Open government requires transformation – it must happen. However, the nature of government is to resist transformation. Therefore, the irresistible force of transformation WILL meet the immovable object of bureaucracy and resistance. If this collision is not anticipated and proactively addressed, the benefits of Open Government will be delayed, taxpayer money will be wasted, and high-profile failures will be used against the proponents of Open Government further slowing down what is in all of our best interests.
Recognizing that this collision will happen, the public sector must work with its private sector partners to implement a combination of policy, funding, communication and management initiatives which provide a platform, protection and toolkit for those agencies and programs which want to implement Open Government.
First, policy must be addressed. The White House and Congress have made a good first step with the implementation of Recovery.gov. This is an excellent example of “carrot and stick” approach, where if an Agency receives funding, it must comply with a new standard of transparency and reporting. This same model should be evaluated closely for Open Government. For new initiatives such as Data.gov, the leadership in government must find a way to enforce Open Government as well as encourage it, going beyond voluntary participation by the agencies.
Next, creative funding should be addressed. Given that the CIOs see Open Government as the next in a long series of unfunded mandates, how can pressures be eased in practical and efficient manner? One approach will be to “seed” small initiatives in each Agency. The White House, working with Congress can play the role of venture capitalist, with each Agency representing areas of possible investment. Ask each CIO to a few candidates for small, agile and quick transformation; have them present to an investment board which evaluates on the principals of ROI, and quickly release funds.
And, communication should be addressed. Many CIO and Agency heads want to implement Open Government, but how? What are the best practices? Where are the centers of excellence, contract vehicles, template management plans and lessons learned which can reduce risk and increase confidence? The White House’s newly appointed CIO and CTO should spearhead a special session of the agency CIO council to specifically address these issues. Through participation, the Agency CIOs and their staff will gain valuable information on how to launch Open Government initiatives. Further, the building blocks of Web 2.0 and open source can greatly assist in this area with inter-agency collaboration.
Finally, management must be addressed. If an Open Government initiative is launched at an Agency, and transformation is the goal, does that imply that a new way of program and project management must also be implemented? Partially, yes. Open Government does require a new way of thinking, but many traditional management approaches work just fine. Government needs to merge their existing standards and management models, evaluate emerging private sector approaches (ex: agile project management, cloud computing), and come up with a hybrid approach that works for them. A key for any transformational initiative will be to test the new approach on a small scale first, obtain success, build enthusiasm, and then scale out. This also compliments the funding constraints mentioned above.
In summary, for those of us that believe in the promise of Open Government, we must provide the environment for the first wave of initiatives to succeed. This environment is a collection, or toolkit, which the Agencies use to get evolutionary projects off the ground, proving success, and gaining enthusiasm. We need to nurture those that take the initial risk. And, we need to provide the platform for when those projects DO succeed, the second and much bigger wave occurs, truly embedding the principles of Open Government into core Agency strategy and implementation.