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Wrap-Up of the Open Government Brainstorming: Transparency

Last week the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) hosted the Open Government Brainstorm on behalf of the White House Open Government Initiative – the first of three phases in an unprecedented process of public engagement. The Brainstorm generated more than 1000 ideas to inform the crafting of recommendations on open government policy. Thank you to all who recognized the importance of this effort and participated thoughtfully.
Phase I was designed to elicit a wide array of actionable suggestions for creating a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative government. As we look toward tomorrow’s start of Phase II – the Discussion Phase - we have culled a short list of topics for deeper and more focused conversation from among the suggestions you posted during this Brainstorm, from those ideas shared by government employees during a similar online conversation in March, and from proposals submitted to "From The Inbox."  
We read and considered all the proposals. We took the voting into account when assessing your enthusiasm for a submission, but only somewhat in evaluating relevance. The ideas that received the most organized support were not necessarily the most viable suggestions.
Today, we want to share with you a little about what we’ve learned from you about transparency. Transparency is of vital importance. As the President emphasized in his Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act: "A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, ‘sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.’ …At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike."
There were plenty of great ideas that we read but that unfortunately did not make sense to bring into the next phase, including those with no relation to transparency policy, endorsing a product, or describing legislative action outside the purview of the Executive branch. We are bracketing suggestions for long-range change, such as proposals that require a constitutional amendment in favor of working with those that can lead to change in the shorter term. We are also temporarily putting to one side suggestions about transparency in specific agencies (ie. environmental or food safety transparency, creating Facebook pages for mail carriers, greater budgetary transparency in the Central Intelligence Agency). We will hold onto these proposals for subsequent conversations involving the decision-makers from the relevant agencies. Some ideas (ie. on or open source software) labeled with "Transparency" will fit better in our later discussions about Participation and Collaboration.
Here are some examples of specific submissions, grouped by issue.  We’ve attached a "mindmap" of the redacted transparency proposals so you can see a summary and overview of the themes that are emerging.  We have also attached the National Academy of Public Administration’s analysis of the Brainstorm (pdf).
  1. Transparency Principles: How do we define transparency so that we can prioritize our policymaking?
    • Adopt 8 Open Government Data Principles (complete, primary, timely, accessible, machine processable, non-discriminatory, non-proprietary, license-free);
    • Adopt Carter Center Plan of Action for the Advancement of the Right of Access to Information;
    • Crowdsourcing should be adopted as a principle and best practices around the use of crowdsourcing to evaluate data should be established;
    • Agencies should explain all policy decisions and the rationales behind them in readable language;
  2. Transparency Governance: How do we institutionalize transparency across all government agencies and establish structures to ensure thoughtful and considered progress toward transparency?
    • Replicate Florida's model of an Office of Open Government;
    • Establish a Transparency Officer/Open Government Officer and interdisciplinary team in each agency whose job it is to inventory and proactively make data available to the public. Transparency officer must not be an information technology expert only but someone knowledgeable about legal frameworks, such as Privacy and Information Quality;
    • Create a data governance program/framework in each agency to evaluate data quality and priorities;
    • Seek public input on data to be made transparent;
    • Identify candidate agencies or programs as pilots for transparency;
    • Use Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) to bring together government and public researchers to collaborate on making data more accessible;
    • Confer transparency/open government awards.
  3. Information Access: How do we improve the efficiency and effectiveness of access to government information? How do we improve the Government’s ability to disclose information pro-actively and bring down the cost and burden of compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?
    • Impose penalties on agencies not following FOIA or tolerating excessive delays. Look at India’s approach, in which government officials become personally liable and must pay fines if they do not act in a timely fashion;
    • Use visualization tools to show timeliness of FOIA processing in real time and track which official has responsibility for the request at any given time, i.e. workflow management;
    • Post frequently requested categories of information;
    • Require agencies to accept FOIA and Mandatory Declassification (MDR) requests via email;
    • Simplify implementation of FOIA;
    • Implement requirement to post disclosed information in electronic reading rooms;
    • Paper duplication costs should be reasonable. Electronic duplication should be free.
  4. Data and Metadata: What technological approaches might be used to improve access to Government data? What Government-wide approaches to data and metadata should we be undertaking? How can we improve the usefulness of, the Government’s new platform for access to data?
    • Inventory and prioritize agency data for publication in open, downloadable formats;
    • Set agency targets: by a given date, X percent of non-sensitive agency data should be online;
    • Use as a repository of newly declassified information;
    • Make contributed data subject to a waiver of copyright and database rights using the "CCO" scheme from Creative Commons;
    • Standardize discovery and method calls to data sets;
    • Offer a crawling program to identify data that agencies could make available;
    • Establish a monitoring program to ensure that sensitive data is not released;
    • Collaborate with private sector on conferences on visualization to design tools for;
    • Adopt data dictionaries to ensure that terms have the same meaning across agencies;
    • Adopt better software for comparing relevance and meaning of documents to make government information more searchable;
    • More RSS data feeds and other points of access to government information;
    • Government should create permalinks on the paragraph level to make documents easier to cite;
    • Maintain a transparency dashboard to show progress toward transparency, e.g. the number of documents released;
    • Bring government services online and make them reusable by the private sector; if citizens own the services they should be able to build on top of them. This requires a "Services Oriented Architecture" approach (see: VA Loan Guaranty example);
    • Digitize all government research reports and make them available free via NTIS (the National Technical Information Service);
    • Convert Depository Libraries around the country into Regional Data Centers;
    • Make the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) the off-site electronic backup data center for all agency e-record systems.
  5. Open Government Operations: What are the strategies for making the workings of government more open and accountable? How do we balance openness and other constraints, like privacy and efficiency?
    • Create a "" customized data feed/alert system that reaches across all federal agencies; i.e. create a "Citizens Portal";
    • Publish a directory of who works in government. Agencies state there are legal issues and policies in place that prohibit them from posting their organization charts. Changing this might help increase transparency;
    • Publish a list of everyone who meets with the President;
    • Allow government employees to speak to journalists more freely to foster news-gathering;
    • Electronic voting machine hardware and software, from the machine in the polling booth to the collection systems used to collate results, should be subject to publication and verification;
    • Executive branch documents, such as the Federal Register and the Compilation of Presidential Documents, should be made available in downloadable and accessible formats;
    • Use innovative, new technology to create more transparent, effective, and efficient procurement strategies;
    • Require that all public agency meetings be webcast. Require that all Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) meetings be webcast;
    • Create weekly progress reports in which government employees rate and rank each other's announcements as a mechanism to select the best ideas to report to the Secretary;
    • Every agency should develop a "Web 2.0" communications strategy to set forth how it will use new media to accomplish its mission;
    • Identify common innovation platforms -- the basic frameworks needed across agencies for open government -- and invest in building those.
While Phase I focused on idea gathering, Phase II focuses on defining the challenges in greater depth. We will be asking for your help with fleshing out the issues, potential solutions, and the pros and cons of proposed approaches.
Tomorrow, June 3rd, we will invite your comments on the first blog post of the Discussion Phase. The first set of posts will focus on each of the five transparency themes (principles, governance, access, data, operations) listed above, followed by a series of posts on participation and collaboration.
The goal of Phase II is to explore proposals for a Government-wide framework to achieve transparency, participation and collaboration. We want your help with translating good ideas into concrete, measurable and cost-effective solutions.
Beth Noveck is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government.