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Interview with Daniel J. Caron:
Information transparency
in the digital age

Sara Bernardi, Communications Intern
Language Technologies Research Centre


On March 17, 2015, the Language Technologies Research Centre (LTRC) met with Daniel J. Caron at a conference entitled "Enjeux et opportunités de l'ère numérique : Transparence et exploitation des ressources informationnelles" (Issues and opportunities in the digital age: Transparency and exploitation of information resources). The purpose of the conference was to examine the issues related to information transparency in the current technological context.

Mr. Caron, currently a professor at the École nationale d'administration publique, holds a master's degree in economics from Laval University and a doctorate in applied human sciences from the University of Montréal. He has held a number of information management positions in the federal public service, including the position of Librarian and Archivist at Library and Archives Canada.

This article is a summary of statements made by Mr. Caron during his conference at the LTRC. He is interested in information transparency in the digital age. In his opinion, it is essential that information be transparent and that it be presented in a way that the receiver can understand. From a government standpoint, the information must be written in plain language so that it is accessible to the public.

"The public's confidence is based on the information it receives."

From the public's perspective, information transparency allows citizens to keep abreast of their leaders' actions. Information accessibility also helps establish a democratic relationship between the public and its government. The public's confidence in its leaders is therefore based on the information it receives. From the government's point of view, information transparency raises the public's awareness about important issues and keeps the public informed about the government's approach. The information provided by the government forestalls questions and doubts on the part of the public. Information transparency therefore has advantages for both the public and the government; and on the whole, it contributes to the preservation of a democratic society.

With regard to the risks associated with information transparency, Mr. Caron identified two. The first is the risk that the public does not have the knowledge required to interpret the information received. This lack of knowledge could lead to confusion. Going digital increases the risk because it gives the public more direct access to information than it had before. The second risk associated with transparency is the disclosure of state secrets. In fact, some data is kept confidential for strategic reasons related to the common good. Disclosing this information could have a negative impact on the way society functions.

If we wish to increase information transparency in the government, we must ensure that the public knows how to obtain official information. In other words, the public must know what information exists and how to access it. This issue is all the more important given today's technological advancements. Technological progress has changed the way the state functions and the relationship between public and government. Consequently, the means of communication need to be adapted in order for democratic principles to be maintained. It is also crucial to make sure that the public is able to understand the information in its technological context.

In addition, with the advent of digital technologies, the role of information professionals (librarians, archivists, journalists, etc.) has changed. In fact, these professionals will be required to channel and contextualize the information further in order to make it accessible to the public and thus increase information transparency.

Lastly, Mr. Caron pointed out that the public is not necessarily aware of all the issues that are involved in information transparency. In his opinion, the public should be better informed about what is entailed. Information transparency would also be improved if the public had a better understanding of how public administration works.