If you ask 20 people to define open government, you will get 20 different responses. The lack of uniformed definitions makes implementing open government services very difficult. It would be like asking a pastry chef to bake a cherry pie and then providing 20 different recipes. The chef would have no idea which pie you really wanted to eat. So, what can government do to clear up the ambiguity?
Logan Harper is the community manger for the University of North Carolina at chapel Hill's School of Government's Masters of Public Administration program. He also wrote, "The Citizen's Guide to Open Government, E-Government and Government 2.0."
Harper told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that defining open government, e-government and government 2.0 is the first step to actually optimizing these technology solutions.
"We saw a lot of buzz around these three words: open government, e-government and government 2.0. We decided to try to define them and provide a place where anyone interested could find more information and find out exactly what they are," said Harper.
Defining the terms:
- "Open Government gets at the transparency of ideas. The main focus of the open government movement was originally anti-corruption. You see a lot of resources just opening up the data sets and really giving anyone interested insight into what information the government has. A great example would be data.gov. On data.gov the US government releases massive data sets on everything from Census information to USDA studies, NASA information and the site lets the internet do what it wants to with the information."
- "E-government is more related to transmission of this information and the relationship between different parties. To be more specific, e-government means improving the relationship between the government’s people and business and between government agencies and people in business. You might see services in the e-government sector related to better delivery of government services. Maybe a better allocation of government resources. Improved interactions between with business and industry. More efficient management of resources and increased access to information. For example, it could be information on a state’s school district system to help parents decide which school district is better. Or when road closures are going to happen, the government posts it so businesses can plan ahead."
- "Government 2.0 is more focused on the use of web 2.0 technologies. I refer to this as the ATM government. Most citizens are really used to instant gratification. Government 2.0 is more of a focus on how to deliver the services."
"These terms transform government so that it is not just top down solutions. It is not just government opening up and saying here are all the answers or here is a service to report an issue in your neighborhood, you are seeing bottom up solutions too. You are seeing citizens coming together and creating collaborative tools to make their communities better," said Harper. "An app based out of the UK allows citizens to report broken traffic lights. There is a site based out of Ohio called the Civic Commons where community leaders, everyone from elected officials to concerned parents and citizens, can come together and discuss issues. I remember they had a session about a new highway project. They were able to get a lot of people involved in the conversation that wouldn’t have normally shown up to a City Hall Open Forum on a Monday night at 8pm. With Civic Commons you are able to get a lot more people involved by posting on forums from their office or home rather than actually going downtown."
A new way to care about government?
"This openness is creating more of a connection between government and citizens. It is sort of getting the middle man out of the way," said Harper.
Is the key for government to be a willing participant?
"We are starting to see government responding. You are seeing apps like Tweet Congress, that allow citizens to tweet directly at Congress members. When they don’t respond it is on the public record. You also see through the White House the petition initiative through We the People. Any petition that reaches 100,000 signatures must be addressed by the White House. You see a range of issues from the ridiculous, like why doesn’t the DOD build a Death Star, to real issues on the economy, immigration and healthcare. It is great to see government actually responding. Unlike say, Egypt, two years ago that had a bottom up movement that resulted in the government being toppled over. In the US we are actually seeing a dialogue between the bottom up citizenry and the federal government," said Harper.
Why define these terms?
"Because of the fluidity of the definitions, there is so much overlap that we thought we should create an end-all source. We are continually adding and changing the post," said Harper.
Is this a fear that people will get disenchanted?
"I think this is where some of the smaller more incremental changes are key. With organizations like Code for America, their goal isn’t to fix Congress. Their goals are let’s fix traffic in Honolulu, let’s fix potholes in San Francisco. If they are able to address these tiny problems in the grand scheme of things, I think people will really start to buy into this philosophy that it is not just lofty goals, we can actually get real things done through this technology," said Harper.