Welcome

This website is managed by civil society for the benefit of civil society. We hope that the information provided here is useful to our colleagues around the world as they attempt to work with their own governments to make them more open. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments on any post and we will do our best to respond.

For a quick overview, read about our model. To quickly see the history of our activities, visit the General category. We published the first civil society evaluation of the implementation of the US National Action Plan in March. We chronicled each step– you can find overviews of the meetings we’ve held with the government here. And in support of transparency, here’s more About Us.

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More Analysis on the US OGP Experience

OpenTheGovernment.org has organized all its OGP analysis and reflection here. You can also subscribe to the RSS feed to get all OGP-related analysis directly in your inbox!

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Another Resource for Examples and Experiences

OGPractices.org hosts the OGP experiences of five Eastern Partnership countries and Russia. The site will be consistently update with the OGP successes, challenges, recommendations, and experiences in these countries in both Russian and English.

Check it out here.

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US Government Publishes Self-Assessment

On March 29th, the US Government released its first self-assessment on its implementation of commitments in the National Action Plan. A summary and the plan itself can be viewed here.

OpenTheGovernment.org is highlighting differences between the civil society and government assessments. The first, regarding agencies’ open government plans, is here.

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Civil Society Report – One Small Step for Open Government: Evaluation Finds US Government Met Most of its 2011 Commitments

The US met most of its 2011 commitments to make the government more open and accountable according to an unprecedented evaluation of the US’ efforts to implement its first National Action Plan. President Obama presented the US’s commitments at the launch of the Open Government Partnership on September 20, 2011.

While the Plan reflected many of the priorities of open government advocates, the specific commitments included in the plan do not put the US on a path to accomplish those goals quickly. According to Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, “The Administration should be commended for taking good first, if often small, steps forward on a number of issues. Achieving the greater goal of transforming government to be open and accountable to the public, though, will require the proverbial giant leap.”

The Open Government Partnership is an international, multilateral partnership working to make governments more accountable to their publics. Participating countries are required, among other things, to consult with civil society organizations and to deliver national action plans that include concrete commitments.

The report released today by OpenTheGovernment.org is based on evaluations of the government’s efforts completed by teams of volunteers from thirty-seven civil society organizations and academic institutions. The evaluations are designed to help combat the natural tendency of a governmental action plan to turn into a “check the box” exercise by creating an incentive for the government to act on input from civil society organizations on how to best implement the commitment, and to make additional progress. In addition to scoring whether the government met the letter of its commitment, evaluators were also asked to rate the government’s efforts to collaborate with civil society organizations, movement toward civil society recommendations, and meaningfulness and sustainability of the government’s efforts. The report also includes suggestions–based on the experience of this evaluation process–for how the government can improve the next National Action Plan.

Overall, the evaluation shows that civil society organizations rated the government’s efforts to collaborate fairly high. There was also notable progress toward the implementation recommendations of civil society on several of the commitments. According to Dr. McDermott, “These are positive indicators, and we hope they will carry over into the creation and implementation of the next Plan. Serious issues remain, though, that the government has yet to put on the table but that must be addressed –most notably surrounding national security. In other areas of key importance – particularly government spending transparency, transformation of the classification system, proactive disclosure, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and ethics disclosure – my coalition partners and others see real opportunities for the government to take that leap forward to real transformative change.”

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Share Your Open Government Ideas with the White House

The White House will release its self-assessment for the Open Government Partnership this spring. The administration is seeking public input as they reflect upon the successes and challenges of the implementation of the first National Action Plan. The deadline for comments is Friday, March 1st. Submit your thoughts and ideas through Quora or a form on WhiteHouse.gov.

Including public voices in the White House’s self-assessment is the right step forward as the administration prepares to create a second National Action Plan. Time constraints limited the White House’s ability to comprehensively seek public comment during the creation of the first plan. With more time and many lessons learned from the first round, OpenTheGovernment.org hopes the creation of the second National Action Plan will feature even greater collaboration between civil society and government.   

 

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More on Our Experience on the OGP Blog

In case you missed it, the United States civil society experience is featured at the Open Government Partnership blog. There, OpenTheGovernment.org’s Patrice McDermott and the Open Forum Foundation’s Wayne Burke give an overview of the evaluation experience–the good, the bad, and their advice for new member countries.

 

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Evaluating What a Difference a Year Makes: US Participation in the Open Government Partnership

 

Early February, OpenTheGovernment.org will release a report on whether and how well the Obama Administration has carried out the National Action Plan (Plan) it submitted as a part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). For those of you who don’t know, the Open Government Partnership is an international effort to make governments more transparent and collaborative. Nations that join the Partnership must, among other things, collaborate with civil society organizations to develop a National Action Plan with concrete commitments. In the vein of encouraging and rewarding collaboration, the evaluation released in January will look at not only whether the government completed the letter of its commitment, but also the extent to which it collaborated with civil society organizations and acted on our recommendations.

Since shortly after the announcement of US engagement in the OGP, OpenTheGovernment.org has served as the primary coordinator for the engagement in the US Plan of civil society organizations with a stake in US transparency and an interest in the OGP. Our goals throughout this work have been three-fold: facilitate collaboration; set high standards; and keep attention focused on the effort by monitoring and issuing reports on the government’s efforts.

Facilitating Collaboration

To make it easier to put people with expertise on particular issues in touch with the right people in the government, we worked with our consultant Wayne Moses Burke of the Open Forum Foundation to organize teams of representatives from interested civil society organizations around each of the commitments made in the US National Action Plan, and worked with Administration officials to get each team at least one meeting with the official charged with executing the commitment.

One member of each Team was asked to serve as the Team Leader. The Team Leader is responsible for reporting back to us about what progress has been made, and we are grateful for their work.

A summary of each meeting the civil society had with the government, and more information about our model is posted on OpenGovPartners.org/us.

Setting High Standards

We worked, from early on in the process, to set high standards by making it clear to the government that civil society organizations were concerned to have the hortatory goals laid out in the Plan fulfilled. It would not be sufficient for the government to only carry out the commitments in the US Plan. To convey our perspectives on what was needed to complete a full open government agenda in the areas highlighted in the Plan, we worked with our partners and other allies to develop and issue a detailed report laying out civil society’s recommendations for making the federal government more open and effective. This extensive report was shared with the Administration – and we urged them to share it with the responsible agencies. As described below, many of the recommendations from this report became criteria upon which we are evaluating the government’s over-all effort to execute the plan.

Reporting

On the September 20th anniversary of the release of the US Plan, we issued a Progress Report chronicling what commitments the Obama Administration had already carried out and what work clearly remained. Unsurprisingly, given that many of the commitments were relatively small steps forward and that the government only had a few months left to meet its own implementation deadline of January 2013, the majority of the commitments had already been met.

The methodology for the upcoming January report is much more extensive. It is the result of input from academics at the Information Policy and Access Center at University of Maryland – College Park iSchool, our partners and allies, and others. We also accepted input from Administration and agency officials on our evaluation plans.

The evaluation seeks to answer two basic questions: what was accomplished; and was it done in a meaningful and sustainable manner? The section on accomplishments looks at both whether the government did what it said it would do, and whether or not it acted on civil society’s recommendations. For the purpose of the evaluation, our Team Leads chose, from the extensive report noted above, a subset of recommendations that they thought the government reasonably could have accomplished in a year. A separate section evaluating the meaningfulness and sustainability asks our team leads to elaborate on what the government did particularly well or poorly, and what are the next steps that must be taken to accomplish the overarching goals of the Administration.

We look forward to reporting back to you on our results in February.

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Meeting on Draft Evaluation Criteria

On October 18th, the civil society teams met with the coordinating administration officials to discuss the draft version of the civil society evaluation. The meeting allowed civil society to better clarify the distinction between the commitments of the National Action Plan as they were written, and the criteria identified by civil society as needed to fulfill those commitments.

Additionally, the CSO teams had approached the creation of criteria in two different manners:

  • detailing concrete ways the original commitment should be accomplished (how to do it), and
  • identifying the overarching goals the government should be moving toward in the OGP’s “race to the top” and should include and consider in future plans (stretch goals).

Given these two approaches, it was agreed that the label “criteria” made the evaluation uneven across the board. It was agreed that a simple fix to this was expanded communication and engagement between the government and civil society teams on expectations and future goals. It was also agreed to rename the second set of evaluation “criteria” as “civil society recommendations,” as these were not items that the government said it would do. The extent to which the government’s actions met the recommendations will still be evaluated by civil society.

The proposed evaluation of whether or not the government worked with civil society to “define” the criteria/recommendations was modified so that it captured more of the spirit of government/ non-profit cooperation rather than the development of civil society’s criteria/recommendations. Evaluation of the extent of cooperation and collaboration will fall under the civil society’s recommendations section of the report.

We also discussed adding a new section to the evaluation. In this section, the government can respond to civil society’s evaluation and add in any information about initiatives or actions that they view as important. Specifically, we will share the raw evaluation forms with government as soon as the teams complete them, giving the government an opportunity to point out anything that they think we missed, and especially anything that happens between early December and 31 December (their actual deadline date for completion of the NAP). We will also allow them to write up a response that will be included in the report should they choose to do so.

To be clear, the teams are not expected to alter their evaluations in response to the government’s notes. Allowing a government response relieves the teams of the responsibility of uncovering every action done by the government so their evaluations are more informed and communication between civil society and government teams is encouraged, and soothes concerns that the government is being judged according to promises they did not make. We believe that the government’s published responses will also be informative.

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Presidential Policy Directive Supports Whistleblowers, Good Sign for Open and Accountable Government

Yesterday the White House took a significant step towards fostering open and accountable government and fulfilling the promise of the Open Government Partnership by issuing a historic Presidential Policy Directive on Whistleblower Protections. The Open Government Partnership is an international effort to make more open, effective, and accountable. To become a member of OGP, participating countries, including the US, must embrace a high-level Open Government Declaration; deliver a country action plan developed with public consultation; and commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward.

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said, “Ensuring that that government employees, including those in the intelligence community, who expose waste, fraud, abuse, and illegality are protected from retaliation has been a priority for the open government community for many years. We were pleased to see the White House commit to exploring the use of executive branch authority as part of the US National Action Plan released last September, and are excited that the White House has actually exceeded its commitment by issuing this memo. The issuance of this directive indicates that the US government can step beyond consideration of open government principles and foster real change.”

A Progress Report released by OpenTheGovernment.org on September 20, the one year anniversary of the release of the US National Action Plan, shows how many of the commitments in the plan have already been fulfilled, and how much work is left to be done. We hope yesterday’s action by the White House indicates their intention to work beyond the limits of their own commitments, and take additional steps to make open government a reality.

Dr. McDermott continued, “Yesterday’s announcement would not have been possible without the tireless work of the White House and whistleblower advocates in our partner organizations, notably the Government Accountability Project – GAP and the Project On Government Oversight – POGO. We look forward to continuing to support efforts to push back the government’s culture of secrecy and the unaccountability it fosters.”

See also releases from POGO –http://bit.ly/UJbUhP and GAP – http://bit.ly/Qfu71e,

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Progress Report on the US National Action Plan

To mark the anniversary of the release of the Open Government Partnership US National Action Plan, OpenTheGovernment.org and a team of organizations released a progress report on the steps the Administration’s implementation of the report.

On September 20, 2011, the Administration released its Open Government Partnership US National Action Plan. The plan included a variety of commitments aimed to further public participation, government transparency, and improve citizen access to government information. The Administration does not intend to have enacted this plan in its entirety until January 2013 – a date that will put the US in sync with the majority of countries participating in the Open Government Partnership.

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org said, “By design civil society has an important role to play in the Open Government Partnership, and are extremely happy to have such a broad range of civil society engaged in the effort to hold the Administration to its promises.” Contributors to the report include: America Speaks, the Association of Research Libraries, the Constitution Project, Cornell eRulemaking Initiative, IBM Center for the Business of Government, Global Financial Integrity, Global Witness, OMB Watch, Open Forum Foundation, Project On Government Oversight, and Publish What You Fund.

Dr. McDermott continued, “The progress report we are issuing today is a snapshot that shows the impressive amount of effort the Administration has put into fulfilling its commitments, and how much work is left to be done in just a few months. The report we release in January will represent the civil society’s assessment of whether the Administration met the letter of the commitment, if it took the recommendations made by civil society, and if the Administration stretched itself beyond the commitments to meet its expressed goals and make the effort more successful.

Download the report here: http://bit.ly/T9cPaJ

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