Open Government Coming to a Government Near You

Back in January, the President announced his Open government Initiative, and for the first ten months of Obama's presidency, the OGI was more an abstract commitment to "Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration" than any real set of policies or orders.  But earlier this week, the White House released their Open Government Directive, a big step toward reality for the OGI. You can read the Directive here, or watch this intro video with Aneesh Chopra and Vivek Kundra:

The Directive lays out hard objectives (with deadlines) for all federal agencies-- to draft their own Open Government plans, to appoint a high-level official to oversee Open Government operations, and to release at least three new, high-value data sets. More broadly, the Directive is about trying to turn a bureaucracy with an inherent inclination toward the status-quo into a bureaucracy that operates with transparency and openness as the norm.

But the really Big Idea behind the OGI is that the government has something to learn from its people.  That, by giving the American people access to data and information about how their government operates, the American people, in their infinite wisdom, will be able to offer really useful feedback to their government, and engage in their democracy in a way that helps create a more effective, efficient state. That's radical thinking.

I think of the OGI as a kind of domestic version of the State Department's 21st Century Statecraft initiative. While 21st Century Statecraft is about opening dialogue with peoples around the world, the OGI is about improving communication between the American people and their government. Both are facilitated by new technologies, and both initiatives are reflections of a world in which, increasingly, everyone is tied into a single information network, and everyone wants to engage with their leaders through the tubes.

This Directive does a lot for the "Transparency" part of the OGI, but not much for the "Participation" or "Collaboration" portions. By just making this new data available, and creating structures for transparency, the government is helping to empower wonks-with-a-soapbox like Ezra Klein, who make good use of available data and have a big platform to pontificate from.  But to really get the full benefit of the wisdom of the crowd, the government's next step will have to ensure the dialogue is truly two-way, and to build the tools to let people tell the government what they think. Still, it's a good start.