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What’s the Difference Between Participation and Collaboration and How Do I Comply with the Open Government Directive?

By Andrea Di Maio | January 17, 2010 | 3 Comments

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While working on a Gartner research note that advises about how to develop an Open Government Plan (which is one of the requirements of the Open Government Directive), I found myself reflecting about the distinction between participation and collaboration.

These are the definitions given in the directive:

  • Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society.
  • Collaboration improves the effectiveness of government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the federal government, across levels of government, and between the government and private institutions.

I threw the question about the difference to Twitter and got a number of quite interesting replies. Here are a few findings:

On a couple of dictionaries I have found the following definitions:

  • Participation: The act or state of participating, or sharing in common with others
  • Collaboration: To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.

So it would appear that, in order to collaborate, one needs to participate. Further, collaboration seems to imply a specific goal, while participation does not.

There are other nuances too. Collaboration suggests something that is somewhat planned or controlled by government, which chooses who to collaborate with. Participation looks more bottom up, with the public possibly taking the lead and government joining their effort. But I am pretty sure that some people would give the exact opposite interpretation.

Bottom line is that in less than three months federal agencies have to develop a plan to meet requirements based on apparently ambiguous definitions.

Could we have a glossary please?

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3 Comments

  • Working Girl says:

    Also, how you define collaboration may limit the reach of your participation: http://compforce.typepad.com/compensation_cafe/2009/11/collaboration-199lb.html

  • Keith Moore says:

    Participation as it relates to the Open Government Directive I believe is a term that is open for re-definition. Collaboration given an acceptance to redefine the current definition of participation would help then the act of collaboration to truly become a tool for reaching the goals of Open Government. (The original goal of OGD may also need to undergo a redefinition). If we are serious about achieving results that will impact meaningful and sustainable change in our economy, our healthcare system, and our homeland security.

    The number one priorities in our nation today are as follows:

    Employment, counterterrorism, global peace, economic stimulus, and health care for all. Until OGD tools are developed and deployed within the federal agencies to increase participation to include all sectors of the private market, the OGD fails to address our nation’s most pressing issues. And if this is the result why have an Open Government.

    Collaboration is a tool that government has admittedly not been able to successfully implement among federal agencies. but it is with the advancement of collaborations inside government that we will find efficiencies and from the private sector we will encourage innovation.

    Until we re-define, and establish our goals that address our nation’s most pressing issues, then implementing Open Government Directive by mid April will be just another box checking exercise and potentially a failed Directive.

  • Andrea — good points. Participation can be “enabled,” if you will, but not coerced. Can lead to a fascinating, philosophical question on what percentage of the population truly has the time and the desire to be actively engaged in governance.

    If you’re working on a note, you may be interested in knowing GovDelivery is organizing an event in DC 2/7 focused on OGD compliance, link below:

    http://www.govdelivery.com/events/opengov/