Agency mission, not technology, should be guide for open government efforts

Experts recommend identifying a goal first, then work to achieve that goal

The goals and priorities of federal agencies should direct how their open government plans are written, not popular technologies such as Twitter and Facebook, according to two experts who are helping agencies draft the plans.

Under the White House's Open Government Directive, federal agencies have until April 7 to draft plans showing how they will become more open, collaborative and transparent. A key to creating the plans should include identifying agencies' top priorities, said Robynn Sturm, assistant deputy chief technology officer for open government at the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

"When thinking about your open government plans, you should start with what is it that you want to achieve in the next two years and then work back[ward] from that, thinking about how an open approach might help you do so," Sturm said today at an open government conference sponsored by GovDelivery.

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For example, the Labor Department used social networking technology to help build a job search Web site, she said. In that project, Labor Department officials first identified a goal and then figured out how collaboration could help achieve that goal, she said.

Connecting mission priorities with open government plans is likely the only way to be successful, according to Lena Trudeau, vice president of the National Academy of Public Administration.

"You have to connect what you're doing around the Open Government Directive to your strategic goals because that is what people in your organization really care about, and that's what your stakeholder who engage with you on a regular basis really are passionate about," Trudeau said.

Putting the emphasis on the agency's mission also helps get good input on legal issues, acquisition matters and other areas from the agency employees responsible, Trudeau said.

"If you talk to them about fulfilling an open government directive they're going to talk to you about risks and compliance," she said. "If you talk to them about the need to enroll them in helping you solve some of the most challenging issues faced by the nation today, it is just a different conversation."

A project called United We Ride demonstrates how collaboration can help achieve mission goals, Trudeau said. United We Ride is a dialog intended to increase access to affordable and reliable transportation services for people with disabilities, the elderly and people with limited incomes.

The initiative was started by the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility which is chaired by the Treasury secretary. Representatives from more than 10 federal agencies sit on the council which also works with local communities where transportation services are provided.

Creating an online dialog for the group played an important role in bringing the highly decentralized group together, Trudeau said.

"Working across silos just in the fed is difficult enough, but reaching state and locals groups is challenging," Trudeau said. "One of the things they learned through this process was that some guidance that had been issued by the organization that manage this council had actually not filtered down to much of the local level, so strategic plans were being developed without critical guidance. So it really highlighted a gap."

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.


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