An open government is aware that it doesn’t hold all the answers to solving its problems, improving its internal processes, and delivering better services. So it looks for ways to engage you in accomplishing these things. This ties in to the second type of access that an open government provides you with: information. By making its data and services available to you in the right ways, you can do things with it that the government would never think of and let it reach more people and benefit a broader portion of the populace. This is called “open innovation” or “user innovation” and a series of examples will help you to see how it works.
In June 2011, the first Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Aneesh Choprah outlined a wide-ranging program in the Open Innovation Memo. This is worth at least skimming to see how the memo sought to change the US government agencies’ internally focused culture to one that is comfortable looking outside its walls for innovation and improvement. The brief overview is that they focused on four things: opening up data for innovators to work with, encouraging businesses to do the same so that there would be more accessible data to innovate against, creating “innovation ecosystems” or places where open innovation can happen, and establishing “innovation teams” across government that included both government personnel and individuals from outside the government to act as champions and models for others to follow.
Of course, government usually takes a more passive role than this in engaging its citizens, focusing more on providing access to its information and resources while generally “getting out of the way.” Success of this model relies much more heavily on citizen demand already existing and the ability of entrepreneurs (traditional or social) to connect the dots. Examples of this include companies that take government data and present it in novel or useful ways, such as the entire industry that has been built on free access to the weather data released by the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) or the growing number of smartphone apps that utilize government provided transit schedules to assist with trip planning and wayfinding. Anything that runs on GPS relies on what was originally US Military satellites, and finally, there are companies that are leveraging the increasingly open access to government services to improve the interface and accessibility for citizens, such as SeeClickFix and Open311.
In the Spring 2012 issue of ArcUser, geospatial information technology company Esri noted that there were seven ways citizens and governments were engaging using apps:
- Delivering public information
- Reporting data back to government
- Soliciting comments
- Receiving unsolicited comments
- Sharing their point of view
- Reporting scientific observations