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Don Tapscott: Let’s crowdsource Canada

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The Globe and Mail |IVOR TOSSELL Special to The Globe and Mail | Last updated

This piece is one of a series of high-profile Canadians commenting on the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's Top 10 reasons Canadian competitiveness is dropping.

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Can Canada’s universities, hospitals and governments make it in a wired world? Don Tapscott, co-author of Wikinomics, who has written several books about the effects of digital technology on business and society, says that our country’s institutions need to change to survive – and not just cosmetically, but from the ground up. Just back from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Tapscott has been preaching the gospel of collaborative work for years – and he says that’s the direction Canada needs to take.

What’s the No. 1 thing that Canada’s governments can do to foster the kind of collaborative work force you describe?

Many of the institutions of the industrial age, from the corporation, government and media to education and science, are stalled and government can have an important role in creating new ones.

Probably the most important thing the Canadian government could do is transform itself around the Internet and the principles of collaboration.

For example, we need open government – where governments release raw data and, in doing so, become a platform for partnerships between government, external organizations and citizens. This is not about so-called “freedom of information,” but rather a new division of labour in society about how we create government services and public value.

“Open Data” initiatives like this are already proving themselves in cities – in Toronto, anyone with a smartphone can use a private-sector app to report a pothole or tell when the next bus is coming. What might we do to extend collaboration on a national level?

British Columbia’s “Apps 4 climate Action” initiative was a good exemplar. The government released a ton of data about carbon emissions and challenged the software industry to create applications that could use this data. The cost was virtually nothing but the results were spectacular (including apps for teaching, benchmarking and monitoring water usage).

Governments also need to lead in forging a collaborative model of health care. Countries everywhere are struggling to develop effective yet affordable health-care systems. But all these debates assume an old model of health where patients are passive recipients of medical care and play little or no role in deciding their treatments plans.

But Web 2.0 puts the informed patient into a new context. It enables a new model of medicine experts call “collaborative health care.”

For the first time, people could self-organize, contribute to the sum of medical knowledge, share information, support each other and become active in managing their own health. Every baby and citizen should have a website – half medical record and half social network for health.

But it’s 2013 and my doctor still produces a sheaf of papers when I visit. Meanwhile, the medical establishment avoids the online forums where patients have been self-organizing for decades like, well, the plague. Why has e-health proven so elusive?

It’s a long story. To begin, it’s a big job. There have been some technology and management errors.

I personally think that the model has been wrong, too – designing a record for use by clinicians rather than a record that could be a platform for collaborative health care.

The biggest challenge is that this is a huge cultural change for clinicians and the whole system. Leaders of old paradigms have difficulty embracing the new ones.

Where, to your mind, is Canada most at risk of falling behind in the global knowledge economy?

Just a nit, but I don’t think we have a knowledge economy. Knowledge is constantly changing. What counts is that we can now link our brains in new ways to collaboration. I call this an age of networked intelligence. Having said that, the biggest danger is that we will fail to transform our schools and universities for this age. We have the best model of learning that 17th-century technology can provide. For many years I’ve been arguing that the universities need to embrace the Internet and collaboration or they will lose their monopoly in higher education. This is now under way big time. The collapse of these important institutions in this country would be devastating.


Top 10 reasons Canadian competitiveness is dropping.


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