I write about the things that matter to me. All opinions are my own.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

7 Ways To Make Open Government Real

1. Begin with internal communications and radiate that outward. Understand that open government is a fundamental change in mindset for most long-time government employees. They are used to a completely different attitude: "We have the data, you'll wait." Tell them what you're going to do, and then tell the rest of the world. 
2. Get out of the stovepipes - establish an Open Government council.  Organizational change has to be more than just talk. If you want to make it real, build an alternative culture that draws people in and puts them to work doing things another way. The physical manifestation of culture is an actual council that draws from every arm of the Agency. It establishes goals, metrics and standards and most importantly celebrates and champions success. 
3. Define the term "Open Government" repeatedly. People tend to put their own spin on buzzwords. That is not always a good thing. Tell people repeatedly "what we're doing here." 
"Open government is the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight." - Wikipedia
Open Government requires three things to work - per the President's Executive Order:

  • Transparency - expose the inner workings of the government, its data and processes
  • Participation - make it possible for me the citizen to respond and have an impact
  • Collaboration - work with partners inside and outside government to be more effective
4. Explain repeatedly the distinction between "Open Government" and "Leaking Classified Information." This is not an obvious or irrelevant point when you consider the pop culture lionization of figures such as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. The government has been pretty tame about making its case, but I am not sure why --  our national security obviously depends on the protection of classified information. Read Marine Sergeant Jon Davis' response to the Bradley Manning question and you'll see what I mean.
5. Educate senior and mid-level executives in connection with their peers. In my experience, executives are comfortable with concepts that their peers are comfortable with. What was once foreign, undesirable and a waste of time becomes exceedingly interesting and important once the competition factor rolls in. You have a great brand - I want a great brand. You are doing social media - me too. You've got an Open Government page - I want one just like that. Plan events at which executives can hear from experts and network with each other to compare notes in person.
6. Establish processes for the release of open data. People are willing to do the work if there is a clear and reasonable process associated with it. This means that the individuals who will be engaged in identifying, preparing, and checking data sets - as well as those who will be doing supporting work for this - must collaborate. Work smarter not harder; it doesn't have to be torturous to be transparent.
7. Think positive rather than painful. Transparency saves a lot of time. Instead of answering individual questions piece-by-piece and getting those cleared, the public can visit a website and never have to deal with you (hint: they don't want to, anyway!) In addition, the public is extraordinarily innovative and will do amazing things with government data if only given the chance. At the end of the day, you want to spend as much time actually running the Agency as possible. Customer service sometimes means getting out of the way.
* All opinions my own.