Summary of the Meeting of the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) - October 7, 2020
Held via Videoconference
- William Baker
- Khadija Cajee
- Mary Francoli
- Harpreet Jhinjar
- Thomas Juneau (co-chair)
- Myles Kirvan
- Justin Mohammed
- Bessma Momani
- Dominic Rochon (co-chair)
- Jeffrey Roy
“Transparency by Design: Definition, Evaluation and Institutionalization of National Security Transparency – Part One: Open Government.”
Invited Guests and Speakers:
- Daniel Paré – Associate Professor, University of Ottawa, and Open Government Partnership’s Independent Reporting Mechanism Researcher for Canada
- Mélanie Robert – Executive Director, Open Government and Portals, Treasury Board Secretariat, Government of Canada
- Michael Lenczner – Director, Powered by Data, Civil Society Co-Chair of the Open Government Multi-Stakeholder Forum
National Security Community Members Present (as observers):
Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Communications Security Establishment, Public Safety, and Treasury Board Secretariat.
- Opening of the Meeting and Roll Call
- Discussion Session with Guests: “Transparency by Design”: Definition, Evaluation and Institutionalization of National Security Transparency – Part One: Open Government
- Internal Discussion on the Year One Report
- Information Updates and Closing Remarks
The fourth virtual NS-TAG meeting took place on October 7, 2020, on the theme, “Transparency by Design: Definition, Evaluation and Institutionalization of National Security Transparency – Part One: Open Government”. Prior to this meeting, the group held an informal meeting on September 9, 2020 to discuss the content of their first annual report and the way forward on finalizing it.
During the first session of the meeting, NS-TAG members and the three guest speakers discussed, from their experience with the concept of “open government”, the following topics: metrics considerations; institutionalization and change; the scope and end goal of transparency, and the drivers behind current Government of Canada efforts; and some fundamental questions that should be addressed when attempting to achieve “transparency by design.”
During the second session, NS-TAG members discussed the finalization of their first report, which is close to completion. In the upcoming weeks, in collaboration with the Transparency Secretariat, the group will look into the communication and publication aspects of releasing the report, as well as the process for submission to the Deputy Minister of Public Safety Canada.
Key Takeaways of the Discussion with Guests:
- Enhancing transparency or making the government more open will require more budgetary resources, greater will and ongoing leadership from the top. It is necessary to have champions to institutionalize change, which requires significant time. Significant reforms need to be supported by change management, infrastructure and appropriate processes.
- Improving transparency or accountability goes beyond disclosing or releasing information. It is also necessary to bolster citizen engagement and government responsiveness. This includes addressing issues expressed by citizens and having redress mechanisms in place, and then integrating solutions to the system as a whole where relevant.
- Trust in institutions is crucial. The current response to the Covid-19 crisis, for example, has demonstrated that public trust is critical to get buy-in on various measures, to foster collaboration and to avoid discord. Trust is a resource that you can use but also have to invest in. It was noted that public disinformation is more often linked to government activities. There is room to work with civil society on identifying data that would help combat disinformation.
- Transparency is a means to an end, not an end in itself – it is not enough to be transparent just for the sake of transparency. Having a clear definition of what should be disclosed or open and what should be kept secret or closed, and explaining why certain information is safeguarded, would greatly help institutionalize national security transparency. To further bolster transparency, both internal (within each national security organization) and external actions (geared to the public) are necessary.
- Metrics must ensure verifiability and validity of assessments. Formulation of targets have to be specific, and measures (or indicators) should not be confused with targets – when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a measure. A status quo assessment is also much needed at the start to be able to assess change, results and completion. Using the wrong metrics can incite negative change behaviors or lead to unwanted effects.
- Metrics should focus on measuring what citizens want and value highly – information on issues that matter to them – and on demonstrating progress. Dialogue efforts should include ways that would allow citizens to clearly express what information they are interested in. The importance of having different targets for different audiences was also noted.
- Transparency efforts and data openness have to align with organizational missions and strategic plans so that the information that is released has value and meaning to the public.
- Information disclosure mechanisms should move from a “can we release this” approach to a “what can we say on this” one. Unfortunately, existing access to information mechanisms are geared toward the former approach.
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