Does Yo Mama Know About “Open Government”?

I was just reading this NextGov interview with Craigslist creator (and GovLoop Advisory Board Member) Craig Newmark, who is trying to raise awareness about President Obama’s open government and transparency efforts. The article begins:

The Obama administration’s open government initiative is discussed regularly in some circles inside the Beltway, but travel just a few miles west and it’s rarely, if ever, a topic of conversation.
That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: do people beyond the Beltway really know about “Open Government”? Do they care?
A couple more great quotes from Newmark:
– “Right now with and a whole bunch of related efforts, for the most part the mainstream media has just ignored it…they keep missing the point that it’s a tremendous reversal from prior years…this administration is telling the public what is going on and the mainstream media doesn’t talk about that.”
– “The idea is for a democracy to survive it needs a relatively informed citizenry. Historically, in any republic, starting with the Romans, it’s only a small minority of people who get involved in this kind of thing. Most people just want things to work. Like me, I’m a couch potato. But the deal is this decade in human history is too important for you to stay on the couch.”
This silence and ignorance is a problem for two reasons:
(a) citizens aren’t aware that they are being courted to contribute more in the process of governance, and
(b) the open government initiative is having no mitigating impact on the sense of unrest and distrust in government across the nation.
If I were to ask my mom about open government, I think she’d say, “Huh?”
How about yours?
Does she know?
Would she care?
And if we tell her, will she act?
P.S. I’m a big Will Smith fan, so here’s some Friday fun for you:

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AJ Malik

Perhaps an effective, ongoing, multi-channel national marketing campaign may better promote awareness of all of the terrific work being done by GSA, OMB, etc.

Christopher Whitaker

Does the Obama Opengov mandate apply to states as well? Or would that have to be done by our own governors?

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Harlan – Have you seen this list of Open Gov Plans? Lots of initiatives in the works…and not just talk. Real things moving forward. I think many of our Projects of the Week highlight efforts to better inform and engage citizens, too.

@Christopher – Good question. Not directly (I don’t think). But there’s a trickle down effect as there are requirements for more reporting and data to be released, which has implications for states a la and

Keith Moore

I spend a lot of time on the Hill and with federal agencies. Legislators and government workers are complaining about the overload of information and having to process and make decisions on such a fast flow of information. These complaints come frequently from those who are mid level management (those who have to process the work), and so open government to them is almost becoming an initiative they resist.

I think we have reached a height with transparency, and the public is better off for the advocacy. However, we must be mindful of the law of diminishing value when it comes to the “power of transparency”. The problem now is that there is a lack of advocating for building collaborations. (the second precept of the OGD). When we filmed the Open Government Directive workshop at the Dept of Transportation January 2010, many federal workers said that agencies do not collaborate and this is problem was a longstanding reality within government. So I believe that if we are going to help the White House advance the OGD policy throughout government, we the advocates must begin to collaborate and lead this collaboration march by example.

Open Government TV is inviting advocates to collaborate. To collaborate, please email us at [email protected] or call. Together let’s make parents and government understand.

Currently OGTV has positions for :

Editor In Chief
Content Contributors
Public Relations

Open Government TV website scheduled for public launch in before the end of August.

Gadi Ben-Yehuda

I think that we’re still at the point where we’re uncovering data, seeing which is utile and what other data feeds are necessary to make what is currently irreducible into beneficial applications.

Part of the problem is that this is all so new, we are bound to release irrelevant data. Like the saying goes, “I know half my marketing works, I just don’t know which half.” That’s being optimistic when it comes to data feeds.

What we need to spend more time (and perhaps money) doing is marketing the feeds. Putting the private sector to work. Actively recruiting developers to make applications that people spend money for based on the data we’re releasing. Or, alternately, mashing the data up and presenting it to government to streamline management and operations, thus saving departments time and money.

Moving beyond “build it and they will come.” Moving to “we’ll let you build your house free on our property and then we’ll rent it from you.”

Justin Mosebach

Yeah, I’m not sure how many of the general public know what the term “Open Government” means. We did a man-on-the-street type of video collage (for Sunshine Week back in March) where we asked citizens (and a few elected officials from our County who use our solutions) about Open Government-related topics.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Justin Do you think people need to know the definition of “open government?” My sense is ‘no’. But they do need to know that they have been invited to a table that, until now, had seemed to be behind a locked door.

@Gadi – Do you see open government as an issue of data release only? I think it’s bigger than that…but agree that the key is marketing.

Gadi Ben-Yehuda

Andy – I don’t see data release as the only issue, I was responding only to what Keith Moore had posted.

I guess we could call what I’m calling for ‘marketing,’ but I prefer the term ‘outreach.’ Outreach speaks more to an ongoing discussion around an evolving issue, whereas marketing (to me) is about advertising a finished product. What we’re trying to say is “hey, there’s a new kind of governance afoot and it needs more active participants.” the goal is to get more people involved. We’re not saying “Hey, we’ve done this great thing for you–aren’t you happy (and aren’t we great)?” That’s back-patting and is more in line with what I think of as ‘marketing.’

I agree that people need to know that they’re invited to the table. But I think it’s even more than that. We need to let people know that Gov 2.0–including open government–depends on their involvement and that without it, all these initiatives will wither.

Justin Mosebach

@Andrew I think average citizens need to know what it means. I remember that when we did the video, we would at least sometimes have to explain/clarify what we meant by “Open Government”, so they could answer the question.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@Gadi – I like the distinction between marketing and outreach. And it’d definitely the latter that needs to happen. It’s much more akin to grassroots organizing…a la Obama’s 2008 run for the White House. People were empowered to take charge of the campaign. Agencies need to do the same for their initiatives.

@Justin You should write a “behind the scenes” blog post, sharing what you learned about people’s knowledge of open government when you were pounding the pavement. The video is half the story, eh?

Josh Folk

@ Christopher @ Andrew – No, the Obama Open Government mandate does not apply to states. However, two states chose to mandate similar open government initiatives before Obama took office.

New York – Governor Spitzer with Executive Order #3 ( In this, the Governor actually requires every agency to broadcast its meetings over the internet.

California – Governor Schwarzenegger with Executive Order S-21-06 ( In this, he too makes reference to increasing video streaming of public meetings for open government.

In both cases lack of funding has prohibited most agencies to follow through on their respective executive orders. NYS has done a better job than California in my opinion.

Perhaps this touches on another discussed issue: can we achieve open government with unfunded policies?


There is a growing trend within the public transportation community about Open data. The good folks at Street Films put together a nice video that offers a good argument why we need to do this.

Justin Mosebach

@Andrew If I was going to do that, I should have done it soon after we interviewed people. Since it was back in March, I don’t remember it all that well.

Tim Evans

Metrics data on agency open government pages (that is, visits and page views) are pretty abysmal, indicating no one cares. Postings on agency IdeaScale sites were mainly the same, tired, old, topics that have come over other Public Inquiries transoms for as long as I can remember.