Open government’s double standard

Open Government

Despite open government calls for performance metrics and financial transparency in government, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of this for the movement behind it.

Over the past four years I’ve followed the contests, challenges, apps, projects, hackathons and people, and there’s been tens of millions granted to organizations and individuals with little structured insight into the movement’s inner workings or even its return on investment.

There’s no visualization or centralized, accessible open data platform that highlights how much is granted to whom, and how these individuals are affiliated with one another. There’s no Influence Explorer or Clear Spending for open government. There’s no regular feedback loop or “OpenGovStat” review that publicly reviews satisfaction or effectiveness to evaluate whether these efforts are solving issues of real importance.

Perhaps we make the assumption that because this is open government “the movement,” it is free from politics, connections or influence, but even the most well-intentioned people and professions fall victim to these traps, especially when unchecked.

As we watch the Knight Foundation News Challenge process begin to allocate millions of dollars to open government efforts, I’d like to see them “double down” on viability and financial clarity within the movement.

Here’s my “GovFresh Challenge” to open government movement leaders and those who fund it: heed your own philosophical approach to metrics and transparency and be more open and collaborative in providing better insight into how you’re leveraging resources.

By doing this, the movement as a whole is better able to assess what’s working and what’s not so that millions more aren’t wasted on pet rocks or efforts that, as they say in government, are non-mission critical. We’ve seen too many projects come and go with a sense of naivete, fanaticism and meme-making to not begin to honestly and publicly evaluate their effectiveness, learn from their mistakes and openly contribute to a better approach.

There’s a solid case to be made on open government’s return on investment. It’s now time for the movement to be more true to itself so we can better evaluate its own ROI.

I hope the open government movement takes me up on my challenge.

I don’t have millions to hand out, but I can guarantee you everyone will win.

Luke Fretwell is the founder of the civic innovation and technology blog GovFresh. He advises civic leaders and businesses on how to best leverage digital strategies to create more effective, collaborative governments. He has written about government IT for Federal Computer Week, NextGov, FedScoop, StateScoop and FierceGovernment, and has been referenced by the Washington Post and Fast Company on civic technology issues. He has worked with a number of government-focused companies and media, including CivicActions, NuCivic and FedScoop and has been involved in broad-focused community efforts, such as GovPress, CityCamp, CivicMeet, Agile Government Leadership and Open Source for America. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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