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Endorse the Open Declaration on Public services

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On November 19th, EU governments will meet in Malmo to sign a Ministerial Declaration on the key priorities for European e-government strategy over the next few years.

In recognition of this, a group of concerned citizens setup a campaign to collaboratively craft and get endorsed a declaration highlighting core principles for the advancement of European public services.

This Open declaration has now been created and will be presented at the official programme of the Ministerial Conference. The team is now seeking 2,000 endorsements for the declaration ‘in order to convince governments to fully embrace these values’.

A dedicated website has been created to allow citizens to register their support. The declaration has already received hundreds of endorsements (over 300 at last count) and has been translated into many languages including Greek, Catalan and Spanish.

Background

The video below explains the origin of the declaration and how the final text was arrived at.

The process towards the final declaration consisted of three phases:

  1. Brainstorming Uservoice was used to provide a platform through which citizens could submit policy recommendations for Public services 2.0. More than 40 recommendations were received and over 800 votes were cast.
  2. Drafting the manifesto – The manifesto itself was drafted through the MixedInk platform. This enabled others to comment on and edit the document. Dozens of comments were collected which helped craft the final version of the declaration
  3. Endorsement – This phase of the campaign is still in operation. A  detailed supporting programme on how to implement the key action points has been created, and the team is now seeking endorsement for the manifesto’s core principles and the actions needed for implementation.

The phased approach outlined above is similar to that taken by the Whitehouse during the drafting of the Open Government directive (to be released later this month). It’s also a similar approach to that being taken by the Australian government in relation to their Gov 2.0 taskforce. The medium through which the manifesto was created embodies the principles it seeks to embed within European public services i.e. that of openness, transparency and participation.

Manifesto Objectives

One of the primary objectives of the manifesto is for e-government policies to embrace ‘the open, meritocratic, transparent and user-driven culture of the web’. Encouraging innovation within European public services and allowing citizens to play a larger role in their provision is also a key objective. This can include the public building new public services based on open data, or simply engaging in dialog with Government around how service provision can be more citizen centric.

The manifesto focuses on three core principles for European public services:

  1. Transparencyall public sector organisations should be “transparent by default”
  2. Participation – government should pro-actively seek citizen input in all its activities
  3. Empowerment – public institutions should seek to act as platforms for public value creation

The team note how these three principles converge in issues such as the importance of making data legally open. By doing this governments can empower citizens to proactively contribute towards improving public services or engaging in civic debate:

public institutions should seek to act as platforms for public value creation. In particular, government data and government services should be made available in ways that others can easily build on. Public organisations should enable all citizens to solve their problems for themselves by providing tools, skills and resources. They should also treat citizens as owners of their own personal data and enable them to monitor and control how these data are shared.

European governments are already under an obligation to open up their data under the European Council Directive on the re-use of public sector information. The declaration, however, is pushing for ‘real openness, not just accessibility on a website‘. This means conforming to Open government principles and a recognizing that, as Vivek Kundra says:

government does not have a monopoly on the best ideas.

Work is already underway in many of these areas. For example, the Semantic Interoperability Center Europe seeks to support the sharing of assets of interoperability to be used in public administration and eGovernment. Also, many of the finalists in the European eGovernment awards exemplify how the web can be used to empower citizens and businesses to more effectively interact with government.

The manifesto seeks to provide principles in which to frame answers to the pertinent questions regarding public service. The design, delivery and accountability of public services has been questioned, and new thinking is required in order to redefine the function of public services in the 21st century.

In order to facilitate new thinking, however, those working within government must be empowered to experiment and take risks in the delivery of public services. Andrea DiMaio highlights how the declaration fails to take into account how these tenets should be embraced internally by government employees. Gwynne Kostin also identifies this as an issue and quotes Mark Drapeau on Gov 2.0’s mid-life crisis:

Despite some leadership from influential individuals on using social software in government, there is still in many cases a disconnect between authorities issuing directives and ground troops carrying them out…

There are some key issues that need to be overcome in order for the principles of Open Government to be embraced. Nevertheless, the manifesto tenets are not necessarily directed toward only government-to-citizen interaction. Rather they are principles required for an open civic system, which includes Government to Government communication. Given this, I believe endorsing the manifesto can also be considered as a recognition that Gov 2.0 tenets need to be promoted as a necessary prelude towards effective reform of public services.

I’ve endorsed the manifesto and encourage you to do the same.

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Note: Malmo09 are organizing a conference to coincide with the 5th official EU e-government event in Malmo. Their aim is to offer a ‘creative statement of what Europeans really want from e-enabled government’. This Pecha Kucha style un-conference will issue their own popular declaration on e-government for Europe. For more information, or to attend see http://www.malmo09.org.

(Photo courtesy European Parliament on Flickr)

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