Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice Paperback – Feb 26 2010
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Were living in a world characterized by exponential change. Most government organizations werent built for this world. The movement from closed to open is one of the most important ways governments can adapt to faster change. "Open Government" offers insight on how to get from here to there. It should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of the public sector.
-- William D. Eggers, Author of "If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government" and "Government 2.0"
Open Government is a comprehensive compendium of the who, what, how, and why of the emergent national "Gov 2.0" movement; it's a must-read for all who care about transparent, efficient, and participatory government, which, by definition, should equate to each and every one of us in our capacity as citizens and voters.
-- Andrew Hoppin, CIO, New York State Senate--Andrew Hoppin
We're living in a world characterized by exponential change. Most government organizations weren't built for this world. The movement from closed to open is one of the most important ways governments can adapt to faster change. Open Government offers insight on how to get from here to there. It should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of the public sector.
-- William D. Eggers, Author of If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government and Government 2.0--William D. Eggers
Open government is one critical part in making happen what some may think impossible: a government that actually works.
-- Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics and professor of law at Harvard Law School--Lawrence Lessig
Government is becoming more responsive and effective due to the Open Government movement. This book is written by the people, and for the people, who are interested in making Open Government happen.
-- Craig Newmark, Founder of Craigslist--Craig Newmark
About the Author
Daniel Lathrop is a former investigative projects reporter with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He has covered politics in Washington state, Iowa, Florida and Washington D.C. He was a senior researcher on the New York Times bestselling "The Buying of the President 2004" by Charles Lewis. He is a specialist in campaign finance and "computer assisted reporting," the practice of using data analysis to report the news. He writes code in Perl, Python and PHP. He was the primary architect of the data for the Center for Public Integrity's successful Lobbywatch project, which provided the first truly searchable online database of federal lobbying available to the general public. He supervised the data team that developed CPI's Power Trips investigation of Congressional junkets.
Laurel Ruma is the Gov 2.0 Evangelist at O'Reilly Media. She is the co-chair for the Gov 2.0 Expo. Laurel joined the company in 2005 after being an editor at various IT research/consulting firms in the Boston area. Laurel went to Union College and is a photographer and homebrewer.
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For example, the chapter by Douglas Schuler discussed online deliberation, including the work of e-Liberate, which developed an online version of Roberts Rules of Order to facilitate online deliberations. The system in its current form can support meetings that take place in real-time over an hour or so and, also, meetings that are more asynchronous (and leisurely), meetings that could, in theory, span a year or so, making it necessary for meeting attendees to log in to e-Liberate once or twice a week to check for recent developments and perhaps vote or make a motion. Might not such a system be useful for facilitating online shareowner forums, shareowner collaboration in deciding on proxy access candidates, or even annual shareowner meetings?
David Eaves builds off the work of Clay Shiky who looked at Ronald Coase's, The Nature of the Firm. Coarse theorized the people didn't self-organize in a manager-free environment because managing transaction costs - the costs of constantly negotiating, coordinating and enforcing agreements - would be prohibitive. In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Shiky asks, "But what if transaction costs don't fall moderately? What if they collapse?" The Internet seems to make that possible. Eaves cites the DIRECT Launcher project, where NASA and non-NASA employees created a virtual "skunk works" to design a rocket that outcompetes NASA. Eaves argues that with the acknowledged end of objectivity, sites like Wikipedia have increased credibility because their transparency documents partisanship. You can trace bias. Eaves goes on to discuss many self-organizing tools that I think might be readily adaptable to [...], CII and others. Other variations are discussed by Charles Armstrong. For example, One Click Organizations utilize the Themis Constitution developed by CIRCUS Foundation, designed to take advantage of electronic decision-making to simplify governance and administration.
Sarah Schacht takes us back to the fundamentals of democracy, points made in the Constitution, like the fact that a Journal of the Proceedings of Congress shall be published with Yeas and Nays of Members voting for and against bills. Of course, we can't have Board minutes released right after meetings but wouldn't it be reasonable to release minutes or at least votes after some reasonable amount of time... perhaps a year later, unless otherwise deemed strategically critical to remain secret? How can we hold our board members accountable if we never know how they vote?
If corporate directors really begin to represent shareowners, rather than CEOs and self-replacing boards, they might learn a thing or two from [...]. Then there's Sheila Krumholz's discussion about why the Center for Responsive Politics decided to publish their data on [...], which reminds me of decisions by funds to disclose their proxy votes at [...]. It turns out giving away what may cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to compile can actually increase your clout and help better fulfill your mission than hording information like gold.
Another site all in governance can benefit from is [...], which facilitates the ability to upload data, visualize it, and talk about it with other people. Explore your data through word tree maps, bubble charts, phrase net, tag clouds, etc. Visualization provides powerful insights.
That's just a few observations on a few chapters. Open Government contains 34, so there is a great deal to explore. [...], which improves the accountability of elected leaders by allowing you to vote on funding for websites/blogs that cover how you are being represented, is one of many sites that are missing. However, Lathrop and Ruma have done an excellent job of compiling a list of useful sites and essays that will go far in creating more open governments... whatever their form.
The Open Government movement is not officially organized as a group or party, rather it is a growing collection of concerned citizens who want to help create better government by increasing citizens' access to information. It has been heavily influenced by the open source software movement and has similar aims: increased collaboration through making options available to any interested party willing to read and study, increased transparency by making source materials freely available for anyone to peruse and examine, and increased participation by eliminating closed systems wherever possible. While this idea was broadcast most widely in the campaign and early days of Barack Obama's presidency, this is not a one-sided political issue as much as it is an Enlightenment era system of belief, enshrined in the United States' Declaration of Independence and Constitution, now being updated for the digital era which is filled with technologies which could make those ideals more easily fulfilled.
Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice is a collection of 34 essays written by a wide variety of people who are interested in both promoting the philosophy of open government and in suggesting practical ways to implement procedures that will assist in applying that philosophy. The range of topics covered is diverse and interesting. Included are thoughts about governmental uses of information technology that currently limit openness and specific recommendations for remedying the problems, creating a wider variety of methods for people to access government data and increasing access across society, enabling greater innovation among those not directly connected to government such as through the creation of specific APIs so that outside research may be more easily accomplished using government collected data (paid for with public funds via taxes and therefore publicly owned data). We have essays that consider new and effective ways for current government officials to communicate more easily and directly with the people who elected them, discussions of how increased openness in government could decrease the influence of monied interests in governmental policy and could replace that with a greater influence by and for the electorate. There are clear and logical presentations on topics like why using open standards for data storage matters, especially with regards to publicly owned data as collected and used by governments, as well as some great arguments for the use of open source software to make government more efficient, transparent, and flexible in a rapidly changing world.
I greatly appreciate that this book exists. I would love for a copy to end up in the hands of every member of the government as well as any interested person planning to run for an office. These are policies that would greatly benefit the original intent of the founders of the United States (of which I am a citizen and where the book was written) and would be useful in any nation willing to carefully read and consider the ideas being proffered.
If this topic is of any interest to you, and I argue that it should be, this book would benefit you in your thinking. Go find a copy and read it.
With the clout of Social Networks and hacker communities, the idea of being "open" isn't as radical as it used to be several years ago, and the book clearly capitalizes on that. Almost all successful companies have open APIs today. These companies realize that it is "data accessibility" that will invariably create value for the consumer-and their business.
So why can't governments do the same? The book argues the case for governments to "open up" and give access to their data (e.g. documents, bills, voting records, proceedings, initiatives, ...etc) so that the electorate is informed and able to fully participate in governance, which is in effect the ultimate goal of democracy.
Out of all 34 essays, Tim O'Reilly's "Government as a Platform" offered the most comprehensive blueprint for what needs to be done to get to the next level in Open Government. He offers seven lessons, or principles, that lead to Open Platform. These aren't government specific, which makes them even more valuable to anyone interested in the subject of Open Platform.
The seven principles are:
1- Open Standards Spark Innovation and Growth
2- Build a Simple System and Let It Evolve
3- Design for Participation
4- Learn From Your "Hackers"
5- Data Mining Allows You To Harness Implicit Participation
6- Lower the Barriers to Experimentation
7- Lead by Example
The principles are pretty self-explanatory and Tim fleshes each one out with examples and guiding thoughts. I highly recommend reading those sections twice to fully understand what they require of you and your company to build a successful Open Platform.
The principle that resonated with me the most was #2. I see this all the time (I'm guilty of it sometimes too): Engineers embark on an elaborative architecture quest to build the most "awesome" or "kick ass" software that will undeniably be the best platform EVER. The only thing is they often end up with a convoluted, unmaintainable system that ends up being "legacy" in no time. Tim quotes John Gall's Systemantics:
"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true. A complex system designed from scratch never workes and cannot be make to work. You have to start over, beginning witha working simple system.
It's so very true."
At the end of his essay, Tim O'Reilly offers ten practical steps that government agencies can adopt to be more open. If you don't have time to read the entire book, I strongly recommend you read his chapter.
In the end, the paramount beneficiary of Open Platforms is the Consumer. In government, the consumer is the Electorate. President Obama understood that. He is the first US President to fully embrace the Open Government movement. We saw clear signs of that during his campaign in 2008 and in the release of data.gov and change.gov.
A few weeks back, I went to interview protesters at the Occupy LA encampment in downtown Los Angeles as part of my research for the new startup I co-founded, Voterspring.com. When I asked the question, "how do you think we can hold government accountable?" The overwhelming answer was, "information and transparent access to it."
This book paves the road to open and transparent government. Now the ball is in the government's court.
This textbook is one of the required readings for Professor Dr. Ines Mergel's Government 2.0 course at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Unfortunately, the chapter that is required reading is "You can be the eyes and ears": Barack Obama and the Wisdom of the Crowds by Micah L. Sifry. I previously wrote about the danger of tying your message to a particular messenger in my review of Barack, Inc.: Winning Business Lessons of the Obama Campaign. Here again, Sifry delivers some thoughtful questions about whether "President Obama will listen to candidate Obama..." It would be a shame for someone to let their political affiliation get in the way of an informative essay.
In the foreword, Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics, captured a key hurdle for open government:
"All this is happening at a time when an entire generation of baby boomers will retire from government, creating an exodus of knowledge and skills that may never be replaced. In the United States, this demographic shift will see more than 60,000 civil service employees exit annually between now  and 2015. Large departments, such as the Department of Defense, will lose 20 percent of their workforces Many of these people hold executive, managerial, or key administrative positions -- replacing them will be nearly impossible.
To make matters worse, recruiting and retaining a younger generation of public servants won't be much easier. Just when government most needs an infusion of fresh-thinking talent, young people are losing interest in public administration as a profession."
Chapter 28, "Toads on the Road to Open Government Data" lists seven general reasons government data remains locked away:
* Privacy and legal restrictions;
* The culture of bureaucracies and homeland security;
* Ancient media;
* Proprietary and medieval databases;
* Ethically questionable (privacy);
* Ethically questionable (sharing);
It is fascinating to read that, despite what conspiracy theorists might claim, ancient media and medieval databases play as large a role as cost in preventing government from becoming more transparent.
In summary, I approached this book with more than a decade of government work experience. I've sat through a number of case studies that painted a rosier picture than reality, so I started reading with a healthy dose of skepticism. However, Open Government provides a balance of theoretical approaches and practical examples from an impressive collection of sources, both inside and outside of government.
Rating: Four stars.
What is surprising is that editors Daniel Lathrop and Laurel Ruma and O'Reilly Media have managed to make a potentially wonky topic like Government 2.0 accessible, fresh and actually interesting. "Open Government"is a big (432 pages), beautiful book, from the gorgeous, sumptuous cover to the breadth of ideas and angles inside. In its collection of 34 essays written by thought leaders and practitioners in government reform, the book offers dozens of examples of a new approach to government: open, democratic, distributed, bottom-up, shareable, data-driven and focused on making "we the people" a reality again.
In the book, the editors have assembled some of the top names in the government reform movement: Ellen Miller, Micah L. Sifry, Mark Drapeau, as well as Fernanda Viegas, Dan Gillmor and dozens of others. You'll learn about the potential of data.gov, the initiative to create a simple framework to share public information, and Open Secrets from the Center for Responsive Politics, used by [...] to correlate congressional voting patterns and campaign contributions. The chapter on Tweet Congress details the efforts to get members of Congress to use Twitter -- even today, Republican Congressmen out number Democrats on Twitter by something like a 2-1 ratio. Other chapters lay out countless other examples of how open government has moved from a geek idea to the mainstream.
Writes O'Reilly in a key passage:
"Government 2.0 is not a new kind of government; it is government stripped down to its core, rediscovered and reimagined as if for the first time. ... There is a new compact on the horizon: information produced by and on behalf of citizens is the lifeblood of the economy and the nation; government has a responsibility to treat that information as a national asset. Citizens are connected like never before and have the skill sets and passion to solve problems affecting them locally as well as nationally. Government information and services can be provided to citizens where and when they need them. Citizens are empowered to spark the innovation that will result in an improved approach to governance. In this model, government is a convener and an enabler rather than the first mover of civic action."
If you roll your eyes at that and think government is the problem, buy the latest Ann Coulter fairytale. But if you believe that government belongs to us, and we can collectively convene to solve some of the great issues of our day, then get "Open Government." Buy one for any of your friends who work in a government agency. Change can happen one small miracle at a time.
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