Topic 4: Technology, Transparency, and Participatory Democracy

President Obama issued a memorandum on Transparency and Open Government following his inauguration in early 2009.  The memo outlined his commitment to greater transparency, increased citizen participation, and more collaboration.  This commitment acknowledges that government cannot solve by itself the challenges facing our nation.

Progress to Date. The Administration solicited public comments on how it should act on the principles outlined in President Obama’s memo.  Agencies piloted a number of different approaches during the course of the year.  These approaches tested ways of providing useful “open data,” “open idea generation,” “open spending” via, and “open government resources,” such as the General Services Administration’s website supporting agencies’ Web 2.0 efforts.

OMB issued guidance in late 2009 that required agencies to develop Open Government plans and create Open Government websites to allow the public to monitor progress.  Agencies were also directed to release “high-value” data sets and identify a “flagship initiative.”  OMB also created the website where agencies can post their high-value data sets.

Key Challenges. The challenge is to systematically embed the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration into the federal bureaucracy.  Following are key elements of this challenge:

  • Transparency, participation, and collaboration are often not valued inside many federal agencies.
  • Real and perceived legal barriers can prevent federal agencies from reaching Open Government goals.
  • Greater awareness is needed about how to apply new tools and methods for engaging the public.
  • Increased access to information requires measures to ensure data quality and the ability to easily share information across agencies and departments.
  • Open Government goals require adequate funding and guidance about how to appropriately budget activities.

Research Questions Based on Forum Discussions. Following are highlights of some of the research questions developed:

  • Which Web 2.0 social media channels are most effective in engaging the public?
  • What is the relationship between transparency, participation, and collaboration across the policy continuum (e.g., policy development, policy implementation, policy evaluation)?
  • How can agencies create a culture reflecting the values of transparency, participation, and collaboration?
  • How can technology increase transparency, participation, and collaboration?

(Note:  the background discussion paper for this topic was prepared by Joseph Goldman, AmericaSpeaks)


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