The Challenges of Transparency for Government

Originally posted on GovLoop

“Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset.”

President Barack Obama

An interesting discussion to have is what is driving government to be more open and transparent. Is being more open occurring out of necessity by government due to the fiscal climate? With such limited resources, government is being forced to be more open, transparent and collaborate across agencies. Or is a more open government developing because of increasing pressures from citizens? There is a pressure from citizens and a desire for a more connected government that can use technology to improve government operations.

The challenge to these questions is that for the federal government “open” can mean multiple things to agencies. There are complex questions that relate to government transparency – how can we measure transparency? What are the requirements that make an agency transparent? How do we define transparency? What level of transparency is appropriate? The answers to those questions likely are different across agencies, so being “open” can have different meanings to various agencies and certainly to citizens.

There are many different ways to try and tackle transparency, one way is the releasing of data sets that government collects. This can be done in a variety of different ways – if it is releasing data in raw form for citizens or taking a more structured approach and providing limit data with key insights. Typically, this all depends on the agency’s mission and varying internal processes for transparency. Other transparency efforts include allowing citizens to visualize data on maps, mobile applications, and improved customer service by providing the right information that is easily accessible.

Since Obama came into office, government has launched numerous campaigns to be more transparent and open. Obama has received mixed reviews in how transparent his administration has been. Needless to say, the road he laid out for transparency with his Open Government Initiative was quite ambitious, with his desire to be the most transparent administration in history. If you’re interested in learning more about Obama and all of his transparency programs – take a look at a report from GSA, which gives him a lukewarm (at best) grade on his transparency initiatives. The report shows that it is clear that the speed at which technology moves far exceeds our ability to develop adequate performance measures and time for workplace culture to adapt.

As we’ve discussed, a key challenge is to define an overarching term for transparency, as each agency will measure and define transparency differently so:

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