Via Email: ope...@ostp.gov
January 3, 2012
Mr. Aneesh Chopra
United States Chief Technology Officer
Office of Science and Technology Policy
Executive Office of the President
725 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20502
Dear Mr. Chopra,
This letter is in response to your request on the White House Blog for recommendations for promoting public participation in government, as a part of implementing the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan. You stated:
It is heartening for me to see, almost 3 years after the President signed his "Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government" (1/21/09), that you and others at the White House are more fully understanding what people like me have been trying to tell you since the beginning of the OpenGov Dialogue when you arrived in 2009.
- "Given the focus of this initiative, we thought it would be most appropriate to invite you to provide input and ideas on best practices and metrics for public participation .."
That is, in order to assess the progress of its Open Government efforts (i.e., for more "Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration), the White House needs to decide on how to measure those three elements. I agree with the AmericaSpeaks report when it says the "Open Government Initiative and most federal agency plans have failed to offer standards for what constitutes high-quality public participation."
The concept of establishing a starting point (baseline) is not hard to grasp. Everyone who's ever been on a diet to lose weight knows that you're supposed to weigh yourself .. in the beginning. The numbers on the weight-scale are in pounds or kilograms (or whatever) that were developed as standard units of measurement. Step on the scale next week so you can see if you're making progress. Some people, of course, don't want to know the truth.
But compared to weight-loss, the "OpenGov" changes in government culture are incredibly slow and subtle, so you shouldn't be relying on friends to tell you when you're "looking good" (which tends to happen anyway when you work at the White House). You need to discern and gather objective proof because, eventually, people (like your Chief Performance Officer) will say "Show me the data".
So how do we go forward from here? How do we, as citizens interested in Open Government, participate in collaborating with you (and others at the White House) in order to come up with some good indicators of "public participation"? Although your blog-post mentions last summer's "extensive consultations with external stakeholders", the truth is that only a couple dozen guests were invited by the White House to a few closed-door meetings for input to the U.S. OpenGov National Action Plan. (Yes, the other 99.9999% of the public was later invited to provide input, but then you never asked for feedback on the draft Plan.)
Simply put, the White House's OpenGov team (OSTP and OMB) needs to "improve its game" when it comes to public participation, e.g., public consultation in the OpenGov National Action Plan (see http ://www.opengovpartnership.org/consultation ).
Consider these various levels of government/public consultation (from lowest to highest):
1. No request for public Input prior to Decision.
2. Request for public Input prior to Decision.
3. Same as #2, and also the proposed Decision is offered for public Feedback.
4. Same as #3, and also a summary of how public Feedback influenced final Decision.
5. Same as #4, and additional chances for public collaboration prior to final Decision.
For several decades, federal agencies have consulted with the public (as evidenced in the Federal Register) according to the #4 level. Of course, the President wants to do better than the status-quo, so you are looking for "best practices" (i.e., more of the back-and-forth collaboration between the public and the government).
However, judging from your office's consistent failure to offer up any of its OpenGov draft documents for public feedback, it does appear that, as you said above, it is "most appropriate" for your office to only ask for public input prior to a final decision. That would put you at the #2 level. And if we compared these levels to an "A to F" marking scale, then that means that your "#2 level" of collaboration (over the past three years) equates to a "D" grade, which is two full levels of collaboration below what federal agencies have been practicing (a "B" grade) for decades!
And, even though D.C. is the capital city of Expediency, you will save time in the long-run if your office slows down to learn to the intermediate steps before you can start operating at (and lecturing others about) the top-level "best practices". Appropriately, this will take a some back-and-forth collaborative participation by your office in an open forum consistent with the President's direction for you to "solicit public feedback to assess and improve [your] level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation."
As you may know, an email-group (a.k.a. email-listserv) continues to be an easy and effective tool for group discussion since long before the Web existed. Therefore, I have set up such a group to discuss "OpenGov" metrics. I invite you, and any other interested people reading this, to join us in a moderated discussion about how we can develop better, objective ways to measure improvements in Public Participation. I know many experts on that topic, who are not invited to your D.C. meetings, would be glad to share their knowledge there with you and/or your staff.
I hope is that joining the group's discussions will help make for a better U.S. report (i.e., blessed by the organizations below) at the "OpenGov"conference in Brazil this April. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions.
former moderator, Open Government Directive google-group
moderator, Open Government Metrics google-group
member, Na tional Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation
member, International Assn. for Public Participation - USA affiliate
This may be the largest gap between emails (time-wise) in an message-thread that you've ever seen.
Back in December of 2011, the White House asked the public for suggestions for "best practices and metrics" for implementing and evaluating its Open Government initiative (which had started 3 years prior). I responded with the email below, as Tim Bonnemann also did here, in which he included a link to the IAP2-USA's response.
So it was great to see, this past November 25 (three years later), that the White House offered a Draft Public Participation "Playbook" for the public to review and make suggestions "over the next month".
However, after only 8 days (on Dec. 3rd), Justin Herman, the federal employee in charge of developing the "Playbook" announced in an email to the White House's OpenGov google-group that there were already enough comments to warrant its immediate revision. He said that a 2nd Draft would be available 5 days later (on Dec. 8th) for public review, and then a 3rd Draft would be available 1 week later (on Dec. 15th) after which they would "then prepare to compile the final draft resource... which mind you, people will still be able to contribute to."
Transparency, this is not.
So, this past Monday, I keep looking for an email from the White House OpenGov google-group, about the 2nd Draft "Playbook" promised by Mr. Herman, but I don't see anything (and 2 days later, still nothing). But I do see that, via Twitter @Planspark, that the announcement for the 2nd Draft was made, instead, in a blog-post on GSA's " DigitalGov" which, at least, clarified that the due-date for final comments is now Dec. 17th, i.e., two days after the 3rd Draft is issued.
What this shows is just one example of the many unclear aspects that is making it difficult for people to understand how to participate in developing a document that (ironically) is about making it easier to understand how to participate! (The Draft itself has also produced a lot of head-scratching from advocates that I know with a lot of experience in Public Participation.)
Up to now, a large part of the conversation about the Draft Playbook has not been open to all participants. This process, as much as possible, should be an open conversation. The default should be "open". And one way that can help is to make use of this OpenGovmetrics email-group.
Therefore, this message is an open invitation to all those persons interested in developing "best practices and metrics" for Public Participation, that if they want to be engaged, then the easiest way to be informed and understand "what's going on" would be to join this email-group by sending any email to: opengovmetr...@googlegroups.com
Working to deliver the 3rd draft of the US Public Participation Playbook tomorrow, based on feedback from both outside/within gov. #opengov