Book Review: Open Government

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Lathrop & Ruma (eds.): Open Government: Transparency, Collaboration and Participation in Practice. O’Reilly, 2010.

Years from now, people will look back at the Open Government movement and attribute its beginnings to the release of this book. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The movement has been live and at large since well before this book, and that it has reached the White House is a manifestation of the power of the movement’s ideas.

The book, however, brings a lot of substance to the public debate about open government and offers a range of highly interesting essays and case studies on many aspects involving transparency, participation and collaboration in the public sector. While especially the case studies are very US-centric, many of the central ideas and arguments are universally valid and the first half of the book (and a bit beyond, and towards the end) does an outstanding job at conveying a relatively full picture of the debate. The downside is that the book is a bit lopsided towards open data, and web 2.0/outreach type activities, and does not offer much in the way of e-participation for example. Articles on broader implications of open government are missing, such as analyses from a public management, political science or institutional theory perspective.

But this book can only be a start, and for that it is an excellent one. Readers will find many articles with eloquently presented ideas that are years ahead of how government works today, if not decades. Many examples illustrate the feasibility as well as the genesis of the ideas.

Verdict: A must-read for advocates, geeks, public sector thinkers and especially public officials and employees. An outstanding collection of essays and case studies that provide a substantial base for the open government debate. It is lacking in some areas and lopsided towards open data but that is a gap future publications can and should fill.

About the author: Sebastian Haselbeck is a graduate student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt (Germany) and Intellitics’ first-ever student intern. You can connect with him on Twitter, or send him an email at sebastian [at] intellitics [dot] com.

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