After we had gotten past the platitudes and niceties that all good managers trying to implement a directive spout when garnering employee buy in for the directive, we were left with the question “So, now what?”
One brave soul finally raised a voice and said “None of those words mean anything unless you put action to them. If I am going to produce a data set and publish it, I want it to be useful. Let’s build a calculator and let’s ask people what’s really important to calculate before we build the wrong calculator. And I want that data to come with a resource set, something to help me get the everyday aspects of my job done easier. And, please don’t give me some manual. Make it so I can talk to other people doing something similar—citizens or fellow employees—and pull from what they’re doing. And, make some way for me to see the final product so that I can compare my results with other results.”
The tie between the Open Government Directive and a more open government lies in the practical execution of agency mission in tandem with open government initiatives. This tie is strengthened with input from the public and concrete ways for citizens to interact with the products of open government. This observation bears true for the more than 350 initiatives associated with the Open Government Directive (http://data.govloop.com/Government/List-of-Open-Government-Projects/j6z3-fs2y).
Transparency efforts make up the largest portion of Open Government initiatives and are mostly seen in data sharing and Dashboard activities wherein data is combined with tool and visualization catalogs, like data.gov, Centers for Disease Control Community Health data, FDATrack, RegInfo.gov, or the department of Justice’s newest launch FOIA.gov. Each of these dashboards offers citizens the opportunity to engage with data, build visualizations and comparative data projects, and provide feedback—and sometimes engage in discussions with—the parent agency.
Citizens participate with the government when they want to augment a service or when they seek basic information sharing opportunities. Citizens and employees are especially active in initiatives like My AmeriCorps Member Feedback, National Archives Docs Teach, and Justice’s That’s Not Cool violence prevention resource center. One of the most successful participation Open Government projects was citizen participation in idea generation through the IdeaScale tool, where thousands of ideas were generated and several were adopted for use in Open Government planning.
Collaboration efforts comprise the smallest portion of open Government projects, but often have the most participation and results. Citizens collaborate best with the government when they feel that they have a genuine contribution to make that is often related to their personal expertise. Examples of collaboration associated with Open Government are NASA’s Citizen Scientist, the Veteran’s Administration VAi2 innovation initiative, or efforts like the Department of State’s Global Pulse and GreenGov, which not only bring together citizens, but bring together non-traditional government partners. Real-time posting of discussions, ideas, best practices, and follow-through is critical to project achievement and sustainability.
Neither ideals nor technology are sustainable until the culture around them adopts them as essential to its core. Agencies, like the Department of Defense, The General Services Administration, and NASA directly tie the citizen ideas garnered during the public comment phase of the plan process to their plan. They included summaries of the ideas and plans for executing the resultant projects at their agency. Additionally, agencies like the Social Security Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency tie the Open Government Directive and their agency Open Government activities to their agency strategic plans. The Environmental Protection Agency incorporates a streamlined structure and interactive time line for the combined strategic goals on their website where citizens can offer input and where the agency can report back on their progress at achieving their goals. Sustainability of Open Government lies not only in the execution of projects, but in the incorporation of the ideals of open government into the planning and culture of agencies.
The most successful open government efforts are those that connect projects to agency mission and the goals of the directive and that involve citizens in achieving both open government goals and agency mission at least partially through the project. In addition, sustainable success is found in those initiatives that connect real world applications to open government goals and long-term strategic visioning.
By and large, agencies have heard the Open Government call and have worked with citizens to produce plans, projects, and products that promote transparency, participation, and collaboration in ways that add practicality to ideals. While there is still work to be done, the question of continued development and sustainability remains. So, now what???