A “Playbook” for Open Government: A Grass-roots Federal Community that’s focused on Collaboration


On Wednesday, April 28, agency and industry stakeholders gathered for the 4th workshop in the “Open Government Playbook” series. The session was held at USDA facilities in Washington.

With the vantage point of three consecutive Playbook Workshops (one virtually, two in person), I have become a regular. But reflecting on our last session, I’ve grown even more intrigued. The ideas are getting traction, and I’m starting to see momentum.

Workshop Highlights

From the last session’s outset, balloons filled the meeting room as Lucas Cioffi, conference organizer, put a demo of collaboration in action. It was a hands-on exercise showing how teamwork could drive value. Participants were learning that more interactions produced more value, as they “traded up” to the highest value balloons.

Our special guest, Beth Noveck, Deputy CTO from the White House, shared her vision for Open Government, focusing on the energy building in response to President Obama’s 2009 Open Government Directive. She used a reference to Thomas Jefferson in the “lighting of a taper” as a metaphor for collaboration, with a powerful image: passing the flame to a new wick does not reduce the glow of the original.

As further framing, I offered insights on the need for active engagement in effective collaboration, and the need for a clear vision and a strong guiding coalition as a foundation for the required culture change.

Next came the main event: session breakouts.

For nearly 3 hours, roughly 60 participants engaged in intense conversation and brainstorming, with questions they had generated live, in real-time. Using a ‘self-organizing’ approach, topic suggestions went up on the board, and break-outs formed around topics of greatest interest. In groups of 12 to 30, the discussion around Open Government literally went full circle, as group members shared ideas and possible solutions.

Takeaways

Notes from the Workshop breakouts are still being posted here, but several themes emerged from our conversations:

  1. Open Government (“OG”) is not an end in itself, but a means to better accomplish agency missions
  2. Silos are everywhere; guidelines for navigating them must evolve
  3. Collaborative approaches are key and must evolve as well, eventually becoming ubiquitous
  4. Focus on OGD compliance should not overshadow the objective of driving change in how government engages with stakeholders (internally, across agencies, and externally, with citizens)
  5. A core OG community is forming, based on shared objectives

Several noted that Open Government has been tried before.

Al Gore led the “reinventing government” charge (aka “NPR”) in the mid 1990’s, an effort that stalled. The reasons for that are still debated, with cultural resistance often high on the list.

What seems different now is the level of interplay among diverse stakeholders. There is growing energy around OG innovation that runs wide (across agencies) and deep (spanning both political and civil service hierarchies). But the OGD Playbook conversation is not limited to Federal employees. In this forum, thought leaders from all quarters are encouraged to participate, adding much needed insight from industry.

The magic is happening in the middle.

It’s a place where change can be envisioned, articulated, and given the chance to take root.

At the end of the Workshop, as participants summarized what they’d learned, there was energy on quality of inputs and progress. Many said they’d received a level of insight that exceeded their expectations, and said they planned to return.

Can OG innovations of this magnitude be sustained?

That’s a critical question, and the focus on the next OG Playbook event, targeted for May/June. We hope you’ll come out and join us. Watch the OGD Playbook Wiki front page for the latest.

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2 thoughts on “A “Playbook” for Open Government: A Grass-roots Federal Community that’s focused on Collaboration

  1. There were four questions that Chris identified as a result of this Open Government workshop:

    Q1. With agency OG Plans drafted, do you sense progress and/or momentum?
    Q2. What are the biggest gaps to achieve sustainable OG solutions?
    Q3. How might we close OG sustainability gaps?
    Q4. How can we continue to grow OG community & workshop engagement?

    My response to Q1 follows.

    Progress and momentum, yes. Acceleration, very little.

    Progress is being made on OG per the December 2009 OG schedule. Plans have been developed, published, and those plans are being executed. Given that momentum is defined as mass times velocity, there is some momentum, the key word being “some.”

    However, another factor is acceleration. Acceleration is defined as the rate of change of velocity. Are we seeing change, based on OG, accelerate within government? Acceleration precedes momentum so acceleration is a driver of momentum.

    Communications, especially external-facing communications such as press releases, are a strong indicator of strategic changes in the public and private sectors. When external communications, especially from executives, stop referring to initiative “plans” and start referring to actions and outcomes resulting from / based on those initiatives, change is accelerating. When this starts happening, initiatives and the resulting changes are becoming institutionalized in the organizations processes and perhaps most importantly, in its cultural DNA. They become integral as a “way of doing business.” From this perspective, OG appears to currently not have alot of acceleration.

    A Google search of “open government” and one of OG’s tenets, “transparency,” and various Federal agency names yields search results where just about all agency-originated communications and/or press releases still refer to their OG plans or the Ideascale sites that were launched in early 2010 to solicit OG ideas. This was not an all-encompassing search so if there are communications that I missed that refer to actions and outcomes resulting from / based on those OG initiatives, please point those out.

    Granted, OG plans are fairly new but there are and will be events, for better or worse, which provide opportunities for government to explicitly emphasize how it is integrating OG in its response. One notable and commendable action, in response to such an event, has been the White House’s establishment of a web page to communicate The Ongoing Administration-Wide Response to the Deepwater BP Oil Spill @ http://ht.ly/1HPeL.

    Open Government will be an evolutionary change in the way government operates and how it engages with citizens, businesses, and other NGOs. Federal agency leaders should look at how they and their agencies are leveraging communications to show mission-based actions and outcomes based on / resulting from OG. While OG plans are important, OG should not be viewed as plan-based; it should be viewed as way of doing business. This POV will help accelerate OG and increase its momentum.

  2. Excellent feedback, Joe. Thanks for posting it.

    Agree that progress is evident, but acceleration and momentum are lacking. Also agree that having agency leaders work to integrate OG in their mainstream strategic outcomes is important. That’s one element of culture change, embedding the new behavior in standard operations. It can’t be held out, or handled separately.

    Realizing agency missions can be diverse, to what degree do you think agencies can work together and learn from each other?

    We’re seeing some positive, value added interplay in the Playbook venue – but the question is, can we scale it?

    Again, looking for sources of momentum –

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