I just read a long list of kudos to the Open Government Directive by people I respect and admire, all praising the almost historical dimension of this document and all convince that it will trigger sustainable change in how governments and citizen will relate to each other.
My post on the directive has been of quite a different tone, partly because I just wanted to counterbalance what I was expecting to be a choir of enthusiastic support, and partly because I was expecting more.
If I look at the first few months of the Obama administration, achievements like Data.gov, USAspending.gov, the IT Dashboard, the GSA policies on social media, the dawn of a cloud computing strategy, have all broken new ground that several other countries are closely watching and even following. Just look at how many national flavors of Data.gov are in the making, and at how many jurisdictions have boosted their government 2.0 initiatives because of what people like Vivek Kundra, Aneesh Chopra, Beth Noveck, Casey Coleman and others have been doing.
As it often happens when you get used to great ideas and out-of-the-box thinking, I was expecting the Directive to be a defining moment in helping government agencies start a productive journey toward participation, collaboration, engagement. It is entirely possible that I have been reading too much in the President’s executive memo that triggered the preparation of this directive, but I was expecting his team to articulate a much richer and comprehensive definition of transparency, participation and collaboration.
I thought the team would recognize that government needs to:
- be both a producer and a consumer of data (hence transparency goes both ways),
- offer avenues to citizens to participate but also follow pathways to participation that citizens define themselves, and
- establish seamless collaboration patterns among its employees as well as between employees and citizens
So my disappointment came from the directive missing some key elements, such as employee-centricity.
A more optimistic reading of the directive is to consider it as a first step, something required to get agencies to do the first move, assuming that the missing elements will be added along the way. There is language that gives hope, such as
Within 90 days, the Deputy Director for Management at OMB will issue, through separate guidance or as part of any planned comprehensive management guidance, a framework for how agencies can use challenges, prizes, and other incentive-backed strategies to find innovative or cost-effective solutions to improving open government.
This is broad enough to possibly incorporate the points I made above. My main concern is that if agencies take a compliance route to implementing the directive, 90 days may already be late to change course.
However, as an analyst I will try to provide the best possible advice to our clients in striking the right balance between complying with the Open Directive and making it part of a broader, longer term “government 2.0” strategy. In this respect the Open Government Plan – in its suggested formulation – should be seen as the first version of a more comprehensive “government 2.0” or – if you prefer – transparency, participation and collaboration plan.
In the research note I am currently writing I will highlight what other sections should be part of that plan, and when and how they should be populated to both comply with and leverage the Open Directive for broader engagement purposes.
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