3 top priorities to advance Open Government

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This topic contains 14 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Bill Brantley 8 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #106241

    Gary Berg-Cross

    Open Government (OG) is many things to many people and takes on many forms but what is usually discussed as an increase of openness, transparency and participation which may reshape the relationships between and within government, individuals, and business.

    But what do we need to make it succeed and let government agencies take creative actions to develop new approaches to citizen involvement etc.? There are various areas such as Policy, technology, organizastional and human factors, practices and doctrine. Some say, as a top-down approach that policy is being adequately addressed and Technology is also addressed well, but that other sides are receiving less attention than is needed?

    So what is your option on what should be, say the 3 top priorities to advance Open Government?

  • #106270

    Bill Brantley

    1) Each agency should start by envisioning what it means for that agency to be open? What behaviors would the employees exhibit? What would be different about the services the agency offers? How would the internal processes be different? How would employees and managers be rewarded for maintaining an open agency?
    2) Go for the low-hanging fruit by choosing small pilot projects. Work with clearly defined agency customers and well-trained employees that will use open government techniques to solve specific problems (see Wikigovernment‘s Peer Patent Reviewer program).
    3) Create and roll-out a new training program to teach agency employees how to engage citizens. This will involve advanced communication training, negotiation, and emotional intelligence awareness.

  • #106268

    Gary Berg-Cross


    Thanks for the prompt and pithy response wich ery logically vpacked a baker’s dozen ideas into 3 parts.

    I like the logic of your approach. In the first part you propose clarifying and definitional activities to understand what an agency is doing (what do me mean by “open” and how does it change things. In the 2nd part you feature the practical benefits of targeted pilots and in the 3rd you feature communations and training.

  • #106266

    Ryan Wold

    The Open Government directive is a good place to start.

    Priority 1: Transparent
    Priority 2: Participative
    Priority 3: Collaborative

    Each one represents significant work, planning, training, implementation, and ongoing effort.

    Priority 1: Transparent
    Goal: Publish as much data as possible (addressing privacy and legal concerns) at the lowest level possible (transactional vs. summary) & other guidelines.
    – Identify ALL systems in use and datasets that are produced inside the agency.
    – Include documentation with the data. The goal is to keep the bar low for government agencies. Write scripts to dump data from systems to a location accessible by URL, and automate that. Don’t focus on apps, and reports – just get in the habit of getting data out. Remember, government should be a data wholesaler, not retailer.
    – Agencies should expect issues (and public needs to be understanding), but this is good. Like airing a wound; exposing information will lead to healing over time (data quality and meaningfulness will increase).
    – Publish public decisions and supporting information where possible. Get in the habit of citing data in public reports to a URL (write for the web).

    Priority 2: Participative
    Goal: Enable citizens to participate. Give them a voice and allow for input where possible.
    – Identify all opportunities for the public to participate.
    – Publish those opportunities.
    – Publish public input.

    Priority 3: Collaborative
    Goal: Engage with citizens. Move beyond participation to actively collaborate and solve problems together.
    – Make short and long term goals clear.
    – Focus on results and outcomes.
    – Publish opportunities to collaborate. (This is currently related to procurement – vendors are collaborators)
    – Embrace the public and NGO’s as collaborators.
    – Publish results of collaboration.

    Again, each of these items connote a broad range of tasks in terms of actual implementation. But, remaining focused on the broad priorities is helpful, as each gives way to specific goals, timelines, and organization-specific methodologies.

  • #106264

    Sterling Whitehead

    Bill has a great ideas, especially 2 and 3 – pilot projects and transparency training.

  • #106262

    Gary Berg-Cross


    Good summary from the OGD and each agency has some particular resoponse. Perhaps agencies need a bit more guidance on HOW To “Enable citizens to participate”. Any thoughts there?

  • #106260

    Ryan Wold


    Lots of thoughts. I’ve been thinking quite a bit as to how to enable citizens to participate. Of course, how this looks can and will vary across jurisdictions and agencies. There is a wide range regarding the quantity and quality of public engagement. There is also an assumption that the public wants to and has time to participate.

    I’m tempted to check my folder of research on engagement, but will just wing it for now, and list what I believe to be 3 government priorities for engaging citizens.

    Priority 1 – Awareness & Education
    Priority 2 – Quality Interaction
    Priority 3 – Feedback & Results

    Priority 1 – Awareness
    Goal: Make the public aware of how and where to participate
    – 1 page description of how laws work in each town. where does it start? where does it get ratified? like this: http://www.mikewirthart.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/howlawsmadeWIRTH2.jpg
    – 1 page org chart so people know who reports to who and how agencies interact
    – publish meeting agendas and supporting documentation well in advance (more than the minimum required 2 days in CA) so citizens can become informed

    – post opportunities to participate online, in local newspapers and other outlets
    – opportunities include board, committee, commission, and planning meetings
    – show meetings on TV and online, always

    Priority 2 – Quality Interaction
    Goal: Create opportunities for meaningful interaction
    – conduct meetings at times there are conducive for -most- citizens. 9am Tuesday mornings is not a good time.
    – consider a multi-step public approach to decision-making (this may/likely exists somewhere). ie: public decisions will have 3 steps: introduction (basic outline), hearing (feedback), decision-making (further discussion + decision)
    – enable citizens to participate online and in an asynchronous fashion (this also raises issues about citizens participating across jurisdictional boundaries)
    — share input from asynchronous channels in public
    – enable citizens to add agenda items (item can be scheduled for a later date)

    note: lots more work can be done here by agencies to enable input at more phases, rather than just decision-making time.

    Priority 3 – Feedback & Results
    Goal: Let citizens know the results of their participation.
    – publish lofty goals online so people they have something to strive for (aka mission). ie: better schools, cleaner environment, balanced budgets, high employment, improved services. What is IDEAL?
    – publish actionable goals publicly so that they can be tracked across time. ie: status of a building project, number of jobs created, budget savings realized, and other metrics
    – publish specific examples about how public helps shape policy. ie: X # of citizens came to discuss the building proposal, providing great ideas that we hadn’t thought of. We are now doing this based on their valuable input.

    More specifically, approaching this from a technical standpoint, I’ve been building on O’Reilly’s notion of “government as platform” and thinking conceptually in terms of an API for citizen participation.
    – At what points do governments allow input? In what form?
    – How does a citizen interact with that API?
    – What parameters must be passed along and in what context?

    – What does government return? Feedback, response, deliberation, judgement, press release, policy, law?

    – How do these iterations work?

    Many questions to be answered and much work to be done. Yet, it is clear that there are many opportunities to improve citizen participation in government.

  • #106257

    Gary Berg-Cross


    Thanks for the rich and generous response, which I hope will get lots of followup.

    I hope also that you get a chance to check your research files on engagement so we can hear more.

    I had one Q on your Priority 1 – Awareness – Make the public aware of how and where to participate.

    I see the 1 page description of how laws work in each town the law lifecycle which both grabs you and informs. My question is about a mechanism to get these things done. Who would you see doing them? Is it official Gov business or public interest groups or some mix?

  • #106255

    Laura L. Francis

    We have a town meeting form of government. The town meeting is our legislative body and meetings are poorly attended. I would like to see an effective way to use technology to increase participation.

  • #106253

    Justin Mosebach


    What time are the meetings at? Is video of them posted online? I wrote a blog post on this over at GovFresh called “Public Meetings 2.0” that might be of help. Let me know how I can assist you in getting more people involved with your public meetings!


  • #106251

    Thomas Langkabel

    I totally agree with Bill.

    1.)Why should it be done?
    2.)Which recognizable success can be achieved fast enough to create a sustainable momentum?
    3.)How can the staff be empowered and enabled to join and support the journey?

  • #106249

    Daniel Honker

    I must fall in line with my fellow Loopers and agree with the good points Bill made, primarily for how this approach would tackle the complex question of culture change.

    All too often, I think the Gov 2.0 discussion goes like this: “The technology exists. Here are the policies that should change. But culture? That’s a tough nut to crack!” Repeat.

    Beginning with an open conversation of what openness means — and it means different things to different types of agencies (think of DOD vs. EPA) — is a good foundation on which everything else can follow. For instance, there’s a lot of discussion about the right metrics to use for openness. Addressing upfront how an agency will be open will help determine metrics lead to that. Plus, it will help orient the workforce about what this change will mean.

    And the training program is uber-critical. Ideally, this is a transformation in how government does its work — from the agency head to the ground-level worker, and we need to treat it as such. (Plus, I just love the emotional intelligence awareness piece!)

  • #106247

    Gary Berg-Cross

    Ageed on the need to define metrics for Openness and OG.

    I see that one group has taken some steps in this direction.
    OpenTheGovernment.org torganized a project to evaluate federal agency’s progress towards fulfilling President Obama’s commitment to “creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government” in order to “strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”


    TSome of the preliminary work on transparency is illustrative:

    The Open Government Plan should explain in detail how the agency will improve transparency. It should describe

    steps the agency will take to conduct its work more openly and publish its information online, including any proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve transparency; and
    how it is currently meeting its legal information dissemination obligations, and how it plans to improve its existing information dissemination practices by providing:

    i. A strategic action plan for transparency that

    (1) inventories agency high-value information currently available for download;

    (2) fosters the public’s use of this information to increase public knowledge and promote public scrutiny of agency services; and

    (3) identifies high value information not yet available and establishes a reasonable timeline for publication online in open formats with specific target dates. High-value information is information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; further the core mission of the agency; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation.

    ii. A plan for timely publication of the underlying data (in cases where the agency provides public information maintained in electronic format) in an open format and as granular as possible, consistent with statutory responsibilities and subject to valid privacy, confidentiality, security, or other restrictions. The agency should also identify key audiences for its information and their needs, and endeavor to publish high-value information for each of those audiences in the most accessible forms and formats. In particular, information created or commissioned by the Government for educational use by teachers or students and made available online should clearly demarcate the public’s right to use, modify, and distribute the information.

    iii. Details as to how the agency is complying with transparency initiative guidance such as Data.gov, eRulemaking, IT Dashboard, Recovery.gov, and USAspending.gov. Where gaps exist, the agency should detail the steps the agency is taking and the timing to meet the requirements for each initiative.

    iv. Details of proposed actions to be taken, with clear milestones, to inform the public of significant actions and business of the agency, such as through agency public meetings, briefings, press conferences on the Internet, and periodic national town hall meetings.

    v. A link to a publicly available website that shows how the agency is meeting its existing records management requirements. These requirements serve as the foundation for the agency’s records management program, which includes such activities as identifying and scheduling all electronic records and ensuring the timely transfer of all permanently valuable records to the National Archives.

    vi. A link to a website that includes
    (1) a description of the staffing, organizational structure, and process for analyzing and responding to FOIA requests;
    (2) an assessment of the agency’s capacity to analyze, coordinate, and respond to such requests in a timely manner, together with proposed changes, technological resources, or reforms that ther agency determines are needed to strengthen your response processes; and
    (3) if the agency has a significant backlog, milestones that detail how the agency will reduce its pending backlog of outstanding FOIA requests by at least ten percent each year. Providing prompt responses to FOIA requests keeps the public apprised of specific informational matters they seek.

    vii. A description or link to a webpage that describes the staffing, organizational structure, and process for analyzing and responding to Congressional requests for information.

    viii. A link to a publicly available webpage where the public can learn about the agency’s declassification programs, learn how to access declassified materials, and provide input about what types of information should be prioritized for declassification, as appropriate. Declassification of government information that no longer needs protection, in accordance with established procedures, is essential to the free flow of information.

  • #106245

    Gary Berg-Cross

    I should have added on the idea of “openness” and its measurement the “Openness Floor” idea which is a list of baseline criteria that agencies must meet in order to be considered open.’

    These have been developed by good government groups (a process spearheaded by OpenTheGovernment.org and OMB Watch) over the last year or so.

    There is a good list of criteria at: http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2010/07/setting-the-standard-for-government-transparency-the-openness-floor.html

    This starts with 7 Accountability & Influence criteria:

    1. Agency telephone and email directories so that citizens can contact employees concerning specific matters at each agency.

    2. Visitor logs for each of the agency’s decision-makers, to be made public in timely (every 3 months at a minimum) fashion. If the agency is not currently keeping such records, the agency should have a system in place to both store and make public visitor logs within three months. Exemptions could be established to address privacy issues and other concerns related to non-policy meetings, such as job interviews.

    3. Lobby disclosure forms and data, including forms which government contractors and grantees must file when lobbying for additional funds.

    4. Communications with Congress, including but not limited to reports, responses to inquiries, testimony before committees and legislative proposals.

    5. A list of all Inspector General reports, with online access to all unclassified reports.

    6. Calendars (with identification of people, companies and topics involved in meetings), correspondence logs, and ethics disclosure of top-level agency officials (e.g., the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and Assistant Secretary).

    7. Federal Advisory Committees, their members and recent (or all) meeting minutes as well as opportunities for public input.

  • #106243

    Justin Mosebach

    (In full disclosure, I work for a company that helps governments put video of meetings online.)

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