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Posts Tagged ‘Policy Making’

Government 2.0 – Managing Risks

I attend many workshops on Government 2.0 initiatives. At these workshops, attendees are always looking for concrete examples of Government 2.0 initiatives or best practices. I came across a publication that outlines steps one should take in managing Gov 2.0 projects with a specific focus on managing risks.

Section 3.1 – “Projects” – outlines concrete examples of Gov 2.0 initiatives around the globe. This is a great resources for anyone looking for best practices.

The document can be accessed here:
Government 2.0 Guide to Managing Risks

Speaking Truth to Power – the Resignation of Munir Sheikh

Remember the Yes Minister series? The British sitcom from the 80s placed a comedic twist on the often sensative relationship between senior public servants and elected officials. While the show was a comedy, the real life implications of this “special relationship” are not as amusing. Case in point: the resignation of Statistics Canada Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh.

In academia, students of public administration are taught of the concept “speaking truth to power”. This phrase expresses one of the most fundamental obligations as a public servant, which is to provide information and honest – and fearless – advice to your superiors. It is not about telling people what they want to hear, but rather what they need to hear. What the facts demonstrate, rather than what one’s opinion is. This is the difference between career bureaucrats and career politicians – the absense of political considerations when making decisions. Bureaucrats make decisions based on the public interest, while politicians balance public interest with the specific interests of their base (those that vote for them).

Decades of debate and scores of academmic literature have still not resolved the core question: how far should public servants go in defending the public interest – resign? go to the media? refuse to implement Ministerial decisions? The reason this debate is never solved is because in the end, its a personal decision.

The Globe and Mail summarized Mr. Sheikh’s dilemma as:
In the Privy Council Office, Mr. Sheikh led cost-cutting exercises for the entire government; he is no shrinking violet in the face of a tough challenge. By resigning, he essentially stated that the government’s extreme, unreasonable demands on the census simply could not be reconciled with his other professional responsibilities.

There is a certain level of respect that must be afforded to Mr. Sheikh. It takes an incredible amount of courage to do what he did. The message it sends and principles it upholds should be a source of inspiration to students of public administration today. When governments around the world look to improve the management of government or implement new policy, they turn to public administrators for advice. The effective functioning of democratic government rests on the principle of a non-partisan public service that serves the public interest. Anytime this principle is threatened, so is our democracy.

Prime Minister needs to lead Open Government

Today, the Ottawa Citizen published a story entitled “PM needs to lead ‘open government’“. Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault told a parliamentary committee Thursday that, with a few exceptions, the government has been slow to put its electronic data online, even though Canada is one of the most Internet-connected countries in the world. She went even further and suggested that Canada follow the US lead, when Barack Obama issued an executive order on his first day in office that outlined the US Government’s commitment to providing an unprecedented level of openness and to establishing a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration.

While the executive order did not garner much media attention, I do believe that in the future, Obama’s executive order will be regarded as the catalyst to creating Government 2.0. In the USA alone, we have already witnessed an explosion of initiatives by regular citizens to use government data to improve services. The Sunlight Foundation is the best example. They have digitized information and packaged it on various websites (opencongress.org, fedspending.org, opensecrets.org, earmarkwatch.org, etc) to allow citizens to collaborate in fostering greater transparency.

If Prime Minister Harper were to follow through on the Commissioner’s recommendation, it is suggested that leadership on open government be based on the following principles:
1) Services are more valuable when they offer citizens choice – therefore, data should be available through filters and lenses as well as in “raw” format.
2) Data should be easy to find – many governments today post data online, but it is buried in large webpages with inefficient search options. Use Portals!
3) Collaborate – both with other government departments and with the private / non profit sector. Often, different organizations collect similar data on a similar issue. A holistic perspective should be considered when compiling and communicating data.

Ontario’s New Sex Education Curriculum

Ontario’s proposed new sex education curriculum is casuing quite a stir. The Toronto Star reported yesterday that “Children in Grade 1 will be taught to identify male and female genitalia….In Grade 3, students will learn about visible differences and invisible differences between people, such as learning abilities, gender identity and sexual orientation“. The uproar is that some parents believe Grade 1 is too early to begin talking to children about sex.

The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada released a timely report (March 2010) on “sexual health education in the schools: questions and answers”. The report outlines many conclusions, some of which are key to the issue of sex education in schools. Among the report’s conclusions are:
– For a majority of Canadians, first sexual intercourse occurs during the teenage years
– The prevalence of STD infection among youth and young adult Canadians is unacceptably high
– Rates of teenage pregnancy have declined steadily
– The percentage of teens who have had intercourse has also declined in recent years
– The rates of condom use among sexually active young people have increased

Mostly good news right? So why the push to expand sex education to younger children?

This debate flared up south of the border during the 2008 Presidential Debate, with President Obama stating that “If [kindergarteners] ask a teacher ‘where do babies come from’… providing information that…it’s not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing.”; while republican candidate Mitt Romney stating that “that the amount of sex education appropriate for a five-year-old is none”.

To argue that no level of sex education is appropriate for a five year old, or someone in Grade 1, misses the point. That view is informed by a belief that children should be sheltered from sexual exploits with the hope that they would abstain from sex as long as possible. The point is the betterment of society. In the end, does this help children make better choices? Or does it actually encourage youth to go out an experiment? (see Rolleri, 2005)

To answer this, some considerations should be kept in mind: the prevelance of the internet in the lives of today’s youth is enourmous, and indirectly teaches children about sex (which is often a distorted/perverted view). Advertising doesnt help either, which often promotes distorted images of male and female sexuality. A large portion of parents today feel uncomfortable speaking to their children about sex, even though many youth consider their parents as a valuable source of sexuality information.

With these circumstances in mind, it appears more appropriate to focus the debate on what is considered “age-appropriate” education, rather than how young is too young.

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