Opening Keynote at Information Without Borders

On February 15th I'll be giving the Opening Keynote at Dalhousie University's Information Without Borders conference. In my talk I'm going to walk through what I view as three evolutionary phases of orthodoxy in digital government theory and practice, from the mid-2000s to present. The title and abstract are below:

"The Evolution of Digital Government Orthodoxy: 2006-2017"

As of the mid-2000s a series of public management paradigms emerged to describe the impact of the digital age on government. Variously labelled Digital Era Governance, Government as a Platform, Wiki Government, Gov 2.0, and, in practice, often ushered in as part of Open Government reforms, these theories anticipated that government would become more participatory and collaborative in the digital age, increasingly turning to outside expertise and capacity to design policies and deliver services. In this presentation, Professor Clarke explores the wave of research and practitioner experience which suggests that these paradigms as originally conceived at once greatly over-estimated the capacity of government to undertake a more open and collaborative style of governance, while also ignoring insights from traditional public administration research which question the logic of unbridled openness and participatory policy and service delivery models. Responding to the deficiencies of these early theories, Clarke argues that in recent years governments and scholars have entered a new phase of orthodoxy in digital era public administration, one which calls the public service to invest in the coordination and accountability mechanisms that any collaborative policy and service effort demands. In more recent cases, governments are flipping the script entirely, turning not outwards to build their digital policy and service capacity, but instead, looking inwards, building their own digital skills and capabilities within elite digital units at the centre of government. Clarke concludes by reflecting on these various phases of thinking on digital era public administration, parsing their implications for public management theory, state-citizen relations, and, at a practical level, the lessons they offer those within and outside the state working to bolster collective problem solving capacity in the digital age. 

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Call for Papers for 1st Annual Toronto Public Policy and Governance Workshop

Jonathan Craft and I have launched an annual workshop that will provide a new and unique venue for disseminating research on public policy and governance. The call for papers is below, with submissions due December 1st. Please share widely and consider applying.

We've already had a lot of interest from senior and emerging scholars, so we're looking forward to a solid two days of discussion and a good opportunity for participants to get strong feedback on ongoing research.


We are pleased to announce a call for papers for the 1st annual Toronto Public Policy and Governance Workshop to be held in Toronto March 23rd and 24th, 2017.

The goal of the workshop is to offer a new space to disseminate and discuss rigorous and cutting edge public policy and governance research. The workshop will follow the ECPR joint-sessions format and be limited to a small number of paper givers (~10) with one hour dedicated to each paper. Papers will be circulated in advance and attendees are invited to come ready to discuss, debate, and help strengthen the work of colleagues.

There is no registration fee and the organizers will provide light refreshments throughout the workshop along with a workshop dinner.

We welcome papers that deal with public policy and administration theory, methods, or empirical matters, with a Canadian or international focus. Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words to Jonathan Craft at the coordinates below by December 1, 2016. Authors of successful proposals will be notified by December 20th, 2016.

Submissions are invited from both emerging scholars and senior leaders in the field. Two spaces will be reserved for doctoral students.

Please direct expressions of interest or questions to workshop organizers: Jonathan Craft ( and Amanda Clarke (


Nous sommes heureux d'annoncer un appel à communications pour le premier atelier annuel sur la politique publique et la gouvernance qui se tiendra à Toronto les 23 et 24 mars 2017. Le but de l'atelier est de promouvoir un nouvel espace pour diffuser et discuter des recherches de pointe en matière de politiques publiques et de gouvernance.

L'atelier suivra le format des sessions conjointes ECPR et sera limité à un petit nombre de présentation (~ 10) avec une heure consacrée à chacun. Les communications seront diffusées à l'avance et les participants sont invités à venir prêts à discuter, à débattre, et à soutenir le travail de leurs collègues. Il n'y a pas de frais d'inscription et les organisateurs fourniront des rafraîchissements pendant tout l'atelier ainsi qu'un dîner.

Nous accueillons des communications portant sur la théorie des politiques publiques et de l'administration, sur des méthodes ou sur des questions empiriques, au Canada ou à l'étranger. Veuillez soumettre un résumé d'au plus 250 mots à Jonathan Craft aux coordonnées ci-dessous d'ici le 1 er décembre 2016. Les auteurs des propositions retenues seront avisés d'ici le 20 décembre 2016.

Nous invitons les chercheurs émergents et les hauts responsables du domaine à faire des présentations. Deux places seront réservées aux doctorants. 

Veuillez adresser vos communications ou vos questions aux organisateurs de l'atelier: Jonathan Craft ( et Amanda Clarke (

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Two new articles in Policy Options

After moderating a panel on public sector innovation at the Trudeau Foundation's annual public policy conference last November I joined a group of fellow Trudeau community members in writing a brief article for Policy Options based on the conference discussions. My article looks at the tension between the need for innovation in the public sector and public servants' well-entrenched fear of failure.

A few days after this was published, another silly article decrying public servants' Wikipedia edits was published. I wrote this in response.

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Analysis in UBC Press & Samara Election Series - We’ve Got Some Catching Up to Do: The Public Service and the 2015 Federal Election

Twenty days after the 2015 Federal Election, UBC Press and Samara Canada have released 57 expert election analyses, written by 66 academics. This was an impressive feat that involved great leadership from the editors (Alex Marland and Thierry Giasson), the Press and Samara.

I contributed an analysis of the treatment - or rather lack of treatment - of the issue of public service renewal in the election. You can find my analysis on page 92 of the pdf, available here.

The gist: in this election, the public service was largely ignored, except where the parties fought for votes in Ottawa ridings and where public servants stepped into murky partisan territory. Oh right, and during that time when former PM Stephen Harper talked about banning niqabs in the public service. Not much of a robust conversation, a problem, I argue, given the reduced policy capacity in our federal public service and the essential role the public service plays in our democracy.


Forced to tweet in both languages, ministers lose their impact

Fellow OII-er Elizabeth Dubois and I published an op-ed in the Globe today analyzing the Official Languages Commissioner's decision that all Ministers should tweet equally in French and English. We argue that in their official capacity as Minister, that is, speaking for their department, bilingualism is both sensible and required under Canada's Official Languages Act. But as an individual MP, there may be good reasons to tweet unilingually (if say, your constituents are predominantly French, tweets in English may be odd and pointless), and there are no legal restrictions demanding the MP does otherwise. The issue: Minister's accounts are often a mix of "ministerial tweets" and "individual MP tweets". The neat and tidy categories of communication that were at play when the Official Languages Act was created have collapsed in the digital age. The Commissioner's ruling doesn't account for this, but rather attempts to apply old rules to a new context. This op-ed outlines why this approach is a problem, and suggests that a hybrid approach to regulating a Minister's tweets would better account for the new, digital media environment.

Check it out here.

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New article with Helen Margetts in Policy & Internet: Governments and Citizens Getting to Know Each Other? Open, Closed, and Big Data in Public Management Reform

Citizens and governments live increasingly digital lives, leaving trails of digital data that have the potential to support unprecedented levels of mutual government–citizen understanding, and in turn, vast improvements to public policies and services. Open data and open government initiatives promise to “open up” government operations to citizens. New forms of “big data” analysis can be used by government itself to understand citizens' behavior and reveal the strengths and weaknesses of policy and service delivery. In practice, however, open data emerges as a reform development directed to a range of goals, including the stimulation of economic development, and not strictly transparency or public service improvement. Meanwhile, governments have been slow to capitalize on the potential of big data, while the largest data they do collect remain “closed” and under-exploited within the confines of intelligence agencies. Drawing on interviews with civil servants and researchers in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States between 2011 and 2014, this article argues that a big data approach could offer the greatest potential as a vehicle for improving mutual government–citizen understanding, thus embodying the core tenets of Digital Era Governance, argued by some authors to be the most viable public management model for the digital age (Dunleavy, Margetts, Bastow, & Tinkler, 2005, 2006; Margetts & Dunleavy, 2013).

Available at 

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IRSPM Pre-Conference Workshop on Data Visualization

Evert Lindquist (University of Victoria) and I are hosting a pre-conference workshop on data visualization in the run up to this year's International Research Society for Public Management conference (Ottawa, April 8-12th). The workshop will be held on April 8th at the Canada School of Public Service, from 1:30 to 4:30. Registration is free. 

We have a great panel of speakers, discussing social network analysis and visualization, user experience testing and border security, expenditure analysis, Geomatics and Arctic research, and more. After our panel we'll break into a discussion on the skills and research needed for data visualization to become a more mainstream technique in the study and practice of government.

You can register here, but move fast - there's only a few spots left.

More info below:

The Data Visualization Movement: Implications for Public Management 

April 8, 1:30 – 4:30 pm
Hosted by the Canada School of Public Service
Canada School of Public Service
373 Sussex Drive, Ottawa

Based on a growing interest about the possibilities of visualization techniques to inform policy development and engagement with elected leaders and citizens, this workshop considers how visualization techniques have been applied to the various domains of public management practice, such as policy development, service delivery, budgeting, and central monitoring, and in various policy sectors, such as environmental and land regulation, and intelligence and security. Practitioners and proponents of these techniques argue that, regardless of cognitive and learning styles, we have always been visual thinkers, and digital technologies have only accelerated the extent to which citizens and leaders alike can analyze and represent complex problems, design and convey approaches for addressing such problems, and improve analysis and dialogue. The first part of the workshop will be comprised of presentations from practitioners describing their experiences with selected visualization techniques, animating a dialogue with participants about take-up, value-added, limitations, and future potential. The second part will move from the practice of visualization to the study and teaching of visualization. The goal of the workshop is two-fold: for participants to outline an agenda for research in this area and to consider whether the emerging mix of visualization techniques should or could be more assiduously reflected in the curricula of MPP and MPA programs and in professional development programs of public service institutions.

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