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Notes from Call with Open Gov't Folks on Phase II

I was invited via email onto a conference call with members of the White House Open Government team today at noon Eastern, to discuss the launch of Phase II of the Open Government Initiative and opportunities to get involved. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make the call, so I asked two NCDDers (Tim Bonnemann and Lucas Cioffi) who have been paying close attention to the Open Government dialogue process to participate in the call and take notes.

I was able to make the call after all and our combined notes from the call are below. As I posted earlier, you can read about the recent work of the Open Government Initiative at: www.whitehouse.gov/blog/Wrap-Up-of-the-Open-Government-Brainstorming-Transparency/.

My email invitation came from Greg Nelson, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and in his message he noted:

“Phase II focuses on defining the challenges in greater depth. We will be asking for your help with fleshing out the issues, potential solutions, and the pros and cons of proposed approaches. The goal of Phase II is to explore proposals for a Government-wide framework to achieve transparency, participation and collaboration. We want your help with translating good ideas into concrete, measurable and cost-effective solutions.”

Notes 06/04/09 Conference Call on Open Government Initiative,  Phase II

Official Attendees:

  • Greg Nelson
  • Rick Weiss
  • Beth Noveck
  • Robin Stern

Rick Weiss:

A few stats (as of yesterday)…

  • 98,609 total visits as of yesterday
  • nearly 12,000 registered users
  • 2,450 ideas submitted – how to make government work better
  • 11,169 comments posted related to the ideas
  • 211,842 votes cast on the ideas

disappeared ideas:  mechanism called flagging (for stuff completely inappropriate, offensive), moderator

285 ideas in Brainstorm currently under review for inappropriate language

Now moving into Phase II, where we really get to start discussing these things through the Open Government blog.

Beth Noveck:

The brainstorming phase (Phase 1) ran from previous Thursday to last Thursday and the site is still open.  The National Academy of Public Administration has been moderating the conversation, and people can still participate in that even though we’re moving to Phase II.

Phase 2 = discussion phase where we are taking the ideas and proposals that are the most actionable, things the exec branch can do in the short term. Many good ideas are not applicable at this stage because they are for legislative branch, for action by specific agencies, or for the long term.  We will hold onto these for possible use in the future.
Our focus is to create a work product that will lead to specific recommendations that will inform Open Government Directive and the policies of the Executive Branch.  We will use a blog format over the next 10-12 days, where we will roll out one blog post/day featuring ideas we have distilled and grouped together.  This will take place on the Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog.

The purpose of this call is to invite you to please get involved and get the word out to your networks.  The blog is open now for your comments and engagement.

This is an opportunity to move from principles into specifics.  Move from notion that we should be more transparent to definitions of what do we want transparency to be and how we can govern transparently.

We will start with a series of 5 posts about transparency.  Then we’ll do the same thing for participation.  Then collaboration.
The 3rd phase will be the drafting phase, using a wiki tool.  The purpose is to craft specific language.

Robin Stern:
There are two ways to read the blog:

a) whitehouse.gov/open and click on the link under Phase 2: Discuss
b) go directly to the Office of Science and Technology Blog at http://blog.ostp.gov/
We are really excited about public participation process.

The challenge is to minimize the noise, allow participants to focus on the topics.  We need YOUR help (this is your community, your site) to do community- and self-moderation.

Tools available (based on best practices):

  • comment on posts
  • vote comments up or down (site keeps track of “score”)
  • negative score will partially hide the comments (shows just author, date); we encourage everyone to use “vote up” first
  • flag for inappropriate/irrelevant content (will place comments into a queue: facilitators will decide either to restore, or store for archival purposes)
  • for more information see the terms of participation

Questions from Participants:

Steven Buckley (US Transparency):

Recommendation to enable email notifications to monitor conversation rather than just RSS (fewer people use RSS)

Beth: will pass it on to webmaster

Jim Snider

How do you define “government-wide”? also including local and state govs?

Beth: good question, should talk about this in the collaboration phase (?). gov-wide means: looking more at generally applicable stuff rather than too specific things.

Rick Bloom (transparent gov initiative)

How specific do you want this discussion to be?

Beth: good ideas are welcome, and good ideas that are on topic. Looking forward to what YOU want to tell us. It’s a community and community-managed project. Only asking to stay focused on the topic. Not asking to waste your time, really asking because we want to use it. Many of gov-wide recommendations may translate into OMB, but many good ideas don’t. Let’s keep the conversation going. please share your ideas.

Rick Weiss: see post on OSTP blog on Tuesday night, that highlighted some of the ideas that serve as good examples.

Pete Peterson:

Re: flagging mechanism… once comments are flagged, comments are sent to you I guess, what’s the reviewing mechanism? Were people whose ideas were deleted communicated with?

Beth (?): voting on OSTP blog has different functionality (here: negative score collapses the comments, but still on the screen). flagging for abuse (flag by community, reviewed by Open Gov team).

Sandy Heierbacher (NCDD):

Our community got really involved in Phase 2 and they are very interested in continuing to participate.  Do you have a specific timeline for the questions directly related to public participation / public engagement?

Robin: guestimate is early next week (Monday or Tuesday).

(?): will send out email updates to this group

Beth: whitehouse.gov/open/Blog also has updates + RSS

Andrea Cavena (Digital Government Society of North America)

Is there funding for … other dialogues? (none of us caught the answer)

Mark Rotenburg (electronic privacy information center)

a) Timing of the issue (final phase)

b) Many orgs have various issues they want to raise… going forward, how will other issues be considered in the decision making process?

Beth: keep us in the loop if we’re missing something.

Steven Clift:

Commending on trailblazing this, will be example for govs everywhere. How do you deal with first amendment? Community management helps.

Beth: We now have the tools to have community self-moderated conversations. Everything will be archived and made accessible. Excited about using the blog and the shrinking feature. We at the WH have many lawyers (I’m a lawyer), so the terms of service have been considered carefully. Excited to be in a position where we now have the technology.

Steven Buckley (US Transparency):

Is there a tentative timeline for down the road how things are unfolding?

How about creating a simple listserve for people to keep?

Suggestion for phase 3, to give a heads up to people so they can familiarize themselves with wiki tool.

Beth: No specific date for Directive. Need to craft a set of recommendations, put them out for interagency review. Eager to do this in a way that’s as open as possible.

Rick Weiss:

We want to prove to the world that the open government possibilities that everyone has been talking about for years will actually materialize.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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