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White House Meeting on OpenGov Action Plan

In mid-September, the President announced a 26-point national action plan for opengov as part of the multilateral Open Government Partnership.  As a member of the NCDD Board of Directors, I was invited to attend a meeting yesterday at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building about progress on those action items.

I found the meeting to be informative, and I found the focus and drive of the Administration officials to be encouraging.  Civil society organizations working in the area of transparency had much more representation at the table than the “participation” community.  The purpose of this blog post is to hear ideas that our community would like to see implemented as the US national action plan for open government develops.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the White House public consultation process has evolved over time, I blogged about the previous meeting I attended here.  Civil society organizations were largely convened by OpenTheGovernment.Org who clearly stated that they did not represent the entire opengov community, including the participation community.  Prior to the meeting, participants from civil society organizations compiled these comments on the national action plan (pdf) which were submitted at the meeting.

Personally, I feel lucky to be able to attend these meetings and report back to NCDD, but I won’t feel comfortable with the whole process until the collective intelligence of our community can be harnessed.  I would like to see an opportunity for ANY interested member of NCDD (and/or the public) to contribute ideas, deliberate, and come to consensus prior to one of these meetings.  There will likely be similar meetings every few months, so our continued efforts will be worthwhile.

Of all the stats mentioned in the meeting, I think that the most relevant ones were about the Administration’s We The People petition website which has now received 1.5 million signatures on nearly 20,000 petitions.  82 petitions have crossed the minimum threshold of 25,000 signatures, at which point the Administration has committed to issuing a formal response.  32 petitions have received a formal response already in the last 2.5 months and they are aiming to respond to roughly one per day in the months going forward.

If you have suggestions for how to improve the We The People petition site, please add them on this feedback site which NCDD is promoting in partnership with AmericaSpeaks, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and IAP2 USA.

I hope that readers of this blog will look at the comments/suggestions to that national action plan when they are posted and identify areas where we can make great suggestions in the area of public participation and that these can get incorporated into the national action plan.

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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.

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  1. Thanks for this update, Lucas.

  2. Josephine Cooper says:

    Lucas.

    I’m pleased you are doing this, Lucas. I’ve noticed that it takes a certain measured temperament and staying power to be effective in working with government, and it seems that you have those qualities. I reviewed the Whitehouse.gov website last week when you sent out the invitation. I was simultaneously disheartened and amused that the petition that seemed to have the most signatures (27,623) was the one that began, “Actually take these petitions seriously “. It was also interesting to see that, in spite of instructions cautioning folks to check for similar or duplicate petitions, this did not always seem to prevent duplication. The tone of the duplicates suggests that enthusiasm over having a voice for their heartfelt cause might be at the heart of it. Perhaps the petition website might take this into account and allow a few more characters for ordinary folks, disheartened with government, to let off a little steam as part of their discourse? OR, there could be a brief guideline and example about how to use the 120 characters most effectively. The petition instructions only suggest that they should clearly state the petition’s goal. It might be better to allow a few more characters and instructions that encourage an evidence-based statement, as well as some passion in the petitions. I’d like to use these observations as a jumping off point for an example and longer comments on why I say this.
    There were at least four similar petitions from folks opposing the updating of USDA regulations on humane slaughter of horses (and apparently on the slaughter of horses in general). I chose this one because I was (30+ years ago) a USDA inspector in a slaughter operation for pigs and cattle. Therefore, I could quickly look into the issue, without spending as much time educating myself about the nuances and history. I apologize to those anyone reading this that might find the chosen topic to be gross. However, grizzly as the fact of killing animals may be, it does require proper planning and regulation to keep it as “humane” as possible. Prior to the Humane Killing Act in the 1950’s slaughter practices were fairly chaotic, undignified, and just plain inefficient in some slaughter operations. I did some reading on the horse slaughter issue and learned that there was summit of interested parties in 2008 where representative experts from the various factions presented a wide variety of viewpoints, so I want to connect this to the horse slaughter petitions that I read. The leadoff statements in one of the anti-horse slaughter petitions said that “Americans” don’t eat horsemeat anyway. It would be difficult to figure out demand in America, since it has been mostly unavailable or imported from Canada, where they do have slaughter operations for horses. However, two statistics that came from the 2008 conference (Alberta Equine Welfare Group) stated that over one billion people eat horsemeat worldwide, including Asians, Europeans and Canadians. Also included was nutritional information that horsemeat has 20% more protein and double the iron of beef. From these two facts, I glean that: 1) if it were available and affordable, horsemeat might be an attractive option for low-income people, 2) that the population of America certainly includes Asians and probably a few Canadians and Europeans as well. So, it is possible that “Americans” do (or would) eat horsemeat. I can’t determine if it was a factor of the 120 character limit for stating the cause; however, I would have been more impressed with a strong, fact backed, research-referenced opening statement against horse slaughter. There were lots of them presented at the 2008 summit that could have been co-opted by petitioners who were passionate against horse slaughter. Petitioners could still include an emotional tone to signify the importance of the cause to the signors.
    There were many worthy and heartfelt causes, including the horsemeat issue; and I wondered if more care in editing might inspire the attention of those who are tasked with reading and/or acting upon the petitions. Would it be out of line to ask our lawmakers to read a few more than 120 characters? Is this a standard for petitions or just the website requirement? At this point in my comments, you may be saying to yourself, “Wow, sorry I asked”. Thanks for giving me a topic that was worthwhile to stimulate my brain!

    Josey/Josephine Cooper

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