“Dear U.S. Government,
There’s been a lot of media coverage about you becoming more open and transparent. There have been a multitude of new policies, conferences, guidelines, platforms, and even awards for things related to something called Government 2.0 and Open Government. You people in DC sure are talking a good game – trotting out your iPhone apps, Twitter feeds, blogs, and wikis - and I suppose I should care about those things, but in reality, I haven’t got the slightest clue why any of that matters to me. I, like 95% of America, don’t use Twitter, I don’t have any idea how to mash anything up, and I don’t care enough about your agency to read your blog.
I’m not sure why I should care about open government -sure these things are nice and all, but it hasn’t really changed anything. You know what would change things? If my Congressman would actually explain what he does on the Hill – what is she/he doing on a daily basis to make my life better? If someone at the IRS could explain the tax code to me. If someone at the metro could tell me when my train will be ten minutes late, and why they’re only running four car trains at rush hour. If I knew when my street was going to be plowed. But most of all, I want government to just work. I just want to stop dreading having to interact with the red tape and the bureaucracy, and I want to feel like my government is there to help me.”
John Q. Public
I’m not going to get into whether the general public needs to understand what “Gov 2.0″ is or not, but there is one thing that we in the Gov 2.0 community need to do a better job of and it’s not educating the public on what open government is or why they should care. No, what we need to do is start calling more attention to things like the DC DMV’s real-time video feed of their lines, like NextBus to alert riders when their next bus is coming, like what Santa Cruz is doing to involve its citizens in the budget process.
While something like Data.gov may eventually become the backbone for hundreds, maybe thousands, of revolutionary open government initiatives down the road, it’s not impacting the average citizen’s life RIGHT NOW. To the average citizen, it’s not revolutionary – it’s just another government website.
Building an open government is kind of like building a successful sports team. While team management may have a vision of where they want to be in five years and may be taking steps to build the infrastructure – drafting young players with potential, cutting older/overpaid veterans, and putting in a new strategy – so that they are successful in five years, they also realize that they can’t just concede the next five years and hope their fans will keep coming back. So they sign some veteran free agents to help the team compete in the short term. They may make a trade to help build some excitement among the fan base. They may lower ticket prices. They realize that even though a championship may realistically be years away, the team has to continue to show the public that they care about them and that they’re doing what they can to win, both in the short term and over the long term.
So, no, the public doesn’t need to understand what Gov 2.0 or open gov is – but they do need to understand that their government is actively trying to do more to communicate and collaborate with them. Let’s not get too caught up in what Open Government could mean in the future, and forget about the little things that we can do for the public right now. Implement customer service training for everyone who could interact with the public, fix the speakers on the metro so that people can understand what’s being said – it’s these little things that will go a long way in establishing the trust among the public (our fans) that we’re committed to building a truly open government, now and into the future.