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Do transparency, participation, and collaboration build on one another in implementing opengov?

(This is a cross-post from our blog at the Collaboration Project)

IBM’s Center for the Business of Government recently released a report entitled “An Open Government Implementation Model: Moving to Increased Public Engagement.” The report presents the results of a review of several open government initiatives at the federal level and puts forward a four-stage model for guiding agencies toward open government, describing the focuses, deliverables, benefits, challenges, and best practices at each stage of implementation. The model is as follows (and somewhat resembles the three-prong structure of the Open Government Directive):

  1. Increasing data transparency: publishing relevant, high-value data for public use
  2. Improving open participation: soliciting and using input from stakeholders to inform government decisions
  3. Enhancing open collaboration: public engagement in producing outputs and co-creating value
  4. Realizing ubiquitous engagement: the “next level” of seamless integration of public engagement into how government does its work

The report observes–and is right about this–that the value and benefits of engagement increase as you progress through these stages. But so does the complexity of work and the challenges and risks inherent in greater engagement.

Overall, this is a welcome model for expanding engagement in government. Stage 4’s “realizing ubiquitous engagement” is an enlightening description of what the ultimate outcome of open government is: that stakeholder input is baked into how government does its work, both online and offline. This is essentially about creating a self-perpetuating cycle in which engagement doesn’t happen in “events” or “projects,” but is simply how decisions are informed and value delivered on a routine basis. In addition, the report provides a well thought-out categorization of the different challenges confronting openness at each of these stages.

However, this model essentially argues that these stages are sequential, with the next building off the last. In practice this might not necessarily be true. For example, many agencies are currently publishing new data sets, offering opportunities for public input, and launching collaborative initiatives–all at the same time. Improving open participation doesn’t necessarily rely on the publishing of high-value data. Take the multitude of strategic planning processes that agencies are soliciting public input for (e.g., the National Dialogue on the QHSR): these initiatives are distinct efforts from data transparency, and with completely different internal players, though they are connected in their common goal.

The reason the sequence (or lack thereof) of implementing open government matters is because there are plenty of opportunities at any given time for government to publish new data, solicit input, and build collaborative relationships. The need to tackle these stages sequentially shouldn’t be a barrier to engagement. Further, these stages or groupings might not be all equal for all agencies. An intelligence agency might need to focus on internal and cross-governmental collaboration as opposed to data transparency, while a bureau focused on community service may need to devote resources to building opportunities for participation. When resources are scarce (and they are!), agencies should focus on the engagement opportunities that will deliver the most value for achieving their mission.

What are your thoughts on this approach? Should open government be implemented in these stages? Or is there another set of implementation stages that should be considered in the dialogue?

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So I agree that #1 doesn’t seem to be the entry step. But steps 2-4 seem to be somewhat sequential. Going from one-off engagement to reach citizens, to creating actions/value through engagement, and then on-going engagement.

Shellee O'Brien

I agree with you, Daniel. I would propose realizing Stage 4 by transforming each of the previous stages into questions addressed as a project is developed. While there is an ever increasing amount of govt data available on the web, this easily overwhelms citizens who still complain they can never find what they need. Why do these decisions need to be made from the top down? If you have the opportunity to increase participation by asking citizens what data they want to see first and implement their ideas, you’ll make substantive progress at Stage 1 and 2 while creating a feedback loop with the community that makes Stage 3 and 4 more likely.

Perhaps it’s more a matter of getting started in opengov with questions generated at the first two stages with Stage 3 and 4 generating ideas for expanding those practices. Two phases to consider rather than four sequential steps.

Michael Lennon

Thanks for posting this Daniel.

My two cents – I disagree with authors’ technology and data-centric focus.

Interviews with early leaders of successful participatory (open gov) projects identified the following common planning steps:

  1. What is the business problem we need to solve?
  2. Who are the stakeholders in this business problem?
  3. How do we want to transform the way we engage these stakeholders?
  4. What methods (and/or tools) will help us transform these relationships?
  5. How will we measure that we are impacting these relationships?

Notice that 1) non IT staff can participate in answering these questions, 2) the business goal drives how stakeholder relationships are re-shaped, not the technology-of-the-day, 3) tools don’t show up until the 4th planning step, and 4) performance measures are tied to assessing relationship impact (not technology adoption measure cited in the report).

Is it the only way? Not at all. But these deceptively simple planning questions have been learned from practitioners solving business problems successfully through participation, –not academics).

Hope I was not too sharp, but the rewards from e-participatory government are far too important to not mobilize as effectively as possible.

Daniel Honker

@Shellee: I think you’re right about letting stakeholder ideas inform the process from the very get-go. One thing the report did hammer home was the need to focus efforts on what data, participation, and collaboration would deliver the most value for stakeholders, instead of firing on all channels all at once. I suppose engaging the public would be one of the best ways to find out what would have value

@Mike: Great point that this whole cycle *needs* deep participation from many functions in an agency. Different functions have different points of engagement and interaction with citizens/stakeholders, and you need that diversity of perspective when taking these steps.

Sandy Heierbacher

This is a terrific blog post, Daniel! I’d love to re-post it on the NCDD blog with your permission (http://www.thataway.org – we have an open gov category and lots of our members are interested in open gov). I’d link back here and link your name to your own website as well. Let me know if you’re interested. I’d love to add it.