In Pursuit of Coherence - Open Government and Thee

Perhaps the priority for Open Government is to aim for something beyond Openness. While the journalist may see utter value in openness (and I can talk about them right now, since they are busily crashing Wikileak servers); the citizen may not. To my ear, the Open Government elevator speech often takes more than a few elevators to complete.

Back in 2008, my project team had the opportunity to hear from a European civil minister. The question posed to this individual: "What do you do about the problem of information hoarding?" The answer: "I don't understand the question. The information is not ours, it is the public's. The culture in our civil service must be different from yours, when we obtain a new piece of information, the first question we ask is: 'who else needs to know this?'"

Perhaps open government begins with a coherence “audit.” Ask yourself: Who are your constituents, and who else in government touches their lives? Education Secretary Duncan says that he coordinates with Secretary Sebelius of Health and Human Services - because they are serving the same communities. (This is not to say that program managers are resourced or incentivized to continue this interagency collaboration, there is much work to do beyond Secretary-level coordination.) From the constituent point of view, the Departments of Education and HHS are both ‘government.‘ A coherent approach to government services begins with the constituent and asks: If I am the person at the ‘end’ of this program, who else in Government am I dealing with? How can I make those interactions more efficient / responsive?

What other programs serve your constituent? Reach out to other Agencies, see what efficiencies can be realized by coordinating your efforts. Explore how you can jointly present information to the public, in a conversation centered on solutions rather than your program. Begin a dialogue, and a commitment to information sharing when appropriate.

What does this have to do with Open Government? I don’t mean to imply that you ‘get your ducks in a row’ and then go public in an open government initiative. Rather, do this ‘audit’ with a bow to transparency. Do this interagency exploration, coordination and analysis in public. Let us see the process, and join in if we can help. Place the citizen at the center enhances government awareness, services, and develops increased coherence across an often bewildering stew of programs and agencies.