Canada launches data governance standardisation initiative

By on 18/11/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Picture of the Canadian flag
Canada hopes to fly the flag for responsible and transparent data governance. (Image courtesy: ankakay/flickr).

Experts from government, industry and civil society have established a ‘Canadian Data Governance Standardization Collaborative’ with the aim of developing a data standards roadmap. Its work “could be incredibly illuminating, not just for Canada but for our partners internationally,” Canada’s chief statistician, Anil Arora, told Global Government Forum. The group will, he explained, help organisations and citizens to benefit from data, whilst managing the associated security and privacy risks.

The body – which has been set up under Canada’s digital charter, unveiled by the Innovation, Science and Economic Development department earlier this year – was officially launched earlier this month and is being overseen by the Standards Council of Canada. Arora and Philip Dawson, public policy lead at Montreal-based company Element AI, co-chair its steering board, which is supported by four working groups.

The first working group is responsible for looking at the foundations of data governance, including interoperability, cybersecurity, privacy, ethics, accountability and accreditation; the second focuses on data quality and data collection methods and apparatus; the third is tasked with considering the issues around data access, sharing and retention and how to build the IT systems to support that; and the fourth focuses on data analytics and commercialisation, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning solutions, prototyping and licensing.

Spotting the sub-standard

The working groups are reviewing case studies to “map out the standardisation landscape”, identifying priority areas and gaps within data governance that could benefit from standardisation. “As we head towards a data-driven future, these working groups are building something that is credible, trustworthy and transparent and that applies to all, so that we can maximise the responsible use of data and build trust between consumers and entities and between citizens and government,” Arora told Global Government Forum.

“The technologies we’re using today are allowing for insights that we could never have achieved five or 10 years ago, so we have to be able to show the value proposition to Canadians through the responsible use of data,” he added. “We absolutely have to earn citizens’ trust, be vigilant about the emerging threats and have processes, standards and systems in place that protect against these emerging threats.”

Arora said the inclusive nature of the group’s work will be key to its success. “It’s really important that this is a team sport,” he said. “All players have to know the rules – and by developing the rules with the players, the more relevant they’ll be. By doing it like this, we can share some of the underlying infrastructure, share lessons, and share talent and expertise. So far, I’ve seen nothing but an eagerness, a willingness, from all parties to move forward.”

Roadmap to the data highway

The group’s aim is to deliver a “comprehensive and consensus-based standardisation roadmap and a concrete set of recommendations” on data governance by the end of 2020. Arora envisions that the published standards would be available to all – including government, citizens, the private sector, academia and standards-setting bodies – and that they would lay the foundations for new ideas and new forms of commercialisation, help strengthen Canada’s regulatory system, and deliver better services for Canadians.

There is, he said, “tremendous” opportunity for innovation. “I think as we build capacity, show examples and apply them, that in itself becomes an exportable service.”

He added that the initiative “fits perfectly” with Statistics Canada’s modernisation agenda, which includes an aim to work in more partnerships, and its “desire to be an agency that is helpful in solving real-life problems”, such as the country’s opioid crisis.

“At the end of the day we’re public servants and we’re inspired by bringing greater value to our citizens and our businesses and by building a better society, a better environment and a better economy for us all. Being part of the collaborative will help in our transition towards becoming even more effective data stewards,” he said.  

In a full interview with Global Government Forum earlier this year, Arora spoke of the need to “use the data that’s locked in our systems to bring greater value to Canadians” and the importance of countries collaborating to “learn from each other and keep up with the pace at which our economies and societies are evolving.”

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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