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Jana Wilson
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SPEA policy brief: Obama initiative scores on transparency; collaborative governance a challenge

Feb. 23, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- President Barack Obama's Open Government Initiative is a significant attempt to make government more transparent, participatory and collaborative, according to a policy brief from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

But while the effort has made progress on the first objective -- promoting accountability and making information available to the public -- more remains to be done to engage Americans with governing, it says.

Lisa Blomgren Bingham, professor and Keller-Runden Chair in Public Service in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is the author of the brief, published in the January 2010 issue of SPEA Insights. It can be read online at

Lisa Blomgren Bingham

Lisa Blomgren Bingham

Print-Quality Photo

"The OGI is a major effort to transform how the federal government uses technology and collaborative governance," Bingham writes. "Its gains in transparency are potential game-changers. However, although there is tremendous potential, OGI has not achieved as much progress toward the goals of making government more participatory and collaborative."

Obama launched the Open Government Initiative on his first day in office with an executive memorandum. In December 2009, the Office of Management and Budget followed up with an Open Government Directive ordering federal agencies to publish government information online, improve the quality of information, and create a culture and enabling framework of open government.

The Open Government Initiative endorses "collaborative governance," a concept that envisions agencies working on policy together and with stakeholders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

"This is a departure from top-down command and control bureaucracy and expert-driven policy analysis," Bingham writes. "It starts with different assumptions: Knowledge is widely dispersed in society and agencies do not have a monopoly on it. A strong democracy needs many voices and values."

The policy brief traces efforts by the federal government to move into the Internet age, culminating with the Open Government Initiative serving as an umbrella for a number of activities that make information about federal spending, regulations and policies available in searchable datasets on the Web. It recounts last summer's Open Government Dialogue, in which the Office of Science and Technology Policy, facilitated by the National Academy of Public Administration, solicited online suggestions, discussion and collaborative policy-making on ways to make government more responsive and effective.

The dialogue experiment was exciting and groundbreaking, Bingham writes, but not without problems. There was limited outreach early in the process, resulting in participation weighted to the "usual suspects" of stakeholder groups. And during some phases, the site was flooded with comments that many participants believed to be off-topic.

Future efforts, Bingham writes, should move beyond experimentation, build on what has been learned so far, find better ways to recruit participants, move from input to partnership and embed continuous collaboration in government.

To speak to Bingham, contact Jana Wilson at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, 812-856-5490 or; or Steve Hinnefeld at University Communications, 812-856-3488 or