Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Open Government


       President Obama committed to change the way Washington works. On his first day in Office, he signed the memorandum on transparency and open government, ushering in a new era of open and accountable government meant to bridge the gap between the American people and their government. This proves his noble intentions. He wants to cherish democracy and to take it to a new height which made him the man of history.
      Open Government (OG)  hammers what is this all about, and why it is required. OG concept does affect everyone’s life everyday in some ways. It is as fundamental to our democracy as free speech. If government records were not open to all, there would be no accountability and there would be no journalism.  In essence, there would be no democracy, as democracy was founded on the principles of openness and freedom of information.
      A lack of accountability might mean that those who hold positions of power would be more likely to abuse it. When government is open every person has the power to hold those in power accountable for following through on their promises and serving the people.
      Why is OG Important? A free and democratic society can work only if government works in the open. Access is what ensures that government officials will remain honest. It keeps us aware of how our taxes are spent and helps citizens decide whom to vote into office and whom to replace. It provides a check on government officials by providing voters with the information.
     Citizens need a constant stream of information to provide meaningful attention to the actions of government. Deprived of such information, they can’t monitor their elected and appointed leaders. And they can’t hold them accountable.
     Obama opined that for too long, the American people have experienced a culture of secrecy in Washington, where information is locked up, taxpayer dollars disappear without a trace, and lobbyists wield undue influence. For Americans, business as usual in Washington has reinforced the belief that the government benefits the special interests and the well connected at the expense of the American people. 
     On December 8, 2009, the White House issued an unprecedented open government directive requiring federal agencies to take immediate, specific steps to achieve key milestones in transparency, participation, and collaboration.  
      The directive aspires to create an unprecedented and sustained level of openness and accountability in every agency, senior leaders should strive to incorporate the values of transparency, participation, and collaboration into the ongoing work of their agency. 
      Achieving a more open government will require the various professional disciplines within the Government – such as policy, legal, procurement, finance, and technology operations – to work together to define and to develop open government solutions.  Integration of various disciplines facilitates organization-wide and lasting change in the way that Government works.  
      The transparency directive expected that Open Government Plan should explain in detail how agency will improve transparency. It should describe steps the agency will take to conduct its work more openly and publish its information online. The participation directive directed to create more informed and effective policies, the Federal Government should promote opportunities for the public to participate throughout the decision-making process. 
      On Collaboration front directive instructed that Open Government Plan should explain in detail how agency will improve collaboration, including steps the agency will take to revise its current practices to further cooperation with other Federal and non-Federal governmental agencies, the public, and non-profit and private entities in fulfilling the agency’s core mission activities.
      Addressing 65th assembly of United Nation in September 2010 President Obama emphasized “the collective call for open government: Each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its own people. Yet experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty; that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments. To put it simply, democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens. And I believe that truth will only grow stronger in a world where the borders between nations are blurred.”
      He further remarked to the assembly that no one country has all the answers, but all of us must answer to our own people. In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable. And now, we must build on that progress. And when we gather back here next year, we should bring specific commitments to promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic engagement; to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries, while living up to the ideals that can light the world.
      Obama’s effort was added upon by a group of passionate and committed advocates of open government. They came together on December, 2010 in Denver, Colorado for a one day unconference: CityCamp Colorado. They launched an OG initiative. This initiative is a collaborative project that includes representatives from CityCamp, OpenColorado, Codefor America and Sunlight foundation, OpenPlans and others. This initiative reflects ongoing efforts around the world and in meant to be shared with them.  
      Furthermore, a 35years old US based NGO, the TIDES launched the project “Open Government Partnership (OGP) on September 20, 2011.” This is a global effort to make governments better. Project is designed for more transparent, effective, and accountable governments-with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations. But this is never easy.
     The OGP formally came into life with 8 founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, UK, and USA) endorsed an Open Government Declaration and announced their country action plans. Since then, OGP has welcomed the commitments of 47 governments to join the Partnership.
     The OGP is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruptions and harness new technology to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of governments and civil society organizations.
     Initiating OG is very easy but its implementation is not- most difficult. It is a strong magnet of strong poles of easy and difficult. Hence, it attracts the public worldwide.  Its implementation is very closely associated with change of attitude and culture of officials, information holders, and custodians. Therefore it is a slow changing and time taking because of it high inertia. It is like discarding of an old era of secrecy and adopting of a new era of openness.
      Evaluating OG performance, Josh Gerstein wrote president obama’s muddy transparency record in politico on May 3, 2012. He said Obama’s Open Government Initiative had all the makings of a signature presidential accomplishment: a poor track record by his predecessor, a public commitment by the president himself and a team of White House staffers devoted to fulfilling his vision. Some of the groups that lauded Obama for his intentions have become increasingly frustrated about the administration’s record.
      Karim R. Lakhani, associate professor at Harvard Business School accompanied by
Vivek Kundra, Ex-CIO, led the case discussion for 50 technology executives in a weeklong HBS executive education course.
      Kundra observed Information is power. By "democratizing data," ordinary citizens have the ability to shift the balance of power in positive ways that can encourage innovative ideas to be developed into practical goods and services. "Washington, DC does not have a monopoly on the best ideas," he told the executives. "The public has the ability to innovate."
      He continued Data.gov allows people to be watchdogs as well as innovators. Our goal is to create a runway, a platform for innovation. The government can't make the most innovative apps. But Data.gov can be a platform.
      OG initiative is a dawn of a new era. Barack has made a noble start of this era. Inspired by him, many others like OGP project are doing excellent job to achieve OG worldwide. One should not disappoint on it performance, as it is a time taking process.
      Obama’ noble intention planted ‘OG’ tree. It bears fruits beneficial to all countries who export it. This is a political product which helped him indirectly and invisibly in winning second term. It helped his re election by convincing voters about his people oriented approach and noble intention.
      This issue is ripe now for the United Nations to take up and popularize it among member countries.  OG is in the centre of all issues. To secure desired developments and world peace, UN must adopt this agenda by getting the mandate of general assembly to include it in its core issues.
Heera Lal (views are personal and based on different sources)
10.                        http://opengovernmentinitiative.org/
11.                        http://www.opengovpartnership.org/
12.                         http://www.tides.org/
13.                        http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2336310
15.                        http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/73606.html
18.                        http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6423.html


  1. very well articulated views on this important an burning issue:)OG is the useful tool for governance and accountability as well:)