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Open Government Directive Workshop Results in More Questions Than Answers…For Now

This post originally appeared on my external blog,“Social Media Strategery.”

Yesterday, I, along with 250 other people representing three dozen agencies, contractors, and non-profits, attended the second Open Government Directive workshop held at the Department of Transportation. The workshop featured 10 Ignite-style presentations (awesome) by federal employees engaged in some form of open government, followed by an unconference in the afternoon where all of the 250 attendees gathered to informally discuss everything from how GovLoop can help support the Open Government Directive (OGD) to how to look beyond the deadlines and implement a culture change within your agency.

I really enjoyed participating in this conference for a few reasons. First, it was led by the Department of Transportation, not by a commercial company or a non-profit. There are a lot of really good conferences, events, and seminars on Gov 2.0 held by commercial companies and non-profits, but when a conference on government is hosted and led by government, it takes on a different feel and usually results in greater sharing, trust, and relationships. Secondly, I really enjoyed meeting all the new people who attended this event. The world of Gov 2.0 can sometimes feel like an echo chamber, but yesterday, I got an opportunity to talk for the first time with people like Josh Salmons with the Defense Information School, Neil Bonner from TSA, Dan Munz from GSA, and Giovanni Carnaroli from DOT. It was good to see so many new faces leading the panel sessions as it brought some new perspectives and some insight into the day-to-day challenges that our government is facing in implementing the OGD.

As I listened to the various speakers and discussion leaders, I was happy to hear the focus on culture change not compliance, on baking transparency and openness into processes vice making it an extra tasking, and on looking at the OGD as a floor, not a ceiling when talking about Open Government. However, there was little in the way of concrete steps for government agencies to follow to implement these things. We did a good job of shedding some light on the challenges of the OGD and discussed some possible solutions, but everyone is still trying to figure it out so there was a lot of, “that’s a great idea – we should totally do that” and not as much “here’s what we did and how it was successful.”

And I think that’s ok…for now. I’m really looking forward to future workshops where hopefully some of those ideas have turned into solutions that are shared and improved upon. Jacque Brown discussed some of these questions and challenges in a recent post and those were expanded upon yesterday:

Funding. The Open Government Directive didn’t come with any additional funding or resources – how does OMB expect the government to realistically fulfill these tasks and meet the deadlines without any additional funding?

Evaluation. How will OMB measure success? Do they take a “did they meet the deadline or not” approach or will they take a “journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” approach?

Clarification. Every agency is interpreting the deadlines and actions in the OGD differently – is there going to be a clearinghouse to determine what’s right or not? Will there be some sort of enforcement for what “meets the deadline” and what doesn’t?

Flexibility. For most agencies, the deadlines are completely unrealistic – getting legal approval on anything, much less a policy change, usually takes 45 days by itself. How will missed deadlines be handled?

Culture. Right now, agencies are wired to compete with one another, not collaborate – how do you incentivize that inter-agency collaboration and communication that’s so important to this effort?

Education. How do you take the focus off of just meeting the objectives in the OGD and take that next step toward creating that long-term process change?

Ownership. Who’s ultimately responsible for implementing the OGD? Is it the CIO? The CTO? The Chief, Public Affairs? A cross-functional team?

The good news is that this Open Government Directive Workshop was the second in a SERIES. The organizers told me yesterday that they’re hoping to have these workshops every six to eight weeks or so. I’ll be very interested in attending those future workshops and learning more about the solutions to these questions that received so much attention yesterday.

For more information on the Open Government Directive, here are some additional resources:

* The Open Government Playbook
* Download all of the slides from the Open Government Workshop presentations
* Open Government Discussions on GovLoop
* Livestream from workshop
* Booz Allen’s Gov 2.0 Fact Sheet
* Open Government Directive Key Benefits and Challenges by Jacque Brown
* Wrap-up post on the Social Government Blog

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7 Comments

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Profile Photo Scott Burns

Great write up and resources for what is clearly a pressing issue for agencies. I like the comments about creating real long term change. All of the buzz words, hype and initiatives in the world do not make the government (or citizens) better.

We have to stay focused on how new approaches and technologies can help each agency achieve its unique mission while engaging citizens in ways that are productive. Not an easy task regardless of how many cool social media technologies and data sets you throw on a website, but OGD is another great shot in the arm for moving the right direction.

Profile Photo Keith Moore

Open Government will ultimately work, but it will not happen over night and may realistically require a bit more time in order to develop tangible and sustainable benefits. The creation of efficiencies that create gateways for public participation will become a driver to this process. Government Agencies will need to lead by example when it comes to collaboration as yesterday's comments at the workshop reflected a clear problem of collaboration within the departments. Agency leadership will need to address this head on. So the private sector may need have an opportunity to lead by example when it comes demonstrating examples of collaboration. Transparency models are evolving as was consistently discussed. Innovation will lead this paradigm shifts, and because of the bad taste of the bank bailouts and the pleasant sound of hearing that the bail out funds are coming back into the budget should give us all a degree of confidence that resources can be found when a good business case is established. In short, Open Government is too important to this country and our economy for it not to succeed.

Look for the next workshop to be larger, more productive, and expect the pace to progressively intensify. See you all on Open Government TV.

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

As you stated, more questions than answers now...But I think that is generally true with a new large directive...Takes time to shake out for OMB to finalize what it really wants (they are still iterating and learning too), agencies to figure out the department strategy as well as what is doable.

It was really helpful during this Presidential transition to hear from experts on timelines...For example, I heard most politicals wouldn't be in place until early fall and you see that happened. Just the pace government works no matter how hard you try.

I think there is a similar pacing with new directives. Not a one year process but at least a 3-4 year process.

Profile Photo Steve Radick

I want to be clear that I wasn't complaining about the fact that there were a lot of questions, nor was I surprised about it. I'm simply stating that this where we're at now, but I think we're moving in the right direction. I fully agree with what GovLoop is saying - that it's going to take some time to figure all this out. That's ok - I just want to make sure that we're continuing to progress down the line as we can all sit here, debating the "right" way to do this ad nauseum.

Profile Photo Jenn Gustetic

I think there is a lot of potential with the OGPB series. But I would like to see much more concentrated focus on specific issue areas-- like the ones you mention above. An hour breakout to get to know folks that are struggling with the same issues is great to get to know those folks and go over the questions--but it's not nearly enough time to try to shed useful light on an answer. I would like to see future workshops focus on 1-2 critical questions so real progress can be made in finding some answers in those places. I'm not saying we'll find complete answers, but at least we can identify some initial steps (within the next 90 days) that we can take to meet the requirements of the directive in a way where we understand our performance goals and are managing risk.

It was great to see a bunch of "new to me" faces at the event, including the Govloop crew and Steve. I look forward to a long collaborative relationship together!

Keith-- at DOT, we are going to try to make an effort to be more transparent with our methods so other folks can share what we've done--where appropriate.

Profile Photo Steve Radick

@Jenn - It was a great meeting you too! Looking forward to working more with you in the coming months! I like your approach that you lay out and hope that we see more of these niche groups coming together across agency lines to work out the tough problems.