Canadians in a Digital Context: A Research Agenda for a Connected Canada

26 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2019 Last revised: 2 Sep 2019

See all articles by Elizabeth Dubois

Elizabeth Dubois

University of Ottawa

Florian Martin-Bariteau

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; University of Ottawa - Common Law Section; University of Ottawa - Centre for Law, Technology and Society

Date Written: December 14, 2018


An French version of the report is available at:

One year ago, we brought together academics, policymakers, and technologists around the common goal of mobilizing research into what it means to be a digital citizen in Canada and how we, as researchers and activists, can overcome the gaps in data limiting our understandings.

We hosted the Connected Canada conference at the University of Ottawa on October 13th and 14th, 2017. We wanted to help facilitate a network of people interested in better understanding Canadians’ uses of the Internet and related digital tools. We aimed to collaboratively establish a research agenda.

Like many of you, over the past year, we have reflected on the insights advanced during the two-day conference and continued discussions through meetings and collaboration. In this report, we review the procedures we used to guide discussions at the conference and present a working research agenda for understanding Canadian citizenship in a digital media environment. We would like to note that in this report we use the terms “citizen” and “citizenship” in a sociological sense which emphasizes social actors within their communities, rather than from a legal perspective.

Our vision for this conference came from concern about a lack of data about Canadians’ Internet use, preferences and comfort levels. We learned that the concern was misplaced. Some data exists but is siloed and inaccessible to most researchers because of institutional and communication barriers. Despite this lack of consistent data, our motivated and active governments at all levels, civil society groups and private sector actors are working to develop new tools and practices. Along with researchers at universities and think tanks across the country, pockets of robust civil society and government departments have dedicated themselves to help solve problems and develop strong policies which are responsive to the needs of Canadians and Canada.

Yet, it remained overdue for our community to come together to reflect and ask questions like: What research and what methods of inquiry have been the most successful at creating positive change? What do we need to know about Canadians to encourage the use of new digital tools which range from social media to digital government services? What aspects of digital life are we forgetting about in our work? How can we, as academics, policy makers, or members of civil society work together to create stronger digital policies in Canada?

With these questions as a springboard, participants at Connected Canada dove deep into what we know and what we don’t know about Canadian Internet use, comfort and needs. Throughout Connected Canada, we heard many suggestions for expanding research in this area, which we present in this report.

It is important, however, to remember who we did not hear from at the conference. Our application process was designed to encourage a diversity of representation from individuals across Canada working in a variety of organizations, positions, and levels of seniority. We sought to help alleviate barriers to attending by offering funding for travel-related expenses. Despite our efforts to engage a diversity of voices, our meeting lacked significant input from indigenous peoples, visible minorities, and people from Ontario were over represented. As a result, we recognize that these findings are limited and do not capture the full breadth of possible perspectives. We look forward to further opportunities to connect with diverse groups as we continue to collaborate on this project with you.

This knowledge synthesis report presents the perspectives of participants in order to facilitate discussion and collaboration, but it is only the first step.

Keywords: Canada, Digital Citizenship, Government Service Design, News and Media Literacy, Digital Rights, Citizen Engagement

Suggested Citation

Dubois, Elizabeth and Martin-Bariteau, Florian, Canadians in a Digital Context: A Research Agenda for a Connected Canada (December 14, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Elizabeth Dubois

University of Ottawa ( email )

70 Laurier East
Room 529
Ottawa, ONTARIO K1N 6N5

Florian Martin-Bariteau (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5


University of Ottawa - Centre for Law, Technology and Society ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur
Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5

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