Today, I had the pleasure of taking part in a small conference of numerous workers from the open government field. I was again inspired by their passion to their profession, the work they are doing - and their optimism for the future. I took out a lot of really interesting lessons from the conference. Below are five of my main take-aways:
1. Open Government struggles with a consistent theme and message.
We all came from different backgrounds and experiences, but an overall consensus of what open gov means is not readily defined. The conversation from participants made open gov sound more like an umbrella term, rather than a distinct definition. This is interesting to consider, and one of the challenges is that if there are all these different elements of open gov - how do we avoid sitting in silos and reverting back to traditional methods.
2. Tell Stories of Success!
Participants were disenchanted with how government has been portrayed in the media, and the publics view of the Federal workforce. Participants wanted stronger examples of successes to tell the great stories about open gov. Feds need to highlight all the great work they are doing, to show that good work is coming out of government and to promote the passion of government workers.
3. Bridge Gap between Open Gov Employees and other Departments.
This has been a reoccuring theme, the idea is that the use of Gov 2.0 applications should be part of the entire agency, working towards promoting the agencies overall mission. The use of new collaboration tools needs to be strategic and help move forward agency goals. This also would help with buy-in from senior management. Agencies need to realize that open gov is just one element leading to achieving an organizations missions, this needs to be part of the value proposition for open gov leaders within an agency.
4. Make Data Useful
Another idea that came out of the conversation today is the demand for making data available in formats that citizens can easily understand. An example was brought up about Mesa, Arizona in which citizens can track capital improvement projects by the dollar. Releasing an enormous data set for citizens often is not useful, government needs to engage with the public and publish materials in useful mediums for citizens.
5. Moving Away From Data Rich, Insight Poor
The idea here is that community managers or people working on open gov projects get a lot of feedback from constituents. There is a need to find better ways to filter information, structure challenges and use feedback in meaningful ways to avoid the black box scenario. I'd say this is one of the more critical challenges. If citizens are posting and sharing ideas, and they are ignored or not acted on - where is the innovation in government? It is just a rehash of traditional consistuent services. Agencies need to do a better job of explaining to the public how information is viewed, filtered and what projects may be acted on or responded too, this will help in building trust between citizens and agencies.
Overall, it was an interesting conference with a lot of great discussions. Personally, it was great to see people with so much passion and devotion to their professions. The conference to me was a reminder that the principles which the Open Government initiatives were founded on are part of the solution to the complex challenges government faces. Open Gov is just a piece in a complex puzzle to solve governments challenges, but with a more strategic use of tools that enable collaboration, participation and a transparency - I am confident we are going to keep moving in the right direction.