I used to be a journalist, and it was an incredible experience. However, I eventually got tired of being on the outside. I could call attention to government issues as an “objective” observer, but I wanted to affect positive change. My ultimate goal was to help bridge the gaps between government organizations and the people they serve.
The Open Government Directive instructs our nation’s leaders to start building those bridges. The Directive takes the principles of openness, transparency, and collaboration and empowers agencies to start using them in their ongoing operations. Several Government 2.0 leaders have outlined the details of the Directive, so I want to spend some time talking about the key benefits and challenges.
- Investment in Our Democratic Infrastructure – Wikipedia defines infrastructure as “the basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.” With an estimated 308 million Americans covering 3.79 million square miles, interactive technologies are the only way to ensure that “We the People” can continue to participate in the formation of a “more perfect Union.”
- Emphasis on Collaboration – The megacommunity concept is the idea that the challenges we face – “such as global competitiveness, health and environmental risks, and inadequate infrastructure” – can no longer be solved by individual organizations or agencies alone. It describes the intersection of businesses, governments, and not-for-profit organizations and how they can converge to address universal problems. The same tools that allow us to communicate within our organizations and with one another online can be used to bring together these organizations around common goals. Channeling the collective knowledge and power of a megacommunity can have a substantial and lasting impact on our nation’s most complex problems.
- No More Excuses – How many of you have worked with a leader or client that has emphasized the unique challenges of your organization—promoting “social media” to some degree, but reluctant to share meaningful information or invite audience participation? I’m guessing this applies to at least four out of five people reading this blog, and my advice to you is that every organization is unique. Whether or not this Directive applies to your organization, use it as motivation to address those challenges and find ways to truly embrace the principles of open government.
- Lack of Public Understanding – The rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship are changing, and we need to be educated—at every level—on how and why to engage through open government channels. The loudest voices are usually the outliers (a group I fondly refer to as “the crazies”), and I would anticipate that the outliers will be the early adopters in open government. However, we cannot let a few loud voices thwart our progress, or even worse, deter individuals with more common opinions from participating online. From the beginning, we need to consider how to promote awareness of open government activities and provide a compelling call to action that’s broad enough to reach a representative public.
- Inadequate Mission Alignment – Inevitably, some agencies will go through the motions of developing Open Government Plans and building Web sites without identifying how the basic principles can advance their missions. Failure to align open government activities to an organization’s mission, goals, and objectives could prevent the agency from realizing the true value open government. The ensuing lack of responsiveness could also result in decreased public trust. The Directive instructs each agency to incorporate the principles of President Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Memorandum into its core mission objectives, but I would argue that the principles should be integrated into strategies and processes rather than the ultimate objective.
- Poor Construction – The first bridges were made of fallen trees and other materials that could be easily dragged across streams to create a path. They served their purpose for hunters and gatherers, but they could not support a significant traffic increase. I think many of our current open government efforts are similar to these bridges. If we want to integrate transparency, participation, and collaboration into ongoing government activities, we will need to evolve our strategy and technology to support increases in conversation. Proper construction will take expertise, time, and resources.
What are your predictions for the Open Government Directive? Do you think agencies will meet the deadlines, and if so, do you think they will embody the principles of open government? I look forward to your thoughts.