By Kaliya “Identity Woman” Hamlin
Because of my decade long advocacy for the rights and dignity of our digital selves, I have become widely known as “Identity Woman.” The Government of British Columbia invited me to participate as an industry specialist/expert in its citizen consultation regarding the province’s Services Card. I want to share the story of BC’s unique approach, as I hope that more jurisdictions and the effort I am most involved with of late, the U.S. government’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, will choose to follow it.
The Canadian Province of British Columbia engaged the public about key issues and questions the BC Services Card raised. The well-designed process included a panel of randomly selected citizens. They met face-to-face, first to learn about the program, then to deliberate key issues and finally make implementation recommendations to government.
The Services Card was developed over the last 10 years under the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizen Services. Inside the same ministry an office of Citizen Engagement was created four-years ago. The minister of these two offices was one and the same and to ensure the success of the project, he instructed the offices to work together to conduct a wide-ranging and meaningful constellation on the future of the card.
The first step was the creation of a white paper, Designing the Digital Service Consultation. It described core issues raised by deployment of the card and outlined processes project leaders could use to address these issues. They could have simply moved ahead with what was outlined but instead solicited feedback and used it to adapt the approach.
The User Panel was one of three streams outlined in the white paper that would feed in to a, still forthcoming, final report to government. The other two were the specialist consultation, the part I was involved with, and an online survey that any citizen could fill out.
This User Panel method was chosen because the Province’s approach to digital services and identity management are both reasonably complex subjects and require time to understand. By convening the panel of citizens over two weekends they provided time for participants to get up to speed.
Secondly for recommendations to have legitimacy, the broader public needed to have high confidence that the right mix of British Columbians had an opportunity to contribute to the discussion. The way the panel was selected meant that it was a defensibly representative group of citizens to both consider the issues put to them and to legitimize their recommendations.
So how was this panel selected such that it would be representative of the population, age, income, ethnicity, gender, and geography of the province?
The Office of Citizen Engagement sent out a letter to16,500 randomly selected citizens – one in 110 – across the province inviting them to signal interest in participating. From this group, 800 individuals responded sharing basic demographic information, age, gender and location. From this group, 36 were selected – an equal number of men and women across age groups and from around the province. They also specifically selected a person with a disability and a person of aboriginal decent.
A critical success factor, highlighted in the white paper, was the need for the government to be clear about, “what it needs to learn so that it can ensure public input can most effectively inform its decisions.”
The Government set two specific tasks for the Panel:
- Review the Province’s approach to digital services, recommending actions the Province can take to build citizens’ confidence in the Services Card and in the digital services that take advantage of the opportunities it creates.
- Recommend principles and priorities for the design and implementation of digital services and the next phase of the provincial identity management program to support the Province’s vision to save citizens’ time in their interaction with government and make it easier to access better quality services.
This was then broken down into five more specific questions:
- Where should the Province focus its efforts in using the Services Card to create new kinds of digital services, and why?
- How can the Province best balance privacy, security, cost effectiveness and convenience in the design of the Services Card to include key features such as pass code reset and managing transaction history?
- What actions can the Province take to build citizens’ confidence in the Services Card and in the digital services that take advantage of opportunities it creates?
- How should the Province explore using data created from digital services to improve policy and services?
- What would it mean for BC’s identity management service to be used by organizations that aren’t part of government?
An independent chair and facilitator of the panel lead the process and developed the learning curriculum for participants. It involved learning from the government how the Services Card worked and their perspectives on digital futures. It also included the views of the BC Civil Liberties Association and the BC Privacy Commissioner. As part of their deliberations participants explored different possibilities through group discussion and sorting exercises.
The Citizen Panel report was completed and submitted to the government. The Office of Citizen Engagement is now weaving the outcomes of all three streams of engagement into the final report that is to be released this spring.
I asked David Hume the executive director, of Citizen Engagement for the Province of British Columbia what resources he would recommend for those considering citizen engagement within their jurisdiction.
He suggested that the web site, Particiipedia.net, is a great place to explore a variety of case studies. More step-by-step guidance for such processes can be found at the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation and the Canadian Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency has good, broad guidance.