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Understanding the Many Communities within Open Gov

Word on the street is that when life first appeared on the planet, it was single-cell. It took a little bit of time (i.e. millions and millions of years) for life to get its differentiation on. But soon, you could see it (or not, since people weren’t around yet): mitochondria, smooth ER and rough ER, nuclei, the whole bit. Then, multi-celled organisms! Life thrived because it differentiated, each part of the cell or organism doing what it was best at, and each contributing to the vitality of the species, each species filling a niche in a now-bustling ecosystem.

It’s been fewer than a million years since we started talking about and trying to foment an open government, and fewer still since the administration’s Open Government Directive, yet many people think of the Open Government community as an undifferentiated body. I know I did until yesterday, when, in a meeting of Open Government types, O’Reilly Media Washington correspondent Alex Howard turned a microscope on us and theorized that we’re actually composed of many different pieces that are each integral to open government. His observation was that there are many constituencies within the broader open government community that often are working on very different problems, or sometimes the same problem from different perspectives.

Before I detail the different bodies (as I understand them) let me say why this is even important. I can be for open government, but my interest and expertise is in technological innovation. I may not know anything about transparency, say, or contracting and procurement, or citizen engagement. By teasing apart these communities, we allow people to play to their strengths and not become either bored or frustrated with issues in which they are not interested or not expert.

So, in the interest of helping people form into organs that can work collectively to help our Open Gov body evolve:

  • Transparency
    Interest: opening up access to government information.
    Example: Sunlight Foundation, Judicial Watch
  • Citizen Innovation
    Interest: Using private, open source, and/or proprietary technologies combined with government information to enhance citizens’ lives.
    Example: iStrategy Labs, MyCityWay
  • Government Innovation
    Interest: Using technologies and government information to enhance government operations.
    Example: State Department (office of innovation, as one example, eDiplomacy as another), EPA (the Environmental Technology Opportunity Portal (ETOP), as one example, Environmental Technology Verification Program (ETVP) as another).
  • Citizen Engagement
    Interest: providing technologies that expand citizens’ ability to communicate with their government.
    Example: America Speaks, PopVox
  • Government Engagement
    Interest: providing technologies that expand governments’ abilities to respond to citizens.
    Example: NASA (blogs and Twitter and Twitter and Twitter and Twitter and. . . ) US Army (their Facebook, Twitter, and Blog, as examples)
  • Media
    Interest: reporting on and analyzing open government activities.
    Example: O’Reilly Media, Federal Computer Week, and Federal News Radio

Are there other organelles that I’ve not seen? Let me know!

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