Blog post

For Open Government, Technology Is The Least of Your Problems

By Andrea Di Maio | March 03, 2010 | 4 Comments

open government data

Looking at some tweets and feeds around open government, I have come across two interesting snippets.

The first one is about the National Telecommunications and Information Administration looking for a contractor to build content management and social networking Web sites as an almost direct consequence of the Open Government Directive.

The other one is a Microsoft-sponsored step-by-step guide to Open Government Directive compliance, where – not surprisingly given the sponsor – there is a lot of emphasis on use of platform and tools. Indeed one of the steps invites to “extend the use of Microsoft platforms and products”: just a few years ago, who would have thought that the Microsoft name would be so often associated to the term “open”?

Furthermore, a client who decided to attend my open government plan webinar earlier this week, told me that he was looking for “some new tools for his toolbox”.

It appears that, between Drupal, ideaScale, cloud computing conversations, a disproportionate part of the discussions around open government concerns tools and technologies. Should we use a wiki? What is the best enterprise social software suite we should deploy? Should I use open source or proprietary platforms?

There are different reasons for this. Open government and government 2.0 originate from the vendor and technology community, are driven by individuals who hold technology or technology-intensive positions (such as CTO or CIO), and require a piloting, trial-and-error approach that is closer to the technology world than to the government process world. Also, it has always been easier to say “let’s buy a new tool” than to reflect about deeper process and cultural changes. Finally, on a topic that is new to most people, with boundaries that are quite unclear, it is easier and somewhat more comfortable to be able to point to a new tool or a new functionality, something distinct from what one has been doing so far, as a way to tick a box in a compliance exercise.

However, with the variety of consumer technologies that allow government to pilot transparency, participation and collaboration at almost no extra technology cost, agencies can focus on what they want to accomplish and how to use those tools rather than which tools to use. Challenges are organizational (“what’s in it for me?”), procedural (“how does this integrate with dozens other processes we have to comply with?”), cultural (“do I really want people to know what I am doing?”), managerial (“how do I know these folks are not wasting time wandering on social networks?”).

The sooner we can take open government out of the technologists’ hands, the better. Do not get me wrong here. As open government is mostly about information, the Chief Information Officer plays a pivotal role . But he or she should keep web 2.0 freaks and consultants at bay and make sure open government helps the agency mission rather than just animate blog discussions, geeky events and the technical press.

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  • I agree and have provided today a tutorial on three use cases that show implementation of MyOpen Gov Plan at at

  • Andrea,

    Open Government is about improving the relationship between citizens and their government. And, as is in any relationship, it does depend on the quality of Communication.

    And even though Communication is often improved with better Technology (e.g., Web2.0), that is not always the result. A personal relationship can still suffer from poor communication … even if both people have an iPhone, Facebook page, etc. (Some would argue that the latest technology is often making the quality of communication worse.)

    More and more, lately, I’m seeing that it is slowly dawning on some “Gov2.0 evangelists” that OpenGov should NOT be relying so much on the Tech-focused aspect of Transparency (increasing the Quantity of information with data-sets, etc.) with the idea that it will always improve the Quality of communication (i.e., Participation and Collaboration).

    Talking is the easy part, but we should all be better Listeners in improving our relationships. (In my state, Scott Brown was elected U.S. Senator, in large part, because he convinced frustrated voters that he would be a better Listener.)

    And so, to those who have been thinking that “Open Government” and “Gov2.0” are the same thing, please consider that a large part of the Open Government initiative does NOT require any “Gov2.0” (i.e., technology) solutions. Technology, by itself, does NOT teach the social skills needed for better communication.

    A large part of Open Government is just the basic stuff that you, hopefully, learned in Communications 101 (e.g., learning how to be a better listener) and how to keep a group discussion on track (e.g., Robert’s Rules of Order).

    Yes, it is hard to do those things, but no technology is needed.

    P.S. I will be attending the Gov20NE unconference this Saturday in Boston, if anyone would like to have an “in-person” (non-tech) discussion about this topic.

  • Opps – I made an error in one of the links:

    I agree and have provided today a tutorial on three use cases that show implementation of MyOpen Gov Plan at at

  • Joe Sanchez says:

    Andrea, your point about organizational challenges is well made and I agree completely.

    Likewise, I also agree with Stephen Buckley that OpenGov is not about data sets, which may or may not reflect transparency, but more about communication and collaboration.

    A case can also be made, and in fact may already be in the process of beginning to be made (, that a better Open Government indicator may be focused on FOIA approvals. There’s real transparency there.

    If you refer to the Federal Enterprise Architecture’s (more on this later) Service Component Reference Model @, you’ll see that that model is already outdated. “Collaboration” and “communication” are identified as “Support Services.” I’ve always believed that “Communication” was a core business process (vs. a “Support Service”) and given social media’s impact on business and government, that is truer today than it ever has been. “Collaboration” is really an outcome enabler and an enterprise architecture should reflect this.

    Enterprise architectures (EAs) should be developed to enable inter- and intra-collaboration keeping in mind that the business models within an architecture are just as important, if not more so, than the IT models. If you were to ask government organizations to point out where and how their EAs specifically promote and enable collaboration, some might be hard pressed to answer that question. On that point, given today’s internal and external enterprise collaboration mandate, instead of “enterprise” architectures, organizations should be developing Inter-Enterprise Architectures (IEAs). That term would require an entirely new perspective on the development of these architectures. However, that’s another discussion for later.

    Communication leads to engagement. Engagement should lead to collaboration. Effective collaboration leads to trust. Trust leads to commitment. Commitment should lead to desired outcomes. This is the Open Government model. Implementing enabling technology to support this model is the least difficult part. Establishing and improving engagement, collaboration, and trust are the more difficult challenges and enablers of Open Government.