OpenGovRD: Towards an “Open Public Administration Commons”

Day 2 of the OpenGovRD workshop started with a session to collect open-ended research questions that the academics in the room can tackle. We reviewed our initial wish-list of what research on Open Government should look like. Some of the keywords people in the room used to describe OG research included: interdisciplinary, rigorous, robust, actionable, fundable and most of all FUN (that was my favorite keyword). I believe fun will be a result of a research agenda that will include researchers from different disciplines, but also includes a constant feedback cycle between academics and practitioners.

I would like to push even further – not just showcasing research findings, but constantly including practitioners into the research process and not only as subjects (i.e., interview partners), but as equal partners who guide the research, evaluate its feasibility and to keep the research grounded and unbiased. The findings need to be actionable right away and not after a 2-3 year publishing cycle in academic journals that are “hiding” the results for exclusive access in University libraries.

Obviously, an OG research agenda needs to be fundable. The group highlighted that there is no digital government program at NSF anymore, so that new funding sources need to be discovered and we probably need to work closely with directorates or programs at NSF to identify the right venues for proposal submissions.

The practitioners and academics in the room mentioned one gap over and over again: We don’t know what we know! There are several platforms out there that are collecting, harvesting and displaying some of the research and reports that are available on specific subtopics, but there is not one place that helps to compile everything we already know. I suggested to create an “Open Public Administration Commons“. This place can serve as a networking platform that provides the opportunity to connect to ongoing research projects, give direct feedback not only to the final results, but on an ongoing basis while the discovery is happening, to test ideas in early stages, but foremost to provide a channel that helps to push findings directly to government so that public managers can act on the findings and find a guide on how to tackle current and urgent problems. Many agencies face similar or at least comparable problems and while it is helpful to understand that there are best practices cases out there, it is much more important to actually make the social connections between government officials to share insights on the day-to-day “How To” questions that are coming up while people are trying to solve problems. I would like to take the platform idea a step further and make this platform a place for those of us who are teaching OG-related topics to find up-to-date case studies that can be used in classrooms. We can educate cohorts of MPA or IS students that already know about the newest developments when they enter their first jobs.

Together with my co-authors, I have written about the idea of an “Open Public Administration Commons” in a recently published article in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: “Towards Open Public Administration Scholarship” (email me if you want to read a copy of this article).

Related reading:

Schweik, C., Mergel, I., Sanford, J., Zhao, J. (2011): Toward Open Public Administration Scholarship, in: Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory (J-PART), Minnowbrook III: A Special Issue, Special Issue Editors: Beth Gazley and David M. Van Slyke, Vol. 21, Supplement 1, January 2011, pp.i175-198.

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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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