Open Government IS Cultural Change

I recently delivered a training program for the U.S. Intelligence Community on how to effectively transfer knowledge. This program was delivered during the period of time when the Intelligence Community was migrating from the Cold War mentality of “need to know” to the 21st century mentality of “need to share.”

Government as a whole is about to embark upon a similar change to that which the Intelligence Community encountered. This is as a result of the President’s Memorandum on Open Government. The President’s Memorandum calls for openness, participation and collaboration in government organizations. The culture of government organizations will have to change. This cultural change includes the behaviors, attitudes, assumptions, values and norms of these organizations. The President’s Memorandum on Open government makes tangible what will be required for government to succeed in the future.

The “need to know” mentality says that knowledge should be held close to the vest lest it fall into the wrong hands and should be made available only on a need to know basis. The “need to share” mentality recognizes that security in our current world depends on how well we share knowledge with our allies, with other agencies and with other departments within our agency. The strongest need is to share knowledge with others.

A brief review of the “9/11 Commission Report” and other Congressional reports and trade book publications demonstrates how difficult is the organizational transition from the world of “need to know” to the world of “need to share.” The most recent organizational hick-ups in the unsuccessful Christmas Day bombing illustrate this. In this transition to a “need to share’ organization, processes, procedures and technology need to change. Above all culture needs to change. Implementing And Operating An Open Government Organization.

The President’s Open Government initiative will require changes throughout all of government. The entire government will be moving away from the “need to know” mentality. This mentality leads to citizen frustration when information is parsed out to citizens who are prosecuting requests under the Freedom of Information Act. This mentality leads to a situation where information about a given agency and its business is not easily accessible or publicly available and where citizen input is solicited at best during specific periods of time and where such input may or may not be given much weight.

The change will be to a world where information is made readily available and accessible as part of the normal way of doing business. It will be to a world where obtaining and making use of citizen input is part of the act of governing.

Internally, Open Government will also change how government organizations operate. Many agencies still operate in the old hierarchical, control management style of the last century where leaders tell employees what to do and when they should do it. In these agencies, employees have little discretion and participate minimally in decision making. Many employees have become resigned to having an insignificant role. Requests for knowledge in these agencies still must go up and down the hierarchy even though the most effective chanel for knowledge exchange may be lower down in the organization.

The new responsiveness to the citizen will require changes in this. Employees will need increased skill training and authority. Managers will have to act more as facilitators. Organizational agility will become more important than control. It’s time for government to make the transition to the 21st century.

Posted at www.barrycamson.com

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