Web comedian Ze Frank once coined the term “The League of Awesomeness” to describe people who “strive to make the world more awesome.” The assembled multitude at the “Enabling Environmental Protection Through Transparency and Open Government” symposium in Philadelphia is doing just that this week.
Over one thousand people are spending four days at the symposium, sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Environmental Information. In an extravaganza of 86 separate sessions, they are talking about the “how to” of open government – how to implement EPA’s Open Government Plan and translate the lofty ideas of transparency, participation, and collaboration into practical means of furthering it’s the agency’s core mission.
That’s one thousand attendees from private sector organizations; state, local, and tribal governments; EPA program and regional offices; environmental groups; business and industry; the scientific community; academia; the media; and the general public, all gathering to explore strategies for incorporating transparency, participation, and collaboration into the EPA’s work to safeguard the environment and promote smart and sustainable growth.
They are discussing what new information—such as the toxic release inventory—should be published online (via data.gov and the EPA’s own data finder, to inform people about environmental hazards, encourage the development of new jobs and businesses based on environmental information, catch wrong-doers committing environmental crimes, and reduce the costs of compliance to business. They have come to explore strategies for using modern technology, including web 2.0 social media, to foster greater participation by the public in the work of the EPA as well as greater collaboration across EPA disciplines (such as legal, finance, and tech), departments and agencies, and with the private sector.
During the Q&A after the Introductory Plenary, a woman stood up and introduced herself as “just a citizen.” She went on to describe how she had been forced to vacate her home because of environmental contaminants. She gave an impassioned plea to be consulted in any ensuing EPA investigation as she knew the situation first-hand and had useful knowledge to share.
The League of Environmental Awesomeness applauded in empathetic support. She had come to the right place. The room was filled with the spirit of excitement and the possibility of engaging with the EPA in entirely new ways.
You too can become a member of the league of open-government awesomeness, and you don’t even have to come to Philadelphia. Follow the ongoing meeting online via @EPAlive, (hash tag #OEI2010) or watch videos of the plenary sessions.