A balancing act: How to promote open government while adhering to policies and standards

08 March 2012 | Jean Scott, Industry Market Development Manager, Federal Government and Education

The Canadian Federal government, like governments around the world, is grappling with two competing drivers—the need to be more open versus the need to safeguard private information and adhere to policy guidelines and standards around information management, accessibility, security, communications, and official languages. In fact, the Treasury Board of Canada recently issued Guidelines for External Use of Web 2.0, which ties together all the things public servants need to consider in their use of web 2.0 tools for communications outside of government.

The government’s official position is supportive of open government principals, and the creation of Open Government Initiatives points to some limited progress in that direction. While the guidelines are clearly necessary, you can imagine that these would deter all but the most determined from venturing into this brave new world due to the complexity of ensuring adherence to all the guidelines. The recent high-profile rulings against the government, which found that some of its public web sites are not accessible, are an example of the fallout from not adhering to guidelines. So if basic, static websites are proving challenging, the additional complexities introduced with web 2.0 tools could be further cause for concern. The potential pitfalls are numerous, some of which are captured in the illustration below.

While all of the pitfalls are important to address, chief among the barriers to open government is lack of accessibility. And in the case of accessibility, Microsoft works at a corporate level to design products that adhere to the most important accessibility standards. For example, in Canada, we continue to support Federal Government requirements by maintaining a toolkit that is made freely available on CodePlex to facilitate the development of SharePoint sites that adhere to Common Look and Feel Guidelines. However, even if you use a content management system like SharePoint that allows you to build accessible web templates and an accessible framework, your website will not adhere to policy if your content creators are not aware of accessibility, privacy, and security requirements.

This is why it’s important to have ongoing compliance checking to ensure that uploaded content is accessible and does not contain private information or otherwise conflict with government policy. Fortunately, technology that works in conjunction with SharePoint can help minimize risk. Since human effort to ensure compliance is not feasible, the Microsoft partner HiSoftware’s “Compliance Sheriff” automates the complex job of cross-checking content with all the relevant policies. This Gov 2.0 white paper jointly written by Microsoft and HiSoftware provides some relevant guidance on this important piece in developing an open government strategy.

The Department of Human Resources Canada is just one of a number of Canadian Federal departments that have opted to use Compliance Sheriff with SharePoint. They have found that this approach will provide a solid foundation for the use of web 2.0 tools and will support more open practices while managing risk and exposure.

Follow these links to learn more about SharePoint and Compliance Sheriff.

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @Microsoft_Gov. Have a question for the author? Please e-mail us at ongovernment@microsoft.com.

Jean Scott
Industry Market Development Manager, Federal Government and Education

About the Author

Jean Scott | Industry Market Development Manager, Federal Government and Education

Jean works with Microsoft partners to bring innovative solutions from around the world to Canadian customers to help them address IT and business challenges. Jean is passionate about technologies that improve government productivity and drive innovation.