Transparency and Open Government Newsletter Just Released

President Obama’s January 21 open government memorandum calls for transparency, participation and collaboration in government. These three concepts have been underlying American democracy since the start, but never have they been so central to a presidential vision. With advanced technologies and creative use of the Internet, a commitment to open government will go a long way toward giving the public control of the levers of power, and encouraging widespread participation in the civic life of the nation.

Making government data available is just the beginning of the process. To reach the president’s goal, agencies must solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public, expanding citizen participation in public policy decision-making. It will bring a new wave of remarkable technological applications that will have government and citizens working together in partnership. The resulting network within which citizens and their government can work together to solve problems, will change the way citizens and governments interact.

This newsletter presents the views of 21 individuals and organizations across federal, state, local and international governments, industry, academia and the non-profit communities. They represent a broad spectrum of ideas from thought leaders working to ensure openness in government by providing data to citizens in a meaningful way. This shift will require a culture change, away from one where data are stored away for internal purposes to one that looks broadly at how data can be made accessible for re-use by the public.

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Andre Goodfriend

Some excellent examples and projections concerning how government can incorporate these Web tools to better accomplish good governance goals. Reading it quickly, it struck me that many of the measured improvements have been in the area of online services and transactions (e.g. online scheduling, payments, etc.). The next focus appears to be transparency as a way of decreasing corruption. Collaborative government and getting an advantage of social networking though appears to be more distant and the real culture changer. Expectations are high. It emphasizes a question I ask in my forum posting today, whether high expectations could lead to greater disappointment. Matt Dunlap, Secretary of State for Maine, notes the potential for transparency and participation to lead to frustration. If we set up these mechanisms, we must use them and be responsive. He writes:

“the public also has a responsibility, too, and there’s the political hair trigger. When the public is outraged, there’s little room for civics lessons, especially coming from government officials. If government
officials and agencies establish collaborative relationships with watchdog groups and respond readily
to requests for information, problems can usually be quickly avoided. After all, people just want honest answers
to their questions.