6 thoughts on “I'm Afraid I Don't Understand This Open Government Thing”

  1. Well, you’re one up on me. I thought “open government” meant that the administration would always tell us what it is considering and doing, and would have that info online for us to find 24/7. I also thought it meant it would pay more attention to messages we send it than did the previous administration.

    I didn’t realize that the administration isn’t sure how to be more “open.” How could you NOT know that? You really have two choices: keep stuff secret, or share it. And there aren’t any unknown, super-secret, need-to-be-discovered ways to share information. There are: The White House website/email list/Facebook page/Twitter account, press releases, press conferences, televised briefings, and TV and radio interviews and announcements.

    If “open government” doesn’t mean “the government is more open with info and to ideas,” then they need to rename it!

  2. Brad – Excellent, excellent post. I think Angelique’s reply illustrates how clear and straightfoward it is on one level, and why it is thus so compelling to get behind, and what you lay out so cogently is speaking on another (and in my opinion) deeper level.

    You are spot on with the Expert Trap being one of the biggest dangers/obstacles to accomplishing lasting, meaningful change. A related concern is the nuance between ‘influence’ and ‘control.’

    Thanks for this post.

    Todd

  3. Thank you! I spent considerable time on Sunday going through the very steps you mention wondering the same things. The idea of open government is very exciting and I understand we must learn how to do this, practice it into being a good system. However, it seems way too layered as a starting point. My comment to my son was is it just normal that government has to write an exponential more amount of information to be credible?

    I hope you can help us figure this out. I want to see citizens be able to make valuable contributions. I know we can given the chance.

  4. Brad:
    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post! I think the key lies in your line here: “He was talking about a mindset change on the part of both citizens and government.”

    That mindset change is what makes all the difference. It is one thing to focus on the “doing” (which leads to all the complicated processes and resultant need for experts you noted). Taking lots of actions to “do” transparency is the easy part.

    It is quite another thing indeed, as Angelique noted, to simply “be” transparent and open.

    So what does that look like in practice? For starters, it can be as simple as considering, in every action the government takes, the question, “What does openness mean for this action we are about to take?” And then doing just that.

    Thank you so much for addressing this!

    Hildy Gottlieb
    Author – The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing “Nonprofit Organizations” to Create the Future of Our World

  5. Brad–All good questions that are important to ask and think about. I went to the Innovation in Government seminar at the Brookings Institute the other day, and the comments I heard reinforced–and countered–some of what you said. Beth Novek, who’s overseeing the White House process you described, is interested in technology of course (she wrote Wiki Government), but also seems to get the concept of citizen involvement. I got the impression that the problems are so vast and complicated that technology seems like the fastest way to make an impact. Some of her job seems to be just getting government IT into the 21st Century so agencies can build an infrastructure that allows for greater participation and coordination between departments. Another of her priorities is data transparency (e.g., the federal budget) so citizens can see what’s going on and more intelligently comment. In addition, Novek, being a Wiki fan, is advocating opening up government problems to citizen solutions. The main example she gave was programmers who could build a better mousetrap…

    I was more heartened, though, after hearing Carmen Sirianni, author of Investing in Democracy and a friend of Novek’s. I hope she and the White House listen to him. Sirianni is an advocate of “collaborative governance,” of treating citizens as co-creators and co-producers of policy with government agencies. He said it’s important to take the best of what Obama learned as a community organizer and combine it with 25 years of learning about civic engagement. There are a number of case studies and researched practices out there that should be recognized and utilized, and he sounded hopeful (publicly at least) that these ideas can be leveraged. Because some key government agencies are already working from the inside to open up their decision-making beyond the experts. The EPA and the Centers for Disease Control are a few good examples of that. Roger Bernier, who was in my Fielding University online course, has written brilliantly–with other agencies as his intended audience– about the value of citizen engagement. And if they start to become champions for these new processes, we may be onto something.

  6. Marla and Hildy, thanks for those comments!

    I am hopeful we can strike a balance between what government wants to do from a technical sense, what experts know ought to be done from a research and practice sense . . . and what people are really after.

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