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February 27, 2013

Open North Strong and Free

by Leora Smith
Redesigning Parliament today is talking to the founders of Open North, a new non-profit that is creating revolutionary online tools to help Canadians understand and interact with our governments.

Tell us a bit about Open North

Open North is a nonprofit that creates online tools to educate and empower citizens to participate actively in Canadian democracy. We develop open standards and platforms for civil society and governments to reduce barriers to effective participation. We do this by improving access to government information and by making participation fun, easy and meaningful. We offer a budget simulator to consult citizens on budget priorities; operate a web service that helps nonprofits run effective campaigns connecting citizens to representatives; and an open data standard for sharing road event information.

 What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Parliament in the 21st century?

Parliamentary routines and procedures are unfriendly and inaccessible to the average Canadian. It is difficult to know where to start when thinking about a single challenge, but at Open North we’re certain that Parliament should be aware of the increasing expectation from citizens to respond to them directly on social media and other communications technologies. We’re more connected than ever and Parliament should use this moment as an opportunity rather than a challenge to incorporate Canadians into every step of the democratic process. For instance, Parliament could open up the committee process to the public by allowing citizens to submit witness suggestions online to questions a committee may be studying.

What change would you propose to “redesign” Parliament, and the way it works, so it’s more relevant to Canadians?

In comparison to the other G8 nations, Canada is far behind on access to information communication technologies. We have among the most expensive internet and cellphone rates in the entire world, and are only slowly addressing important issues
such as copyright and access in information in Parliament (and in very archaic ways when we do). Given Canada’s position as a nation with a small population but massive land mass, access to communication and information, and thereby Parliament, should be totally rethought. To be more relevant, these changes need to address issues as wide ranging as how telecommunication monopolies effect a citizen’s ability to participate in civic life to how government services like visa applications are delivered online. Some suggest viewing government as a open source platform, like a computer operating system upon which other applications can run. A redesign of Parliament using best practices from the F/OSS (Free and Open Source Software) community would benefit Canadian citizens. Public services have been successfully deployed (for free!) by many groups in the open data community in other countries, such as with See Click Fix in the United States, ParliamentWatch in the Germany and Gov.UK in the United Kingdom. A relevant Parliament is one that sees the Canadian public as its leader and agenda-setter, not the Prime Minister or their party lines. We believe this can be achieved by sharing more information about the governance process. For example, Parliament could redesign Question Period so that the topics for discussion are chosen by citizens in an open online forum.

What changes to Parliament would make OpenNorth better able to provide information to Canadians?

Open North is passionate about reducing the barriers to effective civic participation in Canada. Through our support of OpenParliament.ca, we have been able to provide a significant amount of insight into conversations happening between leaders and by leaders but there is a significant amount of Parliamentary procedure that is "in-camera" (a phrase that ironically means no cameras are allowed) and this is something we would like to see change. We want Parliament to reflect the fact that our democracy is something that should be experienced 365 days a year, not just on election day. Canadians should feel and understand their right to communicate with leaders and influence every decision making process. We could improve access to information Open North provides if more Canadians were able to and encouraged by Parliament to participate. Parliament could adopt this perspective by promoting open data standards across various levels of government to streamline citizen access to government processes.

LABELS:
  • technology
  • Redesigning Parliament

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