Agencies crafting transparency plans with a full suggestion inbox

The public has submitted 2,000 open government ideas to agencies through an online outreach effort

With a March 19 deadline approaching for the public to give suggestions to agencies on how to be more open and transparent, agencies must now demonstrate that they’ve been listening.

Since Feb. 6 nearly all major agencies have been using an online tool from IdeaScale offered by the General Services Administration to collect ideas, suggestions and feedback from the public on how to craft open government plans. Those plans, required by the Obama administration’s Open Government Directive, are due to the Office of Management and Budget in April.

So far agencies have received around 2,000 ideas and about 20,000 votes on people’s suggestions, said David McClure, associate administrator with the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications. NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Veterans Affairs Department have gotten the most feedback, according to data presented by McClure during a conference in Washington.

McClure said the engagement was unprecedented, but it’s important that agencies continue to communicate with the public regarding open government even after the March 19 deadline.

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“You, already in your agencies, are faced with the challenge of five weeks of open dialogue…now you’ve got to do something with it. You’ve got to actually communicate back [at] some point to the people that participated – what happened to this,” McClure told federal executives at the conference.

“It’s the tragic lesson learned to date with open dialogue tools: is they’re cool to run, wide open, relatively inexpensive to conduct, but if you don’t do anything with it, we alienate people,” he added.

McClure said it’s important for agencies to determine their objectives for public engagement efforts and who specifically they’re trying to reach. He also said government shouldn’t get too enamored by technology and instead to focus on running dialogues with good outcomes.

Meanwhile, Lisa Schlosser, director of the Office of Information Collection in the EPA’s Office of Environmental Information, said her agency has decided to continue taking ideas even after March 19. It will also be important for the government to ensure data quality as it makes more information available, she said.

McClure later said it’s important that agencies craft open government plans so they are rooted in the organization’s strategic goals

“If we’re just doing this to check the box, to get to green, to say that we’re doing open government then we’re not genuinely maximizing the power that we’re trying to open up here with this collaboration and participation,” McClure said during the event presented by Federal Computer Week and hosted by Adobe.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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