Open Government Risks Being Run by Cap'n Crunch


The potential for Twitter integration on all revamped Government of Canada websites made for an intriguing Globe and Mail online headline this week — even if the actual news could be encapsulated in the form of a tweet.

Certainly, the item did its job of riling up the commenters, who are mostly blind to the fact that a social media platform supplies more freedom to rage about Treasury Board of Canada president Tony Clement than a newspaper website does. But who would be paying attention?

Bureaucrats being reliably reached in the future via 140-character rants would be a leap indeed. Customer service departments of service industries have fielded Twitter-based feedback with mixed results. No doubt, any reports of a smooth conflict resolution via social media is seen as good publicity.

Whether civil servants are really prepared to have their interactions aired is one of the challenges of Open Government. Frustration would ensue if much of the bureaucracy used Twitter in the vein of Cap'n Crunch — whose account @RealCapnCrunch depicts a breakfast mascot who is too eager to acknowledge every mention.

A similar effect was evinced when policy advisor Ryan Androsoff stepped into the comment sections of several websites — including this one — that commented on the new federal guidelines for Web 2.0. The response asserted that the document was not a handbook, will not provide any additional burdens on the public service and is a starting point for a broader discussion.

The rebuttal from "SatansBestBuddy" on the blog that belongs to the harshest critic of the lot, Jairus Kahn, wondered why Androsoff was resorting to "lawyer language" to make a point to the masses. A more conversational rewrite was offered as an alternative.

Regardless, any move toward Open Government may have a hard enough time transcending partisan politics.

Just after it was confirmed that Statistics Canada would soon release all its data, the release of documents that revealed the pre-election effort to change Ottawa's branding to "Harper Government" — in spite of a denial from the Treasury Board — suggests the civil service isn't generally inclined to disclose any more detail than the cartoon face of a cereal box.

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