

Policy analysis and advising leaders: searching for relevance in a dis-intermediated world.

In the digital world, people feel less connected to the state and its institutions. At the same time, citizens and public servants can connect more directly among themselves, as well as with elected officials. People, institutions and relationships are increasingly dis-intermediated. This represents a fundamental shift. Traditional intermediaries, such as governing institutions, are being challenged to adapt, or risk being squeezed out. In some cases, new intermediaries are already emerging and ‘re-intermediating’ this space. This raises questions about the purpose of public policy and about how good policy is made in a digital world. What are the challenges posed by dis-intermediation, and what are the risks if institutions fail to adapt? How must governing institutions change to remain relevant in this new environment? What is the purpose of public policy, and how do we better make policy in a dis-intermediated and distributed governance context?

Citizen choice, service delivery and retail governance: who looks out for the public good?

We have moved from the era of introducing citizen satisfaction surveys to one where new service delivery models have dramatically increased citizen expectations about the quality and delivery of public services, emphasizing lower costs, higher quality, and customization. This raises fundamental questions about equity, social justice, and the public good for evenly serving all citizens. How much progress have we made on single-window, citizen-focused service delivery within and across governments? How ought the ongoing search for balance between individual rights and public interests shape the evolution of digital governance in Westminster in a service delivery context? How does digital culture affect our collective commitment to values like equity and social justice in the delivery of public services? Is it still the job of government to reflect those values or does digital do away with that need? How should governments respond to newly emerging risks relating to privacy and security while recognizing the potential of open information in a service delivery context?

Open data, open government and digital era regulation.

Information is now digital, mobile, increasingly open, and superabundant. Information is the new oil – a commodity and a currency that affects all the transactions it mediates and all the processes it powers. Yet in organizations it tends to be managed in silos as a reflection of organizational power structures and controls. In an age of information superabundance and resource scarcity, changing social patterns of behaviour and attitudes towards information use and sharing demand that we revisit traditional approaches. This applies as much within jurisdictions as it does between them, in a world where governing institutions are increasingly required to navigate the inter-jurisdictional and international dimensions of their areas of responsibility. The alternatives are: missed opportunities for new data uses, established interests cementing current practices in the face of pressure for change, and regulatory frameworks tailored to a society and an age that no longer exist. How must we transform our approach to information management in an era where governing institutions are challenged to ‘do more with less’? How can institutions evolve to harness the power of digital information while stimulating citizen engagement, and to what ends? What is the purpose of regulation? How do the superabundance of information and the availability of new, diverse, and widespread information access points affect the role of regulators? How must Westminster regulatory institutions and frameworks adapt to meet the challenges and reap the rewards afforded by digital era tools and data?

Moderating faux-outrage in the digital era: rethinking accountability and Westminster institutions.

In the age of sound-bite politics and 24/7 media coverage, accountability relationships have come under new pressures. Mechanisms for ensuring oversight have become both more numerous and increasingly distributed among and within institutions, just as governance itself has become more distributed among stakeholders. At the same time, digital communication channels allow faux-outrage over trivial issues to overtake genuine discussion about root causes and possible solutions. The nature of risk has changed in the distributed governance landscape. To remain effective, accountability frameworks must follow suit. What accountability frameworks are most appropriate for public institutions in the digital age? How does the advent of digital affect the need to clarify the rules of engagement in Westminster systems and in society more generally? How can Westminster institutions adapt to the new realities of digital culture while ensuring responsible and accountable government? Are there downsides to transparency? How have the risks facing governing institutions and societies changed in an era marked by increasingly distributed governance and widespread, high-speed access to information? How must governments adapt to these changes?

Digital governance for a digital country.

Technological advances have given us a glimpse of the potential of digital technologies to improve the quality of our lives, the productivity of our businesses and the strength of the economy. The impact of the digital world on our lives will continue to grow daily. We are living in a transformational age where few jobs, few sectors and few aspects of our lives remain untouched by digital. Governments that understand this potential will reap the benefits. How can Westminster governments position themselves to capture the opportunities of the digital age? What are the responsibilities of citizens, communities, business and nonprofit organizations? How can we prepare the next generation of public officials for the digital world? What kind of frameworks for monitoring progress on all of these issues should be developed to gauge how Canada is faring in the digital era?


*This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.