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Prepare to Think Bigger

After agencies develop their open government plans, I recommend making the focus of open government more ambitious. Releasing some data sets and finding new ways to receive public comments is great, but so much more is possible.

Transparency, participation, and collaboration bring new capabilities. New capabilities should open our minds to thinking bigger. Rather than just solving old problems in new ways, we can solve new problems.

One year into it, open government is not yet mainstream; we are not coming close to tapping the collective wisdom of the American people because too few people across the country know about the Open Government Initiative. My recommendation is that OSTP raises the profile of open government by attempting to tackle a very ambitious problem using transparency, participation, and collaboration. The more ambitious the problem is, the more agencies and citizens will come to your aid.

OSTP has already demonstrated some willingness to learn in public (an essential and very rare quality here in DC); it's time to take it to the next level. For inspiration, see the OSTP blog post about grand challenges:

As mentioned in the article, it's great that you're working with Expert Labs to explore new ways of harnessing the intellectual capital of our nation, but with the multitude of nearly existential threats to our country's financial and physical security it seems clear that more urgency is needed.

Believe in open government, believe in what you started, and go for it.


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  1. Comment

    Thanks for your comment, Lucas. I am curious to know if you or any other readers have any ideas for ways to further harness the brain power of citizens. In the meantime, we'll also think about some new and ambitious problems that the public can help solve!

  2. Comment
    lucas.cioffi ( Idea Submitter )

    Firstly, I'm impressed that the OSTP moderator replied, and I'm even more impressed that the reply occurred on a Saturday. This shows commitment to the principles of open government.

    The OSTP Moderator asked for "ways to further harness the brain power of citizens". To answer this question, it's helpful think of two separate categories of problems: 1) problems where there are many proposed solutions and little agreement and 2) problems where there are no proposed solutions.

    For problems with solutions but no agreement, I recommend using one a dozen proven face-to-face dialogue methods to get past the disagreement. I'm a big fan of the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation and I recommend this resource which explains many of the dialogue approaches that government can use to get past partisan gridlock: The prerequisite is leadership that wants to get a bipartisan solution. The President advocated for dialogue with Iran, so genuine dialogue across the aisle should be much more achievable. This requires going far deeper than is possible during this coming Thursday's 4-hour bipartisan health care summit at the White House, for example. Dialogue takes a lot of work and patience, and objectively speaking, neither party is demonstrating that they truly want dialogue across the aisle.

    For the second type of problem where there are no proposed solutions, consider the methods used during the Manhattan Project. If you frame a big enough problem in a certain way, a sufficient number of Americans will drop whatever they are doing just to be part of the solution.

  3. Comment
    Stephen Buckley


    Until federal organizations (even the OSTP) admit that they have a problem admitting to failure (some more than others) then all the experiments in OpenGov will tend to be portrayed as more successful than they really are.

    Writing this after the Healthcare Summit, I have the advantage of hindsight in judging the President's handling of that experiment in collaboration. How would my fellow members in the NCDD judge the President's role as Moderator when he interrupted other speakers so that he could rebut them? Did anyone at the White House admit that was a pretty obvious "no-no" for a person in charge of collaboration?

    No, because that would mean admitting some sort of shortcoming, and the existing culture doesn't allow that. But that is the dilemma in which they have placed themselves: How to change the culture in Washington without changing the behavior that it demands. It can't be done.

    What the Leadership needs to do is show Humility by experimenting, finding out what works and what fails, and ignoring what the status-quo people say about the latter.

    But, for people with ordinary trepidation (like most people at the White House and in federal agencies) I would suggest "failing small", i.e., taking baby-steps. Remember this "culture change" stuff is new stuff to them. Most have no training in leadership (like you have).

    So perhaps, with this "dialogue" ending, perhaps the best that we can do is engage them (and others here) in conversation at our other places.

    Anyone can join the continuing OpenGov discussions:

    vr, Stephen Buckley