The IOG’s Digital Governance Applied Research Program explores the historic challenges and opportunities facing public institutions in the digital age – where governments must navigate technological, geo-political and economic volatility, while meeting rising expectations for speed, efficiency, fairness and accountability in the delivery of public services.

Multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral, our research program examines the impacts of digital culture and technologies on public governance, in policy, service and regulatory contexts with an annual thematic focus (e.g. democratic governance in a networked age, framing innovation: Westminster 2.0).

Digital governance is the central challenge facing governing institutions and societies in the coming decades where no one owns information, power is dispersed and authority and accountability need to be re-conceived. 

What is digital governance and why is digital a governance issue? Westminster parliamentary democracy is widely credited with a high capacity to adapt to societal evolution. Its ability to adapt to the realities of a digital society is putting this claim to the test. Westminster governments were never designed with the digital era in mind.

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 Canadians 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?

Framing Innovation: Westminster 2.0 in the Digital Age

Today, fast-moving and evolving trends in digital technologies are leading to a radical change in citizen expectations. Citizens are changing their approach to interacting with, and relating to, governmental organizations and services. The nature of these evolving interactions is horizontal, empowering and spontaneous. In many ways, the exact opposite of the traditional hierarchical, bureaucratic and rules-based systems government developed over the decades. 

Framing Innovation: Westminster 2.0 in the Digital Age is an applied research and engagement project initiated by the Ottawa-based Institute on Governance. The initiative seeks to provide a conceptual, behavioural and institutional framework for innovation in the Canadian federal public service; one that positions our public institutions to take full advantage of the digital age and the opportunities it provides to government as we seek to evolve Westminster in the Canadian context.

The project aims 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 considering the realities and constraints that public servants must grapple with as they seek to innovate. The project’s founding premise is 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 guiding question the project seeks to answer is: given the opportunities afforded by the digital age, how do we encourage innovation and responsible risk-taking on the part of public institutions, to ensure that governments meet the challenges imposed by an informed public that increasingly expects engagement in the development of policies and programs, and tangible, visible results within ever tighter timelines?

To probe this central question, three dialogue sessions and the third annual Digital Governance Forum were held between November 2016 and May 2017 involving participants from a broad spectrum of institutions and sectors, including academic institutions, private sector entities and public institutions. 

View the resulting report from the dialogue series entitled The Path to Digital Governance: An Agenda for Public Service Innovation and Excellence.

Democratic Governance in a Networked Age

In 2015 and 2016, the Canada-based Institute on Governance and the UK-based Centre for Public Impact held the first and second annual Digital Governance Forums, bringing together citizens, elected officials, public servants, academics and industry leaders for a lively discussion on ‘Democratic Governance in a Networked Age.’

These Forums were part of the activities of the Digital Governance Partnership, a collaborative project that involved nine academic and public interest institutions with support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) as well as public and private supporting institutions. The partnership sought to explore the historic challenges and opportunities facing governing institutions in the digital era by establishing and maintaining an applied digital governance research network. 

Together with its partners, the Institute on Governance and the Centre for Public Impact are grateful to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada for commissioning the resulting reports: