2011 Roundup

While the Arab Spring rocked the world and the euro collapsed, OpenCanada too saw lots of action. 2011 in review.

By: /
4 January, 2012
By: Anouk Dey
Former deputy editor of OpenCanada.org
Taylor Owen
By: Taylor Owen

Founder and Publisher of OpenCanada.org and Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at UBC

Six months ago, Gadhafi was still alive, Canada was a member of Kyoto, the U.S. was still in Iraq, U.S. debt was on the brink of a precipitous downgrade, and we launched opencanada.org. Since then, we have produced a lot of content (for a full review, see our 2011 Content Glossary here (or below). But more importantly, from Day 1, it was clear that foreign-policy change was afoot and that we were jumping into a rapidly changing world.

In our inaugural Dispatchpost, Taylor Owen suggested four ways to adapt the Canadian foreign-policy discussion to new global dynamics. OpenCanada is still in its infancy but, with the end of 2011, we reflect on the site’s progress in these four areas:

(i)            We desperately need innovation of ideas.

While Canada boasts a wealth of top thinkers on international relations, they rarely interact outside of the academic world. Instead, their ideas are presented publicly isolated in newspapers, with little room for commentary or discussion. The Roundtable blog seeks to give a group of Canada’s top foreign-policy innovators a place to share ideas, and to give the Canadian public a portal into their conversations.

Sixty-one blog posts later, Roundtable has delivered, producing OpenCanada’s two highest-traffic-generating pieces – Roland Paris’ “What is Stephen Harper Afraid of?” and John Hancock’s “Quitting Kyoto: Un-Canadian” – and prompting vigorous debate about the Responsibility to Protect in Libya and Canada’s China policy. All addressed ideology in the context of foreign affairs, challenging the widespread notion of an “ideal, centrist, moderate foreign policy.” 

This desire to confront ideology permeated other areas of the site as well, with the Think Tank inviting four prominent conservatives to answer the question “What Does Conservative Foreign Policy Look Like?”, and the Rapid Response asking, “Is Conservative foreign policy different from Liberal foreign policy?” Jennifer Welsh’s critique of David Cameron’s brand of British Exceptionalism caught the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan’s attention, spurring an international discussion of transatlantic conservatism.

(ii)          We must reform, dismantle, or replace the institutions through which we conduct foreign policy.

The Arab Spring demonstrated the promise of new technology in pushing global governance away from hierarchy. OpenCanada embraced this trend, particularly through our Rapid Response feature. Each week, for 24 weeks, we asked a select group of high-profile Canadians a question via email. This has provided unique personal and direct insight from 25 of Canada’s top foreign-policy thinkers on 24 different issues. For the first time, Canadians were able to hear what Rob Prichard and Janice Stein really believe should be John Baird’s priority, what former UN ambassador Paul Heinbecker seriously thinks about Ethical Oil, and if Roméo Dallaire sees secession as the solution to African conflicts. The questions that solicited the greatest response were, “What issue should John Baird prioritize?” and “Are diplomats needed in the digital age?

(iii)         We must meaningfully engage and incentivize the new foreign-policy actors.

OpenCanada recognizes that it is not only the procedures of global governance that require updating; it is also the actors. The principal drivers of Canadian foreign policy are no longer the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Canadian International Development Agency – they are the individuals, corporations, and groups working at the new intersections of domestic and international affairs.

Before we can incentivize these actors, we must identify them. To this end, OpenCanada has sought to broaden the definition of who qualifies as a foreign-affairs actor with series’ on Canada’s diaspora, Canada’s stake in intellectual property, and the Canadian manufacturing sector.

Two of OpenCanada’s most popular pieces were written by rising academics studying Africa. Erin Baines of the University of British Columbia wrote about U.S. President Barack Obama’s challenge to Uganda and Sudan’s Lord’s Resistance Army, spurring international Twitter debate about the implications. After the recent Congo elections, Oxford’s Emily Paddon’s “Beyond Elections in the Congo” drew large global readership, including thousands of views from within the Congo thanks to its mention by a prominent Congolese blog.

(iv)         We must base our foreign policy in the tools and tactics of a networked world.

OpenCanada recognizes that it is not only the actors of global governance that require updating; it is also their methods. We seek to actively innovate in this new and rapidly changing space. The #cdnfp Twitterati list, our active @TheCIC handle, and our Readings section have all sought to bring together the emerging online debate of Canadian foreign policy. More broadly, though, Canadians clearly agree that aggregation and “super-curation,” as Anne-Marie Slaughter puts it, are the editing practices of the future. Beyond Canada, the most meaningful and innovative international-affairs conversation is now almost exclusively online, with key content nodes around the world forming the core of a global network of audience, reader, and content creators. This media space is immensely exciting, and rapidly changing, and we intend to be a part of it.

There is no reason to think that the next six months will not bring as much change to Canadian foreign policy as the past six did. In preparation, we are experimenting with new ways of stimulating conversation and broadening our reach. In January, we will launch our Future of Aid series, creating a platform for discussion among five of the top thinkers on international development. As part of this, we will launch our video conversation technology, taking Facebook chat to a new level. Later in the year, we will delve into the future of Canada’s military and the complexity of contemporary supply webs.

For us, this will be a year of rapid expansion of both our content and staff. A year of constant platform and technological experimentation. A year of pushing Canadians and Canadian international affairs into the global conversation. We hope you will join us!

2011 OpenCanada Content Glossary

Think Tanks:

For each Think Tank, we ask a group of experts and practitioners to reflect on an international policy issue.  Here are the subjects we explored in 2011.


Stand alone essays are individual long-form contributions


We have conducted a wide range of interviews, by phone, email, video recording and online chat.

Editorial Content

These stand alone pieces were developed in-house by our editorial staff.

Rapid Response Questions:

Each of the questions below, was sent to a group of Canadian international affairs experts.

The Roundtable:

Gregory Chin:

John Hancock:

Roland Paris:

André Pratte:

Jennifer Welsh:


Anouk Dey:

Jennifer Jeffs:

Taylor Owen:

Photo courtesy Reuters.

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