Tiny House
More About The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation • Join Now!
Community News

Report on White House’s July 22nd OGP Meeting

Background Info: “The Open Government Partnership is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of eight governments and nine civil society organizations.”

As posted here on the 20th, NCDD was invited to send 2 reps to Friday’s meeting with White House officials and other open gov stakeholder groups, and we sent NCDD Board member Lucas Cioffi and Wayne Burke of the Open Forum Foundation (an NCDD organizational member). This is Lucas’ report on the meeting.

Short version: I got a chance to provide feedback on the US national plan for participating in the OGP in the White House Executive Office Building on July 22nd.  It’s wonderful that open government is moving forward in the Administration.  I have some concerns about how much progress can be made in the two months between now and the meeting at the UN in September when the US and seven other nations will announce their public open government commitments as part of the OGP.  NCDD has an opportunity to send policy recommendations to the Administration.

Long version: The public engagement for developing the commitments will consist of continued in-person meetings with stakeholders.  There is much room for improvement there, but I’m not sure that much else could be designed and well-executed in one month, leaving the other time for synthesis and inclusion in the final plan.

I was most surprised by the high rank of the two leaders of the meeting: Samantha Power of the National Security Council and Cass Sunstein Director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the President’s “Regulatory Czar”).

Civil society organizations included the Revenue Watch Institute, Code for America, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Open Plans, Civic Commons, Sunlight Foundation, and NCDD.  There were 8 people from these organizations present sitting at the main table with the two government officials leading.

Approximately ten other government officials were in attendance, sitting against the walls surrounding the board table in the center.  Those folks represented offices such as the White House Office of Legal Counsel, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and others from the Office of Management and Budget.

Cass Sunstein took 1 minute to frame the meeting, saying they were looking for policy recommendations that they could include in the United States’ action plan for the OGP in the short, medium, and long-term (long-term specified as 9-months).  I was surprised and slightly disappointed to hear that 9-months is long term.

I was impressed by the transparency folks at the table, because they knew the right terminology and rattled off their recommendations quickly.  I was thinking this would be more of a conversation, but it was primarily a series of 2-minute presentations.  The government officials would ask some good challenging questions, but there wasn’t time for deep learning or understanding.  Specific to the comments I was making, I wish I had an opportunity to explain that there is a spectrum of public participation– that it’s more nuanced than “the public participated in this process” and “the public did not participate in this process.”  That example is indicative of of other terms and assumptions that could have been explored at a deeper level if the meeting lasted longer than an hour.

Here are comments/recommendations from the folks representing civil society organizations:

  • The US should endorse the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative which refers to transparent dealings between government and companies in the oil, gas, and mining industries.
  • Releasing what types of government data should be prioritized?  Someone else recommended using public engagement.
  • Administration policies can provide political cover for innovators within agencies to innovate.
  • Need more lobbying disclosure.
  • Fix the 20% loophole (I don’t know what that means)
  • Timely disclosure is needed.
  • Releasing public data fuels civil society in India and Brazil
  • Releasing public information is not enough; there need to be feedback loops from the people using the data to make it more useful.
  • The US focus is on the Freedom of Information Act and it often seems sufficient to just put information out there.
  • Technology is the easy part; getting the culture change is much harder.
  • The British perspective on transparency is becoming less about accountability and more about cost savings; this is a recommendation to the US.  Someone responded that transparency for transparency’s sake is still worth pursuing.
Here are some of the comments I shared:
  • I’d like to see public engagement embraced as something that’s healthy for an agency rather than a requirement.
  • Government can convene civil society organizations in-person to catalyze the open government community.  There has to be more of a focus on opengov community organizing (both inside and outside government) so that the regulations can be implemented more effectively.
  • We should recognize the limits of directives. (What I implied and should have stated more clearly is that we should think out side the box to foster a stronger community of practice and passion around opengov).
  • It will be very hard to complete a public engagement in two months; at the beginning of the Administration the original public engagement around the Open Government Initiative took 11 months.
  • A quick win would be to direct agencies to review their participation in the Open Government Initiative to date and publish the lessons learned.

I handed out some copies of the Core Principles for Public Engagement developed by NCDD members two years ago.  I wish I got to hand it out to more folks however.  The officials seemed very busy, working on many other initiatives beside open government.  One hour was budgeted for the meeting, although that wasn’t clear until the meeting ran 10 minutes over and some of the public sector participants had to head out to other meetings and obligations.

Overall, I am encouraged by the fact that the Administration is still moving open government forward.  I wish there was an opportunity for our field to collaborate on a deeper level as they develop the US action plan for presentation at the UN in September.

Next Steps: We have an opportunity to send additional comments via email to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.  I welcome suggestions for how we can collect feedback from a large number of our community of dialogue and deliberation practitioners and researchers.  When we (NCDD) figure out how we’ll collect these ideas, Sandy will likely collect the comments and send them on behalf of NCDD.  If we want them to count, we should probably send them in by August 15th (but that’s just a guess).

From my perspective, I continue to see open government (defined broadly as transparency, public participation, and collaboration) as offering tremendous potential for innovation in democracy governance. People doing that work may not see themselves as part of an “opengov movement”; I think that if they did, then there would be a greater sense of community and more cross-organizational collaboration.

Lucas Cioffi on FacebookLucas Cioffi on Twitter
Lucas Cioffi
Lucas Cioffi graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Having served one year in Baghdad as an infantry officer, he realizes the need for effective dialogue and deliberation in preventing conflict. He is passionate about advanced online deliberative platforms and is co-founder of AthenaBridge.com.

  More Posts  

Join In!

We always encourage a lively exchange of ideas, whether online or off. Questions? Please feel free to contact us directly.

  1. Craig Paterson says:

    Thanks for the timely report…and for your participation, Lucas! It would seem that OGP needs to be on our ‘radar screen’ every time we plan and implement a dialogue and deliberation project, so each of these events can contribute to the culture change mentioned above.

  2. Thanks for the detailed report. Very helpful!

  3. Peg Carlson-Bowen says:

    I am glad that the Open Government conversations continue. I also agree that open government needs to include direct feedback from people and that this is best done somehow through personal participation. The Internet is touted as an open forum, but seems to often be hi-jacked by some as a forum for discussions that don’t adhere to civility standards. When we face each other in person, we ‘own’ our statements more than we do when launching them from a keyboard. I know that doing this face to face seems impractical, but we can aspire to do this, at least locally.

    I am encouraged by those in the software industry who continue to try and make the Internet forum work to improve interactions between citizens, and between citizens and our governments at many levels. I look forward to seeing those innovations become part of our solutions.

    • Lucas Cioffi says:

      There are a handful of entrepreneurs, including myself, in NCDD who are working to improve forum software as you mention– it’s encouraging that in-person deliberation/dialogue methods inform the design of the software.

      Although the 90’s saw the most optimistic visions of what online communication can be, the technology has begun to catch up and now some of the original vision of the Web is starting to be realized. There’s tremendous room for improvement in online communication tools, and there are so many possibilities for integrating online, phone, and in-person dialogue/deliberation. It’s great to watch the software and deliberation worlds grow in parallel.

  4. Josephine Cooper says:

    Lucas. I appreciate your time and dedication. I agree that recognizing the “limits of directives” is important. There is an awful lot of verbal ceremony that goes into collaborations that include government. I think it is helpful to keep the consciousness alert that there is both ceremony and substance.

  5. Margaret Holt says:

    I think Raj Patel’s book, The Value of Nothing, has some tremendous insights and examples of how collaboration, partnership, and transparency can be realized.

  6. […] Cioffi of the Open Forum Foundation, who wrote a report from the July 22nd OGP meeting, […]

  7. Lucas,
    Thank you for the update. The details are much appreciated. I live in Brazil and am following the action, which is zilch as far as I can see. Very little has been made public about what exactly Brazil will do as co-chair, and I look forward to keeping people posted. I blog at http://observingbrazil.com . Best wishes,

Post Your Comment!