A Renewed Approach to Civic Engagement

On July 2nd, Richard Pietro packed up his things and set forth on a Cross-Canada journey on his motorcycle. He describes his 20+ city tour as “changing Canada by exploring it” – spreading his passion for Open Government, Open Data and Civic Engagement by facilitating dialogue with citizens.

His focus is on education and bringing new voices to the Open Government/Open Data conversation.
In each city, Richard and a City Champion organize creative events where citizens, public servants, students, developers and corporate representatives are invited to participate in a discussion around how they can improve their community through the Open Government movement.

The Open Government Tour serves as a springboard for individuals to learn, discuss, connect and share. Each event is just the beginning – the rest is up to participants to build on these conversations and determine ways that they can make a difference in their own communities.

Richard’s passion for Open Government is undeniable. “I like to say that Open Data is a technology that will give us a more accountable, transparent, and engaging Government. Open Government is the willingness to use that Technology. It is the culture change required by both government and citizens that will create a much more collaborative and productive relationship, in which to build trust and to create environments where everyone can work together,” he says.

I embraced my role as City Champion for the Charlottetown event on July 22nd and hosted Richard in my beautiful city. We had outstanding speakers from MaRS Discovery District, Fusion Halifax, GovCampus and the City of Toronto – sharing their vast knowledge and experiences while providing examples of effective open government initiatives that could be adapted or duplicated in most cities.

One of the objectives of the tour is to frame civic engagement as Art – as a product or creation that results from the passion of each community. Seth Godin once said that “Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only the creator.” Each City Champion was challenged to bring art to the event in one form or another – I tried to get artists to attend the Charlottetown event but competing with tourism season and warm weather I compromised. I turned the event participants into artists. Not only did we have colourful artwork at the end of the evening, their mandala creations doubled as a concentration piece. When the participants’ minds were busy designing their mandalas they could focus completely on the presenter and fully absorb what they were learning – as opposed to checking their phones or zoning out from time to time. The mandalas were a big hit and have now become part of the official OGT14 logo, and have since been incorporated into other city events.

Ray Kao from People and Code and Make Web Not War built an online engagement platform around Open Government and Open Data. The site allows individuals to share perspectives and best practices, make connections and partake in conversations about Civic Engagement. As well, Australia’s GovCampus (formerly Gov 2.0 Radio) has a segment on their website called “Accelerating Open Canada” where they are covering the Tour.

Richard is approaching the midpoint of his tour and is heading West. He has made a conscious effort to explore the uniqueness of each city, travelling the back roads, camping and couch surfing, documenting his journey through photographs, videos and weekly updates. Richard has been spreading his enthusiasm for Open Government to those he meets along the way.

If the opportunity arises, I encourage you to attend an Open Government event in one or more of the remaining cities in the Tour. For those in the National Capital Region, don’t miss the Grand Finale event on Democracy Day, September 16th from 6:30-9:00pm at City Hall. If you would like to learn more about the Open Government Tour, sign up for Richard’s weekly update via his blog and follow his journey on Twitter by searching #OGT14.

Jodi LeBlanc
Jodi LeBlanc is a Values and Ethics Advisor with Veterans Affairs Canada in Prince Edward Island. She is a collaborator/innovator for numerous public service initiatives and national networks and is a member of CGE’s editorial advisory board. You can connect with her via @jodilynne3 or http://ca.linkedin.com/in/jodileblanc


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