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Assessing Public Participation in an Open Government Era: A Review of Federal Agency Plans

AmericaSpeaks‘ newly-released report, Assessing Public Participation in an Open Government Era:  A Review of Federal Agency Plans (2011), describes and analyzes the participation activities described in Federal Agencies’ Open Government Plans.  It identifies best practices across Agencies’ public participation initiatives and recommends improvements that would increase the public’s role in shaping federal policy. The report was supported by the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

Before this research, the public participation elements of Federal Agencies’ Open Government plans had not been assessed in-depth to our knowledge.  AmericaSpeaks reviewed the more than 1,000 pages contained in the plans of the 29 Agencies that were included in the White House Open Government Dashboard and compared them to the standards used often by practitioners in the field of public engagement that we believed were most important.

Here are some top-level highlights from the findings and recommendations in the report:

  • The Open Government Initiative and most Federal Agency plans have failed to offer standards for what constitutes high-quality public participation. While some Agencies do include commitments to establish more robust measurements for participation, few plans include indicators that would measure meaningful progress toward becoming more participatory.
  • The public engagement activities described in open government plans display an admirable willingness to experiment with new tools and techniques to involve citizens with their decision-making processes. Nonetheless, even greater experimentation will be required to enable regular, meaningful public input opportunities.
  • The Office of Science and Technology Policy and General Services Administration should build the proposed ExpertNet platform – a permanent online community of citizens and subject-matter experts that could be approached for input on a recurring basis. This could serve as a critical piece of long-term infrastructure that would enhance the ease of soliciting input from citizens.
  • Agencies appear to be moderately increasing the number of people who participate in public engagement initiatives. However, few plans include strategies to increase the diversity of those who participate.
  • Agencies use a variety of online and face-to-face forums. However, deliberative processes, in which citizens learn, express points of view, and have a chance to find common ground, are rarely incorporated.
  • Many Agencies are taking important initial steps to embed a culture of participation into their organizations, including recognition, training, and the creation of new units and positions. These efforts should be celebrated, replicated, and expanded.

According to David Stern, AmericaSpeaks’ Director of Online Engagement, AmericaSpeaks (an organizational member of NCDD) hopes the document will support those within Federal Agencies who are already working to bring the public’s voice into decision-making and will enable others in government to understand the potential for increased public engagement in their work.

Resource Link: http://www.businessofgovernment.org/sites/default/files/Assessing%20Public%20Participation%20in%20an%20Open%20Government%20Era.pdf

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