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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"Internet renforce le pouvoir de la société civile" - Interview in Le Monde

Le Monde interviewed me about trends in digital democracy, as discussed in a report I prepared for the Council of Europe's World Forum for Democracy, which I'm participating in over the next few days. You can find the article here.

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Interview in The Globe & Mail: Is democracy at risk?

In the run up to the Trudeau Foundation's 10th Anniversary Conference, the Globe & Mail took a look at threats to our democracy in this past Sunday's edition. The article drew on interviews with three members of the Trudeau community, Michael Pal, Kent Roach and I.


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New publication: Paper for the Council of Europe's World Forum for Democracy

The Council of Europe will host the World Forum for Democracy from November 23rd-29th in Strasbourg. The forum's theme is "Re-wiring Democracy: connecting institutions and citizens in the digital age". The Council invited me to prepare an Issues Paper to anchor the discussions at the Forum. The paper is titled "Exploiting the Web as a Tool of Democracy: New Ways Forward in the Study and Practice of Digital Democracy", and can be downloaded here.

I'm attending the Forum and will be the plenary respondent for the session "Alternatives for Representative Democracy". They have lots of interesting speakers on board, so I'll be sure to share anything useful I come across during the Forum.

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Presentation at IPAC

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting a part of my PhD research at the Institute of Public Administration of Canada's annual conference. The presentation explored the barriers that can make it hard for civil servants in the welfare and benefits policy sector to integrate the social web--and the vast amounts of data it generates-- into policy design and service delivery.

It was a useful venue to discuss the research, as the crowd was more practitioner-heavy than a traditional academic conference is. Given this, it was a great opportunity to get feedback on the research from civil servants with a "real world" perspective on some of the issues the paper and my PhD touch on. One observation I made at the conference was that the conversation amongst practitioners around things like social media, big data (although no one was calling it that!) and open-book government has become much less one of "why?" to one of "how?". In other words, it seems that  a broad range of civil servants (or at least those at the conference), have accepted that the social web should play more of a daily role in their work as opposed to just being a tool for the communications department. Five years ago, a similar conversation would have had many more cynics dismissing the whole thing as a "waste of time" and irrelevant to the work of the public service.

This is encouraging, although it is still worrying that it has taken this long for the topic to become more mainstream and accepted, since another commonly held perception amongst those I spoke with was that while cynicism reigned in the past few years, government departments and agencies missed the opportunity to build the skills required to handle the massive amounts of data produced through the web. When things are moving as quickly as they are in the digital age, I'm not sure that governments can afford to take this long to accept new ideas and integrate them into their work. The challenge will be remaining agile while also satisfying the accountability requirements that can make it tricky for government to move quickly in new and untested environments.

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Interview on TVO's Pull: How Technology is Changing the Conversation

Last May I was asked to participate in a TVO web series titled Pull: How Technology is Changing the Conversation. This is a clip from my interview which covered new avenues to citizen engagement made possible by big data and open data. (It's always a little painful to see and hear yourself recorded. Duly noted: I use the word "innovative" far too frequently.)

You can check out the entire series here.

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