Quick thoughts on open government

I rather like using the phrase ‘open government’ to cover – if I’m honest – the stuff I’m interested in. Indeed, the eagle eyed among you may have spotted that the tagline for this blog is now the suitably pompous “Open government and everything else”.

In many ways I like it because it enables me to put the use of social software in government into a wider context – important given the age of austerity in which we find ourselves. I’ve never thought that social media usage was an end in itself, but perhaps sometimes the actual end was never articulated particularly well. ‘Open government’ does that nicely.

The O’Reilly book, Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice (which I would recommend) offers a useful definition of the three elements of Open Government:

  1. Transparency – open data and that sort of thing
  2. Collaboration – working together better within government (knowledge sharing, learning, enteprise 2.0 type stuff) and also collaborating with service providers, social innovators etc
  3. Participation – crowdsourcing, use of social media, co-production etc

My friend Dave Coplin posted up a video of a talk he gave outlining these principles, which is rather good and well worth watching all the way through.

So how are these things actually going to happen? I think the two main contributors are going to be:

  1. Technology – which I would break down further to include social technology, cloud computing and open source
  2. Culture – including sharing, learning and innovation – all of which government needs to get better at to make open government a reality.

Another thing that is vital to open government is a combination of the two things above, in other words, the culture of technology. This is something I have banged on about before, but the greatest recent example was the one I documented here. Technology provides the platforms and the infrastructure of open government, but open government itself is not predicated on technology. However, I do think it is key to take technology seriously, and not to dismiss it as the stuff of geeks and weirdos.

Here’s a good (if long) discussion about “government 2.0” – often used as a synonym for open government, but which for me has a slightly more technical bent. For me, ‘government 2.0’ means “what can technology and technologists do to improve government”. Open government is more “what can everyone do to improve government”.

Expect a bit more on this from me in the near future as I extrapolate in my usual half-baked way on the various threads involved in open government.

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Dave Briggs

I'm Head of Digital and Design at Adur and Worthing Councils.

6 thoughts on “Quick thoughts on open government”

  1. I think one important element is spreading some of the basic concepts behind open government more widely than techie and policy wonk circles (to caricature a bit, but only a bit). For example, there are many otherwise helpful and bright staff in local government who, when asked for data in electronic format, simply don’t get the difference between supplying a pdf and a spreadsheet. Both are electronic files after all, aren’t they?

  2. An “open government” is such a widely-talked about concept, but what many people don’t seem to realize is what actuallly has to happen in order for an open government to actually exist. The 3 elements of an open government–collaboration, transparency, and participation—(as indicated by the O’Reilly book) can be easily handled with an effective social media strategy and utilization of proven Gov 2.0 platforms.

    At INgage Networks, we’ve been building on these social media trends and more, including crowdsourcing, public comment, and citizen community management for the past 10+ years. Our executive thought leaders have actually written a white paper that speaks directly to this topic. Title: Transparency, Participatin, and Collaboration: How Government 2.0 Solutions Enable Agencies to Meet the Requirements of the American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Feel free to download it: http://www.ingagenetworks.com/white-papers. It’s #10 on the page.

  3. Thanks for pointing out the O’Reilly book Dave. I really wish I’d come across it when I was doing my dissertation! Just a thought to add into your suggestions for contributors to open government. Although it’s often forgotten I think information management is an important contributor. Knowing how to make the best of information assets is pretty fundamental. Right, I’m off to get that book now…

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