Third Annual Digital Governance Forum

Framing Innovation: Westminster 2.0 in the Digital Age
May 30-31, 2017

Check back regularly for updates to agenda and speakers


Two forces – digital and governance – are meeting like tectonic plates, shifting the landscape and giving rise to new peaks and valleys around key governance questions that all citizens need to be concerned about: Who has real power? How should decisions be made? How can all players make their voices heard and ensure that account is rendered?Organized by the Institute on Governance and supported by its partner institutions, the third annual Digital Governance Forum will bring together citizens, elected officials, academics, public servants, and industry leaders over the course of two days to discuss these and related questions

This year’s forum will focus on “Framing Innovation: Westminster 2.0 in the Digital Age” exploring how public institutions can evolve the Westminster system, both its political and administrative institutions, in a context of increased public expectations for speed, responsiveness and representativeness, a renewed demand for improved outcomes that preserve and advance the public good, and a recognized need to support innovation in our public institutions and beyond. The Forum’s panels will generate follow-on questions and observations on the state of practice and future directions, as well as concrete, practical recommendations aimed at ensuring our governing institutions have the competencies and expertise they need to meet changing citizen expectations and to deliver results quickly and effectively.

The Forum will aim to identify guiding principles that challenge the public service to move forward and build on the skills and competencies required for Canada to lead in digital era governance, while taking into account the realities and constraints that public servants must grapple with as they seek to innovate; principles that are rooted in our Westminster traditions, but recognize that, as we redefine Westminster for the digital era, many of the traditional roles and activities of public servants may require a new orientation.

The forum will take place May 30-31, 2017 in Ottawa and will include keynote addresses, panels, audience discussion, opportunity to network with colleagues, public servants, academics, and industry professionals, and a cocktail reception that participants look forward to each year.

We hope you will join us.

Third Annual Digital Governance Forum

Framing Innovation: Westminster 2.0 in a Digital Era

May 30, 2017

Day 1

8:00         Breakfast & Networking

9:00         Welcome Remarks

9:15         Keynote Address

10:15       Break

10:45       Session 1 (Democratic Institutions)

                Westminster 2.0: Citizenship and Legitimacy in a Digital Age



Theme: The rapid uptake of digital technologies and innovations by citizens and civil society organizations is providing new ways for citizens to engage with each other and with their governments. This is challenging institutions and paradigms in ways that directly affect the relationship between government and its citizens. Parliament’s importance as a national forum for crucial debates is under pressure in the light of the faster, more participatory conversation enabled by social media, for example. The traditional, managed relationship between government and the media is being disrupted by the speed of digital interaction and the appearance of new kinds of stakeholders. New technologies offer the possibility of strengthening citizens’ voice in politics and governance, creating political spaces for new forms of participation and government accountability. Innovation on many fronts has provided new ways for governments to demonstrate accountability and may even suggest new ways to understand the relationship between citizens and the state. This raises the question: What is the right balance between representation and participation, the role of political parties, parliament and civil society organizations within the democratic process? How is the digital age transforming democratic governance in Canada?


  • Can traditional Westminster governance structures like parliament remain sheltered from the way public dialogue takes place outside of it? Should they be?
  • How does government address the disconnect emerging between itself and citizens?
  • How do governments continue to build national consensus in an era of micro-targeting, and personalized service delivery?
  • Where can greater openness and transparency increase legitimacy and/or facilitate greater citizen participation in democracy?

12:00       Lunch

1:00         Session 2 (Public Service)

                Building Trust: Mobilizing Capacity to Innovate Across & Outside Government



Theme: Governments, while quick to prioritize innovation as a policy imperative, have tended to adopt new digital technologies and their constant innovations at a less rapid pace than the private sector and the general public. Workplace innovations enabled by digital technology, like cloud computing, smartphones, and social networks, have generally not been adopted as quickly due to concerns about information security, among other unique considerations for governments. These innovations are not just the province of IT departments, but affect the jobs and skill-sets of all public servants, from those delivering frontline services to those developing policy. Despite legitimate concerns over security and privacy, governments will need to become as comfortable with technological change as consumers and private businesses in order to ensure that they remain capable of delivering on their public service mission. Responsible innovation on the part of the public service has the potential to ensure not just continuity, but dramatic expansion in government’s ability to serve the public and prepare citizens for a new century. It could be argued that in fact, innovation and rapidly adopting technology is required in order to maintain continuity and citizens trust.


  • How can public servant skills and capacities be most effectively deployed in a digital public service? Can we engineer a more generative, more innovative public service?
  • How can government and business work together to forge and expand trust toward good governance?
  • What new skills are required of public servants in order to effectively enable them to perform their public good function in an era of digital disruption?
  • What becomes of “speaking truth to power” in the multi-stakeholder, digital age? Can initiative in the public service come from below, as well as from above?
  • Is there a new balance needed between deep subject matter and broad managerial expertise? What would that entail?
  • How can governments work more effectively with civil society, private sector technology providers, and other stakeholders to ensure that government technical capacity remains up to date?


2:30         Break           

2:45         Session 3 (Policy)

                Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence & The Next Frontier in Policy Making



Theme: The landscape in which policy professionals operate is changing, as new innovations expand the capabilities of individual policymakers to design and implement policies based on hard evidence, as well as to measure the outcomes of those policies. The increasing sophistication of analytic technologies designed to mine enormous amounts of data for correlations and insights means that truly evidence-based policy, focused on measurable outcomes, is within the reach of every innovative public servant. Machine learning, cognitive analytics, and natural language processing become more sophisticated every day, and policy professionals will be forced to grapple with the social and economic impacts of automation and cognitive technology in their highest deliberations for the public good, as well as figuring out how to use them to innovate in their own jobs, enhancing their own work and day-to-day operations. The opportunities these technologies present for innovation are manifold. Intelligent machines may soon better perform front-line, citizen-facing government services than human employees, potentially enhancing productivity and client service. Intelligent algorithms will have an increasingly important role to play in the world of policy analysis as big data analytics becomes a necessary reality, mining enormous amounts of public data to enhance evidence-based policy and regulation. Citizen preferences, traditionally measured through polling, may soon be garnered by the analysis of their online behaviour by machine intelligence, eliminating self-selection bias by gathering, observing, and analyzing opinions without subjects being aware that their views are being assessed. Innovation on the part of public servants that makes use of these technologies has the power to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the public service, allowing them to better respond to and effectively address the impacts these technologies are already having on society at large.


  • How can intelligent algorithms best be integrated into the existing policy process to enhance the work of policy professionals?
  • Can public servants help to privilege evidence-based decision making over popular opinion and political expediency? Would this be anti-democratic? Is this the proper role of the public service?
  • What skills do policy professionals need to develop in order to harness the power of big data analytics for the public good?
  • How can machine intelligence innovation be used by governments to enhance service delivery, and redesign the policy process?
  • What considerations do policy professionals need to take into account when addressing the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on the wider society?

4:00      Keynote:

5:00      Cocktail Reception


May 31, 2017

Day 2

8:00         Breakfast & Networking

9:00         Welcome

                Remarks from the Institute on Governance

                Remarks from the Centre for Public Impact

9:30         Session 4 (Regulation)

                Cyber-Security and Privacy: Striking the Balance



Theme: Balancing the need for effective cyber security with the inherent human right to privacy is one of the most delicate and complex tasks facing governments in the digital age, and will require unprecedented innovation on the part of governments to be effectively addressed. As more and more government functions move online, from day-to-day transactions with citizens to complex policy deliberations, vulnerabilities to hacking by malicious actors, from run-of-the-mill cybercriminals to other states, become an ever-present daily reality. Electronic information systems are intrinsically vulnerable, and government and private sector security practices are often inconsistent and ineffective, incapable of moving at the speed of those who would subvert them. Cyber threats are therefore ever-present, capable of disrupting the normal operations of organizations, extorting money from individuals and entities, and even engaging in outright espionage. At the same time, as personal data becomes a new form of currency, with many consumer-facing digital services collecting and storing users’ details in lieu of collecting payment, the state has an increasingly complex role to play in safeguarding the basic right of the individual to privacy while allowing the digital economy to operate unhindered. Responsible innovation will be required on the part of government to effectively secure cybersecurity and cyber-resilience in Canada.


  • How can jurisdictional differences in privacy laws and standards be reconciled and harmonized? What international action is necessary to ensure global consistency?
  • How can Canada best prepare itself for a major cyberattack? What role does the government need to play in ensuring public and private networks are resilient against outside interference?
  • What incentives can governments offer the white-hat hacker community to ensure that sensitive public information systems are regularly tested for vulnerabilities? How can virtuous hacking be encouraged and supported?
  • Given the intrinsic vulnerability of digital networks, can the most sensitive government business be conducted offline when possible?
  • What amount of the burden for protecting sensitive personal information falls on the individual user, and what amount on the state?


10:45       Break

11:15       Keynote:

12:00       Lunch

1:00         Session 5 (Service Delivery)

                Service Delivery and the Legitimacy of Government: Raising the Bar



Theme: Improving public service efficiency is the name of the game, and is crucial to preserving and protecting the legitimacy of government in the eyes of its citizens. Innovation in digital service delivery has the potential to reap benefit both for governments and the citizens they serve. Digital tools are enabling unprecedented flexibility and convenience in private service delivery, but governments have largely lagged behind in catching up to service provision that consumers and private firms take for granted. Nonetheless, the journey away from the old way of doing things and towards online, integrated, seamless digital offerings is underway, and is encouraging a new kind of relationship between citizens and the state, as well as between different branches of the state itself. A growing number of governments are creating public sector innovation labs to help them envision and move towards solutions using new methods and techniques in the hopes that they can achieve orders of magnitude of improvement. Government digital services in the United Kingdom and the United States are re-evaluating the structure of the state, redesigning departments and agencies to deliver a user-centric service experience across government. Canada is has made progress too, but there is scope for further innovation in this area. To this end, a number of federal departments and agencies in Canada have set up or are in the process of setting up their own innovation hubs, labs and units. The role of these hubs is to look at new ways of identifying and framing problems, ideating solutions, prototyping, evaluating, and measuring results.


  • How can governments prepare for an online service ecosystem that transcends legal and regulatory jurisdictions?
  • How do innovation hubs fit into the broader government context and wider governance ecosystem?
  • How do we build innovation capacity across the public service?
  • What is the role of public service innovation labs, now and in the future?
  • How can successful projects be scaled?
  • Can citizens be convinced of the imperative to break down information siloes across government to use citizen data to personalize service? How can this be reconciled with privacy concerns?
  • Is a Service Canada app part of our future? What barriers stand in the way of making government services available on mobile devices?
  • How can digital services be made the default standard in government service delivery, ensuring that most citizens use the option while guaranteeing access to those who can’t?


2:30         Break           

3:00         Session 6 (Future)

                 Taking the Measure of What Citizens Want: Innovation and Leadership



Theme: The role of leadership in a democratic society is under unprecedented scrutiny. Voters systems around the world, and particularly south of the border, are voicing their discontent with established ways of doing things at the ballot box, and listening to new, unfamiliar voices. Direct communication between politicians and the public enabled by digital technology is proving both a democratizer of the communications process and an unprecedented tool for demagoguery and hate speech. Canadian democracy will be under unprecedented pressure to deliver results in the face of alarming demographic, economic, and cultural trends. In order to deliver the change Canadians desire effectively, governments need to innovate to develop new ways of measuring and evaluating what they do and what citizens want. Innovative social and environmental measures and policies that exceed traditional conceptions of the government’s role will be needed to avert negative outcomes, like climate change that go beyond the mere maintenance and stewardship of the economy. Politically active and growing First Nations populations will make reconciliation between and justice for both indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians an increasingly urgent national priority. Governments need to be able to measure, demonstrate and evaluate multi-dimensional progress. This requires the use of direct consultations and indirect data analysis techniques in order to ensure that our conclusions and the decisions we make are both democratically and statistically informed.


  • How do we best ensure an accurate representation of Canadian opinions, as we use new information gathering technologies and techniques?
  • Should we allow policy to be dictated by public opinion in every case? What is the role of leadership in such a quantifiable, measurable, digital universe?
  • As we seek to quantify environmental and social outcomes, how do we avoid unhelpful distortions or marketizations of these outcomes?
  • How do we best leverage citizen’s preferences and aspirations to tap into our collective innovation potential?

4:30         Closing Remarks


Adobe Conference Center

343 Preston Street

Ottawa, Ontario

Keynote Speakers

Ian McCowan

Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet (Governance), Privy Council Office
Read Bio

Don Tapscott

CEO, The Tapscott Group
Read Bio

Alex Benay

Chief Information Officer, Government of Canada
Read Bio

Bonnie Butlin

Co-founder, Security Partners’ Forum (SPF)
Read Bio

Christopher Emery

Vice President, Digital Channels, Rogers Communications Inc.
Read Bio

Erin Kelly

President & CEO, Advanced Symbolics Inc.
Read Bio


Catherine Clark

Catherine Clark

Read Bio


Research Partners


Register Now

Contact Us

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Quick Links

Connect With Us