Who cares about transparency? Show me the money!

I am always impressed by the efforts of countries, cities, and towns to open up data silos, to engage with citizens and customers, to collaborate and create mutual value. However, we must be able to articulate the value of our efforts if we are ever to get citizens, journalist, and others truly excited. I read two interesting articles today that reminded me that open government is barely in the first mile of what will ultimately be an ultra-marathon.

On NextGov, Aliya Sternstein notes that Americans give low marks to Obama transparency effort at agencies. As Aliya notes, “The Foresee-Nextgov Government Transparency Study randomly questioned 5,107 people from Aug. 25 to Sept. 4. The American Customer Satisfaction Index statistical engine parsed the answers to the survey to generate a numerical score“. The sample set is sufficient in size in my opinion. However, it is important to note that:

  • Transparency means very different things to different people within different contexts. It is completely perception based and is the wrong measurement to use to determine how well efforts are working or to market the effort to citizens. As I have written about before, transparency is one of the most confusing words we can use when discussing social media related efforts.
  • Rating political efforts, which open government is seen as by many, is a partisan issue. As noted in the article “those who characterized themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal” rated federal transparency at 50 and 48, respectively, while people who had attended a Tea Party event in the past year rated the government at 32“. Democrats, while lukewarm about open government, still see it as more successful than republicans. If a republican President had issued the directive the numbers would be flipped.

Andrea Di Maio, Distinguished Analyst at Gartner, wrote a post titled How Long Will the Open Government Fuel Last? Andrea writes about a recent panel he set upon to share insights and observations about Government 2.0. Quoting Andrea, he notes:

  • “When I asked whether anybody had any initiative in place to put to fruition the use of consumer social media to solve business problems or improve service delivery, nobody answered.
  • Some of the attendees were from organizations that lead open government efforts, and their statements sounded between marketing and defensive, as if they still had to buy the confidence of their peers in other agencies. I suspect that there is also a surprisingly low level of awareness about what is already available.”

Citizens of the planet earth, regardless of what country you live in, want to see value delivered to them by their goverment to a level that offets their investment (through taxes and other means). We must recognize this fact and embrace models that demonstrate reduced operating costs combined with increased benefits in areas like lower unemployment, improved test scores or graduation rates, reduced homelessness, and on and on. While trust and transparency are noble causes you cannot take them to the bank.

We are in the early days of open government. This did not start with one administration. It is a world-wide effort that has been underway for many years. We must remember to stay excited while understanding that the vast majority of people do not yet understand how these efforts will positively impact their lives. Marketing combined with solid financial and economic results are what we need now.


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