Implementing an Open Government Department

Three years ago, I published Open Government: A simplified scheme as a way of presenting the three tiers of open government in a practical, reality-based way:

  • Transparency.
  • Participation.
  • Collaboration.

Two years later, in Open government: where to begin with? A showcase I suggested some ways to initiate the road towards open government, especially at the local level. In that case, I combined the former three tiers of open government with five stages of decision making:

  • Diagnosis.
  • Deliberation.
  • Negotiation.
  • Vote.
  • Assessment.

My experience during the last year is that these initiatives can work, but sooner or later they need to be mainstreamed into the very structure of the organization. That is, that the Department of Open Government becomes the Department of Public Administration and the Department of Public Administration becomes the Department of Open Government. Otherwise, while the Open Government Department only deals with open government stuff, it will hardly prevail and/or hardly have any impact. In fact, open government strategies will find themselves at odds with public administration strategies, especially in those fields where tradition or inertia is strong and people’s mindsets do not embrace (or are against) change and new values — not to speak about specific personal or party interests.

These conflicting strategies between open government and public administration rely on the fact that they talk about very different spheres. On the one hand, open government deals about how, while public administration deals about what to do, which can be summarised as:

  • Planning and monitoring: what do we want to do.
  • Staff and organization: what are the resources that we got.
  • Relations with citizens: what is our relationship with citizens depending on what they need.

How to put implement an Open Government Department that takes into consideration the principles of open government while it adheres to the needs of public administration organization? Let us try and combine the three tiers of open government (transparency, participation, collaboration) and the three tiers of public administration (planning, resources, citizens).

The image above highlights the nine sectors resulting from intersecting open government with public administration. What follows is a list of functions to be performed by an open government department. These functions can be performed by a single body or several ones, not necessarily coinciding with the list of functions. Indeed, some of them can be performed by the same body, while others will be split or developed across different bodies, some of them not even being part of the public administration:

  1. Data: (public) decision-making should be based on evidence. Caring for the gathering and production of evidence begins with caring for the gathering and production of (public) data. Data protection, open data and official statistics should have a common strategy, including creating protocols for anyone producing data at the public sector: hence, data governance.
  2. Planning: strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation and assessment should have the concurrence of all relevant actors. Participation in policy-making should begin at the design level, which at its turn begins with a good diagnosis where everyone can name and frame the issue at stake.
  3. Evaluation and assessment: there is a part of evaluation and (especially) assessment that necessarily needs to be performed outside of the Administration. It can take the form of an independent evaluation agency or not, but at least the Administration should open and facilitate external evaluation from relevant stakeholders and, when possible, establish binding relationships with such external evaluations. Some Administrations already have an independent body for such tasks.
  4. Ethics and accountability: ethics is to public servants (especially top executives) what planning is to policy-making. One should plan how their teams will be, and that plan is ethics. Transparency is how one tells the citizen how policies were designed, executed and evaluated. Accountability is how people did that, which brings us back to ethics. Transparency in open government can only come after a deep commitment with ethics at the people level and vice-versa.
  5. People (and their tools): this is probably the core of implementing an open government department. It is unlikely that any kind of open government strategy takes place without a transformation of how public servants work. For open government to settle and mainstream it is essential to adapt the way people is recruited, the way people work (do their own work and work with others), they way incentives are drawn or the kind of tools people and teams use (including procedures, protocols, a culture of work, etc.). And, of course, nothing of this will happen without the appropriate training and professional development. Open government begins with internal participation by the public servants themselves.
  6. Capacity enhancing:
    • Public procurement: when talent and tools cannot be found inside the organization, they have to be sought outside of it. This can be accepted as an unavoidable externalization, or as an opportunity to establish public-social-private partnerships/networks of collaboration. The kind of ethics applied to these relationships will determine the balance between a mere client-contractor agreement or a real partnership.
    • A skilled pool of public servants: Seems like a good idea that someone, outside the Administration (or just besides it) tries to keep up with the upfront of public administration theory (and practice) through research and training. A School of Public Administration could be such someone.
  7. Talking with the citizen: talking to and talking with the citizen are different things. The second approach requires a lot more empathy. That is what an open government culture should bring. Open Government seen as putting much more mere information in the hands of the citizen is probably not open government, but sheer fulfilment of one’s duty.
  8. Listening to the citizen: we’re told, from our earliest days, that one should listen before speaking. Well, that’s it with participation in open government. It is easier said than done. That is why it should become transversal to all policy-making. That is way it should be mainstreamed in everything public administration does.
  9. Working with the citizen: the last tier of open government, collaboration (co-design of public policies, co-management of initiatives, a devolution of sovereignty, etc.) is hardly possible without the former advancements or transformations in how public administration works. It is about the Administration stepping back from the arena and instead of leading it, facilitating it, making collective decisions possible among citizens without interfering but enriching them.
  10. This list of functions had in mind mainstreaming open government across a whole public administration. And it had in mind how most public administrations are structured nowadays: with a whole department devoted to the internal organization of the Administration (receiving names like department of Interior, of Public Administration, of Governance, of Interior and many other denominations, even Presidency). The goal of this proposal was to put together the values of open government within the usual tasks of an actual department managing public affairs such as strategic planning, personnel and citizens.

    But, to achieve total mainstreaming, the managing offices of all other departments should, to some extension, mimic the same structure. As there is a department that manages the budget (Treasury, Public Economics, Public Finance, etc.) and an office in each department to manage their budget, same should happen when it comes to open government: each managing office of each department should take into account planning and monitoring, staff and organization, and relations with the citizen. And do it with the transversal values of open government as it has been explained above in a coordinated and consistent way with the proposed Open Government Department.

Open government: where to begin with? A showcase

When we speak about Open Government, it is easy to getting lost in the lingo of names and concepts and not being able to bring things down to Earth. In the past I draw a simplified scheme for Open Government. Now I want to highlight some practical applications of that scheme.

The table below presents, on the one hand, the three layers of Open Government:

  • Transparency: let people know.
  • Participation: let people speak.
  • Collaboration: let people do.

On the other hand, it lists the five stages of public decision-making (there are other models with more or less stages, of course):

  • Diagnosis: what is going on, what do we need, what do we want.
  • Deliberation: what are the impacts, what are the options.
  • Negotiation: what are our preferences.
  • Vote: what is our decision.
  • Assessment: which were the results.

By crossing these two axes, I suggest some lines of action, some specific projects that can be put into practice. This is of course not an exhaustive list, and many projects can be placed in more than just one cell. It is, as I said, just a showcase of where to begin with.

Layer/Stage Diagnosis Deliberation Negotiation Vote Assessment
Transparency Politician/officer scoreboard Technical reports Open agendas Legislative footprint Open budgetting
Participation Blogs and citizen social networking sites Officers’ and projects’ blogs Policy technical reports Citizen consultations Data visualization
Collaboration Green books Facilitation of citizen deliberation Groups of interest PSPP Citizen scoreboard

Table 1. An open government showcase.

Open Government: A simplified scheme

This is a general (though simplified) scheme of what includes the concept of open government. This is a very broad concept that is general understood as transparency, or accountability. Sometimes it is taken as government 2.0, as the institutionalization of the web 2.0 and politics 2.0. Some other times it is just confused by mere e-government.

But it is much more than that. And here I try to present a first version of an attempt to relate all the concepts that fall under the big umbrella of open government. Please note that all the scheme is open government: what is pictured in the lower left corner, “Open government (meta project)” is how the project itself is presented to the citizen, with its own blog, its own software repository and other institutional relationships with other governments.

The scheme is not comprehensive, but just aims at highlighting the main components.

As for the shapes and colours:

  • Orange rhombuses picture agents: politicians, officers, individual citizens, civil society organizations, and the open government team in a given government.
  • Black rectangles are processes where decisions are made.
  • Green rectangles with the curved lower edge are outputs or presentation of information.
  • Gray cylinders are databases or data silos.

Arrows do not have a very accurate meaning. In general, all links are bi-directional: information flows in both ways. When there is an arrow, it implies that information only flows in the sense of the arrow — this look cleaner that double arrows, which would have populated the whole scheme. But, as said, it is more a way to stress some points (e.g. the politician feeds its Twitter account) rather than being a strong statement.

All comments are more than welcome.

Juan Ignacio Criado Grande: Networks, participation and Open Government

Notes from the II Open Government Conference Terrassa, held in Terrassa, Spain, on 16 October 2014. More notes on this event: OGovDayTerrassa.

Keynote: Networks, participation and Open Government
Juan Ignacio Criado Grande, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Social technologies are the new engine of the Network Society.

What recent global revolutions had in common is the possibility that anonymous citizens, people that had never met each other, can communicate among themselves and can take action after that. This is the potential of the Web 2.0.

But if the hype of the Web 2.0 is smoothly down, Open Government has been a common topic for ages. This is especially true in Anglo-Saxon countries, but not in Latin countries, where gobierno abierto is a new thing: there’s much work to do in this field in certain economies (e.g. Spain).

Open data, if well structured and linked, can become rich data and be much more useful.

Open Government: towards a new paradigm of public adminitration?

But open government is not only opening, or technology, but a new paradigm of public administration, based on transparency and accountability, dialogue and participation, to enbale a collaboration between citizens and the government.

  • Transparency: end of the monopoly of the state on information.
  • Participation: citizens have to be engaged.
  • Collaboration: the more actors the better to solve a problem.

This approach has to be put into practice, with real policies, and policies that can be measured and evaluated.

But is openness good for everyone? What about privacy? Openness can have its drawbacks and we have to be aware of them.

What are public administrations doing in social networking sites?

What do social networking sites allow governments to do?

  • Constant conversation.
  • Collaborative content.
  • Constant evaluation.
  • Remix.
  • Disintermediation.
  • Empowerment.

5 participation levels:

  • Inform.
  • Consult.
  • Engage.
  • Collaborate.
  • Empower.

Social media allow governments to build a community, build a network.

With open government we are trying to install a new software on an obsolete hardware. So, the management of change becomes key for success.

An important caveat: are we using new technologies to achieve our goals? Or just for the sake of using them and look cool?

The importance of the perpetual beta: organizations have to learn to learn, to be in the logic of constant learning. We have to quickly evolve from open government towards intelligent government.

Goverati: An alternative to representative democracy?

Yesterday I spoke at the Jornadas sobre redes y cultura compartida: De la cultura distribuida a la transformación del conocimiento (Conference on networks and shared culture: from distributed culture to the transformation of knowledge).

I had been asked to answer this question: could we, thanks to the Internet, forget about political parties and let people express their own opinions, debate and vote their representatives directly?

An initial answer to the question would be: well, yes, why not? But, should we?

Instead of providing such an answer — or any answer at all — I tried instead to:

  1. explain that some dire (socioeconomic) changes were taking place,
  2. focus on why these socioeconomic changes were taking place and
  3. infer, from this, what conditions shall take place in the future for
  4. another wave of changes to happen.

In other words:

  1. we have shifted from an Industrial Society to an Information Society (and what each concept means),
  2. that this has been because of digitization and Information and Communication Technologies (and other aspects, all of which led to second order factors, etc.) and
  3. that we should really be aware of digital competences, the digital divide and the unbalances of power
  4. for full e-Democracy to happen.

[click here to enlarge]

As can be seen in the presentation, I showed and explained almost 20 cases which I consider either successful or revolutionary or both, cases that have been replicated and will inspire many others.

But I also devoted plenty of time at showing, with real data, that these initiatives are mostly piloted by a tiny minority, my caveat being that we should try and bring more people in — by fighting the aforementioned barriers — instead of keeping on exploring new territories. The reason being that we could find ourselves having replaced a democracy by a digital aristocracy.

I admit that (One of) the bad point(s) in my approach is that it is very economy-focussed, instead of being politics/government based and thus leaving aside many aspects tied to the nature of the subject. On the other hand, I think that the good point is that it makes it easy to go back to the reasons, the whys, and not just the hows. Indeed, the approach is equally useful (as I did yesterday) to explain some changes in education or media.

During the questions & answers session, I really got clever feedback from the audience, while also giving me a second chance to clarify some aspects. Here they go:

  • The main aspect to address to achieve good e-Democracy is not the “e-” part, but the “Democracy” part. Difference, for instance, in the USA and European e-politics are more related with the political system rather than the different rates of Internet adoption or digital literacy (which are not that significantly different, by the way)
  • Information overload is a problem, which has to be addressed (among other things) with information literacy. Urgently.
  • New media literacies will be required too as we learnt to tell true from false when watching TV or FX-intensive movies.
  • Editors should be, in my opinion, a keystone in the new Information Society. The problem is that journalists/editors are more concerned about selling audiences to their advertisers or paper to their readers, rather than creating/editing good information and finding out how to get paid for it.
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