East meets West: the U.S.-India open government dialogue

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Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed members of the Indian parliament and announced a U.S.-India Open  Government Dialogue. Addressing a rare joint session of the Indian Parliament that brought together the two different houses -- the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha -- Obama said that as the world's largest democracy and the world's oldest one, India and the U.S. will work together on the initiative.

The Obama administration said it will contribute $1 million toward  efforts to share best practices in working toward improved services and democratic accountability. Sam Pitroda, Innovation Advisor to  the Prime Minister of India, and Aneesh Chopra, United States Chief Technology Officer, will jointly lead the initiative.

Both countries have taken very different trajectories on Open  Government. On his first day in office, President Obama signed the  Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, calling for  unprecedented transparency, participation, and collaboration as a  hallmark of his Administration. In 2005, India enacted the Right to Information Act, that empowered individuals and Civil Service  organizations across India to seek and obtain government  information that was earlier out of reach.

Earlier, in his visit, Obama attended The Expo for Democracy and Open Government that highlighted many Indian innovations that leveraged technology for citizen empowerment, and government accountability. At this event, Obama said that, "one of the incredible benefits of the technology we’re seeing right here is that in many ways India may be in a position to leapfrog some of the intermediate stages of government service delivery, avoiding some of the 20th century mechanisms for delivering services and going straight to the 21st."

A fact sheet released by the Whitehouse says that, "Recognizing both nations’ commitment to making government information  available to the end of improving government effectiveness and efficiency, the two countries agreed to establish an Open  Government Dialogue with designated senior officials from each country. In addition to the exchange of best practices in support of our own domestic efforts, the Dialogue will produce, a joint action plan to harness the shared values of both countries which will offer great potential for synergies moving forward. Examples include the  identification of best practices in open governance, the use of prizes and challenges to encourage the creativity of citizen innovators in  developing web-based and mobile tools for better delivery of citizen services and citizen empowerment; and e-governance initiatives to  promote data transparency and citizen engagement."

Both governments also agreed to work together to advance open  government globally and to share best practices, encourage  collaborative models, as well as to spur innovations that empower  citizens, and foster effective government in other interested  countries.

And when it comes to "collaborative models," can there be any  collaborative model that has been more successful than open  source?

Venkatesh Hariharan is Corporate Affairs Director (Asia-Pacific) at Red Hat. In this role, he works with industry, academia, government and the community to accelerate the growth of the global open source movement. In 2006, he was awarded the "Indian Open Source Personality of the Year" by the organizers of Linux Asia 2006.

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