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10 Recommendations for Government Transparency

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Ten Measures for Transparency Success

The video above was recorded at Gov 2.0 camp a few weeks ago.  Andrew Rasiej from Personal Democracy Forum led a panel discussion about the meaning of transparency in the Obama administration. He outlined ten measure to judge the success of the administration’s commitment to Transparency. The measures, along with existing examples, are outlined below:

  1. Open Data – Making government data more open and accessible at the federal, local and state level. Some of this is already happening with examples such as the District of Columbia’s Data warehouse, Federal Election Commission and the Census Bureau. Data.gov when it arrives should expand on this, while various legislative changes will hopefully open the door for bulk data to be released. The provision of more open data sources and APIs will provide an opportunity for greater innovation and visualizations of previously hidden themes and perspectives. The ability to create mashups based on crime or finance data, will provide for new insights and transparency to be gathered and shared.
  2. Government spending – Provide details on how Government is spending taxpayers money. Some of this data e.g. on Federal contracts is available through USAspending.gov and sites such as Show me the spending. Also, sites like recovery.gov aim to track government stimulus spending. While there are limits to these sites, they are gradually being updated to show more information.
  3. Government procurement – How do we decide where the money goes, who gets it and how it is spent. Vivek Kundra has spoken about this, and how he would like to change aspects of the federal procurement process. This includes changing the time it takes to award contracts, and also to perhaps use smaller companies that have a niche in areas such as Open source software or cloud computing.
  4. Open Portal for Requests for Information – There should be one central repository for all FOI requests. This is something highlighted by John Wonderlich recently. A platform such as that created by mySociety in the UK would be useful helping to make this data more freely accessible.
  5. Distributed data – The government should ensure data is distributed to several locations in case of natural disaster or terrorist attack.
  6. Open meeting details – Meetings between government officials and those trying to influence them should be published. There is already various details on this at Opensecrets, but Lanny Davis’s (one of Washington’s top lawyers) simple proposal would go a long way towards lobbyist transparency. Also, the Sunlight foundations Transparency in Government act seeks to do this.
  7. Open Government Research – public research should be published in beta form while it is being collected. The UK Government tried this out recently through setting up a blog on the Power of Information. This posted information on the activities of the taskforce writing the report. The draft report was then posted online to seek comments from the public, before the final version was released.
  8. Collection transparency – Government should report on how it is collecting information and from whom this data is coming from. The public could then comment on these methods, and feedback improvements.
  9. Direct access to the President – There should be a medium in which the public can directly question the President. The success of the recent OpenForQuestions experiment highlighted the publics appetite to directly engage with the President. Other initiatives such as Ask the President provide a platform in which the public can submit questions to the President during press conferences. While there is some debate concerning the usefulness of asking questions, rather than engaging in solutions, the opportunity to hold the President directly accountable is hughly improtant in fostering a transparent relationship between the Executive and the Public.
  10. Crawlable, searchable and accessible – If information was made crawlable, searchable and accessible it would go a long way towards meeting all the goals outlined above. Vanessa Fox has outlined some of the issues with finding Government information through popular search engines. Allowing government web content to be indexed fully would increase its visibility and usefulness to the general public.

Diane Cline created a superb collection of drawings at the event. They remind me of the Deloitte drawings created at their Future of Collaborative Government event last year, and are a great way of highlighting conversations and themes.

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