First, a quick disclaimer: I am currently on a six-month detail for OPM’s Open Government Team. Yes, I am bragging but I also want to stress that anything I write on GovLoop is just my personal opinion and does not reflect the opinions of OPM, the Open Government Team, or anyone connected with the OPM Open Government effort.
Now on to the topic. There is a lot of cynicism both in and outside of government concerning Gov 2.0 and Open Gov. I believe most of this comes past government reform efforts which had, at best, mixed results. In my first round as a Federal employee I was involved with Gore’s Reinventing Government effort. Reagan had a blue-ribbon commission on reform as did Nixon. Government reform has been a continuing effort since Wilson and Taylorism. I believe they even found evidence of government reform efforts in Ancient Egypt (I wonder how you tell a god-emperor he or she needs to go “lean”).
So, with this long history of government reform which has some brought some innovation but disappointment what makes Gov 2.0 and Open Gov different? And is this difference enough to make a real impact? To me there are three major reasons why Gov 2.0 and Open Gov will succeed and succeed big:
1) Government is re-engaging their citizens. Public agencies can no longer operate as vending machines where citizens put in tax dollars and out pops government services. Agencies are becoming transparent and accountable for how they spend tax money and are encouraging citizens to become part of providing government services. Think of Dr. Noveck’s Peer-to-Patent program and the recent SeeClickFix programs.
2) Democracy is changing. I have written before about the emergence of monitory democracy and the recent events in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern countries just demonstrates the desire for democracy and how media-rich nations empower citizens to grow democracy. Even in well-established democracies citizens are no longer content to vote for a representative and then trust that the government will operate in their interest. People want to speak directly to agencies that affect their lives and are demanding the right to monitor even the inner workings of the Federal, state, and local governments.
3) Balance of Information Power has shifted. Before the Open Data movement, government essentially held all the cards when it came to information about what government did and how it operated. Yes, there were investigative journalism articles, legislative hearings, and the occasional FOIA request but obtaining government information that wasn’t selectively released by agencies was difficult to obtain for the average citizen. Now, thanks to the Internet and Social Media technologies it is easier to gain access and to aggregate data sources to give a more complete picture of what government is doing. The Balance of Information Power is shifting in favor for the citizen and will continue to shift that way as government engages citizens and as monitory democracy evolves.
In Gov 2.0 and Open Gov the citizen is no longer a customer who passively receives government services. Past reform movements were built upon the vending machine model and that is why they didn’t deliver as promised. Gov 2.0 and Open Gov are built upon engagement and collaboration and that is why they will prove to be more successful.
What do you think? Are these three reasons valid? Are there better reasons for why Gov 2.0 and Open Gov will succeed? Or is Gov 2.0 and Open Gov just like previous government reform efforts?