Blog post

Second Open Government Deadline: US Agencies Still Flexing Their Muscles

By Andrea Di Maio | February 09, 2010 | 2 Comments

open government data

According to the Open Government Directive, by 6 February 2010 US federal agencies were supposed to create an Open Government page on their website to serve as a gateway for agency activities related to the Open Government Directive. The page should allow the public to provide feedback, including prioritization of datasets, and should host the agency Freedom of Information Act report.

The White House issued a very timely page, which shows the self-reported progress of agencies toward meeting the open government requirements. Unsurprisingly, almost all agencies get the best compliance scores (“Meets Expectations”) on all they were required to do so far.

I have been browsing quite a few open government pages, and – although their layout varies – content is remarkably homogenous. In particular, again with few exceptions, it is relatively easy to get to both the open data sets and to the idea sharing page, which is powered – for most agencies – by Ideascale, a tool selected by GSA and used already in May 2009 during the first phase of the Open Dialogue, which ultimately led to the Open Government Directive itself.

The majority of agencies use IdeaScale, while some (such as the Department of Agriculture) use different tools and others (such as the Social Security Administration) offer alternatives, pointing out that IdeaScale runs on an external site and does not comply with federal policies about the use of persistent cookies. A waiver has been granted for the use of cookies in the context of open government initiatives: however it is interesting to note that not all agencies warn about this, while some do so quite explicitly (not being a lawyer, I wonder whether the waiver is enough).

It is too early to judge the value and innovation shown by ideas submitted and commented upon so far. There are still too few, with too few votes. It is evident that, in some cases, draft ideas have been put forward by agencies to stimulate dialogue: this is a good idea, as many people – who are not the usual suspects such as activists and advocacy groups – do need a solid starting point to start being engaged.

What struck me is that all those who use Ideascale and its template, show a bulleted list that looks like this:

Give us your ideas on how we can:
  • Work better with others inside & outside the government
  • Solicit feedback from the public
  • Improve the availability & quality of information
  • Be more innovative & efficient
  • Create Social Security’s Open Government Plan. Learn More…

One would expect the “Learn More” link to go to a draft open government plan, but all of them pointed to the open government page. I would argue that, in order to more effectively engage people on building the plan, it would be great to have an evolving draft of the plan available for comment. This is clearly going to be the case after 7 April, by when the Plans are due (and as required by the directive), but there is no sign so far.

The only two exceptions I found were the Department of Transportation and the Dept of Health and Human Services.

The former positioned itself as a leader in open government compliance, by hosting an early event about how to develop plans. It does give access to a very early table of content for the plan, where it mostly outlines the intended methodology.

The latter provides a very clear layout, points to a blog rather than Ideascale to discuss (no comment yet though), and explicitly asks for comments on the Open Government Plan, although the current draft is no more than what the Directive already provides.

Finally, although this is not a beauty context, the page that I liked most was the one from NASA. It features an imposing countdown clock on the right hand side, which indicates days, hours, minutes and seconds to the deadline for idea submission. It also gives access to many NASA pages on social media, as well as a wealth of other information about iPhone apps, easy access to data sets, and so forth. On the other hand, isn’t it a bit easy to be cool if you have so much information that is already compelling to many people by its nature?.

The other one I would commend is indeed the one from the Department of Health and Human Services, because of its simplicity and its decision to take a different approach to sharing and discussion of ideas: something that, after having browsed over a dozen Ideascale pages, I found quite refreshing.

It seems to me that, although with different impetus and investment, all agencies have raised to the challenge. The proof of the pudding, though, will be in their Open Government Plans.

Which is why Gartner will be hosting a free webcast on March 1 on How To Develop and Leverage an Open Government Plan (I will post about it separately).

Comments are closed


  • Ken Fischer says:

    Hi Andrea
    I also put together an open government planning event last week with the PotomacForum. DOT presented there and mentioned that they had 200 people involved in cross-disciplinary collaborative open government teams which I thought is very commendable. Also while progress has been made, it was mentioned that some of limitations in the language on the ideascale sites is due to restrictions from the Paperwork Reduction Act. Guidance on this is due out from OMB soon and hopefully it will make easier to engage the public.

  • Mills Davis says:


    The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is developing an Open Energy Information ( initiative. Its goal is to establish a (US and global) community-based “renewable energy data commons” based on linked open data principles.

    Right now they’re working through issues relating to how best to manage data quality across the lifecycle of data assets contributed from multiple sources. Entities aligned with Federal Agencies and Departments have multiple requirements to meet relating to quality of data and information being made public in addition to the principles for data quality principles enunciated as part of What is new is figuring out how to best frame data policies and align practices and procedures to fully take advantage of semantic web technologies.

    I doubt that NREL is the only group that is exploring how best to marry semantic web technologies with appropriate data quality policies, best practices, and procedures. For example, the UK has taken this path. Also, the NASCIO organization is recommending linked open data for States to share public information.

    But, let me ask. Are you aware of other groups in government or elsewhere who are working to address data quality management issues as relates to repositories of linked open data resources?

    Mills Davis