Wrap-Up of the Open Government Brainstorming: Participation

On May 21st through June 3rd, thousands of you shared your ideas in Phase I of this public consultation process, the Open Government Brainstorm.   June 3rd marked the beginning of Phase II, the Discussion Phase. We started with your ideas on Transparency.  Hundreds of comments flooded in from across the country.  Tomorrow we turn to Participation. This blog posting sets the stage for that conversation by summarizing the input we received on participation during the Brainstorm.
 
As the President noted in his January 21st Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, participation is essential because: "Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge." In the Open Government Brainstorm, you suggested many ideas for how to create and improve opportunities for public participation in government. In the next four days, we will take the next step in translating those ideas into concrete, measurable and cost-effective solutions.
 
We’ve heard from so many of you just how important public participation in political life can be. Several groups sent us lofty participation principles, such as these from the International Association of Public Participation and these from the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. We read and considered all the participation ideas you generated during the Open Government Brainstorm hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). We also reviewed ideas submitted by federal employees, who were particularly engaged and lively on this topic. NAPA did an analysis of the Brainstorm (pdf).
 
We grouped the participation-related suggestions you submitted into four topics that we want to discuss with you this week:
 
·         Enhancing citizen participation in government decision-making
·         Promoting civic education
·         Improving Web 2.0: technology and policy frameworks
·         Enhancing e-rulemaking.
 
Here’s how the Discussion will unfold.
 
On Wednesday, June 10th, we’ll address "Enhancing citizen participation in government decision-making." On this topic, you offered a number of suggestions.  Here are a few examples of those:
 
·         A five day public review period before Presidential bill signing.
·         Require an "Open Government" button on each agency home page, linking to opportunities for two-way interaction.
·         Equitably incorporate diverse people, voices, ideas, and information into the participation process.
·         Decision makers communicate to participants how their input affected the decision post-hoc.
·         Make the decision framework explicit, and give the public access to that framework to increase the likelihood of comments being salient.
·         Promote a culture of participation with programs and institutions that support ongoing quality public engagement.
·         Co-create compelling alternative visions of the future as a springboard for creative policy recommendations and citizen empowerment.
·         Create ad hoc, randomly selected councils of average citizens to deliberate on an important issue and deliver an informed, thoughtful, shared solution.
·         Host a national town hall meeting or national network of citizen conversations, in which individuals would have a chance to discuss and share issues of highest public concern.
·         Host standing brainstorming sessions to generate ideas on important issues.   Appoint a small office of people to review the most popular proposals.
·         Provide citizens with nonpartisan, highly-accessible guides to public issues.
 
On Thursday, June 11th, we’ll turn from talking about how government can create better opportunities for participation to address how to promote the civic literacy needed to participate effectively in government. On Promoting Civic Education, you said:
 
·         Provide a toolkit, including neutral discussion guides, to facilitate community discussions and a website for groups to share conclusions.
·         Invest in educating Americans (e.g. through town halls) to analyze complex information.
·         Train neighborhood facilitators to use proven dialogue methods that engage a group in 3 hours or less.
·         Establish listening and personal story sharing skills workshops in homes & schools.
·         Create and sponsor teen model governments to seek solutions.
·         Combine deliberation and service on Martin Luther King Day and other holidays.
 
On Friday, June 12th, we’ll have 2 postings about Web 2.0: one will focus on technology, the other on policy. With regard to technology, you’ve said:
 
·         Permit the public to use mobile text messaging as one means to obtain information and submit input.
·         Expand access to government information through systems such as application programming interfaces (APIs), Really Simple Syndication (RSS) or Atom feeds, syndicated search results, email notifications, and similar technologies.
·         Centralize petitions to the President on a single website (like petitions.number10.gov.uk).
·         Create an online portal for citizen participation that would allow citizens to research, discuss, and oversee formation of public policy as well as locate and log community service.
·         Implement a policy wiki to enable widespread participation and help opinions converge on solutions.
·         Create a website where Americans can post personal writings and postings about the problems they face, mark their location, and vote on others’ entries as they affect them.
·         Use navigable animated demonstrations and data visualizations to help the public understand what is going on in their cities, states, and regions.
·         When using novel technologies, also advertise them in traditional media.
·         Leverage crowdsourcing strategies to write transcriptions for videos to improve accessibility for people with disabilities and ensure 508 compliance.
 
As part of this same discussion on June 12th, we will talk about the policies we need to support the adoption of new tools for civic engagement by federal agencies. Government officials, in particular, had a lot to say on this topic on the MAX wiki:
 
·         Use the insights in the document Social Media and the Federal Government: Perceived and Real Barriers and Potential Solutions from the Federal Web Managers to craft better policy.
·         Update the Paperwork Reduction Act to distinguish between citizen engagement and burdensome forms. Redefine the meaning of "form" for the digital age.
·         Define some guidelines for standard web applications that are pre-approved under the Paperwork Reduction Act, e.g. any online survey with fewer than 10 questions that does not record personal information.
·         Develop strategies for modern records management compliance to ensure accurate archiving using electronic and collaborative technologies.
·         Provide the federal information technology infrastructure community with opportunities for training around new technologies.  Make Web 2.0 part of standard operating procedure.
·         Update the cookies policy to come up to speed with the latest in browser practices and persistence technologies.  Enable agencies to harness capabilities of cookies by streamlining approval process.
·         Make social media sites and web 2.0 technologies accessible to government employees at their desks.
·         Develop policy to support informal interaction between government employees and the citizenry.
·         Develop model no-cost agreements and guidelines for use of free software by agencies.
 
On Saturday, June 13th, we’ll open up a dialogue on the specific topic of how to improve online public participation in agency rulemaking and talk about the new Regulations.gov Exchange site, which is set up specifically to generate brainstorming about how to enhance the quality of participation in rulemaking processes. On this topic, a number of you made suggestions, which included:
 
·         Feature major rulemakings on Whitehouse.gov so more of the public can participate.
·         Change regulations.gov to be more consumer-friendly, in line with recommendations from the American Bar Association.
·         Augment the regulations.gov "docket" with educational resources to help the public better understand issues and participate.
·         Provide average citizens with the information they need to participate early in the process.
·         Modify the regulatory agenda to encourage timelier, more effective participation. Specifically, eliminate the "Long Term Actions" category.
·         Improve and expand use of tools such as Action Initiation Lists for informing people about regulations under development.
·         Make it easier to stay in touch with the status of rules under development by 1) encouraging or requiring agencies to open dockets much earlier in the rulemaking process or 2) enabling the public to sign up for notifications from regulations.gov as soon as rulemaking is added to the Regulatory Agenda or Action Initiation List.
·         Invite people with expertise to volunteer to be individually contacted to get input on specialized matters during rulemaking.
·         Explain the Office of Management & Budget’s role in rulemaking, specifically demands made on advance drafts of agency rules
·         Allow the public to post anonymously to make it more difficult for institutions to "stack the deck" where there are opportunities to vote or rank ideas.
·         Instantly post comments submitted during comment period.
·         Provide information about rulemakings not required to be in the Regulatory Agenda (e.g. regulations or rules limited to agency organization, management, or personnel matters).
·         Ensure due review of proposed rules by flagging regulations that receive twice as many negative as positive comments.
·         Create a structured approach to match questioners and responders to ensure that a topic receives a response from the citizens most qualified/knowledgeable to give such response.
·         Make the chain of logic for new rules transparent by providing 1) models used, 2) numbers inserted, 3) conclusions drawn, and 4) justifications for the above.
·         Invest in new technologies for analyzing and summarizing comments.
 
As mentioned previously, Debategraph is a visual policy mapping tool that is being used for running citizen engagement on climate change in Europe.  Debategraph took the redacted participation proposals and created this interactive Debategraph.

Look for a blog post on participation beginning on June 10th and get involved! We improve citizen participation by demonstrating its effectiveness in practice.

 

Beth Noveck is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government.

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