A How-to guide Harnessing technology to forge a new partnership between

A How-to guide
for Creating Open Government
Harnessing technology to
forge a new partnership between
government and citizens.
• The opportunity of
open government
• Making government
more participatory
• How technology enables
open government
• Making government
more collaborative
• Making government
more transparent
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A How-to guide
for Creating Open Government
Table of Contents
Introduction to Open Government..................................................................... 4
How Technology Enables Open Government..................................................... 9
Creating Transparent Government.................................................................. 11
Creating Participatory Government................................................................. 16
Creating Collaborative Government................................................................ 20
The Future of Open Government...................................................................... 25
Open Government Websites............................................................................. 26
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Introduction to Open Government
Introduction to Open Government
The Opportunity
Governments today have a remarkable opportunity to revitalize themselves and respond
more fully to citizens’ needs. They can tap new sources of information and ideas to assist in
their work, and do this on a much larger scale than ever before.
The opportunity arises from the notion that a government belongs to the people it serves.
Citizens want to become active in the business of governing.
Of course, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is a basic principle of
democracy. In the U.S., we have always tried to live up to that ideal. Today, though, government
institutions and their constituents are better equipped to work together than at any time in
the past. A wealth of new technologies, continually evolving and becoming more powerful,
is encouraging citizens to engage with government. Individuals can make their influence felt
more quickly, more easily and in much greater numbers.
The movement to take advantage of this opportunity is known as open government.
Open government certainly is not a new concept. In the 1960s, many states passed laws
giving the public greater access to records of government activities. President Lyndon Johnson
signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), allowing individuals to access U.S. government
records upon written request, in 1966. One aspect of that law is especially critical: It assumes
that government information should be open to the public. Agencies must comply with
information requests unless the information falls under one of nine very specific exemptions.
Today’s open government movement is an attempt to better fulfill the spirit of FOIA and
related legislation, taking advantage of new tools that allow information to flow more easily
among government institutions and the citizens who own them.
What Is Open Government?
In January 2009, just a few days after his inauguration, President Barack Obama published
a memorandum on “Transparency and Open Government.” It instructed the departments
and agencies of the U.S. government’s executive branch to start implementing the principles
of open government. These principles, the memorandum said, are designed to produce
government that is transparent, participatory and collaborative.
Transparent Government
A transparent government agency informs the public about its activities, using broadly
available technologies to provide this information in formats people can use. The material
it shares might include: data on revenues, spending and program performance; information
on contracts and grants; community data such as school test scores and crime statistics;
environmental data; and a great deal more.
In the old days, government agencies stored data in massive banks of file cabinets. They
shared selected bits of information only on request, or when someone forced the agency’s
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hand. Even when agencies routinely made
information available, getting hold of it wasn’t
easy. A citizen who wanted information on, say, the
latest defense appropriation bill, or local property
assessments, had to visit an office to file a request
with a clerk or page through thick record books. If an
in-person visit wasn’t feasible, the citizen might pay
a public servant or commercial service to retrieve,
copy and mail the information.
Those days are gone. Today, citizens increasingly
expect governments to share information routinely,
promptly and conveniently.
Participatory Government
Citizens of a democracy have always participated
in government. In the past, they have done this by
voting, of course, and by volunteering in political
campaigns. They also wrote letters and placed
phone calls to representatives, voiced their
opinions at public meetings, sent letters to newspapers, staged demonstrations and used
other tactics to share ideas and influence government decisions.
Today’s brand of open government continues to encourage those activities. But it
also harnesses technology to give citizens new ways to participate in policymaking.
This kind of government actively seeks expertise and information to help it carry out
its mission — perhaps asking citizens to suggest cost-cutting measures or report
derelict properties.
An open government also provides tools that help individuals engage more easily with
public agencies. When citizens need to get services or fulfill obligations, they don’t have to
stand in long lines or wait on the phone for the next available operator. Often, they can serve
themselves — be it from a PC while sitting at home or from a cell phone while walking down
the street. They can conduct these transactions at their own convenience — during lunch
hour, on the weekend or even in the middle of the night.
Collaborative Government
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, demonstrated how ineffective government can be
when it operates in silos. Because the various intelligence agencies charged with protecting
the United States did not have the capacity to share information about possible terrorist
activities, they were unable to foil the 9/11 hijacking plot.
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Introduction to Open Government
Institutional boundaries have long kept information from flowing among the divisions
that make up an agency, among the agencies and departments that make up a government
and among different levels and jurisdictions of government. Open government strives to
make those boundaries porous, so public servants can collaborate to achieve the public
good. An open government also teams with the private and nonprofit sectors to accomplish
common goals.
Other Characteristics of Open Government
It’s an attitude, not an initiative. Treating open government as a discrete agenda item
— developing a program plan, naming a director of open government, assigning it a budget
line — may be a mistake. Open government is too important to be treated as a stand-alone
activity. It’s a philosophy that should permeate the entire enterprise.
It is not optional. Governments are starting to view open government as a basic principle
that forms part of every process they conduct.
It provides a new way of thinking about the relationship between government
and citizens. Government does not “own” the information it produces and stores. It
should not merely parcel out information on a need-to-know basis. Public information
belongs to the public. Citizens have a right and duty to use it in their partnership with
government agencies.
It should come first. An agency should not design a business process and later figure out
how to share information about that process with constituents. Mechanisms for information
sharing should be treated as part of the process design from day one.
Why Strive for Open Government?
Government belongs to the people. The idea that citizens should understand how their
government works and should participate in its functions is fundamental to our democracy.
Although the Obama administration’s memorandum covers only federal departments and
agencies, many state and local governments are applying the principles of open government.
They understand that this philosophy offers serious benefits to both the agencies and their
How Open Government Helps Government Agencies
It makes government more responsive to genuine citizen needs. Citizens who are
armed with the facts about government activities, and who have convenient communication
channels, are more likely to make their needs known on a broad variety of issues.
It encourages effective government. A government that shares its data with the public
can’t sweep problems under the rug. Citizens who know the details of the county budget,
for example, and also understand how well various county programs have performed, will
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reward their representatives for success and take them to task
for failures.
It encourages efficient government. When a government
publishes data on its expenditures, it may uncover many
redundant purchases. For example, why procure three
document management systems for three agencies, when
one enterprise system could serve them all more effectively?
Open government creates opportunities for agencies to pool
resources and save tax dollars.
It helps government provide better services in tough
times. When constituents can find the information they want
online, agency staff spend less time answering phone calls
or responding to FOIA requests. When individuals can easily
conduct routine business with government through a Web
portal, there’s less need for employees to staff service counters,
conduct intake interviews or enter data from paper forms.
It helps government tap new sources of expertise.
Stakeholders with access to government information are happy to offer feedback through
platforms such as social networking sites. Some of these respondents provide valuable
insights that an agency might miss on its own. Individuals with access to public data might
also build it into new applications — everything from transit schedule lookup tables to
tools for tracking public spending. Citizen volunteers and entrepreneurs create useful new
services for the public without costing agencies a cent in software development.
It helps cultivate trust in government. When an agency makes itself accountable to the
public, the public knows the agency has nothing to hide. Citizens who can access data on
agency activities better appreciate the thinking behind policy decisions. People who can get
involved in the governing process of are more likely to view government as an ally rather than
an adversary.
How Open Government Helps Citizens
It allows them to participate more actively in our democracy. Access to government data
helps citizens fine-tune their opinions about public issues. Open government encourages these
well informed individuals to voice their opinions and work to influence government policy.
Citizens gain better services. Open government helps constituents tell government
agencies what they really need, and it encourages agencies to listen to and act on those
suggestions. It may give them tools for tracking how quickly the government responds to
citizen complaints. It also helps them find government services more easily and conduct
transactions more conveniently.
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Introduction to Open Government
Citizens gain better government. When government
becomes transparent, citizens can ensure that their
representatives make sound decisions and spend tax
dollars wisely. They know there’s far less opportunity for
waste, fraud or abuse.
They also gain more useful information. For example,
when citizens can access, analyze and compare data on
crime rates, school performance, taxes, health care and
environmental quality — to name just a few items — they
can make better decisions about where to live or where to
locate a business.
Citizens are empowered to create better communities.
Open government provides a forum in which public agencies, individuals and organizations
from the private and nonprofit sectors can collaborate on issues that affect them all.
Open Government in Tough Economic Times
Today, with governments at all levels strapped for cash and forced to make painful budget
cuts, an open attitude toward governance is especially critical for maintaining public trust.
When citizens don’t understand the thinking behind a set of budget decisions, they may
regard those decisions as capricious, unfair or downright corrupt. Protesters flock to state
capitols and city halls demanding that the government restore funds for schools, hospitals,
libraries and parks. Other protesters make equally loud calls for government to shrink its
operations and decrease taxes.
Constituents who know all the facts behind government decisions might still disagree
with those choices, but they are likelier to believe that legislators acted in good faith. And if
the government invites citizens to suggest better ways to balance the budget and keep vital
services intact, many will be happy to respond.
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How Technology Enables Open Government
How Technology Enables Open Government
Governments have used information technology for decades to automate their processes
and store information, allowing them to operate more efficiently and effectively. But only in
recent years have governments started using technology to break down boundaries between
public institutions and the people they serve.
Low-cost, easy-to-use computing devices have become widely available, and the
infrastructure for accessing information electronically — including broadband devices
and Internet services — has become ubiquitous. In a survey conducted in late 2009,
the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that 74 percent of
American adults are Internet users.
With information technology in the hands of so many users, individuals have become
an increasingly important focus for government technology strategy. As agencies choose
technologies, they should ask not just how new tools will improve internal processes, but
also how they can use technology to empower citizens.
Empowering citizens means far more than simply publishing public information on a
website. It means giving citizens tools for understanding and participating in government
processes at every stage.
By leveraging widely available, easy-to-use technologies, governments can:
• Create platforms that allow citizens to access public information whenever and wherever
they need it.
• Help citizens quickly find information that is most important to them.
• Provide forums in which many participants can interact and collaborate on public issues.
• Offer access to repositories of raw data that citizen developers can use to create
useful applications.
• Offer easier, more convenient ways to conduct business with government agencies.
Principles for Harnessing Technology
There is no simple formula for using technology to serve the aims of open government. This is an
evolving concept, and governments around the world continue to experiment to learn what works
best. But based on some early successes, solid principles are starting to emerge. For example:
Users are accustomed to getting information quickly, easily, and when and where they
want it. Access to powerful search engines, content delivery services, social networking
sites and mobile applications has created extremely high expectations. What citizens get
from the commercial world, they also demand from their government.
It’s not enough to make information available. Governments need to make sure that
when citizens access public information or interact with agencies, they have an easy,
engaging experience.
Effective tools are already available. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Technologies
such as HTML, Adobe® PDF and Adobe Flash® offer highly effective ways to reach just about
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How Technology Enables Open Government
everyone, and users don’t need to be particularly computer
savvy to enjoy the benefits they offer.
It’s a multimedia world. Governments should take
advantage of the full range of electronic communications
formats available, including text, photos, audio, video and
geospatial presentations.
Think beyond the desk. People are using a wide range
of digital devices to access information — not just PCs,
but also mobile phones and tablets. Governments need
to design information services and applications that work
well on all of these platforms.
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Creating Transparent Government
Creating Transparent Government
“Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what
their government is doing,” wrote Obama in his “Transparency and Open Government”
memorandum. Citizens have a right to know what their government is doing and a duty to hold
government accountable for its actions. Governments that share information about policies,
decisions, programs and funding expose both their successes and their mistakes. In doing
so, they trigger frank discussions with stakeholders, which help government agencies learn,
evolve and improve.
Transparency also makes citizens better informed about the workings of government
and the health of their communities. In the era of Google, Twitter, Wikipedia and blogs,
individuals no longer rely purely on official sources and news organizations to tell them what
is going on. And they no longer wait passively to be informed. Citizens use all the digital tools
at their disposal to pursue and share information about matters that affect their lives. When
government opens itself to citizen inquiry and provides convenient tools, citizens are better
equipped to make decisions and become more effective participants in democracy.
Varieties of Transparent Government
Online Tools
One way in which a government can make itself transparent is to provide online tools that
citizens can use to look up data that interests them. The federal government’s Recovery.gov
site, for example, provides a vast amount of searchable information on the money states
received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Along with listing the
amounts dispensed, the site gives details on how states have used that money and what
effect those expenditures have produced. Many state and local governments have created
similar tools to track their use of federal stimulus funds.
Some governments have gone further, shedding light on their entire budgets. For example,
“Where the Money Goes,” a tool included on the Texas government’s Open Book Texas portal,
promises to tell users “where your state dollars go — down to the pencils.”
Governments also have created sites that track government effectiveness. New York
City, for example, offers the Citywide Performance Reporting tool, which allows citizens
to look up current performance measurements for more than 40 city agencies. The
District of Columbia’s TrackDC site provides budget and operational information, key
performance indicators and rankings on a responsiveness and quality assurance scale
for individual city agencies. It includes information about the agency directors and tools
for contacting them.
A third kind of transparency lets users search for facts about activities or conditions
in a jurisdiction. The police departments of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore and
Chicago, for example, all provide map-based tools for displaying information about crime
in those cities.
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Creating Transparent Government
Data Repositories
Governments may also increase transparency by creating large repositories of public
data available in machine-readable form. Developers may then incorporate that data into
applications and distribute their applications to the general public free of charge, or they
may offer them for sale.
Well known examples of such initiatives include: the federal government’s Data.gov;
the District of Columbia’s Data Catalog and its Apps for Democracy competition; and San
Francisco’s DataSF. Some governments are even collaborating on standard ways to access
government data. The Open 311.org application programming interface is one example of this.
Best Practices for Achieving Transparency in Government
Maximize ubiquitous technologies. Since the development of the Web, technologies
such as HTML, PDF and Flash have evolved to make information broadly available on a wide
variety of platforms. When a government harnesses technologies the public already uses, it
can reach nearly everyone, and it can do so without spending large amounts of money and
time. When a government relies on technologies that aren’t widely used, only citizens with the
means and computer savvy to employ specialized software can access government services.
Capture and publish information regularly. Every time a government process creates new
information, there should be a built-in mechanism for making that information public. Updates
should become available automatically through online reporting tools, social networking sites
or other channels the government uses to communicate with citizens. Users shouldn’t need to
take extra steps or install new technology to obtain these continual updates.
Make data available for manipulation. When members of the public can query public
data, sort the results, mash up information from multiple sources and incorporate it in new
applications, the power of that data grows exponentially.
Remember to retire old information. Plans change, programs evolve and new facts
supersede old ones. But information published on the Web tends to hang around forever.
Besides publishing updates continually, agencies need to find tools that allow them to mark
no-longer-relevant information as “expired.”
Solicit feedback in context to make the feedback relevant. Whenever an individual
comes in contact with government, he or she should have a chance to provide feedback
on the spot. Government should capture that response accurately. Using social media
channels such as Twitter, blogs and YouTube, governments can encourage citizens to say
what’s on their minds. They can capture every response and route those comments to public
employees who can put that information to work.
Use information-level controls — not system-level controls — to safeguard
sensitive data. Traditionally government agencies have used firewalls to protect sensitive
data and safeguard citizen privacy. That could mean locking up a disk, a network or a
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physical computer. But when you barricade data within your own four walls, it’s hard to
be transparent. A better approach is to use encryption or other tools that allow data to
move outside of government control while ensuring that private data remains protected.
Making Sure the Public Can Use Public Information
Just because you build a service for distributing government information doesn’t mean
your constituents will use it. Consumers have spent many years enjoying content online, and
commercial services have bred high expectations. Fail to meet those expectations and you’ll
lose your audience.
Best practices for creating usable information services include:
• Make the service interactive. Don’t simply give your users static pages with information
to read. Online consumers want to query databases, sort the results, view maps, ask
questions, post comments, vote on issues and forward information to friends and
colleagues. Make sure you give them a chance to do so.
• Provide access in multiple formats. Whether they’re working at home on a laptop PC,
using a workstation at the public library, sitting in a café with a wireless tablet or riding on
a bus with a mobile phone, citizens need their information tools to be engaging and usable
on the device at hand.
• Leverage existing technology. Users expect to access information with technology that’s
already on their devices. Agencies can’t expect citizens to buy and install new software to
access government services.
Fortunately most computer users already have easy access to technologies that cost them
nothing, that support engaging, interactive content and provide a satisfying experience on
any platform.
For instance, the Adobe Flash Player is installed on 99 percent of Internet-enabled desktops,
and users employ it on a wide variety of other devices as well. The Flash Player allows users
to view video — a rich medium for government transparency — on many different devices.
Today, most of these devices are powerful enough to support video received over wired or
wireless broadband channels.
Another technology already in the hands of most computer users is Adobe Reader®, which
is used for viewing PDF documents. Many government agencies already use PDF documents
to make information available to citizens on virtually any platform. Beyond that, the PDF
format lets governments capture and distribute information in video, audio and geospatial
formats, conveying a great deal of content in a rich but compact form.
Making Sure the Public Can Find Public Information
Governments often make the mistake of using their own organizational charts to organize
information for the public. A user who is starting a business, for example, might go to one
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Creating Transparent Government
department’s page to register a company name, a second to get information on local sales
taxes and a third to start an account with the municipal power company. But what if the
entrepreneur doesn’t know which departments perform which functions, or isn’t aware of all
the services the government provides?
Also, many government agencies provide content that is flat and functional. The main
Web page doesn’t offer features to engage users and draw them further into the site. Those
users have no incentive to keep looking for information that is relevant to them or to discover
ways to engage with their government.
Government Printing Office:
Transparency, Simplicity and Security
As the official publisher of U.S. government documents, the Government
Printing Office (GPO) disseminates publications for the U.S. Congress and for
130 federal departments and agencies. Its products include the Daily Digest
of the Congressional Record, the Federal Register and the annual Budget of
the U.S. Government.
The GPO receives a huge number of requests for documents in digital
format. It must make sure to deliver those electronic documents securely,
and it must verify that they are authentic and unchanged.
To meet this demand, the GPO has worked with application developer
4Point to create a solution to generate, authenticate and disseminate documents electronically. Based on Adobe LiveCycle® Enterprise Suite (ES) and
Adobe Acrobat® technology, the system meets several important criteria. It
is easy to use, available to end-users at no charge and doesn’t require users
to download special software. It supports the authentication of millions of
documents per year. It also supports strong security, including the use of
hardware security modules that allow cryptographic digital signatures. In
addition, it provides persistent authentication that travels with the documents, no matter where they are transmitted.
When a member of Congress or member of the public requests an electronic document from the GPO, the system converts that document to a PDF.
Using LiveCycle Digital Signatures ES, it places an electronic seal on the file
to ensure its authenticity. Document controls assure the recipient that the
document has not been modified in any way since its certification. Users need
only the free Adobe Reader to view documents on any computer platform.
By using this solution to distribute just one kind of document — the
federal budget — electronically, the GPO expects to save 20 tons of paper
and nearly $1 million over five years. As the GPO applies this delivery system
to all requests for digital documents, it will realize ever-greater savings,
while providing a secure and convenient way to keep citizens informed
about government activities.
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A truly open government organizes information according to users’ interests and provides
cues to help users find the information they want most.
Take, for example, the website of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA). Its home page includes a sidebar called “What are people interested in?” with links
to features that are receiving the most attention from visitors. One tab provides links to the
most-viewed stories, images, videos and interactive features. Another links to the features
that visitors have ranked as the best on the site. The agency is capturing real-time feedback
about its site and responding accordingly. NASA also makes its site relevant to users by
providing a menu based on visitors’ roles (“For Public, For Educators, For Students, For
Media, For Policymakers, For Employees”) and another based on topics of interest (“Shuttle
and Station, Moon and Mars, Solar System,” etc.).
Making Sure the Public Can Trust Public Information
While transparency demands that government allow information to travel beyond
its own control, openness also increases the risk that citizens will encounter inauthentic
information. Clever hackers may tamper with legitimate government websites. Scammers
may use e-mails, blogs and Facebook postings to lead users to counterfeit sites that seem
to belong to real agencies. People with an ax to grind may distribute bogus “government”
documents or alter details on copies of real public records.
If citizens can’t trust the information they receive, government can’t realize the goals
of transparency.
A security infrastructure that uses tools such as encryption can protect data as it travels
outside the firewalls of government agencies. The Government Printing Office (GPO) used
this approach when it distributed the official copy of the U.S. government’s Fiscal Year
2010 budget in a digitally certified PDF document. This document is fully searchable and
accessible to anyone who has downloaded free Adobe Reader software. The electronic
signature assures readers that the document is genuine and unaltered.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) also uses information-level security
controls to ensure the information it distributes can be trusted. The NGA uses PDF
documents to share, distribute and protect sensitive maps and other geospatial data. It
provides these maps to allies, including agencies in other countries, but it can restrict
access to certain maps based on the needs of the relationship.
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Creating Participatory Government
Creating Participatory Government
According to Obama’s memorandum on open government, “Public engagement enhances
the government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions.”
In the old days, governments assumed they would perform all their functions on their own.
If government didn’t perform a public service, it wouldn’t get done. The latest generation
of technology tools, however, allows government to
enlist the aid of citizens.
When a government opens itself to public
participation, it benefits from experience and
expertise far beyond what it can marshal internally. It
also gains thousands, or millions, of eyes and ears on
the ground — people who know which buses always
run late, which waterways are polluted or which
neighborhoods suffer from lack of services.
Participatory government is good for democracy.
Citizens join in the public enterprise not only by voting
for representatives, but also by sharing information
and ideas to meet current challenges.
individuals to get all the information and services
they need, often by helping themselves at their own
convenience. That’s a real boon to those citizens, and
it benefits government as well. In an era of budget
cuts, employee furloughs and scaled-back hours at
service windows, the savings that agencies realize by allowing citizens to serve themselves
are especially important.
Varieties of Participatory Government
Capturing and responding to citizen feedback
By providing comment areas on their own websites, and by using popular social
networking tools, many governments actively solicit compliments, complaints, questions
and suggestions from constituents. Based on this feedback, an agency may discover that it
needs to revise a service or that it needs to communicate more clearly about its activities.
San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), for example, uses Twitter, Facebook and its
own blog to encourage citizen participation. At a conference in the fall of 2009, a BART official
told audience members of a rider who posted a message to BART’s Twitter site complaining that
the train car he or she was riding on was incredibly hot. BART soon posted a message on its blog
explaining why the transit system’s air conditioning sometimes malfunctions on extremely hot
days, and offering tips on how to stay comfortable while riding BART during the summer.
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Recruiting citizens to help shape policy
Electronic media provide an excellent way to capture suggestions for dealing with critical
public problems. In 2009, for example, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger created a
Twitter account, Myidea4ca, to collect solutions to the state’s ongoing budget crisis and other
concerns. Schwarzenegger says he closely follows postings on the site. Last year, for example,
as the state was making plans to liquidate surplus property on eBay and Craigslist, one poster
suggested that the movie-star-turned-governor autograph the visors of state vehicles that
were going up for sale. Schwarzenegger did exactly that and thanked the poster for his idea.
Helping constituents help themselves
Obtaining public services can be extremely frustrating. An individual might have to take
time off from work to visit several offices, sit for hours in waiting areas, fill out numerous,
redundant forms, submit to interviews, make follow-up phone calls and wait weeks to
actually obtain the services he or she needs.
Customer-centric electronic services empower citizens to get the help they need faster
and more easily. Because they don’t need to take time off from work or travel to conduct their
transactions, citizens save money and time. Government saves too: citizen-centric services
place fewer demands on employees.
New York City’s ACCESS NYC is a prime example of a citizen-centric design for government
services. Through a single portal, individuals can learn about more than 30 city, state and
federal human services programs and find out if they might be eligible for those benefits. For
some of the programs, applicants can use the site to apply for or renew their benefits; for
others, they can start the application process.
Helping far-flung individuals participate together
Another aspect of participatory government is allowing government employees and
others to work together even when they’re not located in the same place. The Graduate
School of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, uses several online tools to
provide engaging, interactive Web-based courses to government employees and others.
Students from across the country who enroll in these courses view live presentations,
access video and audio files, conduct discussions and take tests online.
To stimulate discussion on important topics, the U.S. Department of State operates Co.Nx,
a program of live multimedia Web chats with experts on topics of interest. One recent event,
for example, focused on World Press Freedom Day.
Best practices for achieving participatory government
Make sure the design is intuitive. Florida’s butterfly ballots, which caused so much
trouble in the 2000 presidential election, provide a classic example of what can happen when
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Creating Participatory Government
Graduate School, USDA:
Interactive, Engaging and Available to All
The Graduate School of the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides
continuing education and career development programs for government
employees, federal contractors and members of the private sector. It offers
nearly 1,000 courses and serves 200,000 students per year.
In this era of tight budgets and increased workloads, government
employees find it difficult to travel to attend courses. Recognizing the need
for effective but economical training, the Graduate School has embraced
Web-based technologies to support distance learning.
Among the technologies the Graduate School employs are Adobe
Connect™, Adobe Flash Professional and Adobe Captivate®. These help the
school deliver courses designed for both asynchronous learning — when
students and teachers interact at different times — and synchronous
learning — when students and teachers interact in real time.
One example of distance learning at the Graduate School is a customer
service class that includes real-time meetings with instructors, class discussions and interactive polls. Videos delivered in Adobe Flash let students
see examples of customer service interactions and discuss their quality.
Another course on Earned Value Management uses a combination of audio
and Microsoft PowerPoint slides.
Course developers use Adobe Presenter to create courseware and build
presentations from within Microsoft PowerPoint. They produce movies that
are compatible with Adobe Flash Player and use Adobe Captivate to produce
audio recordings. Because Flash Player already is installed on nearly all
computers connected to the Internet, students can access these course
materials without spending money on new applications. Nor do students
who work at security agencies need to worry about violating rules against
downloading applications to their computers.
Web-based courses built on Adobe software help the Graduate School
provide an engaging, interactive learning experience, overcoming the limits
of distance and cost that used to keep some students away. By increasing
the number of courses it offers online and making it easy for more students
to participate, the school has created new sources of revenue. It also has
empowered more individuals to advance in their careers.
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Creating Participatory Government
it’s hard to determine how to conduct a transaction correctly. If citizens who try to interact
with government have a difficult, complicated and unpleasant experience, they may make
errors or give up entirely. But if the experience is simple, logical and engaging, transactions
will go smoothly, and citizens are likely to return again and again.
Make the interface citizen-centric, not government-centric. Don’t make citizens figure
out ahead of time which government agencies they need to contact to obtain the services
they need. A main menu that asks, “What do you want to do?” is more effective than one that
simply provides a list of agencies and their divisions. A single portal for one-stop shopping
makes business easier for citizens and conserves government resources. When multiple
agencies within the same government independently put up their own portals, they waste
valuable resources and risk confusing constituents.
One especially interesting example of citizen-centric design is Utah’s portal, Utah.gov.
When a user visits this site, the system uses Geo-IP technology to determine whether the
visitor is physically located in Utah, and if so, in which part of the state. Each visitor lands
on a home page tailored to his or her geographic location, with relevant local content. The
site defaults to Salt Lake City for out-of-state visitors. The site also determines if the user’s
computing device is equipped with Adobe Flash. If it is, the site delivers animations created
using Flash technology on the home page. The 3 percent of visitors who don’t have Flash
installed automatically get a simpler interface.
Make the experience engaging. When a site interests, entertains and involves users,
they are more likely to participate, come back in the future and recommend the site to others.
GoArmy.com, the U.S. Army’s recruiting site, provides a strong example of an engaging
online experience. Among the site’s features is a virtual Army post, where visitors can see
the facilities, equipment and technology that a soldier would find on a real Army post. The
site also offers videos, games and applications, points visitors toward the Army’s social
networking sites and lets them download Army ringtones for their mobile phones. The
Army site’s developers clearly understand the features that delight their young target
audience. They have created an experience that encourages users to interact with the site,
stay there a long time and return often.
Go where your constituents already are. That means developing a presence at popular
destinations such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr. Also, be sure to steer
visitors to all the locations where you engage with the public. Your government website
should encourage users to join your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter; your social
networking sites should link to your official website. Also, be sure to take full advantage of
the multimedia capabilities available on social networking sites. The city and county of San
Francisco’s Facebook page, for example, includes links to YouTube videos and a space for
accessing live webcasts.
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Creating Collaborative Government
Creating Collaborative Government
The third aspect of openness that Obama highlighted in his 2009 memorandum
is collaboration. “Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools,
methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of government,
and with nonprofit organizations, businesses and individuals in the private sector,”
he wrote.
Collaborative government describes two kinds of working relationships: among
public servants within different government organizations, and among the public,
private and nonprofit sectors. Both kinds of collaboration get information moving
around in constructive ways and foster innovation.
Collaboration across traditional boundaries makes government more efficient
and effective. An agency doesn’t need to spend resources solving a problem from
scratch when a sister organization already has tackled the issue and created a
solution. Agencies within the same government — or across federal, state and local
government — can share information and ideas to better deal with problems that
concern them all.
Collaborating with businesses and nonprofit organizations gives government access to
even greater pools of information and creativity. Together, partners in the three sectors
can develop more powerful solutions than any of them can develop on their own.
Varieties of Collaborative Government
Overcoming obstacles of organization, distance
and incompatible technology
It used to be less common for employees of different government organizations to work
together. Serious obstacles kept those employees from cooperating toward a common
goal. They might have to travel from different locations to hold meetings, a difficult
prospect for employees constrained by tight schedules and budgets. Also, incompatible
information systems made it hard for agencies to share data. If collaboration occurred
at all, it was a special event, not an everyday practice
Today, though, low-cost, pervasive computing and communications technologies make
it much simpler for public employees, in numerous agencies and in numerous locations,
to work together. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), for instance, makes
collaboration possible through its Defense Connect Online (DCO) system. DCO allows
deployed troops, supporting personnel and military leaders in all branches of the U.S.
Department of Defense to communicate and work together from locations throughout
the world. The system consists of two solutions, both based on Adobe Connect
technology; one supports classified communications and the other unclassified. Both
solutions enable activities such as briefings, mission rehearsals, one-on-one and group
collaboration, training and e-learning.
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Creating Collaborative Government
Kane County, Ill., Circuit Court:
Collaborating Electronically to Protect Vulnerable Citizens
The Circuit Court of Kane County, Ill. — the state’s fifth-largest county —
manages more than 150,000 cases per year. One of the duties of its staff is
responding to requests for orders of protection, usually related to domestic
violence. Various people, including staff at domestic violence shelters,
legal aid attorneys, court personnel and individuals seeking protection, can
initiate these orders.
A request for an order of protection in Kane County used to start with a
paper form, which could run as many as 17 pages. The form had to be routed
to judges, court clerk staff and sheriff’s department employees, and also to
the victim and his or her legal counsel. Advocates reviewed the form, the
judge signed it, court clerks certified and filed it, and then it was transferred
to the sheriff. The process took up to six hours and often increased stress on
already-anxious victims.
To speed the process and better serve petitioners, Kane County implemented an online wizard that staff at shelters now use to provide information to initiate an order. Once a user enters the required data, it’s saved in
the court clerk’s secure database and imported into PDF forms. When people
initiate requests at the judicial center, they use an Adobe LiveCycle application on the county’s information systems to enter the data directly into
intelligent forms.
Thanks to the PDF forms, it takes as little as 30 minutes, rather than hours,
to enter the necessary information. Data is typed in once and automatically
populates the correct fields in other parts of the form where the data is
needed. Besides saving time, this reduces the chance of human error. Once
the form is complete, the domestic violence victim and his or her advocate
can sign it electronically before transmitting it to the clerk’s office.
Judges review petitions online and send them back for more information
or approve them by signing electronically. Approved forms then move to the
court clerk’s office, where they’re electronically stamped and certified. Then
they’re e-mailed to the sheriff and legal counsel.
Allowing all the parties to collaborate electronically has cut the time it
takes to produce an order of protection by as much as 50 percent. As they
build a direct connection between the application and their record keeping
system, officials at the Circuit Court expect to make the process even more
efficient and improve service even more.
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Creating Collaborative Government
Breaking down institutional barriers among independent organizations
Many front-line government employees understand very well the advantages they can
gain by collaborating with counterparts in other organizations. Rather than wait for their
leadership to develop large, agencywide initiatives, they may use widely available technology
tools to develop their own collaborative relationships.
That kind of grass-roots innovation was the force behind Operation Against Smugglers
Initiative on Safety and Security (OASISS). Two employees of the U.S. Border Patrol decided
that they needed better tools to help them collaborate with colleagues in Mexico to deter
human trafficking. They taught themselves an open source development language and
created an application that field workers could use to enter information on their laptop
computers. The data is uploaded to the Border Patrol’s central information systems, where it
also becomes available to border agents in Mexico. By sharing information, agencies on both
sides of the border can better coordinate their enforcement efforts.
Presenting a single face to citizens
When a citizen tries to obtain services from the government, all too often that person gets
bounced from office to office. The various agencies, departments or divisions that play a role
in delivering the service operate different information systems that cannot share data. So
the citizen must meet with multiple service representatives, answer the same questions over
and over and fill out numerous forms with much the same information.
Collaborative tools help government capture information once and then distribute it to
everyone who needs it. Transactions happen quickly, with less drain on agency resources
and on everyone’s time.
In Kane County, Ill., for example, the County Circuit Court has developed an online “wizard” that
staff at domestic violence shelters can use to initiate orders of protection. Once an employee enters
the necessary data, the system automatically routes the information to everyone who needs it,
including judges, clerk staff, sheriff’s department employees, victims and their attorneys.
Tapping broad expertise toward a common goal
Government employees don’t know everything, and governments can’t accomplish
everything on their own. For every public challenge, there’s a broad community of
stakeholders who are eager to pool their expertise and share their opinions. Pervasive
computing technology makes it possible to assemble great minds from the public, private
and nonprofit sectors to work together on matters of mutual interest.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took this approach when its chief
information officer at the time, Molly O’Neill, invited attendees at the 2007 Environmental
Information Symposium to take part in a two-day online event to find ways to protect
the environment of Puget Sound. Using a popular collaborative format — the wiki — the
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Creating Collaborative Government
Breaking Barriers to Protect the Nation’s Food Supply
It takes a vast degree of cooperation to protect the nation’s food supply.
One of the most effective tools in this effort is FoodSHIELD, a Web-based
system that allows individuals with federal, state and local governments, the
food industry and emergency response testing laboratories to collaborate
no matter where they work.
FoodSHIELD is sponsored by the National Center for Food Protection and
Defense (NCFPD), a Department of Homeland Security National Center of
Excellence, and the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), as well
as by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its applications help
users prevent threats against the food supply, respond to possible dangers,
manage risk, communicate among themselves, coordinate assets and
educate the public.
Users of FoodSHIELD include: government health inspectors and laboratory analysts; agricultural regulators; epidemiologists and public health
officials; researchers with academic institutions and the government; state
and federal officials in public safety and emergency preparedness; food
industry officials; and members of the public.
Built on Adobe ColdFusion® technology, FoodSHIELD supports a broad
array of uses. Members of the food safety community can hold ad hoc or
formal Web meetings or conduct online training. They can collaborate
securely in groups of any size, sharing data, putting up notes on virtual white
boards and chatting in real time. Users can share data, reports, wireframes
and videos and conduct online demonstrations. The system also lets them
distribute calendars and notices and broadcast information on food protection, product recalls and contamination outbreaks. Users can access these
powerful applications from any kind of computer system, including a mobile
device, without downloading any new software.
FoodSHIELD includes two databases with details on all of the agriculture,
health, environmental and emergency response agencies, plus laboratories,
involved in food protection in the United States. Community members use
the system to quickly locate people with particular expertise and organizations with particular capabilities, and to stay updated on the latest activities in their fields. Should an outbreak occur, for example, users can quickly
discover whether any lab has already developed a method of testing for that
contaminant. Users expect that in the future, FoodSHIELD will drastically
reduce the time it takes to complete food product recalls.
Using technology to break down organizational and geographic barriers,
FoodSHIELD is helping ensure a safer food supply for everyone.
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Creating Collaborative Government
site obtained content through RSS Web feeds and from Flickr, YouTube and other social
networking sites. The Puget Sound Information Challenge drew 175 contributions and
received more than 18,000 page views. Contributors included individuals from public
agencies, nonprofit organizations and academia.
Best practices for achieving collaborative government
Use widely available technologies so people can participate easily. By taking advantage
of the infrastructure that the public is already using, governments can reach the broadest
possible variety of partners. Neither the government nor its potential collaborators will need
to spend money or install new technologies; they can simply sit down and start working
together with the tools at hand. This kind of thinking guided the Library of Congress when it
chose an electronic platform for an archive of photos from its collections. Instead of building
its own platform, the library created a photostream on Flickr. Members of the public can find
the photos easily on this popular photo site and add comments that sometimes shed new
light on the images.
Encourage public servants to innovate. Agencies that encourage front-line employees
to experiment with new ways to accomplish their missions can propagate successes and
abandon failures more quickly than agencies that rely purely on large projects managed from
the top. A management that encourages employees to determine new methods for achieving
agency goals will foster collaboration and empower workers to use technology creatively.
Provide a common platform for accessing multiple services in one place. This
helps users find what they need easily and also encourages collaboration. The federal
government’s Grants.gov site, for instance, provides a portal for accessing information on
more than 1,000 grant programs. Users can complete applications online in PDF format.
Partners who are applying jointly can work together on applications from different locations
and at different times.
Provide a platform where a broad variety of stakeholders can work toward a common
goal. The EPA’s use of the wiki platform is a good example. Another is the Transportation
Security Administration’s blog, a public forum created, as the TSA puts it, “to facilitate an
ongoing dialog on innovations in security, technology and the checkpoint screening process.”
On the local level, the Planning Department in the town of Dennis, Mass., uses a blog and a
wiki to share information about planning and zoning issues, conduct polls on some of these
issues and solicit comments from stakeholders.
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The Future of Open Government
The Future of Open Government
By making themselves more transparent, more participatory and more collaborative,
governments gain tremendous opportunities to tap the creativity of their employees and
their citizens. Engagement is no longer restricted to people who have the time to attend
meetings, the means to travel to the state capitol or the know-how to negotiate complex
bureaucracies. Anyone who can operate a computer, or even a mobile phone, can access rich
sources of public information and take part in conversations on important public issues. Any
individual can contribute information and ideas that make a real difference.
The partnership between government and its constituents can grow broad and deep
because open government so often leverages technologies that individuals already use and
understand. Becoming a partner in open government can be as simple as joining a citysponsored Web chat, alerting your Facebook friends to a YouTube video on state education
issues or filing your taxes by completing the form online in PDF format. An agency that wants
to embrace the principles of open government should look beyond its traditional enterprise
architecture and consider how to take best advantage of these pervasive technologies, which
are continually evolving and improving.
The quest for open government succeeds best when government puts technology users —
both its own employees and members of the public — first. The goal is to choose technologies
that support the needs of users, not to support the systems that currently run government
Public agencies continue to refine the definition of open government, experimenting
with new approaches and techniques. As they discover new ways for governments and
constituents to work together, they find that they can fulfill their missions more successfully,
become better stewards of public resources and pave the way for a more complete democracy.
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Open Government Websites Mentioned in this Guide
Baltimore Police, Crime Maps: www.baltimorepolice.org/your-community/crime-map
California Twitter account, Myidea4ca: http://myidea4ca.com
Chicago Police, Crime Maps: http://gis.chicagopolice.org/CLEARMap/startPage.htm
Dennis, Mass., Planning Department wiki: http://dennisplanningdepartment.wikispaces.com
District of Columbia, Apps for Democracy: www.appsfordemocracy.org
District of Columbia, Data Catalog: http://data.octo.dc.gov
District of Columbia, TrackDC: http://track.dc.gov
FoodSHIELD: www.foodshield.org
Kane County, Ill., County Circuit Court: www.cic.co.kane.il.us
Los Angeles Police, Crime Maps: www.lapdcrimemaps.org
New York City Citywide Performance Reporting: www.nyc.gov/html/ops/cpr
New York City: ACCESS NYC https://a858-ihss.nyc.gov/ihss1/en_US/IHSS_homePage.do
Open311.org http://open311.org
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit, blog: http://sfbart.posterous.com
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit, Twitter site: http://twitter.com/sfbart
San Francisco City and County, Facebook page: www.facebook.com/SF
San Francisco Police, Crime Maps: http://sf-police.org/index.aspx?page=1618
San Francisco, DataSF: www.datasf.org
Texas, Open Book Texas: www.window.state.tx.us/openbook
U.S. Government, Government Printing Office: www.gpo.gov
U.S. Government, Recovery.gov site: www.recovery.gov
U.S. Government, Army recruiting site: www.goarmy.com
U.S. Government, Data.gov: www.data.gov
U.S. Government, Department of State, Co.Nx: www.facebook.com/pages/CoNx-See-the-World/26365096875
U.S. Government, Environmental Protection Agency, Puget Sound Information Challenge:
U.S. Government, Graduate School of the U.S. Department of Agriculture: http://graduateschool.edu
U.S. Government, Library of Congress photostream on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress
U.S. Government, National Aeronautics and Space Administration: www.nasa.gov
U.S. Government, Transportation Security Administration blog: http://blog.tsa.gov
Utah, state portal: www.utah.gov
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