What does open government mean to you?

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Open government


Open government means different things to different people. Is it about transparency, collaboration, or participation? Maybe it’s a combination of all three? If you listen to Tim O’Reilly speak about open government, he'll tell you about his vision of government as a platform

O'Reilly talks about the components of web 2.0: cloud computing, social media, and much more. Particularly, the goods and services that government could produce. He keys in on the ability of the marketplace to deliver on big data supplied by the government; think about how the NOAA provides forecast data

While at the Code for America Summit in San Francisco, CA this year (October 1-3) I had the chance to find out how others on the front lines of the open government movement define open government. I asked several participants what it means to them—their answers proved to be diverse, yet conforming. 

Forest Frizzell, Deputy Director City of Honolulu

"It’s being open, inclusive, and collaborative with citizens so they feel comfortable with what government is doing. So that citizens want to be part of the solution. It’s also about driving efficiencies from the governments. We do things based on tradition, not law and policy. The open government process is a vehicle to fix that."

Jen Palhka, Founder and Executive Director of Code for America

"It’s not just about being open so that we can hold government accountable. It’s symbolically opening the door so that it’s inviting for citizens."

Eugene Kim, Cofounder of Groupaya

"Ultimately, open government is about engagement and transparency. It doesn’t require technology. It’s something that people are already practicing. Seeing a situation where people can practice government in a practical way. And we need those good stories about government."

Brian Gryth, Founder and President of OpenColorado

"It’s the way our government is suppose to work. It’s democracy in action. It’s a government that is responsive to its people. It allows people to be more involved. Transparency builds trust. It builds a window that allows citizens to see what their government is doing. It’s building community and it’s what the founders believed in. It’s realizing the constitution."

Abhi Nemani, Director of Strategy and Communications at Code for America

"Governments that work like the Internet. Networked. Generative. And reflective of who we are."

Jason Lally, Director of the Decision Lab for PlaceMatters

"Open government means the re-establishment of trust in democratic values. Today, we hear a lot of noise in politics. The open government approach is non-partisan and it’s really about connecting people back to their communities. That means people will be connected with each other. And that’s exciting!"

Cyd Harrell, adviser for Code for America

"I think of it in slightly different terms. A government is for citizens and it must deliver a cycle of trust so that citizens can participate in government. There are three design values that are part of this: respect, participation, and unity. The important one is unity, because it brings citizens and government back on the same side."

What does open government mean to you?

Even though advocates of open government define it differently, the mission is constant throughout: open government is about empowerment. So what does it mean to you? Share your thoughts about open government in the comments and let us know if being more open is making your government better. 


This post has been translated: Governo Aberto: o que isso significa para você? at brodtec.com and www.dicas-l.com.br. Thank you Cesar Brod.

Jason Hibbets is a Community Director at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and Opensource.com community publications.


Do I smell an ebook cooking?

Hey Bryan,
Actually, our first opengov eBook is in the final stages of design. Once we get that out the door, we'll look at getting all of our eBooks into ePub format!

Hi Jason. I am looking forward to seeing how Red Hat envisions open government.

I just returned yesterday from the USAID Development Data Jam in Washington DC. Several federal and private sector pundits on open government, open data and big data gave their visions of what is possible with open government. I took several lessons away from that meeting. "Open" in Raleigh is about changing the model of interaction between our citizens and our government. The manufacting/industrial model of policy making wherein the constituent had little influence on the policy maker(s) is being transformed into a rapid, agile, iterative collaboration. This is more than open data and more than big data. This is about adapting to the way humans interact with each other today versus 100 years ago.

Great insights Jason. Sounds like these data jams are becoming more and more popular as a great way to engage people.

I love how you describe open, "changing the model of interaction between our citizens and our government" -- that's spot on from what I see.

The latest way I've been describing what I do with projects like adoptashelter.raleighnc.gov is to "enhance the citizen experience." I think I heard that somewhere else, but happy to borrow it.


Hi Jason- thank you- Christopher Gergen and Nick Sinai made the trip possible along with support from the City of Raleigh. Chris, Nick and I will be working on organizing a regional "Datapalooza" and with Nick's help get the Whitehouse down here to kick off regional open government for the Triangle. Exciting times. As soon as I can firm up some meeting times we need to get you involved.

Jason, would you allow me to translate your post and publish it in my blog (dicas-l.com.br/brod and brodtec.com/node)? Of course I will provide a link to your original article. Thanks!

Hi Cesar- I would be honored- thank you. Can I add your blog to my blog list I keep? It is here:

Of course you can! And now I am honored! :-) I will let you know as soon as I publish my translation!

Hi Cesar, two Jason H's on the same thread. Confusing, I know ;)

If you're asking to translate this post, feel free to. Just add a link back here in the comments and release the translation under a Creative Commons SA-BY license with attributions to me (Jason Hibbets) and a link back to this post mentioning opensource.com would be the best way to respect the CC license.

Glad you enjoyed and thanks for translating!

I have to confess when I first read Jason Hare's message I thought I was reading yours authorizing me to translate. :-p Then I also read Mr. Hare's excellent post and I translated both! Your translation will be published today, following your recommendations. And as I also have the OK from Jason Hare, I will publish his translated text tomorrow. Thank you both!

Maybe I will just start referring to you as Hibbets and I'll be Hare..:)

Here is the first translation. Hare´s coming tomorrow:




Thank you guys!

Here is Hare's translation:


Again, thanks JHs!

Interesting to see two camps: one which is focused on engagement, responsiveness, etc. Another which is concerned with transparency and releasing data. They overlap, of course. I think we saw a lot more of the transparency advocates about four years ago, where now it seems the conversation is led by the collaboration and engagement folks.

Am I imagining things? Is this because collaboration is easier to measure, or the results more tangible?

I would say Raleigh is taking a holistic approach. Open Government is a process. Open Data can lead to Open Services which then can lead to Open Government. I don't equivocate one with the other. They are all necessary but not sufficient conditions leading toward an open transparent citizen experience, We are at the beginning of what will be an acculturation process that is trying to catch up to technology and how users of technology interact with one anotther. There was an interesting article in the Economist a few weeks back talking about cities as "vast data factories." A lot of open data folks took this to mean this article was about open data. In fact it was about the way urban residents generate huge amounts of data using various interconnected devices. As government, we need to change the interaction model used to engage citizens. We need to match our engagement model with a citizens everyday experience in accessing and using information. This is both a technology and a cultural issue on the part of government and its citizens. Government needs to increase awareness of what is available and make e-engagement attractive to its constituents.

Gunnar, Jason Hare and Jason Hibbets,

I have been a huge advocate of open sourcing, and with government as a vital connection, the two cents I wanted to add would be this. Overlapping to me still hints of separation, albeit there is closeness to proximity.

What I believe is the perfect tense in all of this is simply integration, which leads to transformation.

The government is an organic and integrative element to societies on many levels, just as the societies themselves are organic.

As we all know, society is in a constant state of change, making it perpetually dynamic. In this sense, the monolithic images or archetypes that we often see of Government are marble columns that represent a static and stable structure.

I agree with that as far as the foundation goes, however the structure above the foundation is where the renovation and modification is evident.

With all this said, and the advent of information technology having a premiere seat in all governments and strata of society, I believe it is vital that we expect Government to be equally as dynamic and resilient in transforming its integrative element with society.

I would coin a term utilizing 5 "I'" words as just some of the new "columns" paradigm that government should consider and embrace:

Integrative, Interfacing, Inter-sourcing, Interpretive, inter-transforming

So Jason and Jason, give my your thoughts! :-)

This is very thought-provoking.

While I don't work for a government agency, it's hard for me to comment on inter-sourcing (also referred to as <a href="https://opensource.com/business/12/9/winston-churchill-open-source-way">innersourcing</a>) or inter-transforming, I think the intergrative and interfacing parts work will from a public-private partnership perspective and citizen engagment perspective, respectively. I'm not sure I follow on the interpretive pillar, unless you mean to say that it's how government will change to interpret or anticipate future needs of citizens.

I would imagine that, at least in the US Federal government and other agency levels, that there is a strong desire for innvoation and efficiency amoung the government workforce that would support the innersourcing and inter-transforming pillars you mention. A great resource for you, if you haven't found it, is to explore these ideals more at <a href="http://govloop.com">govloop.com</a>. The have a robust audience of govies that could shed some light on your ideas.


Mr. Hibbits,

Thank you for your response. Your engagement of my thoughts indicate you understood most of what I was communicating.

In addressing your question per se about the interpretive pillar, this is a matter that is more involved, and could even have a measure of complexity, just as language interpretation can be quite technical and complex respectively.

I will give you a context of application that I trust will assist you in understanding my concept.

I had mentioned the issue of needs-based orientation and/or development pertaining to public-stipulated criteria that becomes known to the governmental agency, body, etc.

The interpretive element has to do with finding at a minimum, the sufficient interpretation of that need to transform it into a viable product or service necessary to fulfill the expressed or implied need.

The fact that needs can be implied, delineates the requirement for discretionary observation and interaction with the public to make a determination that accurately addresses the need in question, regardless of how it is discerned.

As I look at our government model in the USA, we have 3 branches of government. I will briefly touch on two of them. The Legislative branch is the body that creates laws for the higher good of the nation.

The Judicial branch is the body tasked with interpreting the laws created, to insure that certain Constitutional standards are met, and applied fairly for all citizens, above any category or classification a citizen might fall under, such a gender, race, etc.

In our republican society (not the political party), the people influence the government to write laws applicable to what the is needful for the highest good of all.

In an over-simplified example, a law mandating stop signs or traffic signals at busy thoroughfares that intersect can be used.

Interpretation looks at who the person is communicating, and how they are communicating. The next step is to put in context the rationale with the communication, we could use the common 5 questions of "who, what, where, why, and how?" standard illustrate my point.

Those 5 questions illustrate the context of engagement of interpretation in process and progress. This keeps this context on target with regard to the need(s) raised.

No doubt, there are other tools and standards that could also come into the picture, such as other pre-existing laws, etc. that might be affected.

In addressing public discourse and interaction then, interpretation becomes the process of accurately distilling the communication and information process to fulfill the expressed or implied need effectively.

This fits in with the trailing comment to your statement of "...government will change to interpret or anticipate future needs of citizens." Absolutely.

That is why public discourse and dialogue is a vitally necessary element in that interpretative phase, so that effect transformation will come into play as our society transforms over time as well, and keeps the relationship between the public and government effective, relevant, and timely in to societal needs.

My last comment to this is more idealistic possibly, but certainly reflects an optimistic mindset on my part anyway...The anticipation that such a relationship between government and the public would be synergistic in nature, and reflect an effectively dynamic and responsive relationship between the two entities.

Finally, I will explore govloop.com, I have not heard of it until now. Thank you for that!


Michael David :-)

Hi Michael

These are good comments and also fits the direction where many governments are heading. I have written quite a bit about the "culture of government". To be clear I am speaking about US models of governance. I have been in municipal government for some time and have worked as a consultant on county, state and federal levels.

The government as a monolithic entity has never existed. The US "government" in particular is a collection of agencies and this model is copied down to the municipal level. Transformation and innovation is always balanced with accountability. Government serves the lowest common denominator. Everything from procurement to revenue collection to law enforcement and legislation has a process based on accountability to the citizens.

What I see locally is a government that is moving toward a service based model. This is something that is often referred to as "Government as a Platform". Getting there requires citizen collaboration with elected officials who then create resolutions and executive orders. Code for America is an excellent example of a civic group that works with government. These executive directives whether they be from a City Council or the President of the United States are interpreted by the workers within a given agency and carried out with accountability to the official(s).

Getting innovative means a dialog between government and citizens. Open Source, Open Data and Open Government are all examples of ways for government to innovate even though they are all separate types of innovation.

In regards to open data, how do we balance economic impact, being informative about government activities and till respect a citizen's privacy? These are questions I am working on by talking with citizens and members of the larger open data community.

Great post!

Hello again Jason...

This has been a great dialog thus far, and I believe it shall remain as such...

Your question you posited to me was:

"In regards to open data, how do we balance economic impact, being informative
about government activities and still respect a citizen's privacy?"

I will start with a lawyer-esque tactic, of answering your question with a question for the first segment of economic impact.

I am taking a presumed understanding that with your role in government already, you have some reasonable understanding of how economic impact fits into the matter at hand.

My first concern with that is context: How do we fit this peg into the hole to "plug in" so to speak? A plug is a connection point, power-source, or in our discussion here, let us do a bit of wordplay, and call it an "empowerment source."

I believe that is something that almost goes without saying with the paradigm of open source access and interface.

My next question has to do with application, and the related "products" that would be appropriate for this government venue. Rather than a purely promotional model that applies with commercial enterprise and and sales, I envision a model that is needs-driven for the sake of the Citizenry.

I can use a recent example for the City of Kennewick, Washigton in looking up some historical information regarding a former home that I had assisted my father in building back in mid 1960's.

As you might be aware, GIS has become a widely deployed and utilized too for Tax Assessment and property records, various forms of demographics and ancillary data such as school districts, Irrigation/water districts, etc.

In some of my meanderings, a GIS-compatible view might be necessary for downloading, whereas some sites have stand-alone, integrative software that detects and works in the browser environment via an IP gateway that accesses the database online with the city or county entities.

Moving on to the second part of your question, you asked about being informed of "government activities." This segment is pretty straightforward, and does not require much elaboration.

The fact that was have online sourcing of information, announcements (Some cities also have a public broadcast channel that people can tune in to, either on television, radio,and of course, the internet) are a standard fare that is simply there as surely as there is a sign posted at the city limits, announcing entry into any given community.

The real meat of this matter was addressed in the 3rd segment of your question, where you asked me one can access this data, and respect individual privacy.

I do not believe this is too complicated either. Let anything else, setting some community standards that the civic population with regard to a procedural precedent.

Let's use my example of using GIS services I mentioned above. Assuming that the interaction with this service is a stand-alone task within my browser, no real need or requirement is expected to access publicly published "products" the city offers.

Now, if we need to fulfill either requirements to prevent Spam or in some manner require registration to track usage/ adn also accountability/protection against malignant souls who might think it incumbent upon them to release a virus, etc.

That would essentially be a "gatekeeper" style technology to monitor users of the system, etc.

As for privacy, usually citizens identity and related information are already protected, and their names need not be disclosed to others accessing the site.

The exception of that would be public forums, bulletin boards, etc., such as this, where limited information is provided.

In recent months with this past year's election, for example, I took note of the rancor and especially threatening language used about certain topics that brandished incendiary responses to them.

Public safety and maintaining civility is certainly a standard that any government would want to establish and uphold for all citizens accessing their sites.

Accordingly, I would expect that a modicum of common sense and prudence would prevail on this and all matters, while maintaining standards according to established laws governing such activity.

As a caveat, I could mention one last item on this last element that hearkens back to my days in the military. In regards to operational and communications security, (OPSEC/COMSEC) one of the key pillars of this security apparatus, what the term, "Need to know."

To that end, discretion was indeed the better part of valor, and good for security as well. It was learned that even in disclosing a small fragment of information that was unclassified, a trained and competent adversary can assemble a constellation of fragments, and accurately create a picture of operations that would actually compromise security with classified information as well.

This is why the invocation of the "need to know" standard. The simple fact of the matter comes down to this: If someone does NOT need to know something, DO NOT volunteer it!

This is where discretion and application of laws need careful attention in this age of identity theft, hacking, and even existential threats as I mentioned above to individuals who receive them from others who intend ill will or direct harm if possible.

Adequate firewalls to protect IP addresses that could be collected from government databases, etc. should be a common security practice anyway. However, I know that human intelligence is capable of creating vulnerable or even flawed weaknesses in a database or website that adept individuals can hack or exploit with little effort.

In closing, common sense and discretion in determining the "need to know" standard would be crucial in deciding what level of security in requisite for each site, and the appropriate measures accordingly.

Along with this, to proactively mitigate liability issues, a disclaimer and electronic acknowledgement of risks, privacy policy standards and applicable laws behind them is another consideration. This would include whether or not the site gives cookies or other data to users accessing a particular site.

Disclosure of all such factors is again common sense and exercises prudence and wisdom for the sake of all...

I will let you consider this, Jason, and anticipate your responses.

Michael David :-)

Mr. Hare, I forgot to clarify one quick point about a monolithic representation of government... You are indeed correct in defining the parts that comprise the overall structure.

My point was to mention the interpretation most citizens of the public sector perceive of government on the whole... stone-like, seemingly inflexible in some aspects, and in the less-than-desireable perception, lacking in human qualities to address real-time human issues that arise.

I do not see my comment, as a sidebar here, as a criticism to be taken negatively. Having given testimony previously before the Washington State legislature regarding military and veteran affairs, I am aware of the necessary effort and steps required to bring laws and related action into being.

To that end, I bear great respect for the individuals who come together to forge the laws and administrative codes necessary effectively govern the people on any level, whether it is the city, state, or federal level.

Michael David :-)

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