Opening Up About Open Government: Do Open Government Initiatives Measure Up?

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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

Overcoming Management Hurdles
A recent March 2010 survey of OGov (www.meritalk.com/opengovpoll) conducted by Steve O'Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk.com, presented the results to a Senate subcommittee on March 23. The results revealed that 34% of those surveyed still feel the key obstacle to success is overcoming management's resistance to transparency. Without their buy-in and support, it will be difficult
to succeed. The survey also revealed people (83%) overwhelmingly want the government to spend the time doing research to better understand their likes/dislikes and their wants/needs. Can we expect this Senate subcommittee to take any positive action to address these results? That might be an interesting survey question to ask.

O'Keeffe summed it up nicely when he wrote on his blog, "[T]he data, or organization of the data, simply is not there to support the Ogov promise-like the Library of Congress without a card catalog. It's not about pushing out data, nor about the government developing Ogov apps of its own. To win, Uncle Sam needs to consider customer requirements, establish common data formats, and push all of the [legally viewable] data to the public. Empower industry-we're talking iTunes to OMB's DMV-to build the apps and turn government into the platform."

Tim O'Reilly's book chapter, "Government as a Platform," points out the basic fundamentals of a successful OGov initiative is the age-old phenomenon "KISS" (keep it simple stupid). He writes: "[I]t should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that ‘exposes' the underlying data." The whole point of government as a platform is to encourage the private sector to build applications that government didn't consider or doesn't have the resources to create. Open data is a powerful way to enable the private sector to do just that.

Who Measures Up
The fact that a recent survey revealed that only 16% of professionals worldwide bother to measure the ROI of their social media programs further emphasizes the importance of creating a level of awareness to stop putting the cart before the horse. The government can't afford to continue to institute more and more social media initiatives including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube without taking the time to ensure these efforts can produce valuable outcomes and impact.

So are any U.S. agencies or departments on my "who's who" list of measuring up? Let's take a look at the ones that made the cut:

1. The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS; www.hhs.gov/open) is one of the few agencies to clearly describe its strategy to measure success of its initiatives in its new Open Government Plan.

2. The Department of Agriculture (USDA; www.usda.gov/open) is one of the few agencies that has a link to statistics captured on its simple, well-designed, new OGov website, in compliance with the December 2009 Open Government Directive.

3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; www.cdc.gov/metrics) has been given lots of kudos for its success creating public awareness of H1N1 events as they unfolded by increasing the use of social media tools ranging from text messaging to online video. But the real key to this success was the metrics they developed to show whether these forms of communication were being used. As a result, CDC customer satisfaction has risen to almost 80%, partly due to some helpful metrics published on their website.

4. The Department of Defense (DoD; http://open.dodlive.mil) has announced its commitment to monitor several metrics as indicators of its success in implementing open government throughout the department. Although it's starting small, DoD at least recognizes the need to move toward identifying more sophisticated metrics over time and included this measurement effort in its Open Government Plan.

5. The Department of State's (DOS; www.state.gov/open) Secretary Sounding Board project, an ideation platform like that being used by General Services Administration for its Better Buy Project, has had great success. The platform has seen more than 1,000 ideas entered with thousands of comments by others in the organization. The ideas have enabled the sort of water cooler conversation of the past (which were rarely heard of by others and almost never discussed beyond the water cooler) to come to light. For example, as part of ongoing efforts to green government, people suggested the addition of loaner bicycles for workers to use to get to meetings across town instead of having to ride in cabs or use their own cars. These bikes, which are now a reality, will make a difference in effectiveness and are one small example of the power of employee collaboration.

6. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA; www.epa.gov/open) is providing feedback to public comments related to open government on its OpenEPA forum. To date, it has taken immediate action on ideas it could incorporate into open government activities. For example, EPA created a video archive for rule making in response to citizen requests to provide webcasts of live public meetings and other agency rulemaking. (This was also one of USDA's top vote-getters on its public engagement site.) The agency also has kept its Open Forum open to continue public dialogue, so it can still take ideas and comments and provide feedback.

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