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White House official advises on open-government plans

Plans on how to become more transparent should be road maps that identify what agencies want to achieve

The open-government plans that agencies must publish by April 7 shouldn’t be used to specify programs that improve transparency but instead outline a series of goals related to open government, said a White House official who is directing the effort.

Agencies should view the plans as a road map that shows where they are now and where they would like to go in terms of transparency, said Robynn Sturm, assistant deputy chief technology officer for open government at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Rather than having a one-size-fits-all mandate, the Open Government Directive asks each agency to put together a road map for how they can best instill the values of transparency, participation and collaboration into their core mission on a day-to-day basis,” Sturm said today at a discussion sponsored in part by Federal Computer Week.

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Employees and the public are full of good ideas that agencies can tap

Agencies were given a lot of flexibility on what to include in their plans because of their widely varied missions, Sturm said. Nevertheless, each agency should decide how to incorporate transparency into all its activities rather than making it a separate function, she added.

“Think of it as a horizontal tool and approach that will help you with everything you’re already doing,” Sturm said. “First, think about what are the top things your secretaries know they want to accomplish when they wake up every day. Then, think about how these new technologies and how increasing transparency and the open approach might be able to accelerate your success in achieving those goals.”

For example, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publishes data about how well certain child car seats work, it is successfully combining its mission with open-government goals, she said.

Although efforts to become more transparent could bear fruit, agencies should be careful about relying too much on technology to get the task done, said Mark Drapeau, director of innovative social engagement at Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector unit and a regular contributor to FCW.

“Something I’ve been seeing a lot is what I term dangerously digital, meaning agencies seem to be setting up Web sites and waiting for people to come participate,” Drapeau said. “It is like quenching your thirst by putting a bucket outside and hoping it will rain.”

In addition to figuring out the technology side of open government, agencies should learn how to interact with the public in a more social way, he added.

Web sites that ask people to submit ideas and vote on other people’s ideas do not really create social communities, he said. Having a relationship with the people who care about a particular agency’s mission is an important part of building a successful open-government program, he added.

Other ways to pursue the social aspect of open government include putting certain agency employees in charge of getting to know and communicating with those communities, Drapeau said.

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