Technology for Opening Up Government

by on December 12, 2008 · 22 comments

can_openerToday’s event on “open” and “participatory” government at Google’s DC office was interesting, if inconclusive. We all agreed that making government more transparent and ready for participation by the citizenry was good. But I left not knowing what it all really means. Tech reporter Grant Gross has a good report, and here’s what I got out of it:

  • Disclosure — At a minimum, opening up government requires more disclosure. Any and all data, transcripts, reports, etc. should be put up on the web.
  • Format — Don’t just disclose, but make sure the information is formatted for ease of access and finding information. Funneling information will be really important. The spigot could pour out information, but if there’s no ability for citizens to find and understand issues that affect them, there’s only a partial benefit to being open. Opportunities for private sector here.
  • Participation — what this means, I’m still not entirely sure, but seems to be the notion that “we the people” should be more involved in government and tech can help us. It could mean regular comments from affected parties on agency and committee websites, not just the occasional responses to proposed rulemakings. However, flooding the process with “white noise” could be a problem, as could be self-selection for those who post comments (so there should be caution when gauging public opinion writ-large).

Someone on the panel mentioned mySociety, which is a nonprofit org in the UK that designed a website service called FixMyStreet. The site acts as a middleman between residents that want to report potholes and the proper authorities to fix them. This is an interesting private sector approach for using technology to help us participate at the local government level. Likewise, Jim Harper’s WashingtonWatch helps track legislation in Congress, and provides opportunities for comments.

Ultimately, no matter what technologies exist and how many private sector initiatives there are, we need buy-in from government. Technology will help, but it’ll take behavioral changes by the powers-that-be to really use and implement web 2.0 tools.  Government 2.0 will hopefully result in better decision-making and increased accountability.

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