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Let the sunshine in! Showcasing the benefits of government transparency

Last fall, my office issued a Transparency Challenge. We called on Ontario’s public institutions to share their best and brightest projects or programs that demonstrate a real commitment to government transparency and show how open data can have tangible benefits for the day to day lives of Ontarians. Lo and behold, public institutions rose to the challenge!

My office received and curated a series of compelling examples of transparency initiatives, and are exhibiting them in our Transparency Showcase.

The showcase is an online 3D gallery featuring a range of projects from municipal and provincial institutions from across the province. If you haven’t had a chance to take a look, I encourage you to visit! You can browse through the exhibits from your desktop or phone and learn more through graphics and videos. The projects are illustrated with stunning original digital art pieces by a very talented artist, Aedán Crooke (be sure to click on “about the art” to learn more about each piece).

With this showcase, we wanted to put some great initiatives into the spotlight to inspire other government institutions to be more proactive in releasing information to the public and to remind everyone of the tremendous benefits of transparency and open data.

Part of being a modern and effective regulator means encouraging compliance with Ontario’s access and privacy laws through positive encouragement, not just enforcing the laws through orders and sanctions. Government transparency is essential to democracy, which is why Privacy and Transparency in a Modern Government is one of my office’s four strategic priorities.

Transparency and access to trustworthy information are more important than ever in today’s digital age, where misleading facts and mistruths spread like wildfire online. Misinformation, and how to fight it, was the topic of a recent episode of the Info Matters podcast, Trust and truth: Navigating the age of misinformation.

I spoke with Dr. Alex Himelfarb, chair of the Council of Canadian Academies’ expert panel on the socioeconomic impacts of science and health misinformation. As a professor of sociology, senior federal public servant, and a former clerk of the Privy Council serving three prime ministers, Dr. Himelfarb certainly had a lot to say about this critical topic. If you have the time, I encourage you to read the CCA’s report Fault Lines (it’s a long one, but very eye opening!). Or, for a briefer version of the report’s main takeaways, have a listen to the podcast.

Alex and I talked about just how destructive misinformation can be, negatively affecting not only individuals, but also ripping apart the very fabric of our communities, with the most adverse impacts for marginalized groups and vulnerable populations. Left unchecked, misinformation spawns confusion and mistrust, chipping away not only at our trust in each other, but also in government institutions, science and academia, media, and other key pillars of our society.

Throughout our conversation, it became clear the vital role government organizations must play in helping curb the spread of misinformation by filling in knowledge gaps with reliable, evidenced-based data. And how making quality information based on facts freely available to the public, in a readily-accessible form, can help stem the tide of falsehoods out there.

Modern regulators need to use innovative tools to support and encourage the behaviours they’d like to see. My hope is that through the Transparency Showcase, we will encourage other institutions toward greater openness and help increase awareness and understanding of the benefits of open data to equip the public with the information they need to make better decisions and improve their lives. Providing access to information is certainly part of it, but even more important in a modern digital world, is for governments to proactively release information that will help debunk mistruths and help re-establish the foundation of trust needed to close the growing “fault lines” in our society.

I want to sincerely thank Dr. Himelfarb and the other members of the CCA panel for their excellent assessment of this timely and relevant issue that should be a concern to all of us who care about truth and transparency.

I also want to thank everyone who took up our Transparency Challenge, and to congratulate our exhibitors for their impactful work. We expect the Transparency Challenge will become an annual initiative, so if your organization is interested in participating next year, stay tuned.

For now, we welcome you to our Transparency Showcase. Come on in, take a look around and most of all, enjoy your visit!

— Patricia


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