Now that the Open Government Directive is finally out, it’s been interesting to sift through the reactions and read what people think about it.
As several people have noted (here, here), the Open Government Directive’s immediate focus — at least quantitatively — seems to be much more on transparency than on the other two pillars, participation and collaboration.
Not surprisingly, the transparency community is pretty happy (see, for example, GovFresh’s nice list of a dozen statements from some of the more well-known voices).
But what about participation? Here are three comments that seem to illustrate the overall mood pretty well, at least according to what I’ve been hearing.
Peter Levine, Director of CIRCLE, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (2009/12/08): the Open Government Directive
Meanwhile, the “collaboration” and “participation” aspects of the president’s original memorandum were extremely promising. Real participation by citizens and real collaboration with nonprofits and communities would change government and enhance civic skills. But those sections of today’s Directive are very short and vague, and the concrete passages disappoint me. For instance:
“The Plan should include descriptions of and links to appropriate websites where the public can engage in existing participatory processes of your agency.”
“The Plan should include proposals to use technology platforms to improve collaboration among people within and outside your agency.”
“The Plan should include innovative methods, such as prizes and competitions, to obtain ideas from and to increase collaboration with those in the private sector, non-profit, and academic communities.”
I predict that organized stakeholders will dominate open online forums and will win most of the prizes and competitions, leaving most Americans with no new ways to participate. But I could certainly be wrong, and I hope I am. I also look forward to future initiatives, because I assume that the original Memorandum remains a promise that can inspire further action.
Brad Rourke, President, The Mannakee Circle Group (2009/12/09): White House Issues Open Government Directive
While the move was applauded by the transparency community (for instance, the policy director of the Sunlight Foundation referred to it as “enormous,” and indeed the list of commitments from agencies when it comes to transparency is already impressive), many in the civic participation field are less sanguine.
“I was underwhelmed,” wrote Fielding Graduate University professor emeritus W. Barnett Pearce in a post to an influential mailing list run by the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. “[I]t seemed very much like the ‘town hall meeting’ concept – the government shows/tells/lets us look on the website to see what they are doing, and then we can line up for our three minutes/send in our comments to their email inboxes or a listserve.”
There were a few positive comments as well.
Roger Bernier, senior advisor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009/12/10 via the NCDD mailing list):
As a federal agency official promoting public engagement, I believe the Directive raises the bar on how we intereact with the public and could be a powerful tool for stimulating more active participatory processes. I say this because the Directive calls for changing management and administrative policies to increase public participation in agency activities and calls for the creation of new and easier methods of public engagement. Also, it recognizes the importance of agency employee engagement to help create an internal culture of participation as well as an external one.
So, a bit of a mixed bag. It seems that even though the participation community (NCDD and others) have been engaging with the White House extensively over the past few months, the real work is only about to begin.
I’d like to see a comprehensive list of all agencies that will be working on this over the coming months and their activities (incl. key people, meeting calendars, calls for public input etc.). As a field, we can’t assume that anyone at the agency level is aware of the recommendations or resources we’ve shared so far. Another coordinated effort will be needed to help put the participation piece on the right track.