Beth Noveck Delivers Terrific TED Talk on Open Government

I just noticed a new TED Talk by the first and former White House Deputy CTO Beth Noveck, delivered in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is really the initial instigator of the modern Open Government movement in the United States and is now working to make it a reality worldwide. What I like best about her talk is the litany of examples that are happening all over the world – from painting the national budget on hundreds of walls so that locals can comment on it to a Texas wiki that lets citizens and businesses comment on regulations. Take a look:

Beth predicts that there are two phases to open government: making better information and data available to the public – what is traditionally known as transparency. The second phase is being ushered in as more and more people are able to collaborate and participate in their government in new and unique ways.She also says that the current words we have to talk about what’s happening are inadequate – equality, fairness, representation – and that they aren’t “exciting” enough to compel citizens to take action.

1. What is your favorite example of open government? Maybe it’s something happening in your agency or local government.

2. What words or ideas are exciting enough to wake up citizens (aka you and me!) and get more of us involved in the government decision-making that impacts us every day?

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David Dejewski

This woman is articulate and wonderfully disruptive.

In the Defense Department, government was putting a tentative toe in the water – sharing with itself. Open government is still unusual business for most government employees I’ve known.

I was impressed with the coverage Obama provided of the Healthcare debates on YouTube. It was one of the most open government discussions I’ve seen.

Cat Robinson

Thanks Andy!

Beth is right, we need to get our youth interested in tech. One example of an opportunity available now is through the AFA. They run an affordable, annual cyberpatriot competition for highschoolers that focuses on cyber-security. If anyone knows teachers, let them know. We need students learning these technical and innovative skills to improve open gov in the future.

Elizabeth Fischer Laurie

Thanks for sharing this! It led down a rabbit-hole of TED talk watching for me, but I learned some really awesome, thought-provoking things yesterday.

First, Beth is really fascinating and has some excellent ideas. In fact, I watched her presentation twice. Second, it got me thinking a lot about physical, public message boards as a simple way to get people in “walking cities” to participate in a discussion on a topic as a form of open government.

Beth talked about a project in Rajasthan, India, where budgets were posted on giant boards and citizens gathered to discuss them. A truly simple, tech-free solution for creating discussion. Subsequently I watched another TED talk given by an artist who paints chalkboards with the question “Before I die I want to…” and lets the community fill in the rest (http://www.ted.com/talks/candy_chang_before_i_die_i_want_to.html). If you watch the video you will see she had extraordinary success in getting people engaged in her art. She has successfully posted these chalkboards in cities around the world.

Naturally, some issues are far too complex for this type of project but to me it is a great way to both utilize public space and engage people. Who isn’t going to stop for at least a moment to contemplate what is happening? And, if you get someone to stop you are halfway to getting them to participate.

I think there are certainly applications for this in government. For example, if there was a choice about what to do with a plot of land, put up a blackboard and ask people. Sure you would get some absurd responses but all answers would have some value and people would have the chance to feel like they were actually doing something productive. The possibilities could be endless.


This was terrific. I loved the insight that “transparency does not equal accountability”. just dumping the data out in public in itself does not accomplish accountability, but getting people engaged in building, organizing that data, via hackathons and challenges, is bringing us to an effective use of the data.

The other insight I loved was the idea that society is not ‘read only’ but ‘write’ as well.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Cat – Great example of a way to engage the next generation.

Elizabeth – That one caught my attention, too. Simple, low tech…but there is probably a way to do it in a meaningful (and valuable) way on the web.

Stephen – Totally agree. It’s a true read-write web…and a read-write democracy.

Patricia A. O'Malley

This is a waste of time and money.

Government already IS plenty open.

The US government has the most extensive internet presence on earth.

And I’ll bet Ms. Noveck doesn’t know about it.

You can find EVERYTHING you need to know about federal, state, local, and tribal government by starting at the usa.gov portal.

Yes, you can read every bill submitted to Congress, contact your legislators, read Executive Orders, see what the White House is up to, create a petition and sent it to the White House, reach the Pentagon and every government agency, register to vote, get help to start a small business, comment on proposed regulations, find the weather in Fairbanks, refinance your mortgage, get a college loan, see NASA photos, and more.

And it’s been around since 2000.

Read this.

And go here.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Patricia – USA.gov is a great resource. Do you think citizens know about it?

Also, to what degree do you think it creates engagement – not just a chance to read government information, but to interact with government in more meaningful ways?