Last week I had the privilege to attend two events about the Open Government Directive (OGD). The first was the Open Government Directive Workshop Series sponsored and hosted by the Department of Transportation on January 11th. The next day I was a speaker at an event entitled How to Achieve the Open Government Directive Requirements Using Open Source Drupal. Phase2 co-sponsored the event with Acquia and Carahsoft to make agency decision makers aware of the opportunity Drupal and open source in general has to improve open government initiatives.
For those, not completely familiar with the OGD, it is a Presidential Directive issued on December 8, 2009, through a memorandum to executive departments and agencies to take specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration (i.e. Open Government). Among other things, the memorandum provided some very tight deadlines for every cabinet level department or agency will be required to create a presence at www.agency.gov/open that includes many things, but the big things that matter in the immediate future include:
- Use of “modern technology” / best practices
- Open data sets (at least 3 new meaningful data sets to start)
- Published Open Government Plan
- Published FOIA Plan and Information
- Mechanisms for public feedback and input
- Downloadable/machine readable copies of virtually everything you can/open is a place to serve the public not the agency, but it can also be a way to showcase what is interesting, open and helpful to the public about your agency. The concept of a /open site to us is an opportunity for agencies to demonstrate that government can follow good practices for web 2.0 collaboration and sharing. Now approaching the deadlines to comply with this OGD, the offices of public affairs, FOIA, and OCIO at many federal agencies are beginning to drastically re-think the way that government provides and shares information with the public. Many are quickly incorporating new concepts to build out these so called "/open" sites, but time is running out.
Since we are developers, we wanted to do more than talk and write about what open government is, we are interested in how it actually looks and works to a user on the web. So we prepared some mockups for this purpose. First, we did wireframes that showed the concepts of the OGD in a non-styllistic manner. We showed those to govtech people, open source folks in the Drupal community, open data advocates like Sunlight Labs and New Media directors in government. Once we had agreement on the concepts, we took it to our designers, who made some great mock-ups of our concept, you can access here:
This mockup demonstrates both our concept for the user interface of a great /open site, but also prototypes what a simple approach to open government data and communications could be through a templated installation of Drupal agencies could use to get started now.
In our presentation and in many follow ups, I have offered this challenge to Federal agency web managers: if you want to use use our concept to develop your /open site, we will complete the build and give you a complete turn-key solution to meet the website requirements of the OGD. We are maybe 60% of the way there already and with help from our partner, Acquia, we can provide setup, hosting, and fully managed support for a self sustaining site in less than 2 weeks.
Now I realize that open government is a much larger and more important concept than simply setting up a website and sharing some data. Also, the ideas of using open source and sharing open data are a great start, but they do not in themselves constitute the principles of open government. To truly meet the directive, government is going to have to used to the idea of integrating open principles into everything it does at the strategic planning levels down to tactics. That means being more transparent, being more accountable and treating citizens as customers of the services, information and products government provides.
Tell us what you think.