During the Government 2.0 Summit being held in Washington D.C., as reported by Federal News Radio, Ellen Miller – founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation – openly criticized the accomplishments of the US federal administration around open government. In particular she focused on the little achievements in terms of open data publication by several agencies and the little usefulness of data in USASpending.gov, in spite of several redesigns. As a consequence, she announced that the Sunlight Foundation has launched ClearSpending, to scrutinize data in USASpending.gov.
Is anybody really surprised? Reality is that it doesn’t matter how much governments try to do to be more open and transparent, it won’t ever be enough. ClearSpending will be yet another watchdog, as we have seen in the past, when open data was not flooding the web and yet there were organizations keeping an eye on how well governments operate.
I have been an early skeptic on the Open Government Directive, not because it is not a good idea, but because one must appreciate the implementation challenges and how high (or low) a priority it can be in the context of the strategic objectives that each agency has to meet.
Arguably, data is much more easily available today than it was years ago, and the task for watchdogs will be easier than it was in the past. it is also good to keep government on its toes and strives for more transparency.
Over the last couple of years we have seen pretty much the same activists, proponents, consultants, bloggers, enthusiastic civil servants carry the load for demonstrating how good open government (and/or government 2.0) are. I am sure that the Government 2.0 Summit, in its second year, has grown in attendance and breadth of speakers. Yet, this is not enough
I would argue that we are still far from making open government part of the normal course of business. In order for this to happen, openness, transparency, collaboration, participation, engagement and so forth must become tools that help solve problems, reduce costs, deliver measurable value to citizens. We have to stop mentioning it as if it had a life of its own, but translate it into concepts that make sense to justice, health and human services, public safety, transportation, environment and all other domains of public policy and service.
Along the way, we also have to get rid of Government 2.0 or Open Government events, conferences, barcamps and the likes, and make sure sessions on these topics are part of every government-related event.
But, I suspect, there is still a long way to go to get there.