What Open Government is About: Suggested Intermediate Goals and Guidance for Gov 2.0

There has been a lot of buzz in the last eight months around the concept of Open Government. Last week, the Gov 2.0 community met for an energizing Gov 2.0 Expo and Gov 2.0 Summit, sponsored by TechWeb and O’Reilly Media, which brought together thought leaders, practitioners and federal executives around the ideas of transparency, collaboration and participation. Speakers illustrated success stories, emerging applications, agency specific tools, and an open source vision for today and the future. Gov 2.0 bloggers have been posting summaries and outstanding questions since. September 15, OMB and GSA announced the launch of Apps.gov, a storefront for approved cloud computing applications.

Needless to say, there is a lot of activity in the Gov 2.0 world, but it seems that the content of the conference, recent discussions, and recent initiatives have fallen in to two primary categories: technology and vision.

1. The Gov 2.0 event was highly focused on the technology aspects of Open Government.
However, Open Government is not ONLY about technology.
2. The Gov 2.0 event also featured plentiful discussion about the desired to-be open source state for government operations.
However, there must be intermediate, manageable steps that lead to that to-be state.

While I agree with Tim O’Reilly’s statement that “government as a platform” should be an overall goal of Open Government, I also believe that in order to achieve meaningful results from Open Government efforts in the near to medium term, Federal practitioners must have intermediate goals that drive their efforts as well.

To build upon the Gov 2.0 community’s conversation through this new lens, I have compiled the following series of blog postings explaining what I think Open Government is about. These thoughts will hopefully help to focus practitioners on some of the intermediate goals that may assist their Open Government efforts and kick-start the conversation to bridge the gap between the high-level “to-be” state discussions, and the implementation issues at the tool level. Thus, I start by suggesting that Open Government is about…

1. Technology, Policy, and Culture (Posted 9/16/09)
2. Leadership, Strategy and Teaming (Posted 9/17/09)
3. Public Private Partnerships and Innovation (Posted 9/18/09)
4. Realizing Economies of Scale through Standardization (Posted 9/21/09)
5. Eliminating the Digital Divide (Posted 9/22/09)

Please see the Phase One Transparency Blog for more details about the series 1-5 detailed above.

I welcome your comments and additions.

Jenn Gustetic

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Victor Brown


Excellent post and very important points. The evolution of and focus on tools and technology are inevitable – and in fact is the catalyst – early in this kind of paradigm shift. After all, it’s the tools that enable the new opportunities.

We know what the tools can do. We have some history and an emerging set of best practices from the private sector. To move forward, we need to clearly understand and agree on what Open Government is about, including clear high-level goals (a little more specific than “transparency”) supported by well-defined, actionable intermediate goals. Based on those targets, coupled with the capabilities that the tools provide, we can develop executable roadmaps to realize the vision, the to-be state.

And all of this assumes that we understand the implications of the “openness” and “collaboration” that the Web 2.0 tools enable. Implications related to access, security, quality of information (going both ways!), and a myriad of other implications.

It’s an exciting time, and I look forward to the rest of your series, Jenn.



Agree with Gwynne….Just got back from speaking at a partnered event where we really didn’t focus on the tools and actually it was tougher. Really people just want an easy answer to should I have a FB page or Twitter. Which isn’t the answer of how to engage…

Looking forward to the series…

Jenn Gustetic

I agree 100% that this is tough–really tough. But ultimately open government is not about adopting new tools for a few years while one Administration prioritizes it, it’s about changing government fundamentally by bringing the public into service provision and innovation. So regardless of whether or not policy and culture are easy, they are essential. And if we don’t drive them, they will drive us and could emerge as being problems down the road. I have some ideas about how to channel one’s energy productively in these areas (bite size, manageable pieces) and will try to do another series soon that runs through some of those pieces. Until then, enjoy this series and please comment with your thoughts. I just posted the second in the series at the link above.


Victor Brown

First, really excellent points by all!

Ok… so I just have to add this bit of (relevant?) humor to the discussion – at least the part about tools vs. solutions. A quote from the late Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School: “People don’t want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter-inch holes.”

Great second post, Jenn! Thanks.


Jenn Gustetic

Thanks for all the wonderful comments. I just posted the third in the series and will post the final on Monday. Please continue to suggest additional intermediate goals/areas to focus on to achieve strategy driven results. Jean-Paul, I agree that training is essential but in order to ensure sustainability, its not just training the executives. Change management and training within the entire organization and stakeholder audience is critical. Thanks for the humor Victor!

Lizette Molina

Hi Jenn. I just joined govloop a few days ago. My boss turned me on to it when I mentioned I was looking for an interesting and new vehicle for setting up an agency-internal event on-line w/a mechanism that would let me manage RSVP’s. We’ve been experimenting w/the use of web 2.0 tools/social networking sites for several months as a way to expand and enhance collaboration and communication within our agency’s IT community. Our experiments have yielded positive and negative results. But the big positive has been – how easy it is to make an impact on the office’s short and medium term Tactical Plan goals using web 2.0 technology. I think I’m pretty lucky in that I have an open-minded boss that encourages people to branch out and try new stuff – particularly when you can quickly check-off another accomplished goal as a result. Sometimes you fall flat on your face; but that’s the nature of taking risks. Web 2.0 does come w/some risk. But my personal opinion is that there’s more to gain than to lose by embracing the technology and running w/it. We’re meeting some office goals by embracing it now rather than waiting. Could we face some problems later on? Maybe. We’ll deal with those when they hit us. My boss is a risk-taker, so I need to be one too. Or get left behind. And I’d rather fall flat on face a few times than get left behind.

Hey – all this to say that I really like your blog and marked it as the first blog I’m following on govloop. Looking forward to your next post!

Jenn Gustetic

Lizette–Finding the balance between strategy and implementation is quite an art. I can’t understate how important learning from the early adopters on the implementation side is going to be as we find that balance. Without your work we wouldn’t have negotiated terms of service (see posting 4 above) or any of the other standardization efforts that have enabled other programs.

I posted the fourth in the series above and actually added a 5th based on a suggestion from a colleague about how open government affects the digital divide.

Enjoy and please keep the suggestions to expand the list coming–this can only help folks that are trying to trudge their way into this huge issue area. Thanks!

Victor Brown

Hello Jenn.

I strongly agree, again. Standards are essential to enabling “openness” on many levels – policy and communication, architecture, and physical implementation.


Jenn Gustetic

Jean-Paul–In the goals list I suggest in my original post, the first goal is an umbrella term that also captures training as a part of culture; However, I don’t think I communicated the inputs to that umbrella term well enough. I think at some point in the future I’m going to try to do another series that runs through the components of technology, policy and culture (I suggest there are 10 of them, including change management/training) as building blocks to developing a robust Gov 2.0 strategy. Thanks for the comment; I totally agree that training isn’t just about “how to use the tool” it’s about “why will this tool help me”?

I posted the last in the series this morning that is slightly different from the rest, trying to look at the access problem.

Thanks for reading and commenting!


Paul Nash

I have to agree with Jenn’s approach here. I’ve speculated on this issue of the current strands of e-gov becoming divergent, often ignoring things outside of strict areas of interest and often diverted by the impact of technologies that are common to marketing. My random jottings are here under the Democracy tag.

My point is that to ignore the interplay of the different technologies is to create the biggest barrier of all because no single technology approach is “The Answer”. Unfortunately, politics loves an answer.

I was also interested to read, recently, a piece by Evgeny Morozov entitled Is “The Internet What Orwell Feared” which leads me to think that this is also an important media literacy issue, which we will only address by considering the breadth of what we call gov 20.