Posts Tagged ‘Open Government Directive’

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.


Collaborative Governance

July 6, 2009

4th of July FireworksI spent part of my 4th of July weekend reading a new book by Beth Noveck, the White House staffer helping lead President Obama’s Open Government initiative.  The book, “Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful,” provides useful insights into both potential open government initiatives the new administration might undertake, as well as some possible underlying principles that may be reflected in the open government directive currently under development.  A quick note:  it’s not all about wikis!

She says:  ““. . . it is vital to have leaders committed to fundamentally redesigning the working of government and the relationship of government to the citizenry.”  She proposes that government institutions be dramatically redesigned, with a focus on collaborative governance that uses open technology, open standards, and innovative practices.

Distinguishing Between Representative and Collaborative Democracy.  While she advocates participative democracy (in contrast to direct democracy or representatives democracy) as an organizing principle, she makes a distinction between different types of participation: deliberative democracy and collaborative democracy.

“While both deliberation and collaboration may be group-based, deliberative democracy suffers from a lack of imagination in that it fails to acknowledge the importance of connecting diverse skills, as well as diverse viewpoints, to public policy.  Whereas diverse viewpoints might make for a more lively conversation, diverse skills are essential to collaboration.

“Deliberation measures the quality of democracy on the basis of the procedural uniformity and equality of inputs.  Collaboration shifts the focus to the effectiveness of decisionmaking and outputs.

“Deliberation requires an agenda for orderly discussion. Collaboration requires breaking down a problem into component parts that can be parceled out and assigned to members of the public and officials. . . . .

“Deliberation is focused on opinion formation and the general will (or sometimes on achieving consensus). Consensus is desirable as an end unto itself.  Collaboration is a means to an end.  Hence the emphasis is not on the participation for its own sake but on inviting experts . . . to engage in information gathering, information evaluation and measurement, and the development of specific solutions for implementation.

In the end, she notes: “Deliberation focuses on self-expression.  Collaboration focuses on participation.”

She concludes:  “If governance is thought of as a granular and focused set of practices, ways can be designed to delegate greater power to citizens to gather facts, spend money, and participate in making decisions.. . . by organizing collaboration, government keeps itself at the center of decisionmaking as the neutral arbiter in the public interest and also benefits from the contributions of those outside government.”

Putting Collaborative Democracy to Work. Later in her book, she raises ideas the Obama Administration might undertake based on collaborative governance principles, include policy “jams” and wikis, a “network braintrust” that would be a corps of experts to help develop agendas of new innovations, and creating “collaborative governance labs.”   Some of her ideas have already been put into practice, such as the President’s Open for Questions, where the public poses questions on-line that they then vote on and the highest rating questions are answered by the President.  These models are also being reflected among agencies, as well.

Related Writings.  Interestingly, I drafted a (little noticed!) white paper last year for the National Academy of Public Administration on potential directions the winning presidential candidate might take, depending on what philosophical values he or she might bring to the job.  I had noted that moving toward a more collaborative enterprise was one possibility, but that it would require developing a clear set of common purposes and developing the institutional mechanisms to engage organizations and individuals in “peer-to-peer”-types of arrangements.  It seems the Obama Administration is taking such steps.

Dr. Noveck is the only academic exploring the concept of collaborative governance.  Dr. Don Kettl’s book, “The Next Government of the United States” begins to build the case  for this approach.  In addition, Rutgers professor Charles Heckscher has explored this trend in private sector organizations.  He says that the collaborative approach challenges the values of both the hierarchical and market-based approaches to governance, but that:  “. . . . those who hold the value of democracy as primary will be dissatisfied with the collaborative model:  it does not imply equal rights to power or processes of majority rule. . .. .it does involve a radical challenge to hierarchy.” The use of power must be justified on the basis of common purpose, not position.  The collaborative model is also not the same as meritocracy, because that implies that those with the most merit rise to power.  Collaboration minimizes the concept of “position” and doesn’t have much use for the concept of general merit – it focuses instead on contribution – which is a value common among the Millennial Generation.

At this writing, the open government directive is still being drafted.  The third phase of citizen involvement, which allows citizens to draft and vote on each other’s proposals, ends today and White House staff will begin the drafting in earnest.  It’ll be interesting to see what direction they take!

Open Gov Directive: Progress to Date

June 24, 2009

The White House continues to pioneer a new approach to crafting policy by actively seeking public input.  The media seems a bit skeptical about how it is going, though, calling it “not so presidential” in part because of the many off-topic comments.  However that hadn’t deterred the pioneers!

Background.  Back in January, President Obama directed the development of an Open Government Directive that would guide agencies in being more transparent, participative with citizens, and collaborative.  That effort began in earnest in late May with the launch of a three-phase effortwhite-house-south-lawn1 to develop this policy with broad citizen input.

Phase I, which invited citizens to “brainstorm” on what should be covered by the directive, resulted in more than 4,100 ideas with thousands of citizens voting more than 210,000 times on their favorite ideas . . . but these included off-topic ideas not related to drafting a directive but rather releasing UFO files, JFK assassination files, President Obama’s “real” birth certificate, etc.

Phase II invited citizens to participate in a blog-based “dialogue” on key (on-topic) ideas that surfaced from the brainstorming phase.  And there were plenty, including videoing all public meeting and posting them on line, as well as creating a “citizen’s portal” that individuals could customize based on where they lived and their interests.

And now citizens are being invited to participate in Phase III, the “drafting” phase, to jointly craft recommendations that would be used by the White House to actually draft the final Directive.

Progress to date.  In each of the three phases, the White House relied on a different technology platform to engage with citizens.  This meant that participants had to re-register for each phase.  But it also served as a filtering process.  While thousands participated in the brainstorming phase, only about eight dozen have registered so far to participate in the final drafting phase.

The White House notes that the Drafting Phase run through midnight, Sunday, June 28th.  That wiki-based effort is organized around 16 sets of topics related to transparency, participation, and collaboration.  So if you want to participate, do it soon!  They recommend engaging earlier so others can review and vote on the best draft under each topic.

Open Government Blogging.  Probably the most interesting elements of this process, to date, have been a series of explanatory blog entries posted on the White House site “Open Government Blog” (really the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is coordinating this initiative within the White House).  They provide a rich context for what is unfolding:

High Performance Government

May 11, 2009

People have been asking me when I was going to blog on the President’s new budget.  I wasn’t interested in jumping in on the program cuts, etc. because everyone else covered that with more depth.  But I was interested in seeing the outline for the management elements in the budget.  That was released today as a short chapter in the Analytical Perspectives segment of the budget, entitled:  “Building a High-Performance Government.” 

 The chapter is at a fairly high level, but outlines six themes:

 Putting Performance First.  The new Administration wants to replace the OMB Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) with a new “Performance Improvement and Analysis Framework.”  The PART helped establish performance measures across federal programs, the budget notes, but “it has been less successful in encouraging the actual use of performance measurement as a performance improvement tool.”  The new approach will “switch the focus from grading programs as successful or unsuccessful to requiring agency leaders to set priority goals, demonstrate progress in achieving goals, and explain performance trends.”  Cross-program and cross-agency goals would receive as much or more focus as program-specific ones.  These themes are consistent with a recent IBM Center report by Shelley Metzenbaum!

Ensuring Responsible Spending of Recovery Act Funds.  The emphasis on transparency and accountability that has been consistently hammered on in recent weeks is repeated here.  It reinforces the management focus being placed on the Act’s implementation.

Transforming the Federal Workforce.  The budget notes that almost half the existing workforce will retire the coming decade (with almost one-third retiring in the first term of the Obama Administration).  It notes “In filling these positions, it is essential to restore the prestige of public service and reform the recruitment process. . . “  It continues: “The federal hiring process also needs to be reformed” and this will be led by the Office of Personnel Management.  The budget say greater investments need to be made in the existing workforce and agencies “should make greater use of management rotations both within and between agencies” to better develop leaders.

Managing Across Sectors.  This section is vague but promising . . . . “In the new management agenda, the focus will be on determining and then implementing government services in a manner that provides the best value for taxpayers” by “acquiring needed resources from the private and nonprofit sectors, and collaborating across levels of government.”

Reforming Federal Contracting and Acquisition.  This section reiterates President Obama’s March 4th memo on reforming government contracting, which instructs OMB issue new guidance on: (`) reviewing all existing contracts to determine if they are appropriate, (2) maximize the use of competition in the contracting process, (3) use different types of contracts appropriately, (4) improve the capacity of the acquisition workforce, and (5) clarify when outsourcing is and is not appropriate.

Transparency, Technology, and Participatory Democracy.  This section reiterates the elements of the January 21st presidential memo, committing “to innovate in providing better levels of transparency and openness, and in devising new tools to let citizens have their voices heard by those who serve them.”

As noted, most of these elements have already been described in earlier White House announcements.  However, putting these six elements in one place, together, finally give an outline of the potential priorities for the Obama Administration’s management initiatives.

Anticipatory Governance

May 4, 2009

telescopeI was on a panel last week at the annual Washington forum of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the topic “Anticipatory Governance of Emerging Technologies.”  I was probably the only one in the room without a PhD and without a science background.  I was the designated “outsider” and felt a bit intimidated but was fascinated by the topic.

Here was a group of scientists concerned about the potential societal implications of nanotechnology, information technology (like autonomous robots), neurotechnology, and biotechnology.  They weren’t interested in just unintended consequences like disease, but also potential consequences for social equity, democratic values, the distribution of political power, etc.  They recognized that the traditional Scientific Model doesn’t capture all the dimensions people care about.

I’ve been intrigued by the notion of “anticipatory governance” for several years, stemming from the work of the Government Accountability Office under David Walker, who has long been concerned about the fiscal future of our country.  As a result, I drafted an issue paper on this topic for the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA) in preparation for the presidential transition – which I called “governing with foresight.”  The topic was also one of the four strategies described in a 2008 IBM Center report by Keon Chi on how states are transforming their governance.

Parallels Between Science and Administration

Listening to the other speakers, I realized that their insights about anticipatory governance in the scientific world roughly paralleled what I’d been reading and learning in the public administration world and that their ideas could be applied more broadly than just emerging technologies.

Scientists understand they need to develop ways to safely handle emerging technologies (e.g., nanotubes have molecular structures similar to asbestos, and we know what happens there). In addition, they understand they have an obligation to manage the potential future health consequences.

Like scientists, government needs to anticipate the future as well.  For example, the federal government’s preparation for the swine flu epidemic actually began three years ago in preparation for the avian flu.  The public health framework and antiviral stockpiles are in place.  Similarly, former Senator John Danforth, on a recent PBS NewsHour show, observed that government now needs to be developing an exit strategy from its unanticipated ownership of auto, banking, insurance, and mortgage companies.

Defining “Anticipatory Governance”

In my presentation, I defined “governance” as “the designation of players and their roles, and defining the formal prerogatives of the role-players; as well as prescribing the communication patterns and decision rights among these players.”  This is based on definitions used in the private sector.

I expanded the definition to “anticipatory governance” based on the public administration perspective reflected in Chi’s report: “Changing short-term oriented decisionmaking practices to long-term policies with vision, foresight; and making decisions based on informed trends, evidence-based decisions, with a future co-designed by professionals and citizens.”

The “co-design” element is important, based on studies of collaborative networks in public administration, because it create the legitimacy needed for policymakers to act.  But the scientists on the panel helped me understand a new insight. . . In the scientific community, there is great debate over the degree of certainty needed before public action is warranted in responding to uncertain scientific risks.  For example, what degree of certainty is needed before the scientific community calls for policy actions regarding climate change?  Is this strictly a scientific judgment or is there a role for citizens? To what extent should a decision rely on “deep thinking” by scientists vs. “the wisdom of crowds?”  This is when citizen participation seems to play an important role.  Citizens can grant the scientific community the legitimacy to act.

From Concepts to Action

The NAPA “foresight” paper outlines three steps for action. These three steps seemed to parallel what the scientists were finding in their work, as well.

Create a broad context that stakeholders can agree on. The military calls this  creating a “common operating picture,” where everyone can see the big picture.  There have been efforts to do this at the national level via efforts such as the “State of the USA” and Community Indicators projects.  A good state-level example is the Council on Virginia’s Future.

Create plans to act on the broader context. This has been done in the defense community via capability-based resource planning, and in the homeland security arena via scenario-driven planning.  An effort under the Bush Administration also used the development of “national strategies,”  such as the national security, homeland security strategy, and the cybersecurity strategy.

Put mechanism in place to act on the plans. In cities and states, this has been via “performance-stat” approaches such as Baltimore’s Citi-Stat and Maryland’s StateStat.  At the federal level, there are cross-agency or/multi-sector task forces, such as the newly-created food safety task force.

Obama is beginning to put in place some of the necessary elements.  His Open Government Directive will create the framework for citizen participation, and his effort to expand the use of Web 2.0 tools will provide the tools to do this.  It will be interesting to see how the scientific community takes advantage of these new approaches.

Survey on Transparency in Government

April 10, 2009

The current issue of Government Executive magazine has a terrific article by Andrew Noyes, “Behind the Curtain: What Transparency Really Means,” which explains why Obama’s Transparency and Open Government Directive will be challenging to draft and implement.


Noye’s article raises key questions:  “What exactly is government transparency? How is it interpreted by those inside government who need to execute it? How will it be measured? What will it look like to the public?”


He begin to answer some of these questions with results of a recent survey of senior government managers that shows a clear disconnect between what government employees may see as transparent vs. how citizens and advocacy groups may view transparency:


·         nearly 90 percent said they viewed transparency as providing facts and figures on project results and findings.

·         about 74 percent said open government also included providing information such as policy rationales on how agencies went about making the decisions that they did, and

·         67 percent said open government also included making data ready for analysis from nongovernmental groups.


What managers said was not part of their definition of transparency was supplying names of those involved in top-level policy decisions (only 45 percent said those should be made public) and minutes from meetings (26 percent).


Noyes observes: “How transparency plays out will have significant political ramifications for Obama, say academics and government technology specialists. If the administration gets transparency right, which means it succeeds in opening the policymaking process and government operations in a way that the public perceives as credible and holds agencies accountable, it will forever change standard operating procedure in Washington.”


The results of the Government Executive survey will be discussed in a webinar on Tuesday (April 14) at 2 p.m., if you’re interested in learning more.

Transparency and Open Government: Obama Style

January 27, 2009

As one of his first acts in office, President Obama signed a memorandum, “Transparency and Open Government.”  The memorandum directs the yet-to-be-announced Chief Technology Officer to lead a 120-day study on ways to act upon three principles outlined in the memo:


Government should be transparent: agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online, and solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.


Government should be participatory:  agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and provide their collective expertise and information.


Government should be collaborative:  agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across levels of government, and with nonprofits, businesses and individuals.  Agencies should also solicit public feedback to assess how well they are collaborating and to identify new ways to cooperate.


The study, to be coordinated with the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the yet-to-be-named administrator of the General Services Administration, is to recommend an Open Government Directive that agencies would implement.


It was unclear from the memorandum when the 120-day study period would begin.  If you know, please respond in the comment box below!