President Obama’s memo to agency heads, Transparency and Open Government, directs the development of governmentwide guidance by May 21st to “establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” Beth Noveck, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, has been tasked with leading this effort. She has been reaching out to employees in federal agencies for insights and advice. Last week, a group of federal employees gathered in Washington, catalyzed by several non-profits interested in greater citizen participation in government, to put their ideas on paper.
They weren’t shy about what they thought might be done! Most were veterans of past public participation efforts, including one who had a 36-year career in her agency helping bring citizens’ voices to the table. While their individual stories were compelling, about how citizens make a difference in government policymaking and service delivery, they felt that a White House-led effort would raise this to a new level.
Their suggestions for the Open Government Directive focused primarily on the element related to citizen participation, but of course they touched on transparency and collaboration as well. They offered seven key ideas, each with specific steps for action:
· Develop a high-level, interagency governance structure to oversee the implementation of the directive. This initiative, they suggested, might be led by the President’s Management Council which is comprised of the deputy secretaries of the major departments and agencies.
· Establish governmentwide systems that would support use of participation and collaboration practices. For example, sanction communities of practice, share best practices, and recognize success via awards.
· Demonstrate the value public participation techniques in highly visible ways. For example, convene a national policy discussion on health care reform to show the role the public can play in national policymaking on a key issue facing the nation.
· Take on traditional managerial resistance to public participation in agencies by designating a senior level champion.
· Fund participation and collaboration activities by directing agencies to incorporate such activities into their budget requests.
· Address institutional barriers by integrating participatory and collaborative skills and behaviors into agency hiring, performance, and training efforts.
· Address existing rules and laws that impede participation and collaboration by developing an inventory agency-by-agency and developing strategies for systematically addressing them.
While ambitious, the list says volumes about the challenges of effectively acting on President Obama’s vision of a more open government. Fortunately, it’s being offered by people committed to making it real.