Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Open Government Directive Issued Today

For my Current Subscribers:  Today, at 11:00 am, the White House will issue the Open Government Directive (see details below).

For New Visitors to this blog:  If you want to stay informed about developments in the implementation of the new "Open Government Directive", then you have found the right place.  Here are four (4) complementary ways to do that:

1.  EMAIL:  Primarily News (but some discussion):  Join the email-group on "Open Government Directive".  See the link in the right-hand column of this blog, or simply send a blank email to: opengovernmentdirective+subscribe@googlegroups.com

2.  BLOG:  Primarily Opinion (with reader comments):  Subscribe to this blog.  See the link in the right-hand column for subscribing by email, etc.

3.  TWITTER (micro-blog):  Get short "F.Y.I.s" by following me at http://twitter.com/transpartisan

3.  RADIO:  News and Opinion (invited guests with listeners call-in):  "Open Government Radio" will now begin weekly shows with discussion on implementation of "open government" at all levels of government.  Initial focus will be on the "Open Government Directive" of the U.S. federal government.  Notices about upcoming shows will be posted to this blog, twitter, and the email-group (see above).

HERE is the announcement for Today's release of the Open Government Directive:

Office of the Press Secretary

December 7, 2009

ADVISORY: Administration Officials to Launch Comprehensive Open Government Plan
with Webcast Open to All Americans

WASHINGTON – Tomorrow at 11:00am ET, U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra will launch the administration’s comprehensive Open Government Plan, furthering the President’s commitment to increasing transparency and accountability in Washington and ensuring greater access and information for the American people.

This announcement will be streamed live on whitehouse.gov, and will be followed by a web forum where individuals will be given an opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions about the administration’s Open Government Plan.

WHO: U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra and U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra
WHAT: Administration Launches Comprehensive Open Government Plan
WHERE: Watch it live and participate at http://www.whitehouse.gov/live
WHEN: Tuesday, December 8
11:00am ET

Short URL for this blog-post:   http://bit.ly/6k3XGI

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Open Government Intiative: Chapter Two of "Reinventing Government"

Beth Noveck, who is in charge of the White House's "Open Government Initiative", spoke last Friday at the National Center for Digital Government at the University of Massachusetts. (Video of the event was accessible online, and will be available in "early November" at http://www.ncdg.org/ .)

As someone who was involved in the intitiative for "open-government" during the Clinton-Gore administration (aka, "Reinventing Government"), I was glad to finally hear Ms. Noveck acknowledge the existence of that previous effort. I was afraid that the people in charge of this new "openness" effort by the Obama administration had no clue that what they are attempting to do had been tried (with mixed results) before. The danger is that they fail to appreciate (and avoid) the mistakes made before.

Now, based on her remarks last Friday, I know that Ms. Noveck does "have a clue". Unfortunately, however, it seems that she is still under-informed about the fundamental parallel between the current "Open Government Intiative" (OGI) and the previous "Reinventing Government" (REGO) effort.

Based on her remarks (see partial transcript, below), Ms. Noveck believes that, compared to the REGO effort, the current OGI involves "a shift to a new set of values" that focus on "openness".
Excuse me? "New set of values"?
"So we created this agenda of institutional innovation, and that we define this agenda around a set of core values. So, in many ways, it builds on work that you [gesturing towards NCDG staff] were involved in, earlier, around 'Reinventing Government' and have written extensively about.

"But -- for a variety of reasons that I hope we can talk more about in the discussion -- I think we have come to a different place in today's approach to "Reinventing Government". It very much builds on that work, and we are able to do things, because of technology, that's different today that it was 15 years ago.

"But the technology has also enabled a shift to a new set of values really drive the conception of what it means to "reinvent government", what it means to innovate in terms of our public sector institutions. And these are tested, really, around "Openness" .. around this notion of creating ways that are more open, more collaborative, more participatory than we've ever seen before.

"Again, engendered by technology, because it makes it possible, but driven very much by a philosophical mindset that believes that Openness should be at the root of this change. And so, when we focus now on institutional innovation, and thinking about how we create a more open government, it's not simply for its own sake. It's not just innovation because it's a nice thing to have, or because it's frankly the more democratic way of doing things.

 "It is integration of public sector institutions, by necessity, to make them more effective in the way that we work, more efficient in the way that we work, and that will improve the quality of people's lives."

Okay, perhaps the REGO effort did not have "Open" in its name, but "openness" was a core value of REGO. Every successful aspect of REGO was based on "openness", both with citizens and within government. Please show me one that was not. (For a few references in REGO: type in "openness" here.)

This just more evidence (at least, to me) about the low level of understanding, by many relative newcomers to the campaign "open-government", about the culture-war experience gained by their predecessors. Hopefully, with some openmindedness on the subject, that will change.

But that means some more humility that President Obama talks about when he says that, sometimes, the people in government don't know as much as they think they do. Even for a program on "openness".

Link to this posting -->  http://bit.ly/3W7ZBc

Friday, July 3, 2009

First Step: Define "Transparent", "Participatory", "Collaborative"

When I only post about once a month, so much has happened that I have to boil things down to the most fundamental and important information. But, of course, that's better for you (the reader).

So I will lead into it this way.

I know this has happened to all of us. You're having a great conversation with someone when, at some point, you both realize that you were both talking about something different. That's when you say, "Wait a minute, the Bob Smith that I know is a dentist!"

Of course, before that realization, you were having a really good conversation. You both thought that were talking (and agreeing) about the same thing. But you weren't. (How embarassing.)

And that's the biggest problem in discussing Open-Government: we're all agreeing that we need more "Transparency", "Participation" and "Collaboration" (TP&C) -- but we haven't really stopped to make sure that we all are talking about exactly the same things.

Such is the nature of "buzzwords". Their meanings are so fuzzy that anyone can throw them into a conversation without really having to explain to others just what exactly they're talking about. Why spoil a perfectly good conversation with specifics, right?

Unfortunately (at least, for heavy buzzword-users), there eventually comes a time when people begin to ask "Hey, what exactly do you mean by that?" And, for discussions surrounding the development of the White House's "Open Government Directive", that time is quickly approaching. And there are two things driving that.

The First Driver: The President wants to improve the "public engagement" by federal departments and agencies. He wants federal departments and agencies to become:

1. "More Transparent"
2. "More Participatory"
3. "More Collaborative"

Sounds good, but the federal depts. and agencies are beginning to wonder: How does he want us to do that? In essence, the President wants them to "jump", and they want to clear directions about: How high, When, Where, etc., etc.

And that is why the "Open Government Directive" is being drafted: to give federal depts. and agencies more specifics, so they can better understand just "what it is" that the President wants them to do.

And the reason that the federal depts. and agencies want clear direction is because they know that their performance will be graded by the President. Actually, they will be graded by the President's Chief Performance Officer, Jeffrey Zients, who indicates that "improving transparency is one of his priorities" and believes in "measuring the goals for the organization.

So, to be fair to federal depts. and agencies, the Open Government Directive will have to be very specific about the "TP&C" goals for "public engagement". It will explain how the White House (CPO) will measure "TP&C" performance towards those goals. But, to do that, the Open Government Directive (as issued by OMB, where the CPO works) first has to define just what "TP&C" are, and how they relate to "public engagement".

In other words, the White House will need to figure out "what it is" before it can figure out (and then tell others) how to measure it.

I have tried a number of times, during the "Open Government Dialogue", to point out the need to -- first -- come to some agreement on accepted definitions for "Transparency", "Participation", and "Collaboration" (TP&C) before having group-discussions about how to achieve them. However, almost all the people in those discussions are excited about this subject and, understandably, want to talk about Solutions (how to do it) without first understanding the Goals (what it is).

But that doesn't really matter now, because I know -- from my federal experience -- how federal directives are drafted and implemented. And the Open Government Directive will have TP&C definitions and criteria and metrics and measurable goals. Otherwise, the CPO will have no way to measure the "public engagement" performance of federal depts. and agencies.

The Second Driver: In the meantime, it is interesting to note that the Mainstream Media (MSM) is beginning to pick up on this "public engagement" thing. Some members of the White House press corps are now asking "Just what is a 'townhall meeting'?" The Press Secretary did not know, and then tried to side-step the question. See video here.

But, because the White House has already been presenting "townhall meetings" as a form of "public engagement", then it is only a matter of time before those same White House reporters begin asking "Okay then, so what do you mean by 'public engagement'?" And that, of course, will lead to "what is TP&C".

So the White House may be explaining what "TP&C" is, even before they offer up a draft of the Open Government Directive for public comment.

Things are going to get interesting. (Stay tuned by subscribing to my Feedburner email in right-hand column.)

Tiny web-link to this posting:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Please See My Four Ideas at White House.gov/OPEN (and then vote for them)

Last week, I told you about the White House opening up its "Open Government Initiative" by creating a special website for the public to suggest ideas on how federal departments and agencies can be more "transparent, participatory, and collaborative". Visitors to the website can also vote and comment on the "brainstorming" ideas.

Full-disclosure: I want you to give a "thumbs-up" vote to my ideas (below) the White House website for "open government" -- before it closes down on Thursday. Update 5/27/09: The links (below) have been corrected.

Supposedly, the ideas with the most votes will "bubble up" and receive special consideration by the White House "Open-Gov" team that is headed up by Beth Noveck, Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government.

The main goal of this "brainstorming" session (along with two other phases that will be open to the public) is to answer the overarching question:

"How can we strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness by making government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative?"

PLEASE NOTE (and VOTE): This first "brainstorming" phase ends sometime Thursday (5/28/09) and, in order to vote, you will have to give then an email and create a password). As I write this, there are already 500 ideas, but here are four ideas (below) that I ask that you consider and VOTE for. (Yes, they are my ideas.)


1. "MyGov.gov" --> Customized to What Affects YOU

The government should be trying to engage YOU (not vice-versa). For example, an email-notice can reach out and engage you, but an obscure website does not. "MyGov.gov" would let you fill out a profile, so that you will get email-notices ONLY about those things that affect YOU. (This is how USAjobs.gov already works.)

Give that idea a "thumbs-up" here:


2. Make It Safe for Govt. Workers to Innovate to Save Money

I'm a former federal employee who worked at five different agencies, and I know from experience that the only way for to make it safe for government workers to talk about saving money with innovative ideas (or simply pointing out waste) is to have an online system that allows them to raise the idea BUT hides their true identity. (FYI: The existing Inspector-General system does NOT do this.)

Give that idea a "thumbs-up" here:


3. Give Citizens a Simple Checklist for Rating "Public Engagement"

Citizens should have a simple checklist that they can take when they attend a public meeting so that they can rate how "open" the meeting was (i.e., with respect to Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration).

This simple checklist could be the standard tool for citizens to provide feedback to government agencies about the quality of their public engagement activities. In fact, the requirement for federal department and agencies to "solicit public feedback" about their public engagement is mentioned three (3) times in President Obama's Memorandum on Transparent and Open Government. (BTW: The League of Women Voters has something similar to this.)

Give that idea a "thumbs-up" here:


4. Let's Be Clear on the Terminology about "Public Engagement"

We need to better define the terms that we are using in order to have a better discussion about how we achieve Open Government. For example: If a "town-hall meeting" can be a political speech followed by couple questions, then does that qualify as "public engagement" (or is it just a photo-op)?

If we all have different ideas about what is (and is not) "public engagement" or "transparency" or (insert buzzword here), then we will have a very hard time reaching consensus about how to go forward. (This, of course, is one lesson from "The Tower of Babel").

Give that idea a "thumbs-up" here:


And if you are still interested ...

PHASE TWO: On June 3rd, the White House will begin Phase Two of the "Open Government Iniatitive" in which there will be an online discussion to "dig deeper on the ideas and challenges identified during the Brainstorm phase." However, there is an ongoing (unofficial) discussion about the "Open Government Directive" that anyone can join by going to http://groups.google.com/group/opengovernmentdirective


TinyURL for this posting:


Update (6/3/09): I was on the radio! To listen to me interviewed last week about this blog-post on D.C.'s "FederalNewsRadio" (1500AM-WTOP), click here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Public Commenting on the "Open Government Directive"

According to a notice that will appear in the Federal Register on May 21 (see link, below), the White House is inviting members of the public "to participate in the process of developing recommendations via email or the White House website at www.whitehouse.gov/open offering comments, ideas, and proposals about possible initiatives and about how to increase openness and transparency in government."

Federal Register notice as it appears on May 21, 2009:
(Text) http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-12026.htm
(PDF) http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-12026.pdf

Note: The deadline for comments is June 19, 2009.

Once their website is open, I'd be interested to see your comments about it.

TinyURL for this posting:

Friday, May 1, 2009

No Due-date for Open Govt. Directive

Many "open-gov" reporters and bloggers have mistakenly said that the Open Government is due by this May 21. So, let me set things straight (so that YOU can be the smartest person at the next staff meeting on "open-gov"). Here it is:

The Presidential Memorandum on "Transparency and Open Government" does NOT require completion of the Open Government Directive (OGD) by May 21.

It only says that "recommendations" for the OGD be delivered by that date. The subsequent delivery of OGD, based on those recommendations, has no due-date in the President's Memorandum.

Of course, if the CTO (who was only recently hired) wants to rush the process faster than necessary (or prudent), then he can certainly do so.

That would not be surprising because, after all, D.C. is all about political expediency -- people are rarely given enough time to do it right the first time, but always given time to go back and fix it again and again.

And, if YOU know something that we don't know, then please share it with us here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Get Ready to Wiki-collaborate

"Collaboration-by-wiki" is coming to open-government ... soon.

If you're interested in government transparency, but have been putting off learning how to use all these new "Web 2.0" tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.), then NOW is the time to start learning how to use a "wiki" to collaborate.

Because, in the very near future, it looks like you may have the opportunity to make edits to the draft federal report of recommendations for "Transparency and Open Government" that Pres. Obama wants delivered to the White House within 120 days (i.e., by May 21st), which will then be the basis for creating the "Open Government Directive" (OGoD).

According to the most recent issue of DotGovBuzz (a federal newsletter from the General Services Administration):

"The White House is using OMB's MAX wiki to solicit innovative ideas, proposals and brainstorming about how government can tackle the topics of transparency, public participation and collaboration, until March 6. Currently MAX is only open those with a dot gov email address, but plans are to create another website open to the public." [my emphasis added]

Of course, all of this is being developed on the fly, so whatever "plans" the White House have right now are still evolving. But, at this point in time, it looks like there will be some type of online opportunity for the public to review the draft recommendations and provide feedback.

And that feedback platform may be nothing more than the "thumbs-up/thumbs-down" option offered for issues on Change.gov during the Presidential transition. BUT, they might set up a "public-facing wiki" similar to the one being used now for federal employees to brainstorm and collaborate on recommendations for the report.

And, if it's true that those federal employees only have until March 6 to contribute via the "MAX-wiki", then many of them may spend most of the next 8 days on a learning-curve of how to "collaborate-by-wiki". So, we should not be surprised if the timeframe for the public's feedback is similarly short.

And that is why it is important for you to start getting up to speed on how a wiki works. But I'm no expert myself, so I'm inviting your suggestions on the best web-tutorials, etc. for learning how to "collaborate-by-wiki".

If you want me to keep you up-to-date on developments regarding this topic, please be sure to Subscribe-by-email or RSS (in the right-hand column of this blog). And, if you have information that you want to share, please provide a comment below, or email me confidentially.

[There's a technical glitch for Comments. Simply click on "Links to this Post" (below) to post your comment.]

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wiki-collaboration on Obama's "Open Government Directive"

Okay, I've been thinking about this for awhile, and so here's my idea.

As you may already know, President Obama, on his first full day in office (1/21/09) issued a "Presidential Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government" in which he says this:

"I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum."

So that means that, between now and May 21st, some type of task force will be drafting up a list of suggestions about how the federal agencies of the U.S. government can be more transparent, participatory, and collaborative with the public.

And (this is not a wild guess) one thing that it will probably say is that "a great tool for collaborating with the public would be to use wikis".

So, if I'm a federal "wiki-evangelist" and I'm drafting a policy document (i.e., the Open Government Directive) that talks about how great it would be to use wikis for collaborating with the public, then shouldn't I put my final draft out on a wiki so that it can be improved by others, before I send it to the White House for signature?

Keep in mind that I'm not advocating some kind of absolute transparency where we put web-cams on the heads of the task force that drafts the Directive, but how about a 30-day public review and suggestion period (e.g., using a wiki) prior to its finalization for signature by the President?

THAT, more than anything else, would show citizens, including those that are federal employees, that the new leadership is willing to "walk the talk" or, in other words, "BE the Change!"

If you are interested in my updates on "wiki-collaboration" news with respect to development of the Open Government Directive, then please note that you can also stay abreast of this blog when you "subscribe-by-email" (see box, right-hand column).

P.S. This "walk the talk" suggestion is also made the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA) in its recent white-paper "Enabling Collaboration: Three Priorities for the New Administration" (see page 20 of 40: "Implementing a culture of collaboration will be a task primarily of leadership by example.").


UPDATE (2/20/09): I submitted this suggestion at the Sunlight Foundation's new "Our Open Government List" where you can vote for the best ideas for the "Open Gov't. Directive" (OGoD). You can vote for mine at http://feedback.sunlightfoundation.com/oogl/24/

P.S. As a former fed, I still like acronyms. So ... What do federal executives say when they're told to use social-media and wikis to achieve "open-government"? ---> "OGoD!" (My invention, thank you.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Whistleblowing as One Aspect of Transparency

A lot has happened since my last posting (e.g., Obama is our new president), so I wanted any new visitors to know that I will be focusing on the bigger picture, now, with respect to "transparency" in government.

Even though "whistleblowing" is an element of government transparency, there is much afoot on a much larger scale and, so, that larger aspect needs my, and all of your, attention.

In a nutshell, President Obama has directed, in a memorandum signed on his first full day of work, that all parts of the executive branch will be more transparent in order for citizens to better be involved in how to make their government "work better and cost less".

From Steve Clift's "Democracy Online" blog:

Having worked in Washington, D.C. for 25 years, I see a danger that the good intentions of the Obama administration might be subverted by those who are invested in the status quo, often posing as "new converts".

That is why they need help, from kindred souls on the outside, in shaping a system of "citizen involvement" that can withstand the efforts of those who will try to bend it to their own special interests.