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.
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.
Notes from the Workshop breakouts are still being posted here, but several themes emerged from our conversations:
- Open Government (“OG”) is not an end in itself, but a means to better accomplish agency missions
- Silos are everywhere; guidelines for navigating them must evolve
- Collaborative approaches are key and must evolve as well, eventually becoming ubiquitous
- 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)
- 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.