Posts Tagged ‘e-rulemaking’

Efforts to Engage the Public

August 12, 2009

The healthcare reform debates raging across the country in townhalls and on-line, all show that Americans do want to actively engage in their government.  Obama’s Open Government Directive, which is still under development, intends to expand public involvement.  But various agencies are already jumping in.

The Environmental Protection Agency has long been a leader in engaging citizens.  They’ve developed extensive resources and networks that can be of help to others.  They are currently helping revamp the main website for public participation in e-rulemaking,  Here, they are encouraging citizen involvement in redesigning the website.

The Office of Personnel Management has posted a draft version of its 2010 strategic plan on line and is asking for both employee and public comment.

The Department of Homeland Security has invited the public to participate in a statutorily required Quadrennial Review of its policies and priorities. Federal Computer Week’s Ben Bain notes that the review covers six areas, such as border security and disaster response.  The first on-line dialogue sponsored by this effort ended several days ago, with 10,000 participants.  The next dialogue will launch at the end of the month, followed by a third several weeks later.

Federal agencies aren’t the only ones getting excited about increasing citizen participation.  A conference held earlier this month brought together over 90 participants committed to “strengthening our nation’s democracy” via a range of efforts, including voting reforms, institutional changes to that way government engages citizens, as well as grassroots organizing.  Participants developed a draft set of action items for Obama’s White House as well as the broader democracy movement, which participant Sandy Heierbacher summarized in her blog:

1. Draft Statement of Principles (The preamble which will likely carry the definitions, values and ethics talked about during the conference)
2. Democracy Skill-Building Agenda (How to transfer knowledge and ability to do this work)
3. Health of Democracy Report (The state of this imperfect union)
4. National Demonstration Projects (To show the real world value of what was proposed)
5. Recognize and Support Engagement by Disenfranchised Communities (To ensure full inclusion)
6. Institutionalize Participatory and Collaborative Governance (Embed it in federal, state and local institutions)
7. Ensure Adequate Resources for Public Engagement (Paying for it)
8. Adopt and Electoral Reform Agenda (Self explanatory — more later)
9. Feedback on Consultation Efforts (Evaluation)
10. Mechanism for Sustaining Leadership (Ensuring that this doesn’t disappear in four years)
11. International Exchange (Learning from our global colleagues)

Details and the final report will be posted here where available.


What Is Transparency?

May 29, 2009

I was speaking at a conference a few weeks ago and got the question “what is transparency?’  I remember I didn’t feel like I gave a good answer, but I can’t remember what I said.  So let’s try another run at it . . . . you’re welcome to add your comments, as well.

 The Obama Administration says it wants increased transparency and the President signed a directive to that effect.  People in agencies across the government are trying to come up with their interpretations.  Outside advocacy groups, such as the Sunlight Foundation, are offering their own interpretations.

 I remember being in a forum a few weeks ago and a federal official was showing a Powerpoint slide with some information on it, saying they were now far more transparent in how they do business. I asked if that presentation was (or would be) posted on their website or otherwise be available.  I got a blank stare. The answer was “no,” but that they were sharing it at all (orally) was seen by them as “transparency,” and that they were sharing the data internally among themselves was seen as a breakthrough.

 So there are clearly different perceptions as to what constitutes transparency.  This came up again on the White House’s recent Open Government Dialogue, which has been holding a “Brainstorming” session to collect ideas on how the President’s Open Government Directive should be crafted.  One commenter noted that how “transparency” is defined makes a difference: If it’s defined as creating trust among citizens (an outside-in approach to transmitting information) then this will be different than if it’s defined as creating accountability (an inside-out approach to transmitting information).  Of course, it’ll likely be a bit of both, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Open Government Directive winds up defining it. 

 Another post on the Brainstorming session, by Arian Ward, recommends “measures to track, report, and improve government transparency and openness.” While the post doesn’t define transparency explicitly, it does implicitly by offering examples of measures that should be collected.  The primary one is asking citizens their perception of openness in government! 

 Another post by Ward recommends a “whole systems approach” to transparency and openness.  This is intended to be principles-driven rather than a specific methodology. 

 By the way, you can join the discussion on this, starting June 3rd, on the White House site. 

 And a further note, the White House has launched a parallel initiative related to greater transparency in the regulatory development process.  That dialogue is ongoing via Exchange through July 21st.  The goal is to get input on how to best revamp the governmentwide e-rulemaking website, to make it easier to use and to comment on.