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Friday, May 29, 2009

Some lessons on engaging the public and moving on open government

You might recall I didn't think much of the process that led to the Federal Government's Freedom of Information Reform Exposure Draft- 130 pages of amendments to legislation- plonking onto the table in March. The Draft is now being reconsidered in the light of (41 non-confidential) submissions from the public. This from a post a week after its release, with emphasis on the point I'm making:
"To the outsider, the bulk of available time to date on FOI reform appears to have been spent by Minister Faulkner, his office and the public service engaging in a 16 month, largely private internal seminar on drafting legislation to enable the Government to tick the box on another election commitment. It could have been different if there had been a serious attempt to reach out to engage the community on the subject of government transparency and accountability, not now after 16 months, but way back when minds first turned to the subject.That didn't occur. Overall, however its way better than what was on offer-nothing- from the last lot."
I'm not suggesting we start again, but it is interesting to see the White House Open Government Dialogue which led to 900 submissions and 33,000 votes in a week of public brainstorming on ideas ranging from strategies for making government data more accessible to legal and policy impediments to transparency.The next phase, public discussion of the ideas, starts 3 June. The process was not without its critics- OMB Watch for example- but they also
"give the administration kudos for being innovative and making a real effort to adhere to its commitment to a collaborative and participatory process for open government. There is real potential here that this system may yield new voices and ideas. Noveck (Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government) also states that the brainstorming site will still be running and accepting new submissions through June 19th so this is also positive, but she makes no indication as to how those additional recommendations will be considered, if at all. Further, it is clear that the government is not waiting for these recommendations in order to pursue open government policies. The Innovation Gallery is a clear example of this."
The White House Innovations Gallery "celebrates the innovators and innovations who are championing the President’s vision of more effective and open government."

Our people should be picking up the pace, in similar fashion and on other initiatives such as the US Government economic stimulus website www.recovery.gov, complete with its own Accountability and Transparency page , there because the "President has made it clear that every taxpayer dollar spent on our economic recovery must be subject to unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability."

I'm afraid the Federal Government's equivalent here www.economicstimulusplan.gov.au-which came in for criticism in Senate Estimates this week regarding the appropriateness of some political references on a government agency website- has no sign of anything along these lines and produces this in response to a search:

"No document(s) were found matching the query 'accountability and transparency'

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