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Open Government Directive Workshop Results in More Questions Than Answers…For Now

January 12, 2010

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Yesterday, I, along with 250 other people representing three dozen agencies, contractors, and non-profits, attended the second Open Government Directive workshop held at the Department of Transportation. The workshop featured 10 Ignite-style presentations (awesome) by federal employees engaged in some form of open government, followed by an unconference in the afternoon where all of the 250 attendees gathered to informally discuss everything from how GovLoop can help support the Open Government Directive (OGD) to how to look beyond the deadlines and implement a culture change within your agency.

From left to right: Giovanni Carnaroli, Gwynne Kostin, John Teeter, and Jim Rolfes speak at the Open Government Directive Workshop

I really enjoyed participating in this conference for a few reasons. First, it was led by the Department of Transportation, not by a commercial company or a non-profit. There are a lot of really good conferences, events, and seminars on Gov 2.0 held by commercial companies and non-profits, but when a conference on government is hosted and led by government, it takes on a different feel and usually results in greater sharing, trust, and relationships.  Secondly, I really enjoyed meeting all the new people who attended this event. The world of Gov 2.0 can sometimes feel like an echo chamber, but yesterday, I got an opportunity to talk for the first time with people like Josh Salmons with the Defense Information School, Neil Bonner from TSA, Dan Munz from GSA, and Giovanni Carnaroli from DOT. It was good to see so many new faces leading the panel sessions as it brought some new perspectives and some insight into the day-to-day challenges that our government is facing in implementing the OGD.

As I listened to the various speakers and discussion leaders, I was happy to hear the focus on culture change not compliance, on baking transparency and openness into processes vice making it an extra tasking, and on looking at the OGD as a floor, not a ceiling when talking about Open Government. However, there was little in the way of concrete steps for government agencies to follow to implement these things. We did a good job of shedding some light on the challenges of the OGD and discussed some possible solutions, but everyone is still trying to figure it out so there was a lot of, “that’s a great idea – we should totally do that” and not as much “here’s what we did and how it was successful.”

And I think that’s ok…for now. I’m really looking forward to future workshops where hopefully some of those ideas have turned into solutions that are shared and improved upon. Jacque Brown discussed some of these questions and challenges in a recent post and those were expanded upon yesterday:

  • Funding. The Open Government Directive didn’t come with any additional funding or resources – how does OMB expect the government to realistically fulfill these tasks and meet the deadlines without any additional funding?
  • Evaluation. How will OMB measure success? Do they take a “did they meet the deadline or not” approach or will they take a “journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” approach?
  • Clarification. Every agency is interpreting the deadlines and actions in the OGD differently – is there going to be a clearinghouse to determine what’s right or not? Will there be some sort of enforcement for what “meets the deadline” and what doesn’t?
  • Flexibility. For most agencies, the deadlines are completely unrealistic – getting legal approval on anything, much less a policy change, usually takes 45 days by itself. How will missed deadlines be handled?
  • Culture. Right now, agencies are wired to compete with one another, not collaborate – how do you incentivize that inter-agency collaboration and communication that’s so important to this effort?
  • Education. How do you take the focus off of just meeting the objectives in the OGD and take that next step toward creating that long-term process change?
  • Ownership. Who’s ultimately responsible for implementing the OGD? Is it the CIO? The CTO? The Chief, Public Affairs? A cross-functional team?

The good news is that this Open Government Directive Workshop was the second in a SERIES. The organizers told me yesterday that they’re hoping to have these workshops every six to eight weeks or so. I’ll be very interested in attending those future workshops and learning more about the solutions to these questions that received so much attention yesterday.

For more information on the Open Government Directive, here are some additional resources:

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