Agencies face problems with opening up government: report

Funding, staffing, organizational culture among hurdles

Federal agencies face numerous significant hurdles in implementing open government programs that include a lack of resources, organizational roadblocks and legal, contractual, procurement and policy problems, according to a new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

Although agencies are moving toward engagement and transparency, little research is available to guide them, writes Gwanhoo Lee, associate professor of business at American University, and Young Hoon Kwak, associate professor of business at George Washington University, in their report.

“A significant lack of knowledge exists con­cerning the implementation of open government,” states the report, which was released on Jan. 25.

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Along with identifying hurdles to open government, the report makes 13 recommendations, and examines four agencies at various stages of implementation.

“Though many assume that open government imple­mentation won’t require many resources, our research shows that it requires significant investment of funds, as well as a time commitment from gov­ernment employees,” the authors write. “Without sufficient funding and dedicated personnel, government agencies will find it challenging to develop and sustain new public engagement tools and programs."

Changing organizational culture is another roadblock because agencies’ current hierarchical, command-and-control, silo culture is not as effective for transparency, the report said.

Effectively engaging the public won’t work unless the agency is responsive and part of a two-way conversation, the writers suggest.

“Agen­cies should not assume that the public will automat­ically come and participate if they build venues for public engagement. Further, the public will lose interest in government initiatives if agencies fail to respond to the public’s input in timely fashion,” the report said. “To make public engagement sustainable in the long run, agencies should create a virtuous cycle of con­tinuous feedback and improvement. Creating and nurturing a self-sustaining ecosystem for public engagement is an important touchstone of open government efforts," it adds.

Other problems include:

  • Ensuring the quality of data, including having processes in place to check across multiple channels for accuracy, consistency, timeliness, usability and usefulness.
  • Balancing autonomy and control, which includes managing public discussions to mitigate risk of off-topic or inappropriate content while also encouraging participation.
  • Ensuring accountability and responsibility in open collaboration, which is difficult in an open environment in which people are collaborating in a complex, dynamic environment on an ad-hoc basis.
  • Improving information technology infrastructure, which is sometimes preventing agencies from using social media tools. For example, some agencies are unable to post video files due to technical limitations.
  • Enhancing privacy and information security, which some view as major risks of online engagement with government agencies.
  • Integrating open government tools and applications to include mobile devices and other platforms.
  • Updating federal policies and rules and resolving legal, contractual, procurement and policy issues associate with using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and wikis.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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