Between Federal, State, and Local Governments

Encourage State and Local Governments to Become More Open and Inclusive

President Obama’s historic commitment to open government has inspired people across the country with a renewed belief that government can and should be transparent, participatory and collaborative. In Seattle, WA, the City Council has formed an Open Government Committee to explore and recommend ways to improve citizens’ access to public documents and seek more diverse community input on issues affecting the city in advance of legislative action. In Owensboro, KY, citizens have signed an Open Government Pledge and asked local government leaders to adopt a set of principles committing to more transparent and participatory practices.

As President Obama develops and implements his Open Government Directive, he should support local governments in doing the same by offering guidance for the steps that cities, towns and counties can take to become more transparent, participatory and collaborative. The President should convene mayors, city administrators, city council members, county executives and county commissioners who have distinguished themselves for their commitment to open government principles. This Local Open Government Commission would pursue the following objectives:

1. Develop a set of Open Government Principles that may be adopted by local governments

2. Develop a set of Open Government Best Practices in the areas of Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration

3. Develop an Open Government Seal of Approval that may be awarded to those local governments that demonstrate a commitment to open government principles by adopting the best practices described above

4. Create a program to recognize local leaders for excellence in open government


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Similar Ideas [ 5 ]


  1. Comment
    Unsubscribed User ( Idea Submitter )

    This idea was developed in April 2009 by federal agency managers attending "Champions of Participation".

  2. Comment
    Unsubscribed User ( Idea Submitter )

    The President absolutely should convene mayors, city administrators, city council members, county executives and county commissioners who have distinguished themselves for their commitment to open government principles -- but in that mix should also be engagement practitioners who already work for local governments... in the City of Salinas, where I work as a Neighborhood Services Coordinator under a Council-approved Work Plan with a Neighborhood Engagement Strategy that is modified from year to year, we are already doing this but have lost one Neighborhood Services Coordinator and could use more funds to hire more people and integrate engagement across departmental boundaries.

    The principles above suggested for a Local Government Commission are good, but already there is a very good guidance document called PEP (Public Engagement Principles) which was collaboratively created by hundreds of practitioners with the aid and coordination of Sandy Heierbacher, Director of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) - she and various other leading practitioners met with the White House in March of this year to discuss a draft of public engagement principles, a final version is now available at - the site of the NCDD. The PEP principles should now be circulated to the federal, state, and local governments -- (including City, County, Town / Township and Regional governments) -- across the nation -- to fulfill a collaborative effort which would result in a final draft of Open Government Principles based on the PEP (Public Engagement Principles). The White House Office of Public Engagement and all State and Local governments should use the PEPs as the founding document for Open Government Principles and Best Practices which would then lead to locally developed plans which should be approved individually by each local government (Cities and Counties particularly) so that each local government has an engagement plan which is locally tailored to its needs, like the City of Salinas Neighborhood Services Work Plan and Neighborhood Engagement Strategy, which the Salinas City Council approves and modifies each year.

    On the program to recognize local leaders for excellence in open government -- start by recognizing line staff, engagement coordinators, neighborhood services coordinators, neighborhood services and leadership staff that are employed by Cities around the country -- many cities now have a Neighborhood Services section -- and give them an award, recognize them for their efforts! Then jointly recognize them and the Councils or Boards of Supervisors that have funded and supported the engagement / neighborhood services coordinators, and link them to state and federal government leaders so that people can utilize the neighborhood services offices to constructively organize and fund dialogues to develop serious engagement actions in tandem with deliberation that must occur on federal and state issues as well as local issues!

  3. Comment
    Unsubscribed User ( Idea Submitter )

    I believe that the assertion that the American people cannot know what government is doing is pure nonsense. Information is available if someone is willing to do the research unless, of course, it is classified. I attend several community and city meetings on an ongoing basis to keep myself aware of the local issues.

  4. Comment

    Thanks for mentioning the Public Engagement Principles, Colin! I'm going to add a new post about the principles now, and I think I'll borrow some of your text. :)

  5. Comment
    Unsubscribed User ( Idea Submitter )

    Thank you, Sandy. The PEP needs to be moved to local governments for their review and possible adoption as I suggested above. In fact, a few days before I went out on leave, I suggested that to my supervisor that the PEPs be considered by the City of Salinas in the context of the Neighborhood Services Work Plan and Neighborhood Engagement Strategy which is coming up for a vote in the next few weeks I think.

  6. Comment

    I think that confining these activities to local governments will not work, because most people do not attend meetings, run for office, read internal publications, and so forth.

    The Federal government must contact not merely local state, county, and city governments. Government-to-government communication is fine, and necessary - and strictly internal, with some few exceptions (as with the exceptional person below who attends city meetings).

    What is necessary are open letters, memos... or some sort of communications published in **local news**, either in newspapers, or local TV and radio. These communications should alert people to a) the means by which they can communicate with Federal government programs such as this, and b) some few of the issues with which the government is concerned.

    This will do two things: first, let the huge number of people who do not keep up with blogs, websites, and so forth know that they *can* participate, and how they can do that; and second, counter the enormous amount of right-wing venues which *do* use those avenues. The right has not, by and large, expanded into the high-tech area, and their spokesmen (and I use gender deliberately here) are most active in the older communications media. The Obama government must use those also.

  7. Comment
    Unsubscribed User ( Idea Submitter )

    To digi3446 and others: You are absolutely right that confining the activities to local government alone will not work.

    The whole purpose of the local government engagement office (Neighborhood Services) where I currently work is to foster engagement in the form of interaction between government and residents (and vice versa) and activities that feature elected officials, staff, and numerous members of the public. I am not unique in my efforts: what I do is based on direction from a City Council that itself approved an engagement Work Plan and continues to approve it annually as part of its implementation of the Salinas City Council Goal known in the past as "Consistent Community Outreach and Engagement" and now referred to as simply "Community Engagement." Additionally, many cities across the country, not just Salinas, also have their own Neighborhood Services section, each one being a little different but many of the Neighborhood Services sections of the various Cities across the nation having many similarities.

    To pull these sort of activities off requires massively collaborative planning -- usually, months of preparation -- far more than what you can accomplish simply by having a local government employee sending out a mailer to residents describing an event or posting some announcement in the newspaper.

    The real success I have found in my efforts as a Neighborhood Services Coordinator for the City of Salinas has happened (and has worked) when I have had the chance to build coalitions and networks of City residents over months or even years, during which time I identify both volunteers who can and will come back time and time again, but in addition, and critically, the most success I've had is when I've found a core group of City resident leaders (people from all different parts of the City who are ordinary residents, not elected or appointed officials, but who exhibit leadership traits) that can be called upon to special policy sessions or leadership development sessions (usually about six to ten such sessions per fiscal year). As I do this I have noticed that some local private development firms that attempt to do engagement work of their own may spend upwards of 200,000 dollars for several sessions involving the public in some sort of community planning and design sessions, often with minimal impact and minimal influence on the final outcome when the project arrives in front of the decision-makers. The best engagement work is done what somewhere between 20 and 400 dollars (at most) is spent on facilities rental, a few hundred dollars is spent on mailers and door hangers, and where the real effort and expenditure involves resource allocation that enables staff to work full-time connecting with and coordinating residents over the course of a year or two (in other words, spending 200,000 on a series of a couple of forums is not helpful, but spending the same amount annually on a staff person who constantly labors specifically on engagement facilitation, is worth the effort and expenditure). Salary and benefits for two full-time engagement staff, plus somewhere in the realm of 25,000 to 35,000 annually (maximum) for events and activities costs (facilities rentals, food, water, various related services, mailings, etc.) -- when you add it all up, this costs each City that does it (assuming two staff persons) between 200,000 and 250,000 dollars annually, and what can be realized with this budget is typically between 25 and 30 engagement event / training / activity / policy session / leadership session opportunities that are highly productive, assuming staff are set free to develop networks with non-governmental residents (neighbors) and cultivate neighborhood activities freely and without much administrative interference.

    The key "leader-neighbors" (non-governmental resident leaders[including employed and unemployed, even including one or two homeless persons] who are ordinary folks), once identified by staff efforts which typically last a year to build the neighborhood networks, these neighborhood resident leaders actually develop neighborhood improvement projects and do a vast amount of stuff completely on their own after minimal government training and involvement by me as a local government employee.

    It is vital that you identify and cultivate neighborhood leadership as part of the process of conducting various engagement activities - at least, that is what I have learned over the past three years of doing full-time civic engagement work for the City of Salinas (beginning in early 2007 through the present day), and I learned similar lessons during my three years in El Salvador when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer when I was called upon by residents of a village to help them facilitate development of a local government in a postwar setting, seven years after the conclusion of the Salvadoran civil war (I was in-country from 1998-2000).

    That is why the Public Engagement Principles referenced in my original post above, as developed by the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, call for the following to occur as general principles of engagement:

    The Seven Core Principles (as quoted from a document collaboratively produced by hundreds of civic engagement and dialogue practitioners and reviewed at the White House in an earlier version in March with the assistance of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation):

    In practice, people emphasize or apply these principles in many different ways, and often embrace

    additional principles. These seven principles reflect the common beliefs and understandings of those

    working in the fields of public engagement, conflict resolution, and collaboration.

    1. Careful Planning and Preparation

    Through adequate and inclusive planning, ensure that the design, organization, and

    convening of the process serve both a clearly defined purpose and the needs of the


    2. Inclusion and Demographic Diversity

    Equitably incorporate diverse people, voices, ideas, and information to lay the

    groundwork for quality outcomes and democratic legitimacy.

    3. Collaboration and Shared Purpose

    Support and encourage participants, government and community institutions, and

    others to work together to advance the common good.(See footnote 1)

    4. Openness and Learning

    Help all involved listen to each other, explore new ideas unconstrained by

    predetermined outcomes, learn and apply information in ways that generate new

    options, and rigorously evaluate public engagement activities for effectiveness.

    5. Transparency and Trust

    Be clear and open about the process, and provide a public record of the organizers,

    sponsors, outcomes, and range of views and ideas expressed.

    6. Impact and Action

    Ensure each participatory effort has real potential to make a difference, and that

    participants are aware of that potential.

    7. Sustained Engagement and Participatory Culture

    Promote a culture of participation with programs and institutions that support ongoing

    quality public engagement.

    Footnote 1: In addition to reflecting the democratic ideals of liberty, justice, and freedom for all, the term “common good" refers to

    things that optimize the well-being of all (like a traffic light in a dangerous intersection) or conditions that serve to benefit all

    involved (as in a consensus agreement focused on cleaning up the water supply).

    View full document, background, and endorsers online at

  8. Comment

    Just for clarification, I have now developed a username on this site and the posts above shown as posted by "colingallagher" are posts I have made. This is my first post using a login with userid and password, those above I did not post using a login.

  9. Comment
    Unsubscribed User ( Idea Submitter )

    This is important for state government as well.

  10. Comment

    Regarding the comment by espalding_bbr above, you are correct, it is absolutely critical for State government as well as local governments! Imagine how different things might have been where I live here in California if the State had used a dialogue site like this one we are using now to generate ideas and get a sense of the public feeling _before_ putting Propositions 1A-1F on the ballot. I imagine that if the California State government had done this, at least some if not most of Propositions 1A-1E never would have gone on the ballot at all, and other more viable ballot propositions would have been floated to the voters -- and today, California's State government would not be in the unenviable position of trying to figure out how to deal with 20 billion dollars of deficit before the June 15 State Constitutional deadline! Imagine the positive power of dialogue (online and in-person) for correcting such problems -- preventatively.

  11. Comment

    This is such an important idea! Openness and transparency is important for government at all levels. Perhaps people would feel that their voice mattered more if, at the local level, they felt empowered in their participation.

  12. Comment

    While many hands make light work, unfortunately many heads make light thinking when people are not trained to have productive democratic inquiry sessions in which the goal of reaching the best answers in the community is established. I suggest beginning in early grammar school, and not stopping until high school, that effective democratic inquiry and problem solving in community is taught and practiced. This will require a curriculum that comes out of the same kind of inquiry process.


  13. Comment
    Stephen Buckley

    Dear fellow "Idea" brainstormers and commentors:

    For news and moderated discussion (public, but unofficial) about the

    continuing development and implementation of the "Open Government

    Directive", you are invited to either:

    1. send

    2. visit

    NOTE: Because I am posting this to the Comment section of some

    (but not all) Ideas, you may see this message more than once.

    I apologize for that.


    Stephen Buckley

  14. Comment

    We as citizens have the right to embrace and support government of the people, by the people, and for the people that is effective, efficent, and ethical in working for the public good. We need to look to a governing body that will generously share its power by sharing facts and knowledge of the process in which it is engaaged. These facts and knowledge is to be expected from local government to the state government,and federal government.

    When governments operate with full transparency, everyone wins. When citizens take an active role in thier neighborhoods, thier communities, and thier governments, they have the power to impact positive action, and when necessary, to make positive change. Elected officials gain powerful allies when citizens support governmental policy they helped to shape.

    As a citizen I am committed to commit time and effort to participate with governing bodies and public boards to guarantee positive results.

    I would all citizens to actively participate in public forums, hearings, and seek to understand the truth and purpose of issues under cosideration. These issues being local to nationally, and world wide.

    There is a need of an informed and educated citizenry on issues facing our communities, state level, and nationally. We the people have a voice, sometimes we feel whats the use; they have thier minds made up, they do not listen. Lobbist control all that takes place. It is time our government bring backt our government to the people and listen to the whole.

    I would like for President Obamma's team bring this openness and transparenct to local communities to hear what we the people feel, and hear us with our ideas. I would like to see them come to my community where we have citizens engaged to help our elected officials.

    My passion is to see a goernment that is passionate about them public good, not just special intrest groups, and programs. It is about WE THE PEOPLE.

    Owensboro, Ky

    Larry Bidwell

  15. Comment

    Over the past two years, I have been studying attitudes toward government by inviting myself into coffee klatches among a wide variety of people across the state of Wisconsin. I have been surprised by the pervasiveness of the sentiment that government does not listen. All levels of government need to become more open, and not just by communicating outward (e.g., providing more information, holding public hearings). All levels of government need to send public officials out into the public to meet with people in the course of their daily lives to listen to their concerns and become acquainted with their lifestyles.

    Kathy Cramer Walsh

    Madison, Wisconsin

  16. Comment

    While I am not opposed to the idea I am opposed to the scope. What the Federal government needs is transparency, standardization and accountability for reporting the use of Federal dollars granted to state, county and local municipalities. Transparency issues outside of the Federal scope should be left to the state, county and local municipalities to devise and implement on their own accord.

  17. Comment

    Have you heard of the 10th Amendment. It's not the federal governments place to tell the states or the people how to run their business:

    "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

  18. Comment

    The President and Federal government should stay out of state and local government business. Period. It is up to the citizens of each state or local government to decide how they want to run their own state and local government. If you don't like something in your local government, work to change it; don't ask federal person some thousands of miles away using taxpayer monies from people that don't live in your area to fix problems you need to fix yourself.

  19. Comment

    Re. powers enumerated in the U.S. Constitution / Amendments, having federal government help or facilitate positive and transparent interactions, dialogue, etc., that local government would implement, or having federal/state/local government mix perspectives and communicate with each other better, or having a federal program of engagement which would -- as suggested by the person who created the idea we are commenting on -- "develop a set of Open government principles that may be adopted by local governments" (see item 1 in the idea we are commenting on above) - and having best practices, seals of approval, award programs, etc. -- None of this is unconstitutional at all.

    stan.sso cited our Constitutional language: ""The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." But engagement is not the exercise of "powers." It is, at the most basic level, a process which involves a series of activities that foster communication and involvement between citizens, government, and various groups in society that may not normally interact, but need to communicate with each other. -- de Toqueville saw it happening when he visited the United States, the notion of social capital was developed by a teacher in the early 1900s, civic engagement discussions about what it means have been going on for many years, notably involving such persons as Putnam, Peterson, Heierbacher, and may others, but one thing that civic engagement and public engagement are not is unconstitutional. Don't even go there, what a crazy argument. Next you will say that my posting here is unconstitutional?! No, it's simply part of the civic engagement process. Communicate. Engage. Live and let live. And learn while you are at it.

  20. Comment

    Inconsistent with the 10th amendment.

  21. Comment

    The bible says something about the mote in your brother's eye versus the log in your own. It's not just a warning against hypocrisy, it's just good management. The federal government needs to concern itself with failures of the federal government. When it interferes with local governments, its attempts will likely be short-sighted and not responsive to the actual localized needs of the citizenry. It would be nice if every localized government in the whole nation provided a high level of openness and accountability, but the federal government is simply not in a position to make it so.

  22. Comment

    This post is popular but not nearly as popular as the posts asking for Obama to make his birth certificate, college record, health records and the like available.

    Count Birth Certificate comments here and you will get over 7,000 But, this site has been rigged so that the posts asking for Obama to support transparency by providing his own birth certificate, health records and college records are not properly counted, even when they do not get deleted. All of the multiple posts would not need to exist if the honest reporting of this site showed the number one request here is for Obama to release his records.

    I have done a personal count of more than 1,000 requests for his birth certificate. My analysis suggests there have been at least 7,000 request for Obama to produce his real birth certificate, college records, health records and other financial records.

    It is possible to review this site to find the most requested ideas by scanning "Top Rated" posts, but the requests for Obama's records do not show up as being top rated. Those runnig this site are cooking the results. If the results were honest people would be able to continue to vote on a single post asking for transparency of Obama's records.

    According to the liars running this website the most requested item has NOT been Obama's birth certificate.

    (My email is - inlcude your email address if you want me to reply to you)

  23. Comment

    The Federal Government needs to shrink into a tiny, manageable size and leave state and local governments alone.

  24. Comment

    The concept of American Constitutional federalism demands 2 different forms of separation: horizontal, with the federal government broken into 3 distinct branches; and, vertical, with the federal separate from the state and local.

    Once the federal government begins managing the state and local governments (beyond the very limited requirements of the constitution) the federalist concept will break down, with local and state governments becoming branches of the federal bureaucracy.

    autonomy has already been severely eroded by the deceitful carrots of federal monies.

  25. Comment

    But then, how should Obama and his goonies encourage any other part of government to be more open and transparent when they are NOT open and transparent? They ignore the rule of law, ignore (SHRED) the U.S. Constitution and basically, use the "do as I say, not as I do" rule? Hmmmm?

    I wouldn't use Obama as an example for anything except how NOT to lead, how NOT to do it.

    Let's let the local and state people do the leading and let the federal government take the orders from the people from now on? That's the way it is supposed to be.