The European Union (EU) and Canada are undergoing major transformative changes in the rapidly evolving digital governance and interoperability framework creation. The EU has made significant strides and substantial investments in designing and implementing an interoperability framework applicable to all member states. The lessons learned from the EU's journey towards enhanced data interoperability can offer valuable insights for Canada, aiding in facilitating future collaborations across federal, provincial, and territorial entities responsible for public data repositories and registries.
Like their EU counterparts, Canadian registries are legally obligated and independently operated at provincial and federal levels. These registries encompass land, businesses, corporations, secure transactions, and beneficial ownership schemes. Despite these similarities, the level of interoperability maturity found in the EU is not mirrored in Canada. Collaboration between Canadian provincial and federal entities across registry domains remains sparse, and a unified vision for data interoperability or platform architecture is generally lacking, barring simple peer-to-peer exchanges.
Shared Values and a clearer vision
Canada and the EU share a longstanding relationship with shared values, a similar federal structure, a history of close cooperation, and strong interpersonal ties. The relationship, dating back to 1959, is the oldest formal relationship the EU has with any industrialised nation. While the Canadian federal government has articulated a clear vision for a digital exchange architectural framework, the absence of coordination and collaboration across administrative boundaries has impeded progress. This lack of synergy continues to impose a significant financial burden and offers limited digital services that are quite time-consuming for businesses and citizens. Under their digital government initiatives, the foundational work on interoperability and data exchange across EU registers could offer valuable insights.
Recently, the European Commission initiated negotiations for Canada to participate in Horizon Europe, the world's largest research and innovation funding programme (2021 to 2027), with a budget of €95.5 billion. A key anticipated outcome of the Horizon Europe programme is to advance digital technologies, base registries, and interoperable frameworks for data markets and the digital economy. The focus is on ensuring data and metadata interoperability, including the use of suitable standards, reference architectures, and common ontologies/vocabularies/data models for efficient data sharing. This area of cooperation holds significant potential for Canada as it continues to invest in its digital future and seeks to maintain global competitiveness. For several decades, public administrations across Europe have harnessed the power of ICT to modernise their internal operations, lower costs, and enhance services offered to citizens and businesses. Despite the substantial progress and benefits derived, these administrations continue to face significant hurdles in information exchange and electronic collaboration.
Interoperability in the EU
The EU Commission's Informatics Department (DG DIGIT) is responsible for digital infrastructure and services within the Commission. DG DIGIT advocates for interoperability through its European Interoperability Framework, proposing four layers to assess interoperability dimensions: legal, organisational, semantic, and technical. These are characterised as follows:
- Legal interoperability ensures that organisations operating under diverse legal frameworks, policies, and strategies can work in unison.
- Organisational interoperability involves modelling business processes, aligning information architectures with organisational objectives, and facilitating cooperation among business processes.
- Semantic interoperability ensures that the precise meaning of exchanged information is comprehensible by any other application not originally developed for this purpose.
- Technical interoperability concerns technical matters about computer systems, the definition of interfaces, data formats, and protocols.
These four layers share a cross-cutting component known as 'integrated public service governance'. This aspect focuses on providing user-centric digital public services. It aims to encapsulate a 'once-only' principle, wherein citizens and businesses must only provide certain information to the public administration once. xvi
In conclusion, the European Union's advancements in digital governance and interoperability frameworks offer a valuable blueprint for Canada as it navigates its digital transformation. The EU's comprehensive approach, characterised by the four dimensions of interoperability - legal, organisational, semantic, and technical - provides a robust model that Canada can adapt to its unique context. The integrated public service governance, a cross-cutting component of the EU's model, emphasises user-centricity and efficiency, universally applicable and beneficial principles.
Canada's digital future is contingent on its ability to foster effective collaboration across federal, provincial, and territorial entities. The EU's experience in harmonising diverse legal frameworks, aligning organisational objectives, ensuring semantic comprehensibility, and addressing technical issues can guide Canada in overcoming its current challenges. The EU's 'once-only' principle, which aims to streamline public services by reducing redundancy, could significantly enhance the efficiency of Canadian public services.
The opportunity for Canada to participate in Horizon Europe, the world's largest research and innovation funding programme, presents a unique chance to advance digital technologies, base registries, and interoperable frameworks for data markets and the digital economy. This collaboration could accelerate Canada's digital transformation while strengthening its longstanding relationship with the EU.
However, it is crucial to note that while the EU's journey offers valuable insights, Canada's path to digital transformation will be shaped by its unique socio-political context and needs. The lessons from the EU should be seen as a guide rather than a prescriptive solution. Canada's approach to digital governance and interoperability must be flexible, inclusive, and responsive to the evolving needs of its citizens and businesses.
Ultimately, the goal of digital transformation is to enhance public services, reduce costs, and improve the lives of citizens. By learning from the EU's experience, leveraging international collaborations, and tailoring solutions to its unique context, Canada can make significant strides towards a more interconnected, efficient, and user-centric digital future. The journey may be complex and challenging, but the potential benefits - cost savings, improved services, and enhanced global competitiveness - make it worthwhile.
This post is an excerpt from our white paper Enabling Digital Government: Interoperability and Data Exchange Between Registries, where we examine the foundational constructs of public registers, the necessity of data exchange between registers, and the evolution and modes of interoperability.
The paper investigates key developments in Canada and the EU. It outlines some of the key foundational building blocks towards achieving successful register interoperability in support of our digital government agendas.