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GovInsights: Analysis of Open Government Plans at One Year

Open Government reaches a key milestone this week. Plus, we’re nearing the end of 2010 and many folks will be sharing their Top 10’s for 2010. Rather than launch into that kind of look back here (though that’s all coming soon!), I wanted to highlight some insights I gleaned from Angela Newell, who is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Texas, Austin. The focus of her dissertation is Open Government Directive, so she’s been taking a close and careful look. I think you’ll agree that she offers an excellent analysis.

1. What’s the current state of affairs with Open Government?

All agencies have an Open Government Plan. All of these plans underwent
a public commentary phase where ideas and suggestions were offered by the public. Most agencies have a couple of long term initiatives in place, like the IdeaScale OpenIdeas projects. And, most have more temporal projects like the Global Pulse project. All agencies have developed and executed Flagship Initiatives as included in the Open Government Directive.

An evaluation system was developed by OMB for Open Government
plans. Most agencies have undergone two self-evaluations. According to that evaluation, all agencies are successful in implementing Open Government initiatives. For most, this means that they are meeting the expectations of data.gov and submitting high quality data sets for public access through the data.gov portal. All agencies also meet the recovery.gov and USASpending reporting standards. In meeting these requirements, agencies are meeting the most basic of the transparency goals set forth in the Open Government Directive. All major agencies also use some form of social media to engage with the public. Most agencies have also launched a webinar series that offer relevant information related to their agency mission or that addresses current needs and “hot topics” or items in the news.

2. Are agencies giving any indication as to the status of their projects?

Agencies were required to include a time line for their Open
Government initiatives. The EPA developed an interactive time line that offered citizens the opportunity to provide input. It’s very cool: http://www.epa.gov/open/timeline.html. Several agencies (like NASA) have extended this time line to include future goals and projects that promote collaboration and participation. Some agencies, like the Social Security Administration (which just launched a new set of Web 2.0 tools for service access) have included Open Government goals in their strategic plans and view Open Government as something that is necessary to perpetuate the mission of their agency.

3. What has worked well?

GIS applications are especially useful in garnering citizen support to assist with disasters and with local problems. The Geodata portal is really important in this respect. In times of disaster or major need, citizens will post both data and commentary to assist with the problem. And they will post and interact with the geo data until the problem is addressed. Some of then will then create smaller communities that update the data sets created for the disaster and then assist other communities when a problem hits another locality. The government, specifically the geodata.gov data acts as a backbone for these efforts. In this respect, raw data dumps are really useful to citizen and government service provision.

The least successful projects are those, like blogs and
data dumps, that offer little opportunity for interaction. People like it when blogs are accompanied by resource centers and when data dumps are accompanied by useful tools, like calculators, visual aids, comparative tools, and discussion communities.
The most successful projects are those that offer the opportunity for interaction, like the OpenIdeas where an idea solicitation is set forth and people can discuss, promote and demote ideas, and projects that promote competition–especially competition that feeds into a larger goal/agency mission. These observations are true for internal (government) users and for citizen and other users.

4. Where is there room for improvement?

One drawback to the Open Government system is that while there are
repositories for things like blogs and data, there are no real repositories for participation and collaboration opportunities. A suggestion would be that a social media and collaboration “directory” be developed to point citizens in direction for participation.

Additionally, several of the Open Government initiatives and the agency/open.gov sites are not actually connected to the larger agency site. So, a citizen or participant would have to be looking for the Open Government initiatives in order to find them as they are not necessarily linked on an agency’s main page. Agencies are required to have the Open Government page and plan, but it isn’t necessarily connected to all of the agency main pages. Some of them are also not linked back to the White House Open Government page. Proper links would serve in accessibility for Open Government efforts.

Additionally, in the next phase of Open Government, each agency
might consider developing value metrics and parameters for their projects. They might ask what value these tools provide to their agency and to the public. Most agencies track use, but not value.

6. Any specific agency efforts that you believe are worthy of special mention?

By most accounts, NASA is the most successful organization at implementing Open Government initiatives. They have several Citizen Scientists type projects that attract people of all ages and help to solve NASA objectives. They have developed a Participatory Exploration Office (http://www.nasa.gov/open/plan/peo.html).

One of the citizen favorite projects is the “Be A Martian Project” where citizens experience Mars by improving maps, taking part in research tasks, and count craters–all of which assists Mars scientists in documenting Mars. A project on the horizon is the Moon Work Project. The project is a competition for researchers and students to develop new space and exploration technologies. A more complete list of the citizen collaboration opportunities is at: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/ (scroll down to the collaboration portion). The NASA projects are really geared toward citizens helping to achieve the science and engineering mission of NASA.

Other projects are built around forging new citizen and non-traditional partnerships, spurring non-traditional governmental and non-governmental partnerships: Department of State Apps4Africa (http://apps4africa.org/) Apps4Africa combines the U.S. Department of State, iHub (technologists, technology funders, and the hacker community), App4Africa Labs, and the Social Development Network to solicit ideas for applications that will address development in African countries. The site has an interactive idea space, a wiki, and a blog. Their ideas are gathered via a set of competitions. Winners are chosen and subsequently supported by partner agencies. These projects are geared toward using Web 2.0 technologies to achive more global goals.

An example of an outstanding temporal and Flagship event: USAID Open Gov Flagship Event Global Pulse. Global Pulse was a project to assist in identifying the largest problems for development. In addition, participants were tasked with identifying the worst challenges and tasked with helping to build plans to address development problems and allocate resources of partner agencies. They recorded that 10,127 participants representing 172 countries and territories registered for the event.

– 57% of the registrants were from outside of the U.S.
– 47% were under 35,
– 51% female and 49% male.

Global Pulse 2010 received support from a large number of partners including: Action Aid, Aga Khan Foundation, America University School of Business, Babson College, Business Fights Poverty, CSR Wire, Devex, DAI, Georgetown University, IBM’s Corporate Citizenship Corporate Affairs, InterAction, International Center for Research on Women, International Republic Institute, Link TV, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, National Endowment for Democracy, One Economy, TED.com, US Department for Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, and Women Thrive Worldwide.

7. Anything on the horizon that you see as particularly promising?

Two cool innovations on the horizon:

Externally: Challenge.gov

Internally: Apps.gov (by GSA)

Angela Newell is a University of Texas Continuing Fellow and Candidate for the Doctorate in Public Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on government information systems, decision making groups, and the implementation of interactive Internet tools. Ms. Newell is a co-author of a successful National Science Foundation Science of Science and Innovation Policy grant and is an author in the forthcoming book “The Internet in Everyday Life,” edited by William Aspray and Barbara Hayes and published by the MIT press. Prior to attending the University of Texas, Ms. Newell was a scientific researcher contracted to the Department of Energy. She received her Master of Science in Public Policy and Information Systems Management from Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, where she was a Cooper Scholar and a recipient of the Lauble Fellowship. As a Lauble Fellow, Ms. Newell co-founded the flagship Computer Clubhouse of Pittsburgh. She is also the co-creator of an e-budget system for the Pittsburgh School District and researcher of CEMINA: Internet Radio Brazil for the World Bank. Ms. Newell has directed community development initiatives and served as a two-year AmeriCorps member and as a National Service Fellow. She received two national awards, including the Josten’s Our Town Award, for her work in community development. For more information about Ms. Newell, please contact her at [email protected].

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Yasmin Fodil

Great analysis! I really appreciate an academic look at these topics. I’m curious about methodology – is that info available anywhere?