A new global coalition dedicated to open government will highlight the many ways in which government information is transforming both government itself, and citizens/consumers that will consume the information on offer.

In a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2011, US President Barack Obama announced a new global open government initiative led by the US and Brazil.  His statement on this subject was short and the message may have gone unnoticed by most people. 

Nevertheless there was an immidiate response by Twaweza from Kenya:  “In a world marked by so much turmoil, we need open government to build trust and to revitalize the social compact between states and citizens. Openness can bring governments and citizens together, cultivate shared understandings, and help solve our practical problems.  It starts with sharing information.” 

Of course, information sharing is at the core of transparency, therefore BIIA applauds this comment.

The Open Government Partnership will be a coalition of countries that commit to a Declaration and set of principles around open government. The member countries must commit to:

  • Increase the availability of information about governmental activities;
  • Support civic participation;
  • Implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout their administrations;
  • Increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.

Eight countries have already signed the declaration and delivered country action plans (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States) and a few dozen more have committed to do so. Important BRIC countries such as China, India and Russia are still missing? What is holding them up?

This Open Government Partnership announcement came just a week after the administration released a status report on its commitment to open government in its first years. The report touches on several highlights of the Obama administration’s efforts so far, particularly

  • Improvements to the process for requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act;
  • The Open Government Directive which requires executive branch agencies to improve open information policies and practices; and
  • The Data.gov initiative, a depository of government data sets that can be freely accessed and manipulated by anyone.

What are the implications for information providers?

David Curle, Director & Lead Analyst of Outsell (BIIA Co-Founder) commented in his recent Outsell Insight:

Like many open-government initiatives around the world, the motivations here are a desire to infuse government with a mix of transparency, efficiency, citizen empowerment, more effective and collaborative policymaking, and high-tech open platforms. In the eyes of many technologists and data aficionados, open data has become an end and not a means; simply opening up government information and releasing the data sets has become a goal in itself, as if access to more data alone can create better government.

In reality, however, there is a chicken-and-egg relationship here. It’s unclear whether data can create an open government, or if open government is the prerequisite for getting better government information. The reality is that both are true, and that there is a holistic relationship between the many goals of the open government movement.

The importance of the Open Government Partnership is that it underscores the fact that openness in government is a global movement. The US has been a leader on some fronts, and other countries such as the UK and Brazil on other fronts. This initiative will keep the many flavors of open government front and center and will enable collaboration across boundaries.

The challenge for information providers is to find ways profit from this new openness by doing what they do best: identify needs in their customers’ workflows for pieces of the information that governments will soon be making available on a more systematic basis. It’s no longer about “publishing” that information as it might have been a generation ago. It’s about parsing and manipulating information, mashing it up with other data, and finding the portions of customer workflows where it can be put to work. Private players have an advantage over government agencies here; responsive private-sector providers are in a better position to know user needs and to look for the information and tools that will help them fulfill those needs. The best byproduct of open government from the perspective of the information provider is the existence of raw, standardized, machine-readable data that can be transformed into new information products that the agencies might not have dreamed of within the narrower scope of their missions.

BIIA salutes this initiative and hopes that the governments from other nations will soon join this movement. 

Source: Open Government Website – Outsell Inc.

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