Open Government Research and Development Agenda Setting (#OpenGovRD) workshop

I am currently attending the Open Government Research and Development Agenda Setting workshop at the Center for Technology in Government at the University of Albany (you can follow our tweets with the hashtag #OpenGovRD). The workshop is organized by CTG, TWC, New York Law School – IILP, and Civic Commons.

We started out by collecting unanswered research questions, then clustered the questions into broader categories and went off to work in groups on defining the questions in more detail. The major themes that need to be tackled include:

1. What are citizen needs? How do they gain access? How do citizens know what they need to know? How can government provide enough digital literacy education to help citizens understand what they need to know and how to access what they need to know?
2. Incentivizing government (employees) to participate in Open Government; incentivizing the public to use the data and give feedback about the value and quality of the data they receive
3. Government (current and future) capabilities and capacity
4. Creating a business case for Open Government: Is #OpenGov worthwhile? What is the actual value? And what will we lose if Open Government dies?
5. Efficiency/effectiveness of tools, interoperability,
6. What does the ecosystem of Open Government looks like? How can government collaborate across all sectors?
7. How do we build the Open Government tool kit?
8. How can we make Open Government sustainable?
9. How can we create valuable and high quality data that citizens want to see and (re)use?

I brought up that we have very little understanding of how the ecosystem of Open Government functions, who the main players are and how government can interact with them in meaningful ways.

I also believe that Government is not the sole provider/user/standard of citizen-relevant information. I observe many more data providers and sources of data creation that need to be taken into account in an OG research agenda to understand how the overall ecosystem of Open Government works.

Take for example SeeClickFix: Citizens are creating data on a daily basis that is highly relevant for their local context, but has very low relevance for the federal Open Government Initiative. Ben Berkowitz – founder of SCF – has framed the term distributed democracy for this form of data creation. I believe it is a form of distributing indirect responsibility for local issues and problems to citizens. In this process government takes on a responder role instead of proactively sending a city manager out to observe the problems as a government task. Data is created in a decentralized manner and pushed toward government.

My group had the task to think about necessary, current and future government capabilities and in our brainstorming session I suggested to include the SCF example as a way to think about bidirectional and decentralized data/information/knowledge creation that is not necessarily always initiated by government. Our research statement was therefore:

How can the Open Government Initiative drive innovation and improvements in government capabilities to collect, manage, use, integrate (combine), and share information?

We suggest to study this question
– internal to government,
– across all levels of government,
– and in collaboration with the private sector and civil society

Many of these question don’t sound particularly new or innovative – or as Alex Howard from O’Reilly Radar pointed out are not even unique to Open Government, instead are a general theme in Government 2.0. I agree wholeheartedly, but just because the questions are not new, does not mean that they were answered. I believe that research – especially in public administration and public management, as well as at the intersection of public administration and the use of (new) technologies in the public sector has to catch up with the reality of government. We need more research on the social processes both inside government, but also in government’s interactions with all their stakeholders. We even need to go beyond the pure government focus and need to understand how citizens are creating data (see for example CrisisCommons or GovLoop as knowledge incubation location outside the governmental boundaries and context) and are “socializing” the data without government intervention.

Here is the workshop summary from the event listing on the CTG website:

With the one-year anniversary of the Open Government Directive behind us, the field of Open Government is at an important crossroads. While much work has been done by government agencies in trying to make their data, operations, and services more open to the public, the actual impact of these efforts and their value to the public and government alike is mostly unknown.

The Open Government Research and Development Workshop will focus on strategies for and the impact of opening up, federating, and creating value from government data. This workshop, organized by the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany, the Tetherless World Constellation at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Democracy Design Workshop/Do Tank at New York Law School, and Civic Commons will define a research roadmap that looks at the legal, policy, and technical questions that must be addressed in using government data to improve the lives of everyday citizens.

The workshop will build on the work started at the Open Government R&D Summit convened by the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program (NITRD) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on March 21st- 22nd in Washington, DC (http://www.nitrd.gov/opengov/).

The workshop will take an interactive and interdisciplinary approach to creating an actionable and relevant multi-year open government research and development program focused on identifying critical needs, mapping needs to potential solutions, identifying legal and policy barriers, exploring critical evaluative approaches, and laying out strategies for attaining future research funding.

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About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

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