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Friday, April 09, 2010

More open government needs more than black letter lawyering

Pushing for agency compliance with the law is an important element in seeking to achieve the worthy objects spelled out in access to information laws, and we are seeing a bit more of this in guidance issued by the NSW Office of Information Commissioner this week on what is required regarding publication of open access information.  But something more- promoting thinking about what can be done that goes beyond the strict letter of the law- is also necessary if the spirit and intent of more open government is to take hold in the corridors of power.

The release in the US of Open Government Plans designed to increase transparency and collaboration by cabinet level agencies with the public is an example and one those leading the effort here should emulate.  Release coincided with a deadline under the Open Government Directive requiring government agencies to take a deep look at and plot out an open government strategy. A drop of 46,000 Freedom of Information applications is attributed to initiatives already taken. The Plans take things further. OMB Watch highlights some impressive efforts noting agencies see the plans a first step or version 1.0 of their open government efforts, with plans to collect reactions and input and update the plans regularly. Agency progress is being tracked-one of the measures is what has been done to ask the public what information should be more readily available. OMB Watch concludes the plans "represent strong positive steps toward a government that is open and honest with the public about its actions and performance on critical issues." 

The White House emphasises "Open government is not the work of any single office.  The entire Obama Administration is moving forward to translate the values of openness into lasting improvements in the way government makes decisions, solves problems, and addresses national challenges."

These are the sort of messages our leaders need to make loud and clear as well. Black letter law has its place in this but it's not anywhere near the full story.

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