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

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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

Setting Goals for OGov Initiatives
Although many new OGov initiatives have been implemented and others are still in development, taxpayers' eyes may get glazed over when trying to understand the goals of these efforts. And if goals are not well-defined, there's no way to effectively create any metrics to determine success or failure.

As part of the new Open Government Directive, all federal departments and agencies are developing "flagship initiatives" to make operations and data more transparent and to expand opportunities for citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight. If you review the list of initiatives (www.white house.gov/open/documents/flagship-initiatives), they sound pretty good in theory. But in many cases, it's not evident as to the goals to be accomplished, what involvement the American people will have, and how their involvement will shape and add value to the agency, its mission, and the public served.

Last year, I ran across a great resource, the Collaboration Project website (www.collaborationproject.org), where leaders focused on solving government's complex problems by sharing ideas, examples, and insights on adopting Web 2.0 technologies. But I was sorely disappointed when I saw some agencies boast that by improving their websites, there were more hits on them, and, therefore, they were considered a great success. I'm sorry, but in my book, more traffic on a website does not automatically equate to success. The real trick is to learn whether or not the agency set clear goals to measure if visitors found value on its site and what their perceptions were.

Collecting the right metrics, finding the right tools, developing manageable strategy plans for measurement and content findability are critical to the success of any OGov initiative. There are tools and resources available to increase agencies ROI, even with limited budgets, including a government Facebook page, which is dedicated to providing information about how the government can best use Facebook. Agencies should consider engaging with experts in measurement, accountability, and analytics services to ensure they develop the most reusable and repeatable measurement strategies. The promotion of this first wave of open government has been more focused on the concept of it, and its initiatives have been more like POCs (proofs of concept). It's time to move to the next phase.

Challenges for the Future
Many challenges lay ahead for this administration to successfully fulfill its Open Government Initiative. Better public relations efforts need to be undertaken to create an environment in which the public wants to get involved. Unless marketing strategies and advertisements are put in place to promote the existence and benefits of the OGov initiatives to the American people, there may not be significant savings, reform, or improvement. Communication, media events, and processes need to be enhanced to manage people's expectations, better prepare for emergencies or disasters, and enable first responders to react more quickly. Government needs to go where their citizens are. Since people typically use commercial entities rather than government websites to find and discuss agency related info (ex. health or safety issues), government agencies that reach out to these social spaces to post helpful information can expect to have more success in enticing people back to their agency website for more information and details.

The use of social media in this day and age is a powerful force to be reckoned with and has already proven what a significant impact it can have on everyone. It only takes seconds to transmit news around the world via Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook as seen with uprisings against governments, catastrophic events such as the Haiti earthquake, and even the Susan Boyle phenomenon. It behooves the government to harness these tools and apply measurement strategies to foster positive change. Comparing the views made public by ordinary people creates access to a huge panel of voters' views as well as provides a better sense of the pulse of this country on various issues.

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