Open Government

VIDEO: Open Government in the U.S. and U.K.

We hope EVERYONE was able to tune in on Friday for our event on open government with Andrew McLaughlin and James Crabtree, but we realize some of you may have had lunch dates that, at the time, seemed more important.  Not to worry!  We've got the whole show recorded and prepared for your viewing (below).  Also, in the block at right, you can check out a version of the video edited down to just McLaughlin's talk on the Obama Administration's Open Government Initiative.

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Open Government Takes Flight

When I last wrote about the Open Government Initiative, the White House had just released their directive calling on all federal agencies to develop their own strategies to meet the objectives of "Transparency, Participation & Collaboration," laid out a year ago on President Obama's first day in office.  Well, last week, all the agencies unveiled their Open Government Webpages, replete with high-value data sets, and avenues for the public to communicate with their government.

Wondering how much direct, bilateral foreign aid we sent to Burundi in 2007?  I thought so.  So was I.  Now you can find out through USAID's open gov page. Here's the Justice Department's page, State's, DHS's, and so on. Pretty cool stuff, and an unambiguous step in the right direction. Here in America, openness is what we're all about.

The White House rates the efforts of each agency, though I smell a bit of grade inflation. The Project on Government Oversight put together a list of 13 best practices that each agency might want to consider as their continue to revise and edit their pages.

More broadly, as I've written before, this is a pretty big step for the government. Openness is not in the nature of bureaucracies, and it's taken a big push from the Obama folks to get these agencies moving. But there's a lot of data buried in our government that, if available to the public, could be put to untold good use. And for the state to incorporate the citizenry in the provision of useful public services-- well, that's a pretty fundamental re-drawing of the line between the government and the people.

Over in the UK, David Cameron's Conservative Party is pushing this bill even further, guaranteeing that if he becomes the next Prime Minister, his government will publish all government contracts online.  Radical indeed.

We'll be discussing these issues and others this Friday, February 19, here at NDN. Andrew McLaughlin, a former Google policy executive, is the Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House, where the effort toward open government has been led.  He'll be joined by James Crabtree, managing editor at Prospect Magazine in Britain, a trustee of, one of the world's leading civic website builders, and a leading commentator on the British government’s efforts at openness.

For more information about the event, go here, or just RSVP. If you can't make it to our offices, we'll be webcasting the event live, and we'll post video afterward on our YouTube page. So, really, you have no excuse not to hear what we talk about on Friday.

UPCOMING EVENT: Transparency, Accountability, Collaboration: Open Government in the U.S. and the U.K.

Through the launch of and the Open Government Initiative, President Obama has begun a major push to open data to the public, and is taking strides to foster transparency, participation and collaboration with the American people. Across the pond, Gordon Brown is leading an unprecedented effort to make the "power of information" a guiding principle of the UK government; meanwhile, David Cameron s new conservative party is running on a platform of transparency, accountability, and choice and has committed to radical new openness policies, like publishing the details of every government contract online.

James CrabtreeAndrew McLaughlinBoth countries clearly have much to learn from each other, especially given the many questions that remain: How much data should governments share? How should the public be involved in the policymaking conversation? How might open data bring about a shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the state? Better information will enable citizens, small businesses and entrepreneurs to make better decisions and innovate new products, potentially underpinning the growth of a new generation of information-age business that could help lift America out of its economic malaise. But information also redraws the boundary between people and their government and, as Britain's David Cameron has shown, there is a real battle for political mastery of this space.

Join NDN and the New Policy Institute at 12 pm on Friday, February 19th for a lunchtime conversation about the changes the open government initiatives in the U.S. and the U.K. are ushering in. Joining us will be Andrew McLaughlin, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House one of the offices spearheading the Open Government Initiative and James Crabtree, an editor at Prospect Magazine in Britain, and a trustee of, one of the world's leading civic website builders, and a leading commentator on the British government s efforts at openness.


Andrew McLaughlin
Deputy Chief Technology Officer, White House

James Crabtree
Managing editor, Prospect Magazine


Friday, February 19th, 12pm
NDN: 729 15th St. NW, 1st Floor
Lunch will be served
Please RSVP here
Live webcast beginning at 12:15 pm

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.

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