President’s Message – March 2017

P2 and the Global ‘Open Government’ Movement: Connections and Opportunities

Open Government and the Emergence of Open Dialogue

Bruce Gilbert PhD
Bruce Gilbert, IAP2 Canada President

The term Open Government means different things to different people. Its meaning has also evolved over time. Initially, particularly in the 1980s when the push for what would become Freedom of Information legislation was gaining strength across western democracies, the term was used as a type of synonym for government transparency and accountability.

In those days, not unlike today, the term was aspirational in nature. It envisioned modern and progressive ‘open’ governments that would intentionally and freely share information on government activities including decision-making. Such open governments would no longer hide or hoard information – rather they would proactively share it, in a timely and transparent manner, to establish with voters/citizens that they were indeed accountable to them.

Over time, partially due to technological innovations, the idea of Open Government expanded to also include the concept of proactively sharing government data sets. The terms Open Information and Open Data soon found their way into the public administration lexicon.

The idea that governments should make their data sets freely available to the public – and to do so in machine-readable formats and without significant cost to users – became the new Open Government frontier. Open Data approaches, challenges, and technologies soon dominated most conversations about Open Government, although interest in Open Information also remained strong. Around this time, additional ideas about the true meaning of Open Government started to emerge or grow. Although always somewhat implicit in many definitions of ‘government openness’, the idea that ‘open governments’ were also ‘engaging and collaborative governments’ started to gain strength.

US President Obama’s 2009 Open Government Directive – seen by some as the initiative that established the standard for government openness around the globe, and which certainly propelled the Open Government movement forward, established that openness was about more than data and information dissemination when it described how governments needed to be ‘transparent, participatory and collaborative’. The 2011 Open Government Declaration of the Open Government Partnership – an international entity for government reformers committed to open governments and which now has 75 national members including Canada – clearly supports this expanded interpretation of openness when it calls for ‘greater civic participation in public affairs’ and outlines how open governments need to ‘empower citizens’.

With such developments, the term Open Dialogue (or Dialogue) joined the terms Open Information and Open Data in the discourse about Open Government. Open Government became referred to as a ‘three-legged stool’ with Dialogue being described as an essential leg. Today, some interpret the Open Dialogue term literally (i.e., an open government is one that engages in dialogue-based activities with its citizens). Some others, like me, interpret it more broadly (i.e., an open government is one that engages with citizens, and collaborates with stakeholder groups and interests, using any/all tools, technologies, methods, and approaches, including dialogue-based ones, considered appropriate and which are aligned with widely-accepted P2 (think: IAP2) values and standards). Put another way, P2 IS the third leg of the Open Government stool.

What has this got to do with us as P2 practitioners (or with IAP2)?

  • Open Government is a global movement and it is here to stay;
  • Many of the high-level goals of the Open Government movement are squarely aligned with those of the P2 movement including: informed, aware, and engaged citizens; enhanced and accountable government decision-making; community empowerment; inclusion, equity, and justice; and participatory democracy;
  • A major dimension of Open Government – indeed one of its three key ‘pillars’ – relates directly to our work; IAP2 holds a tremendous amount of expertise on all things related to P2 including those involving: dialogue; stakeholder, community, and citizen engagement; and collaboration involving civil society, business/industry, academic and government entities;
  • Our expertise in P2 is also directly relevant to the Open Data and Open Information pillars of Open Government; this is because data and information disclosure efforts are meant to be responsive to citizen, community and stakeholder needs and interests, and this requires appropriate P2 interventions;
  • We can help the global Open Government movement; many of us are involved now, but more is possible; people active in that movement, from both within government (public servants) and outside of government (civil society leaders), can benefit from our knowledge, skill, and experience;
  • We need more government people to join IAP2 (especially those in senior roles given so few are currently members); a huge amount of our collective P2 work directly or indirectly involves governments; government people have a lot to teach us about P2 and Open Government; all of us can all benefit from enhanced cross-sector learning, sharing, and networking.

What does this have to do with you?

Take the time to tell/remind your colleagues, friends, and family members who work in governments about the IAP2. Ask them to join us as members. When giving them your 30-second ‘elevator pitch’, use the term ‘Open Government’. Remind them that IAP2 and its members have important expertise that is directly related to one of the three pillars of the Open Government movement. Tell them about the many learning, networking, and skill-building opportunities available to them via IAP2. Tell them we need them. Don’t forget to tell them how much fun we are to be around.

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