really? honestly?

When you say “open government”…

If you aren’t clear about what you mean in any discussion you haven’t got much chance of staying on track. Think about the phrase “open government”. Here are seven possible interpretations (there are probably more, do add them) which can all take an “open government” discussion in a different direction:


1. Is it open democracy as process? – being transparent about the progress of legislation and policy as it’s developed. Applies to both ministerial and civil service processes!


2. Is it the promotion of the engagement of people with the democratic process? (without this it’s just the same few commentators talking to each other) – this must be a dynamic feature, not a static one: the business of democracy has to become increasingly attractive in and of itself.


3. Is it openness to scrutiny – MPs expenses and so on? Has some cross-over with 1. but the motivations driving ‘openness’ can be quite different…


4. Is it a style of government? – this one is purely political in nature and tone: being open and honest with the public about what the real issues are, how severe they are, etc. (openness to challenge and ongoing discussion falls within this category).


5. Is it equality of access to suppliers? – as in “open procurement”… some aspects of open source (see below) satisfy this. [The ready confusion between open government, open data and open source still baffles me by the way – some of those doing it should really know better…]


6. Is it openness to collaboration and innovation? – other aspects of open source philosophy fulfil this – work can be shared and reused freely, and ideas taken on way beyond their original starting point or intention.


7. Is it functional accessibility? – are services ‘open’ in the sense of catering to all? Everything from basic provision to service packaging to technical adaptations meeting specific user limitations…


More on this after my piece at http://opengovevent.com today.


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5 Responses

  1. Paul Tsang says:

    If government was a business, it would want to improve the lives of its employees (citizens). when I say government, I mean not just the party in charge, but the whole process of government. To do so it would need to do a few things well:

    1. Be competitive against other govts – competing for talent, natural resources, knowledge and securing supply for its citizens.

    2. Be efficient in operation, so that it can…

    3. Return more to its shareholders and employees (citizens, holders of public debt,etc)

    4. It needs to do so in a way that also meets other criteria of shareholders/employees – delivering world peace, climate change, upholding societal values. It also helps to have a productive culture (think negative infighting cultures that destroy organisations).

    The last point is particularly pertinent. For any of the organisational change people, we know that too much tension, lack of direction and generally infighting makes organisations ineffectual. Imagine working in a company where mgmt were airing grievances every day. Tory vs Labour. (Sidethought: Maybe Singapore have it right… open gov is about being less open, but just being more openly positive)

    So what is the open gov intent?
    Perhaps open gov is about improving all of the above. I think it is actually a collective term for a desire to improve the delivery of outcomes, and a measure for the level of confidence that people have in government, rather than a particlar model or solution….

    An open gov solution?
    Introduce competition. Perhaps outsource cities alltogether. Let competitive forces dictate tax rates, etc. Or go further and run parallel and competitive govts Tory or Labour – don’t have to wait, just swich like you are switching a electricity provider!


  2. paulclarke says:

    Some useful thoughts via my Facebook comments, from Pete K:


    Ah, “open”, there’s a charged word.
    In IT it generally means “something that doesn’t run on a Microsoft platform” or simply “something I can’t hack around with”.

    I would say – 1 – yes.
    2 – not so much; happy to let politicians get on with it as long as they adhere to 1 and 3. … Read more
    3 – yes, clearly.
    4 – this strikes me as just a woolier version of 1.
    5 – this might be a knock-on effect of 1, but in itself it sounds a bit lame
    6. This all sounds a bit vague and wooly and Apple Store too
    7. No.

  3. Graham says:

    Is this the same question as “what do you mean by ‘Democracy’?” Reading the ‘Models of Democracy’ by David Held is a useful starting point to the myriad ways we can approach democracy, or ‘openness’ if democracy is, at basic, defined as some kind of interaction with citizens.

    Is the bigger question this then – Do we need to aim for a single form of democracy/openness (e.g. representative democracy), or is it sustainable/desirable to foster a “basket” of democratic processes – and if so, how?

    It’s my instinct that different forms of democracy and openness suit different networks, different tools, and different contexts (e.g. there are times when a vote is the best way of resolving a decision, and times when discussion is better – or even times when really there is no decision to be made). Choosing the best “democratic tool” for the job is then the important part – not choosing the job to fit the democracy.

  4. […] In a previous life I was a bit of an eDemocracy obsessive – so it was good to spend a day getting back into it. It seems things have moved on considerably in the last few years – the views that were previously held on the ‘outside’ seem to have seeped slowly into the ‘inside’, which is great news. However, there still seems to be a real lack of significant successes to point at (as well as a lack of consensus on what ‘Open Government’ actually means). […]

  5. […] excellent writer on the subject, Paul Clarke, said that government would needs to engage and listen to the public so it could  find out what […]

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