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Owning Transparency

I’m excited to announce the Open Forum Foundation’s very first official publication:

A Guide to Owning Transparency
How Federal Agencies can Implement and Benefit from Transparency

[Get it here]

This work is based on the in-person discussions hosted during the Focus Forum Owning Transparency: People, Processes, and Technology at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on February 18th, 2011 and contains some remarkable contributions by a host of academic authors that have been involved in OPM’s Open Government implementation since the beginning.

In addition, the fabulous Maxine Teller helped edit the document!

Here’s the Executive Summary – check it out.

Executive Summary

An open, transparent and participatory government is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. These are the democratic principles upon which our country is built. Internet-based tools and technologies have made it easier to realize these values. Officially recognized by President Obama’s January 21, 2009 Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, two-way, interactive web 2.0 tools and technologies make information sharing, citizen participation, and public and private sector collaboration easier than ever before.

Transparency of government practices and information, both within government agencies and between the government and its stakeholders, is the heart of open government. Transparency is as much about open-mindedness and information sharing, as it is about increased communication and information access. Citizen engagement, public-private sector partnerships, and inter-agency initiatives are all predicated upon transparency.

Transparency fosters the engagement of government employees and citizens alike, so they feel a part of the conversation, process, and decisions; and, thereby, a part of their government. This heightened sense of ownership, accountability, and trust makes government more responsive and enables agencies to more efficiently and effectively accomplish their missions: from government operations to government products.

Despite the efforts by government and private organizations to increase government transparency over the past few years, the results of transparency efforts have been met with mixed reviews. Critics argue that the focus on transparency as the end-state is the error: transparency is an operating state; it is not a goal, in and of itself. Proponents point out that the public value of transparency of information/data is an increased trust in the responsiveness of government.

Although we talk of open government as a panacea, full government transparency is not only not possible; it’s not necessarily the ideal. The digital environment not only makes transparency easier, but also amplifies the volume of data making it difficult to locate and retrieve data, increases the speed of both technical innovation and obsolescence, enhances expectations for customized access to data and information, and heightens cybersecurity risks. Transparency must be counterbalanced with maintaining citizens’ privacy, protecting national security, and the costs associated with the technical capacity of government to make information available and accessible.

To harness the benefits of transparency while simultaneously mitigating the risks, agencies must align their organizational strategies, systems, values, and culture with open government principles. Transparency must become a part of the organization’s ecosystem.

Culture change doesn’t “just happen.” Creating transparency in a government agency requires a directed, proactive effort that

  • is driven by its leadership’s vision and supported at all levels by a strategic plan;
  • implements support mechanisms to transform the agency;
  • and actively builds understanding, engagement, and support from employees and external stakeholders alike.

The Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM’s)) Core and Component Team governance structure, Action Learning approach, IdeaFactory employee idea-sourcing platform, Results-Oriented Work Environment pilot, and the focus forum Owning Transparency are all examples of how OPM is using transparent processes to transform itself into an open agency.

Get It

We’re making it easy to consume this information in whatever way is most convenient for you:

  • Read or print it as a PDF.
  • Download it to your favorite mobile device as a MOBI (including Kindle*) or EPUB (for iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad; Nook; Sony Reader; FBReader, Aldiko and WordPlayer on Android; or Freda on Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7).
  • Soon in hardcopy form from blurb.com (join the Open Forum email list to be notified)

    *If you’re downloading to a Kindle app (eg on Android), you will most likely have to save the file in the Kindle folder on your device, and then open the Kindle app to read it. This is not nearly as easy as it should be…

You’ll love it.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Aleida Lanza

Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires all electronic records held by government must be produced electronically. This predates the President’s call to Attorney General Holder and his executive proclamation cited the law requiring transparency. Congress mandated this over two decades ago. Why is this not being addressed? It is core to the mission as we are simply doing to data what was done to buildings and sidewalks: ACCESS. Anyone who stands in the way of Section 508 is usurping the rights of every American, not just those with disabilities. There is a plethora of great civic reasons to do so, but our humanity should be the first, and the rule of law second. I would appeal to each public worker to consider the original intent of the law, and that we have been waiting for over twenty years for compliance.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Aleida makes an interesting point. I think there are two historical notes / movements that pre-date the Obama Administration’s Open Government initiative: 1) free and unfettered access of the press to government information as a check against an overly powerful and deceptive state (i.e FOIA) and 2) greater access for all citizens to government information (Aleida’s point).

The current iteration of the movement seems to be morphing more and more into an open data movement with several bright spots of increased citizen engagement (not just sharing information, but asking for it and enabling citizens to be more involved in the process of governance outside of voting / election cycles). Where I’m not sure I see enough emphasis is around the “access for all” or “digital divide” aspect of open government.

For instance, I searched the document on “access” and there were 74 instances. Here are a couple places where this issue was addressed in passing:

– p. 29: As a corollary risk, the failure to achieve transparency, may also have a discouraging effect on democratic processes, when citizens—lacking access to government information—are held to be less qualified than those with privileged access, to make informed decisions about public policy (“Secrecy as a Policy Disabler,” Wills. 2010, p.161-174).

– p. 37: Respecting disabled citizens, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides a clear Congressional mandate for unrestricted access to government information for the disabled. Section 508 was “enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, open new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals” (US GSA ITAW, 2011).

I think access goes beyond disability to include socioeconomic factors…and I’m not sure that’s been a prominent part of this version of the Open Government movement. Should it be?

Should Open Government be more closely tied to the National Broadband Plan?

If so, how do we effectively address this challenge?

Chris Poirier

@Andrew: Wow, eyes wide open on your two points in bold. I think this is a very good point, in terms of addressing socioeconomic considerations as well. Kind of makes me wonder what other issues we may not be addressing by driving down the current path. Sure, technology and open government positions enable getting more information out to the public, but can the public actually access said information. (interesting.) Now, taking this same point and aligning it with the national broadband plan and considerations there furthers this concept and way of thinking on this topic. (sure, some may argue that public libraries are now the access point for the general public for access to technology/internet/etc, but I think we all can agree this is not an end-all solution in the status quo.)
So, how does government continue its open position outside of tech and/or by providing tech in a publically accessible format? Public access terminals? Schools? Grants? hmmm..lots of potential here.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Chris Thanks for entertaining the questions. I’ve written before on libraries as key points of access for facilitating Open Gov:


And here are other GovLoop posts that address the “digital divide” in some way:


I hope I’m not hijacking the convo about the guide here…interested in seeing what else strikes people about it…lots of great gems to mine.

Chris Poirier

@Andrew: Good stuff! I’m actually really hung up on this OLPC model now. A lot of time, effort, and money went into providing basic technology overseas, but maybe we have a some what different (but the same) problem here at home. Maybe a “One Tablet Per Citizen” model? (yikes..) But interesting none the less..

We do make a bit of an assumption that EVERYONE has access to tech here.