Pol.is, Official Languages and a Shift Towards ‘People-First’ Policy Development

Open policy-making is an opportunity for government and stakeholders to move from linear, polarized, single-issue, interest-based considerations to interactions that are networked, collaborative, opportunity-based and where complexity is viewed as an asset. Adapted for the Government of Canada context, Pol.is is a cost-effective and highly scalable, digital engagement platform that can be used as part of broader strategies to put people and robust evidence at the heart of government decisions.

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CORE PROBLEM: There is an ever-increasing awareness that government policies, programs and services are developed in environments that are as complex as public challenges the seek to address. Diverse perspectives are often acknowledged as potential assets in addressing complex problems in novel ways. But tensions can are easily exacerbated in the digital era, as affinity groups around wide ranges of perspectives can quickly coalesce and, more often than not, collide. The resulting tensions create all sorts of challenges for governments, which struggle to know how to engage with stakeholders and citizens and refresh policy approaches to complex domains given with the volume, velocity and variety of standpoint in a marketplace of competing ideas. In the Canadian context, public engagement efforts are further compromised because many tools, methods and approaches cannot be successfully adapted to accommodate the needs of a highly heterogenous population, including linguistic diversity.

OPPORTUNITY: Pol.is is an artificial intelligence (AI) powered, open source, engagement platform that identifies areas of consensus (and lack thereof) from across stakeholder groups within large, heterogenous populations. Pol.is quickly and effectively generates the sort of rich information usually collected through time-consuming and expensive community forums, focus groups or interviews. It accomplishes this by using machine-learning algorithms that extract patterns from data produced by respondents. Adapted for use in the Government of Canada (GC) context, Pol.is was adapted to meet all compliance requirements (including official languages) for deployment the Canadian federal context. Pol.is facilitates open-policy-making by letting individuals do what individuals are good at— sharing perspectives and experiences by submitting tweet-length statements, as well as reading and voting on the statements submitted by other participants. As a conversation unfolds, Pol.is allows computers do what computers are good at—finding patterns and visualizing the results. Used as tool within stakeholder engagement initiatives, Pol.is allows governments to demonstrate commitment to building stronger relationships across diverse stakeholders as part of building a stronger evidence base to address public goods issues.

HOW DOES A POL.IS ENGAGEMENT WORK? A cloud-based engagement platform that and can be accessed from any device, Pol.is is a tool offers the opportunity to enhance openness and participation, placing much of the control into the hands of participants. Participants build a conversation with each other when individuals submit tweet-style statements that reflect their experiences and perspectives. The accumulation of statements creates a dynamic, virtual conversation. The more diverse the participants, the broader the conversation. To add a quantitative layer to this qualitative (or anecdotal) exploration of an issue, Pol.is facilitates participants to ‘vote’ (i.e. agree, disagree or pass) on each statements, thereby deepening the conversation. Participants can start anytime during an engagement. They can visit the conversation as often and for as long as they want, contribute as many statements as they wish. The platform efficiently tracks voting by participants, so that on each subsequent visit participants only see a stream of statements upon which they have not yet cast a vote. In an open engagement, the Pol.is link can be shared by participants with anyone they think might be interested in the topic under discussion. And with the GC adaptation, participants are able to choose whether and when to apply translation. In addition analyzing and visualizing the data and reporting results of the conversations themselves, Pol.is also provides data regarding participant practices, which can be explored to ensure strengthen government approaches to stakeholder engagement.

PILOT PHASE OF POL.IS IN A GC CONTEXT: Pol.is first use in the GC was in an open conversation around the changing nature of the visual arts marketplace in Canada. The goal: to host a conversation on a single digital channel, in which participants could participate in the official language of their choice (i.e. English or French). Usually, this would require two separate channels, one per official language. This might further result in costly complaints to the Canadian Official Languages Commission, as well as less trust and/or understanding around a shared public goods issues. By committing to an open engagement with stakeholders, the government team was able to invest its time into efforts to adapt Pol.is to deliver a frictionless experience to participants while being compliant with all GC requirements, including official languages policy. Five subsequent tests Pol.is deployments have been undertaken at Canadian Heritage. Data and insights from the pilot phase are collated into a document that discusses scaling open engagement. Subsequent phases are being scoped.

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Year: 2018
Level of government: National/Federal government


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