Open Government Initiative Blog

  • Help Shape Public Participation

    Public participation — where citizens help shape and implement government programs — is a foundation of open, transparent, and engaging government services. From emergency management and regulatory development to science and education, better and more meaningful engagement with those who use public services can measurably improve government for everyone.

    A team across the government is now working side-by-side with civil society organizations to deliver the first U.S. Public Participation Playbook, dedicated to providing best practices for how agencies can better design public participation programs, and suggested performance metrics for evaluating their effectiveness.

    Developing a U.S. Public Participation Playbook has been an open government priority, and was included in both the first and second U.S. Open Government National Action Plans as part of the United States effort to increase public integrity in government programs. This resource reflects the commitment of the government and civic partners to measurably improve participation programs, and is designed using the same inclusive principles that it champions.

    More than 30 Federal leaders from across diverse missions in public service have collaborated on draft best practices, or “plays,” lead by the General Services Administration’s inter-agency SocialGov Community. The playbook is not limited to digital participation, and is designed to address needs from the full spectrum of public participation programs.

    The plays are structured to provide best practices, tangible examples, and suggested performance metrics for government activities that already exist or are under development. Some categories included in the plays include encouraging community development and outreach, empowering participants through public/private partnerships, using data to drive decisions, and designing for inclusiveness and accessibility.

    In developing this new resource, the team has been reaching out to more than a dozen civil society organizations and stakeholders, asking them to contribute as the Playbook is created. The team would like your input as well! Over the next month, contribute your ideas to the playbook using Madison, an easy-to-use, open source platform that allows for accountable review of each contribution. 

    Through this process, the team will work together to ensure that the Playbook reflects the best ideas and examples for agencies to use in developing and implementing their programs with public participation in mind. This resource will be a living document, and stakeholders from inside or outside of government should continually offer new insights — whether new plays, the latest case studies, or the most current performance metrics — to the playbook.

    We look forward to seeing the public participate in the creation and evolution of the Public Participation Playbook!

    Corinna Zarek is the Senior Advisor for Open Government for the U.S. CTO.

    Justin Herman is the SocialGov lead for the General Services Administration and is managing the U.S. Public Participation Playbook project.

  • Using Citizen Engagement to Solve National Problems

    The government is working together with the public to solve national problems, and achieving amazing things across the country. This year, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is introducing the first Open Government Awards to recognize efforts by 64 member-nations, including the United States, utilizing citizen participation to improve government policies and to better serve their nations.

    Government efforts are empowering Americans around the nation to contribute to public services in a variety of ways. Citizen researchers are enabling environmental scientists to track how trees adapt to climate change by monitoring when trees get their leaves in the spring, and when they change color in the fall. Citizen scientists have created platforms to collect and aggregate data on disease outbreaks and landslide tracking information, which provide warnings about diseases-spreading environments and landslide triggers. Web users are creating faster Internet services across the country by providing speed test data of their broadband performance. Citizen archivists” have increased the accessibility of American history by transcribing more than 132 million names from the original handwriting for the 1940 Census project.

    These efforts are just a sampling of how the U.S. Government is using incentive prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science to advance national priorities, collaborating with civil societies including companies, universities, foundations, non-profits, and the public. From the beginning of his Administration, President Obama emphasized the importance of more inclusive and open government, directing Federal agencies to “find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans.”

  • OSTP’s Own Open Government Plan

    The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) today released its 2014 Open Government Plan. The OSTP plan highlights three flagship efforts as well as the team’s ongoing work to embed the open government principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration into its activities.

    OSTP advises the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The work of the office includes policy efforts encompassing science, environment, energy, national security, technology, and innovation. This plan builds off of the 2010 and 2012 Open Government Plans, updating progress on past initiatives and adding new subject areas based on 2014 guidance.

    Agencies began releasing biennial Open Government Plans in 2010, with direction from the 2009 Open Government Directive. These plans serve as a roadmap for agency openness efforts, explaining existing practices and announcing new endeavors to be completed over the coming two years. Agencies build these plans in consultation with civil society stakeholders and the general public. Open government is a vital component of the President’s Management Agenda and our overall effort to ensure the government is expanding economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.

    OSTP’s 2014 flagship efforts include:

    • Access to Scientific Collections: OSTP is leading agencies in developing policies that will improve the management of and access to scientific collections that agencies own or support. Scientific collections are assemblies of physical objects that are valuable for research and education—including drilling cores from the ocean floor and glaciers, seeds, space rocks, cells, mineral samples, fossils, and more. Agency policies will help make scientific collections and information about scientific collections more transparent and accessible in the coming years.
    • We the Geeks: We the Geeks Google+ Hangouts feature informal conversations with experts to highlight the future of science, technology, and innovation in the United States. Participants can join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #WeTheGeeks and asking questions of the presenters throughout the hangout.
    • “All Hands on Deck” on STEM Education: OSTP is helping lead President Obama’s commitment to an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to providing students with skills they need to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In support of this goal, OSTP is bringing together government, industry, non-profits, philanthropy, and others to expand STEM education engagement and awareness through events like the annual White House Science Fair and the upcoming White House Maker Faire.

    OSTP looks forward to implementing the 2014 Open Government Plan over the coming two years to continue building on its strong tradition of transparency, participation, and collaboration—with and for the American people.

    Nick Sinai is the U.S. Deputy CTO and Corinna Zarek is the Senior Advisor for Open Government.

  • White House Hosts Open Data Licensing Jam

    If you’ve ever checked the weather forecast or used a digital map, you’re likely among the millions of people who have benefited from U.S. Open Government data.

    President Obama has made public access and use of U.S. data a priority from the start of his Administration. Open government data allows innovators and entrepreneurs to use government data to build tools and apps to improve our lives — such as having up-to-the-minute weather access. Open data improves accuracy of government information and allows it to be presented in more user-friendly ways.

    U.S. Government works have long belonged to the American public. The Printing Law of 1895 prohibited copyright in government publications. The Bromley Principles, distributed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 1991 set forth “full and open sharing” of global data as “a fundamental objective.”

    Taking open data to the next level, President Obama signed an executive order in May 2013 that made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information.  More than one-hundred-thousand government datasets (and growing!) are now posted to the government’s data repository, www.data.gov, supporting businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers.

    Another important step in realizing the promise of open data is making sure that the public knows when it can use this data, with little restriction. Because data maintained by the U.S. Government may sometimes be contributed by a nongovernmental individual or entity, questions arise as to whether the data is truly public. On May 19, the White House OSTP and American University co-hosted the first ever White House Open Data Licensing Jam. Lawyers, policy experts, and developers from agencies, the business sector, and civil society came together to discuss open data licensing issues including terms of service, open licenses, and other policies necessary to build the public’s confidence and ability to use open government data. Government “data” can include not only statistical information, but a wide range of Federal works including educational material and open source software.

    At the Jam, we heard about how the Department of Labor is using an innovative policy approach that requires grantees to apply open licenses to the educational materials they produce for powering employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations including digital training modules, instructional games, 3-D simulations, and professional development materials. Grantees make these materials open and reusable to community colleges under the terms of the $2B Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program

    We also heard about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shares all of its public source code openly, and the benefits the agency has realized, including attracting great technical talent. The Department of Defense shared its Open Source Policy Memorandum that explains how contracting officers should evaluate open source opportunities in the procurement process.

    More examples of what agencies have been doing to address open data licensing questions are now posted to Project Open Data, an online, public repository hosted on GitHub to foster collaboration and promote the continual improvement of the Open Data Policy.

    Following discussion with the community both on Project Open Data and at the Jam, today the White House submitted the first-ever “pull request” proposing improvements to a U.S. government policy document. The pull request—which is a transparent way of submitting changes to an open source project—seeks to clarify use of open licenses. We hope you’ll share your thoughts and help us improve the policy, which you can do right on the pull request site.

    In the coming weeks, policy experts, civil society organizations, and government professionals from the Jam will continue collaborating to address a variety of questions about open licensing. We hope you will join the conversation, including at Project Open Data, and through this dialogue, help advance U.S. Open Government data.

    Colleen V. Chien is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Intellectual Property and Innovation, OSTP

    Corinna Zarek is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Open Government, OSTP

    Haley Van Dyck is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Information Officer, OMB

  • Continued Progress and Plans for Open Government Data

    One year ago today, President Obama signed an executive order that made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information.  This historic step is helping to make government-held data more accessible to the public and to entrepreneurs while appropriately safeguarding sensitive information and rigorously protecting privacy.

    Freely available data from the U.S. Government is an important national resource, serving as fuel for entrepreneurship, innovation, scientific discovery, and economic growth. Making information about government operations more readily available and useful is also core to the promise of a more efficient and transparent government.  This initiative is a key component of the President’s Management Agenda and our efforts to ensure the government is acting as an engine to expand economic growth and opportunity for all Americans. The Administration is committed to driving further progress in this area, including by designating Open Data as one of our key Cross-Agency Priority Goals. 

    Over the past few years, the Administration has launched a number of Open Data Initiatives aimed at scaling up open data efforts across the Health, Energy, Climate, Education, Finance, Public Safety, and Global Development sectors.  The White House has also launched Project Open Data, designed to share best practices, examples, and software code to assist Federal agencies with opening data.  These efforts have helped unlock troves of valuable data—that taxpayers have already paid for—and are making these resources more open and accessible to innovators and the public.

    Other countries are also opening up their data.  In June 2013, President Obama and other G7 leaders endorsed the Open Data Charter, in which the United States committed to publish a roadmap for our nation’s approach to releasing and improving government data for the public.

    Building upon the Administration’s Open Data progress, and in fulfillment of the Open Data Charter, today we are excited to release the U.S. Open Data Action Plan.  The plan includes a number of exciting enhancements and new data releases planned in 2014 and 2015, including:

    • Small Business Data:  The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) database of small business suppliers will be enhanced so that software developers can create tools to help manufacturers more easily find qualified U.S. suppliers, ultimately reducing the transaction costs to source products and manufacture domestically.
    • Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection:  The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s entire digitized collection will be opened to software developers to make educational apps and tools. Today, even museum curators do not have easily accessible information about their art collections.  This information will soon be available to everyone.  
    • FDA Adverse Drug Event Data:  Each year, healthcare professionals and consumers submit millions of individual reports on drug safety to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  These anonymous reports are a critical tool to support drug safety surveillance. Today, this data is only available through limited quarterly reports.  But the Administration will soon be making these reports available in their entirety so that software developers can build tools to help pull potentially dangerous drugs off shelves faster than ever before.

    We look forward to implementing the U.S. Open Data Action Plan, and to continuing to work with our partner countries in the G7 to take the open data movement global.  

    Steve VanRoekel is the U.S. Chief Information Officer.  Todd Park is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer. 

  • Open Government: Public Participation – we can’t do it without you!

    Public participation in government isn’t just a cornerstone of democracy, it’s how the United States government ensures that policies and practices reflect the ideas and expertise of the American people. Without public engagement, first responders and emergency response officials wouldn’t have access to certain important emergency information during a disaster, such as where power lines are down, or we wouldn’t know that more than 100,000 Americans believe the nation should declare Major League Baseball’s Opening Day to be a national holiday.

    As President Obama noted on his first full day in office, government is more effective when it gathers input from the public as it makes decisions. By harnessing input and expertise from a wide array of voices, we can continue to strengthen government.  Here are a few ways the public can participate in ongoing conversations surrounding open government:

    •  Open Government Working Group: Following the Administration’s 2009 Open Government Directive, agencies began monthly working sessions to discuss open government opportunities. These meetings give agencies a chance to collaborate and share best practices, while also providing an opportunity to raise awareness of challenges they have encountered. Earlier this year, civil society organizations asked to attend these working government meetings and we’re pleased that these meetings are now open to the public on a quarterly basis. These meetings provide a chance for the public to listen in on agency open government efforts and participate in discussions about featured topics.
    • Open Government Discussion Group: At our February Working Group meeting, civil society and agency participants discussed ways to improve participation in government — particularly outside of the Washington, D.C. area. One great suggestion we received was to launch a listserv that could facilitate discussions and engage a broader range of participants across the country. We’re pleased to have implemented this suggestion and hope you will join the conversation here!
    • Open Government Plan Engagement: Agencies are currently crafting their 2014 Open Government Plans, which are set to launch by June 1, 2014. A key component of these plans is stakeholder engagement. Some agencies have directly requested input online and others have received proactive suggestions from civil society organizations. The public can also participate in the plans by attending upcoming workshops in Washington, D.C. on May 1 and May 5 where stakeholders can sit down with agencies to share input on agency plans.

    These are just a few of the efforts underway to increase public participation in the conversation about open government.  If you would like to share information, offer a suggestion, or learn more about attending these meetings, please contact us via email at opengov@ostp.eop.gov. We can’t do this without you!

    Corinna Zarek is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer for Open Government.