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Jul 14, 2014

Policy Lessons from Google Autocomplete

July 14, 2014

When Canadians want information, they turn to Google. It reliably points them to information about the most important questions of our time, like why Canada is just a fantastic place to live (though cold).


We can also learn about what Canadians think about public policy from the questions they type into Google. Google’s Autocomplete learns from all nearby Canadians’ searches to try to complete our sentences for us. Those suggestions reveal some surprising lessons for policymakers in Canada.

Lesson 1: The trust of the public is hard to earn and harder to keep



Canadians have apparently grown so skeptical of their governments that their fear of government assassins and zombie viruses ranks only behind their desire for free money for their children’s education.

Lesson 2: Citizens find it hard to navigate what services are covered and how to access them


For government programs and policies to be effective, the people that those programs are aimed at have to be aware of those programs and understand how to access them. Canadian governments have taken major steps forward in improving client service in their retail footprint (e.g., Service Canada, ServiceOntario), but there is still a lot of room for improvement in the digital world. We can see that Ontarians are understandably confused about what support is available to people receiving social assistance (Ontario Works).

Lesson 3: Intergovernmental relations are important in Canada, but federalism is very confusing to people



While we at the Mowat Centre spend a lot of time thinking about the interplay between federal, provincial and local governments in Canada, most Canadians haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about Sections 91 and 92 of the British North America Act (the main parts of the constitution that distinguish federal vs. provincial responsibilities). We will try to remember that when we write about federalism and intergovernmental relations, and how they impact Canadians.

Noah Zon

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