Report to the Clerk of the Privy Council: A Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service

Report to the Clerk of the Privy Council: A Data Strategy Roadmap for the Federal Public Service

Executive Summary

The volume of data that governments, businesses and Canadians produce is growing exponentially, animated by digital technologies. Organizations are changing their business models, building new expertise and devising new ways of managing and unlocking the value of their data. Governments need to evolve rapidly to keep up.

Public service modernization efforts focus on a more transparent, collaborative, citizen-centered and digitally enabled public service. A forward-looking, open approach to data is an essential piece of public service renewal.

How the Government of Canada collects, manages and governs data—and how it accesses and shares data with other governments, sectors and Canadians—must change. The government has a responsibility to ensure its workforce has the skills and tools it needs to ethically leverage data to support the public good, while protecting the sensitive and personal data of Canadians.

Data have the power to enable the government to make better decisions, design better programs and deliver more effective services. But for this to occur—and for us to share data in a way that allows other governments, businesses, researchers and the not-for-profit sector to also extract value from data—we need to refresh our approach.

Today, individual departments and agencies generate and hold a vast, diverse and ever-expanding array of data, including program, geo-spatial, administrative, sensor and population data. These data are often collected in ways—based on informal principles and practices—that make it difficult to share with other departments or Canadians. Their use is inconsistent across the government and their value sub-optimized in the decision-making process and in day-to-day operations.

To enable social innovation and support economic activity, a modern digital and data-enabled government should develop and consistently follow world-leading standards governing transparency, archiving, management, usability, interoperability and privacy. This would enable governments and others to unlock the value of data and provide better services, support evidence-informed decisions, create internal efficiencies and better understand the real impact of programs so that funds can be directed towards those interventions that have the greatest impact. If we do so, Canada will become a destination of choice for researchers and entrepreneurs and Canadians will create new businesses, make scientific discoveries, improve services and find new solutions.

To this end, the Clerk asked us in January to develop a Data Strategy. The strategy is intended to position the public service to provide the best possible advice to Ministers and support the more strategic use of data while protecting citizens’ privacy. While not all data have privacy implications, where they do, departments and agencies should incorporate privacy by design and engage early with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC). Following consultations with all federal departments and agencies, this report provides a roadmap for a more strategic use of data. The recommendations are structured around four themes: stronger governance, improved data literacy and skills, enabling infrastructure and legislation, and more focused treatment of data as a valuable asset. The goal is to set a foundation so that the Government of Canada creates more value for Canadians from the data we hold. This strategy will align our internal efforts to use data more strategically and complements other ongoing work, such as externally focused national consultations on digital and data transformation led by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). Their consultations are helping us better understand how Canada can drive innovation, prepare Canadians and firms for the future of work, and ensure that Canadians have trust and confidence in how their data are used.

We are encouraged that so many departments and agencies are already developing data strategies and undertaking bold initiatives of their own. Organizational data strategies underpin the strategic use of data, support the transition to a digital government and ensure the public service is empowered and equipped to harness the power of data to make better decisions and create better outcomes for Canadians. This roadmap provides concrete next steps that can be taken over the short and medium terms. Recommendations are intended to continuously move the Government of Canada and our behaviors in the right direction on data issues.

The most important things for us to do are:

  1. By September 2019, all departments, agencies or portfolios have a data strategy in place appropriate to their line of business.
  2. Provide greater clarity on who is in charge of data within individual organizations and for the government as a whole.
  3. Improve and develop overall standards and guidelines that govern how departments access, collect, use, safeguard and share data, and a clear process for developing and refining these over time.
  4. Clarify the governance around data to ensure that the Government of Canada manages valuable data assets for the public good.
  5. Improve recruitment and professional development practices to ensure that we have the skilled people we need to do data work in a digital environment.
  6. Ensure we have the right information technology (IT) environment that allows skilled professionals to use the disruptive technologies that will support the ambitious agenda outlined in this report.

These recommendations acknowledge that while there is a need for common standards and principles to guide the government’s efforts, there cannot be a “one-size-fits-all” approach to data. We have sketched out an architecture and principles, but recognize that different organizations will have different needs. To the extent that funding and authorities will be required to support the recommendations, they would be sought as appropriate at the initiative level. As well, this strategy is intended to be evergreen and will inevitably evolve with a changing context.

Canada can and should be a leading jurisdiction with respect to the ethical use of data. Canada should be viewed as an ideal jurisdiction in which to undertake work using data, for both the public and private sectors, offer an alternate paradigm to strict government control or a free market approach to data, and build on and improve upon the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR).

In conclusion, we would like to thank our respective teams and colleagues who undertook extraordinary work in a very short time, the networks across government that mobilized to help us understand how these issues play out in individual departments and agencies, and the Clerk for the opportunity to undertake this important work on behalf of Canadians.

Anil Arora | Chief Statistician of Canada
Alex Benay | Chief Information Officer of Canada
Matthew Mendelsohn | Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Results and Delivery

The Challenge

Managing, using and sharing data will be crucial in the coming years, but the government is not set up to treat data as a strategic asset for policy-making, program design or service delivery, or to create value for the public, private, not-for-profit, and research sectors.

By increasing their capacity to create, manage and use data, many government departments and agencies are making better decisions and, ultimately, better serving Canadians. However, this is happening in a fragmented fashion, along the traditional business lines of government. While decentralization can create and support innovation and experimentation, an integrated, whole-of-government approach can enable synergies through sharing and interoperability; encourage openness and ongoing learning; and ensure commitment to some common standards and best practices while driving progress and results.

Across the government, data are created, used and stored within individual areas and are often limited to use for a single purpose. Access, use and re-use between and within organizations are often difficult, in part because of a lack of awareness that data could be useful to others and a reticence to share information with others. Additionally, Canada’s regulatory and legislative landscape is complex, with federal, provincial, territorial, and even organizational provisions affecting data and information sharing between departments and agencies, as well as between levels of government and with Indigenous Peoples.

While intra-governmental data sharing does occur, it is often via ad hoc technical solutions requiring formal letters of agreement signed at the deputy minister level, adding to administrative burden. The government has also pursued greater availability of data through investments in open data, but more can be done to increase the volume of data made available by default.

Compounding these challenges is the absence of a governance structure or senior-level decision-making table charged with providing strategic direction on data issues and driving cultural change.

Departments and agencies struggle with the same issues:

In this rapidly accelerating environment, data-driven innovation is an increasingly important source of economic growth, which is critical to the future competitiveness of Canada’s businesses in traditional and emerging sectors. Advances in various digital technologies—notably machine learning, edge computing, and satellite imagery—have the potential to greatly accelerate analytical power. While access to more data, along with technological advances, presents great opportunities for the private sector, this also elicits concerns and potentially increases risks for citizens, notably from a privacy perspective.

It is clear that the government is at an important inflection point and should embrace significant new opportunities by better leveraging data.

The Opportunity

This is an opportunity for Canada to position itself as a leading jurisdiction in the data sphere by setting forward-thinking, globally recognized standards that spur innovation and economic growth, and create positive social impact. It is an opportunity for the Government of Canada to address a number of important issues facing governments around the world, including:

  • Leveraging data as a strategic asset for the benefit of Canadians
  • Maintaining legitimacy and credibility in an increasingly complex society
  • Directing resources appropriately and harnessing opportunities to improve impact
  • Helping workers adapt and be competitive in a changing labour market
  • Protecting citizens from the misuse of their data and adverse impacts of technology
  • Maintaining sound resource management

Along a parallel track, the Government is conducting consultations on digital and data transformation to better understand the economic opportunities afforded by a data-driven society and how to balance these with privacy. The outcomes of these consultations will be instrumental in making progress on this Data Strategy.

The Scope

This Data Strategy focuses on how the Government of Canada can improve how it creates, protects, uses, manages and shares data to improve the lives of Canadians and support businesses, researchers and the not-for-profit sector, and how it makes decisions on policy and programs. It builds on current federal data initiatives to ensure complementarity, coherence and transparency, so that emerging opportunities are understood and quickly acted upon.

Building on Excellence

Many government departments and agencies are increasingly harnessing the power of data to make better decisions and ultimately better serve Canadians. Their expertise and the paths they have forged provide a strong foundation for progress for the government as a whole. From harnessing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for the reduction of manual processes to using maps and data visualizations to support decisions, there are many examples of excellence across the government, gathered through environmental scans and consultations, some of which are highlighted throughout this strategy.

Adapting the Government to the Digital Era

We have embarked on a journey to a digital government, as signaled by the recently expanded role for the President of the Treasury Board as Canada’s first Minister for Digital Government. The role of the Chief Information Officer of Canada has been elevated to a deputy minister position, and strong relationships and networks are being built with digital leaders domestically and internationally. There are a number of intersecting data-related initiatives underway, including:

  • The launch of the Canadian Digital Service, and development of a digital policy to support the transition to a digital government, consolidating and evolving the existing Treasury Board Policies on Service, IT and Information Management (IM)
  • Engaging Canadians on digital and data transformation in support of the Innovation and Skills Plan to turn Canada into a global innovation leader, by focusing on skills, innovation, privacy and trust
  • Statistics Canada’s (StatCan) modernization initiative, designed to increase access to data to foster innovation and inclusion, by leveraging their expertise
  • Other government initiatives, including development of the 4th National Action Plan on Open Government, which includes commitments to improve transparency, accountability and public engagement
  • The creation of the Results and Delivery Unit (RDU) at the Privy Council Office (PCO) to support the government in strengthening a culture and approach that is evidence-based and is focused on measurable results and the launch of the Impact Canada initiative by the Impact and Innovation Unit (IIU) to help departments accelerate the adoption of outcomes-based and data-driven approaches to deliver meaningful results to Canadians
  • Initiatives by other partners, including provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous Peoples
  • The development or implementation of specific department and agency data strategies
  • Assessing and modernizing legislative and policy frameworks to allow for responsible and innovative uses of personal information while ensuring continued protections and privacy by design.

As digital technologies proliferate and fundamentally transform economies and societies, the generation of data is increasing exponentially, helping drive innovation and shape decisions. These data must be used and managed as a strategic asset in an ethical and secure manner that respects privacy and generates trust.

Where does Public Sector Data come from?

Around the world, 2.5 quintillion bytes (2.5 x 1018 bytes) of data are created every day, with 90 per cent of the data in the world generated in the last two years alone (IBM, 2016). The Government of Canada generates and holds a vast amount and diverse array of data, including spatial data, operational data, transactional service data, and data collected from or about citizens and businesses. These data can be categorized into four over-arching categories based on the purpose they serve, and improvements to the government’s use of data will result in efficiencies across each of these areas. For certain categories, including statistical and research purposes, progress may be made more quickly, while others may take more time and require discussions with Canadians to ensure proper social license.

Transformation Roadmap

The recommendations provided in this Data Strategy seek to ignite change, demonstrate value, resolve barriers, and help the government make better use of data to improve the lives of Canadians while continuing to safeguard their privacy in a modern data-driven environment. They are presented along a transformation roadmap consisting of two timeframes, designed to generate momentum through ambitious early actions, build horizontality through collaboration, and develop strength over time. As execution and delivery will be key, this report provides some concrete timelines and overall direction, while also providing flexibility for deputy ministers to tailor implementation to the needs of their organizations, which will be crucial to success.

The recommendations are at varying stages of development, with some still being conceptualized and requiring further work and analysis by departments and agencies. As the Data Strategy is designed to be evergreen, the list is not exhaustive and will naturally evolve over time, with further work and strengthened data governance. Implementing several of the recommendations would require incremental resources. Costing estimates have not been undertaken as part of this report and there is no source of funds. Funding and authorities will be pursued, as appropriate, at the project level.

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