If your government is open, it gives you access to 1) participate in improving the way it works, and 2) the information it creates and collects. Broadening access makes your government more accountable, efficient, and trusted, and even helps to improve the economy. “What crazy magic is this?!”, you may ask. Well, that’s exactly what this resource is intended to answer…
So first, some key things that kind of make everything else work. Your government doesn’t need to master all of these fundamentals before it’s possible to get into serious open government, but rather these are the ideals that all governments should be working towards. These key items make the other things easier. The first one is valuing input from you and your fellow citizens. The second one is acting with integrity, both as a government writ large, but also in terms of holding its employees to this standard. And the final one is being really good at records and information management – transparency is a big part of being an open government, and it’s hard to release information if you can’t find it! Today, these things are generally accepted as the basic qualifications of being a good government at all, but there are plenty of examples where these principles get forgotten by even the most respected governments around the world.
Your government should let you participate in making it better. There are a lot of ways that it can do this, starting with some really basic things and working up to some really cool things. First, your government should involve you in the process of making new rules and laws. At its simplest, you should have the opportunity to comment on upcoming decisions but your government should also be providing ways for you to be actively involved in making those decisions. In addition, there are lots of ways your government can engage you to help fundamentally improve the way it operates. It can actively work with you and your fellow citizens to create solutions, it can accept and implement your ideas and contributions, and it can create incentives that will encourage you and others to innovate and contribute deeply to solving its problems.
Your government should also be giving you as much access to the information it collects and generates as possible. Now, this is not actually as easy as it sounds since there are a fair number of things your government should understand in order to do it right. These include the difference between accessible data (I have it!) and usable data (I can use it!); the different types of information that a government produces and what value each one may have in your hands; the different restrictions that are often placed on government data and how to keep them in check; and the appropriate way to distribute the information so you can actually get to it in reality, and not just in theory.
Now the point of doing all of this is so that in addition to providing you with the information you need to help them do their jobs better, you can also hold them accountable when necessary. There are four ways that your government should be transparent, and there are a couple of ways that transparency can become accountability. It is important for both you and your government to understand these mechanisms so you can both benefit from them.