Open Government Dialogue: More greatest hits

Transparency, participation key ideas

Here is a selection of some of the latest ideas to surface during the second phase of the Open Government Dialogue, the Obama administration’s online initiative seeking to improve the transparency of government operations and information. To find links to these items, visit www.fcw.com/pointers.

Improving online public participation in agency rule-making

Question: How can the administration better engage members of the public in the rule-making process, beyond what is already done through Regulations.gov?

I think one of the real shortcomings in a lot of efforts by agencies to engage the public is a failure to put adequate resources behind outreach to ensure diverse participation. Putting up an online space for public input doesn’t do much good if people don’t know about it. It is even worse when only certain groups know about it. If I’ve learned anything in the past decade of my leading public engagement efforts, it is that quality participation requires diverse participation — and diverse participation requires real outreach. Active efforts must be made to reach out to all of the different constituencies who care about a given issue.

— Joe Goldman

Strengthening civic participation

Question: What is the appropriate and most effective role for the government to play in fostering greater civic participation?

Response: The most useful approach that a governmental body, at any level, can take to seriously encourage public participation is to set clear expectations — for themselves and the public. For example, what kind of information or input do they hope the public can provide? And, at what point in the decision-making process can it be provided? Valuable public input can be obtained in one or more of the following situations: crystallizing the components of a problem to be addressed, brainstorming to identify useful and politically acceptable solutions, and refining implementation plans. Public input is also useful to evaluate or check customer satisfaction with new or ongoing government programs or operations.

— Kelly McFarland Stratman

Transparency: Access to information

Question: How should the administration improve information policies specifically related to the Freedom of Information Act and OMB Circular A-130, which covers the management of information resources?

Response: I was an adviser to the National Academy of Public Administration on the brainstorming part of the dialogue and one of my chief concerns was the lack of context for that brainstorm. Participants in the discussion of collaboration had no way to know about the current level of collaboration within and among levels of government so there was no threshold shared understanding from which to launch their input. And it showed in the less than helpful level of discussion. There’s an argument to be made that participatory government is meaningless if the participants lack a context for their participation — background material organized and presented cogently and clearly so everyone starts from a position of shared information. Without that, people are left with nothing on which to target their input.

— Anne Laurent

New technologies and participation

Question: What are the tools and techniques for democratizing access to government data?

Response: We need the best and brightest visual interface programmers to put their heads together and build an online virtual space where every nuance of public governmental activity — video, audio, text, live, archive — is accessible in near real time to include records of votes and why legislatures voted the way they did. It can and should be 3-D, much like first-person games are developed today. In fact, these same game developers can be contracted to develop this system of interactivity and interoperability.

— Dennis Sirois

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