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OMB encourages collaboration about open government — using an existing tool

with 9 comments

20090227-1822rc49euy4uqtknnie6ueh1jI mentioned that there is a lot of consternation and concern among agencies about the stimulus bill, recovery.gov — and the amount of oversight in the bill. I think it is important to remember that what the Obama administration is attempting has never been done before. And there is a whole ot of focus on transparency. Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Max Cacas was on the Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris on Friday talking about it… and there were a whole contigent of transparency afficinados in DC over the weekend for Transparency Camp. Best way to follow what happened was on Twitter by searching #tcamp09 or on the Transparency Camp wiki.

Agencies have been concerned about how they make the Obama administration’s “Open Government Directive” — and they are collaborating around this issue. OMB is using the MAX federal community wiki to enable people to collaborate and share ideas — great idea. My hope, of course, is that OMB will find some way to open this up to others who might have ideas about how to make this happen.

If you don’t know about the MAX federal community, the National Academy of Public Administration’s Collaboration Project has a case study on it here … and last year when I was at Federal Computer Week, we highlighted it as a case study in collaboration.

In case you missed this item from GSA’s DotGovBuzz:

White House: White House seeks feedback on transparency memo, creates new CTO position

The White House is asking the government community to submit ideas and topics that should be included in the “Open Government Directive” that was called for in the President’s Jan. 21 memo to all department and agency heads on transparency and open government.

The directive, which is being crafted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, along with OMB and GSA, will tell agencies how to conduct government with more transparency, participation, and collaboration and is due to be issued May 21. Among other things, it will call for an interagency process for identifying and implementing innovations in government, and a significant amount of public engagement.

The White House is using OMB’s MAX wiki to solicit innovative ideas, proposals and brainstorming about how government can tackle the topics of transparency, public participation and collaboration, until March 6. Currently MAX is only open those with a dot gov email address, but plans are to create another website open to the public. (To participate, click on the above link and after signing-in, select Open Gov under government-wide communities.)

The White House has formally created the position of “Assistant to the President and Chief Technology Officer” in an Executive Order issued February 5. White House positions of “Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison,” “Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change,” “Chief Executive Officer, Corporation for National and Community Service” and “Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy” were also created by amending a Clinton Administration executive order.

After the break, read the e-mail message send out to agencies… and the PowerPoint presentation on how to use the MAX wiki.

The note sent to agencies about using the MAX wiki:

New Virtual Community Created to Shape President’s Open Government Directive
On February 16th, a new government-wide community – the Open and Innovative Government Community – was created on the MAX Federal Community system to capture your ideas on how best to implement the President’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/TransparencyandOpenGovernment/. The directive calls for agencies to work together to create a new level of transparency, participation, and collaboration across government and with the public.

The new Administration wants ideas from those of us “in the trenches” about how best to meet these goals. Over the next 100 days, the Open and Innovative Government Community will convene a series of on-line conversations to brainstorm innovative strategies, evaluate their promise, and flag potential challenges (legal, technical, and operational) that must be overcome. ). If you have an idea — or an innovation you want to highlight — log in to MAX and let them know how you would make our government more transparent, participatory and collaborative: https://max.omb.gov/. Ultimately, these conversations will shape the President’s Open Government Directive to all executive departments and agencies.

All government employees are invited to participate in the discussion and anyone with a government email (.gov) can participate now (including contractors and state and local governments). I have attached a PowerPoint with specific instructions. If you do not have a .gov address, OMB is developing a public facing website to mirror the same process running for the .gov community. It will be available in early March. Directions.

See that PowerPoint presentation here…

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Written by cdorobek

March 2, 2009 at 8:45 AM

9 Responses

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  1. The Transparency and Open Govt community in Max has 60+ users currently from DoD and civilian agencies as well as OMB. Lots of energy and dialogue going already. Members can participate around four topic areas: (1) Transparency, (2) Participation, (3) Collaboration, and (4) sharing innovative projects, ideas and proposals. Discussion threads in the groups to remain open until March 6 and then “online collaborative drafting sessions” will follow (according to the site).

    Mary Davie

    March 2, 2009 at 10:44 AM

  2. Mary Davie comments that “MAX has 60+ users currently ..”.

    This platform is open to all federal employees, and the thread-discussions will close on March 6 (this Friday) and there are only 60+ people using it?!

    Is that number true? (or is it a typo?)

    Also, what happens between March 6 and the end of the “100 days” mentioned in the OMB message (and when did that clock start)?

    stephenjbuckley

    March 2, 2009 at 11:31 PM

  3. I have some questions about imposing wikification on the federal government. I have them particularly acutely after seeing that Beth Noveck is in this office, given her ideology favouring groups over individuals, and collectivism versus individual initiative:
    http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2009/02/the-coming-collectivization.html

    Was this a policy that anyone got to debate, or was it imposed by a few gurus under the guise of merely a “technical issue”? Did Congress debate it?

    Is there any voting function on this wiki (we can’t see it)? Can you vote “no” or does it force you into endlessly making positive proposals and never criticizing, as wikis often do? If a government employee posts something, will it be erased by other government employees? Who is in the tiny cabal that *really* gets to edit the wiki and control the flow *really* as that’s the sort of thing that happens in Wikipedia and other wiki-culture projects?

    Why are *laws* against something considered “an obstacle”? What are the obstacles that in fact “need” to be overcome?

    The short time table and the small numbers suggest to me that many government officials will not be on board, that only some in the executive branch will use these tools to implement decisions without Congress and without the public.

    Finally, has anyone questioned whether all this wikification is just make-work?

    Prokofy Neva

    March 3, 2009 at 4:14 AM

  4. Prokofy,

    I read your comment — and your blog — and, to be honest, I’m baffled. What’s your argument? That making information available to more people is BAD? That enabling people to participate is BAD? That tapping into the wisdom of us is NOT a good idea? That laws — laws written before the Internet existed, I might add — laws that prevent people from having a conversation about issues are somehow good for democracy?

    Your graph on the “voting function” indicates to me that you don’t use these tools. Certainly without information or experience, there would be fear — and then we get back to ‘that isn’t the way we do business.’ I would recommend that you try some of these tools — Facebook, for example, where you can post your status and your friends can comment. Yes, some of that comment will be insane, but you might actually find that your friends know something. That being said, you collect that data — and YOU make a decision about how to use it. There is no cabal — no more so then there has been previously.

    In fact, the same thing is happening at agencies. A much wider set of people are coming together to solve problems. My hope is that by opening up the decision making process — by making it more transparent — people understand why decisions are being made. In fact, they will have participated in making those decisions. And yes, there is transparency about who is making what changes.

    I certainly understand your concerns — and this does involve significant change in the way we think and do business — but are you arguing that the way we have been doing things has been doing so well that we ought not to even consider any other ways of doing things?

    In fact, there is example after example after example of where by using these tools have enabled agencies to do their jobs better — and that seems like a goal we can all agree on.

    In the meantime, I’d recommend you try some of these tools — and read the Federal News Radio Book Club book, “What Would Google Do?” by Jeff Jarvis.
    http://dorobekinsider.com/2009/02/13/the-next-federal-news-radio-book-club-selection-what-would-google-do-by-jeff-jarvis/

    All of this being said, thanks for the comment. One of the other advantages of these tools is that everybody has a platform. You can say that the Web 2.0 emperor has no clothes… My hope is that all of this will bring more people to the table.

    And to that end, I would ask you — how are you proposing to make things better — to enable agencies to accomplish their missions more effectively — or are you being the person who is voting no and thereby sending us into endless loops of discussion?

    Thanks for the post.

    cdorobek

    March 3, 2009 at 8:13 AM

  5. [...] Administration has already undertaken several transparency initiatives, as noted by blogger Chris Dorobek.  The most prominent are associated with the Recovery Act, with the creation of http://www.recovery.gov, [...]

  6. [...] OMB encourages collaboration about open government — using an existing tool « DorobekInsider.com [...]

  7. >What’s your argument? That making information available to more people is BAD? That enabling people to participate is BAD? That tapping into the wisdom of us is NOT a good idea? That laws — laws written before the Internet existed, I might add — laws that prevent people from having a conversation about issues are somehow good for democracy?

    You seem to imply, with almost cult-like zeal, that if someone criticizes anything about the way the Gov 2.0 frenzy is conducted, that they think “making more information for people is BAD”. That’s ridiculous.
    Of course making information available is good — duh? That’s a commonplace. But what *is* bad is *manipulation of a system and the information product is produces*. You seem impervious to any thinking about that.

    I’ve raised questions in my blog about the way in which wiki culture drives conformism, browbeats pepole, puts the editing in fact really only in the hands of a few, while others are intimidated, and hides behind “openness” and “everybody” often by having only a tiny handful of coders and arbiters who actually decide controversies (in Wikipedia, a mere 15 people decide this; a mere 800 edit most of the posts read by 275 million people). There *are* very, very real funnelling and propaganda functions that happen in wiki culture. Are you watching for them in *your* wiki or is it just Happy People Eating Noodle Salads all the time?

    It’s one thing when a couple of tekkies with security classification handle largely asynchronous email for State. Email isn’t something those tekkies can individually look up constantly or even search effectively — it’s compartmentalized and while that has its down side, it also prevents them from emerging as controllers of everybody’s data.

    It’s another thing when software sold by consulting firms and Silicon Valley lobbyists, especially under the banner of “it’s free! it’s opensource!” (i.e. it *has* to come with consulting fees) are grafted on to government. Then, only a few people have their hands on what 7000 people are saying, real time, constantly, with stunningly fast and capacious powers to track and shape and manipulate. And we saw with the helicopter p2p story that contractors can be hugely casual about their laptops and applications in the freebie atmosphere of the Internet. Why does raising these concerns put me in a category of calling “more information bad”?! They are legitimate concerns.

    The First Amendment is a law written before the Internet existed. Would you like to throw that out? The state.gov and other blogs in this whole giddy Web. 20 frenzy in fact apply a typically overreaching and overrestrictive speech code to comments, and do not use First Amendment standards whatsoever. Sorry, but invoking “YouTube comments” doesn’t cut it for me, because most people using YouTube on its less travelled byways away from hugely popular videos like music or TV don’t suffer from the comments hassle in anything like the way the scaremongerers imply.

    If the U.S. attracts a lot of hate on its blogs or YouTubes, it’s not a function of having let those tools be “too free”; it’s a function of foreign policy inciting hate in various parts of the world; change the policy, the YouTube comments will in part clean up.

    Um, I sure do use these tools — look at jira.secondlife.com to see just one of many public or private wikis I contribute to. Trust me, I know from wikis. I can’t see THIS wiki because it’s closed to the public — duh? So why would I get a slam for not “using these tools” that I can’t see? Hello?

    Uh, I’m not afraid, dude. Trust me. You have *no idea*. Knock it off with the arrogant and facetious claims of FUD every time someone makes a *legitimate criticism* of your Kool-aid drinking. Voting functions on many wikis I’ve seen work one way: you can *only* vote yes. (like on JIRA technology for example, where the coders are completely resistant to coding in a “no” function). Often, websites asking you to vote on a poll, basically rig it so essentially you can only vote yes, like whitehouse2.gov says, “are you for creating 5 million green jobs?” What, you’re going to vote “no” on a thing like that and make it seem like you are for joblessness and despoiling the environment?! Please. I vote “no” on a thing like that and play the game of using up a chit to post a talking point by saying that I simply am not persuaded that 5 million green jobs are a) going to be produced and b) going to spread around enough outside research firms in California to benefit the rest of us.

    What happens in wiki culture is the constant doubleplus gooding of everything. Criticism, even of needful, useful, kind, is dubbed “not constructive” and it “must be constructive” or “it can’t be”. People who criticize an existing implementation are basically told to “patch or GTFO” in the tekkies’ harsh tribalist lingo. Sorry, I reject wiki culture. It’s awful stuff.

    Dear, I probably had a Facebook long before you did. I’ve been an early adapter of all kinds of things. I joined Twitter two years ago when Scoble talked about it. Uh, when did you join Twitter? I’ve been on Second Life for 4 years where I run 14 servers. I’ve been on Ning, Facebook, all of them for ages. Please. Again, *stop it with the condescending attitude* that assumes anyone who criticizes you is in FUD or denial or can’t “embrace the inevitable”. Stop that. It’s *wrong*.

    You seem to be flogging FB commenting here, but FB commenting is sanitized. Is that how you like it? You’re the type who is often fearful of the YouTube comment freedom, dubbing it “anonymous” and “hateful” which of course it often is, and then letting that stand as a reason not to have more free comments on places. More and more, I find FB too constrictive. I don’t like the fake democracy that Zuckerberg is installing; Twitter is better and faster and more coherent, and if you need to add pictures or a thread, go over to FriendFeed, where I’ve also been for ages. Have you?

    Yes, there is indeed a cabal. The cabal comes in the coders’ culture. The culture that you exemplify of condescension, arrogance, assumptions about everybody who isn’t in your tribe being stupid and non-technical

    It’s very clear that the Silicon Valley lobby (which doesn’t have to be physically located in SV to be functioning as such) is invading Washington, selling software-as-service, selling consulting, hustling opensource as a free labour and consulting device, flogging ideas that in fact haven’t had the benefit of public democratic discussion — and all at things named like “Transparency Camp”.

    Has the public or legislators had a chance to see how outrageously stupid and inconvenient and problematic OpenID is before gov geeks implement it by fiat because they think it’s cool and their friends are devs? That’s what I mean.

    Perhaps you might like to start some transparency at home by revealing your own government consulting contracts and your fees for them. Then we can put your “press coverage” in context. Your demand for agencies to ‘come together’ over your software plan might then have a motivation. Or are you one of those tekkies who thinks blogola is a form of barter?

    I’m happy to do things differently using social media. What I’m not happy to do is have geeks ram these changes down our throats without critical, robust, and even negative debate. That’s ok. This is America. This is democracy. Deal with it without putting people down and accusing them of FUD and not being in your “tribe”.

    >In fact, there is example after example after example of where by using these tools have enabled agencies to do their jobs better — and that seems like a goal we can all agree on.

    Well, I’d like to stop seeing fake “example after example” which amounts to your friendship card list in Facebook and see real scientific, peer-reviewed, independent, non-biased studies of the effectivenes of these tools for “doing jobs better”. They can also be huge timesucks and vastly misleading.

    What does it mean to do a job better? Is the time of staff spent endlessly answering polemics on blogs even filtered like DipNote really well spent? Is all this MAX wikifying busywork really effective? There is no substitute for people turning off the social media noise and sitting at their desks in the solitude they need to wrestle with ideas and analysis properly before they endlessly share and network and giggle and gasp all day? Could we have someone besides *you* analyze it? That’s all. Like any other media or tool or policy, you should be able to justify yourself to the public. You want transparency and accountability — you’re getting it.

    Jeff Jarvis is just one of the Twittering SiliValley heroes that people in your tribe endlessly invoke. It’s a superficial feelgood that isn’t a substitute for analysis. I fail to see why we can’t be critical of Google and Jeff Jarvis and we have to be in the sort of endless celebratory California mode that you wish us to be in about these things.

    Web 2.0 does largely have no clothes, because really, it hasn’t been monetarized except for the few who make money building consulting services on it for…how everybody else should use Web 2.0 LOL. It’s very, very self-referential and a very, very reflexive system that tends to justify itself.

    The government will definitely go to a great expense buying all the proprietary software-as-services, or taking all the wonky opensource software-as-consulting-fees and spending the time to get staff trained and adapted on all these wikis and wackies. No one has even shown that email is particularly effective through any real unbiased study; in fact as we all know in offices email can also be a very destructive thing for morale, and a phone call can often achieve things faster and with less drama than a flamey email. That doesn’t mean that if you state that true criticism that you are FUDed and demanding that email be removed from the office. It means you *manage it critically*.

    You need to keep an open mind about these tools and accept criticism of them, which is legitimate.

    >And to that end, I would ask you — how are you proposing to make things better — to enable agencies to accomplish their missions more effectively — or are you being the person who is voting no and thereby sending us into endless loops of discussion?

    I thought as much — I thought I was seeing this discussion leading to the classic California Coder’s concept that we can’t have a “no” vote or gosh we will cease to be fabulous and positive.

    I’m glad Proposition 8 in California had a “no” vote that people could press on. I’m glad that in New York City, we had a proposition lever that let us push YES or NO for expanding term limits for the mayor. Or were you telling all the gays to go “think up a better positive proposal” for their state so they wouldn’t, um, “get into an endless loop of discussion”. Or are you telling everyone they can’t say “no” to an endless extension of the rule of someone in power? See, that’s where that thinking leads. It’s not like the miniature version of such propositions in a workplace are magically different, and can’t have a “no” put on them.

    Endless loops of discussion *are* required if people do not agree and YOU ARE NOT PERSUASIVE. Can you grasp that? YOU are not able to convince people that your magic tools WORK or work as you claim and you seem unwilling to manage them *critically*. So you’re suggesting that everyone be forcibly shut up and frog-marched to the bright future, sooner or later, if they don’t agree. That’s Orwellian. Stop it.

    Voting “no” is absolutely crucial to a liberal democracy. No one got to hear the rationale for putting “Web 2.0″ with all its wackiness into government. You shouldn’t be afraid of “no” votes if you in fact have something that you can say works. If you are insecure about “no” and criticism, that means you are peddling religion, not science.

    I don’t feel at all called upon, as a non-computer programmer, to sit and generate and code “positive” wikis and wackies. I think it’s more than justified to point out the terrible pitfalls of wikis:

    o the designers construct them, and set up the issues, before anyone can even participate. That’s why I promote the concept of “socialware” rather than “software” so that non-coders are incorporated consciously in the dev process. Were they on this? No.

    o only a few consistently do all the editing, as practice shows — it’s the “tyranny of who shows up”. That’s because the wiki interface is often wonky, non user-friendly and forcible — driving people to yessing and constructive proposals and never able to express how they actually feel and how their comfort level has been disrupted.

    o while someone might have the right to change a document or propose a chance, sooner or later, the *real* people in charge lock it down. And in this case, it may not be the actual structured hierarchy of bosses — whom you are busy trying to overthrow — who have some legitimate as *appointed by Congress* — but some kid in the IT department who has just read Seth Godin and just thinks he needs to drive everyone into a tribe and make them be “positive” and locks a thread.

    o people begin to think because they’ve filed a wiki or had a webinar or made a Second Life island — all beneficial things in some respects — that they have “done something” even though their actual meat foot has not touched the actual dirt earth in real life. That’s a dangerous cycle. So much about the Beltway and State is already virtual; this makes it more loony.

    Prokofy Neva

    March 4, 2009 at 3:43 AM

  8. Prokofy,

    I have the same concern as you do that the “public-wiki” for the OGoD might be set up in such a way that alternative ideas which might sound innovative to you or me might be viewed as dissenting (i.e., “negative”) and, as such, might be disallowed or discouraged by the way that the platform is set up.

    One thing to keep in mind is this language from President Obama’s memo on the “Open Govt. Directive” (link provided in Chris’s original posting, above):

    “Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.”

    So, when an agency provides an opportunity for public input (like OMB will be doing with this pubic-wiki), then that agency needs to be ALSO asking “how are doing” with respect to that very process.

    IF they put out this public-wiki, and they do NOT offer a clear (i.e. transparent) way for you or I to raise and share ideas for improving the decisionmaking process, then they are not following the spirit, or the letter, of the President’s memo.

    And if so, it may just be an unconscious error on their part. All of us, at one time or another, have been hypocrites until someone points it out to us (usually it’s someone who can’t be fired, like a spouse or a friend).

    And while I did get valuable insight from reading your response, I would like to suggest that, with a bit more effort, you could have made it better by making it shorter and less absolutist (“they-ALL-think-that-way”). A co-worker in the federal government once told me “It’s hard to condense a 5-page memorandum into a 1-pager, but it’s much more likely to be read.” And it’s sad that I don’t see more use of a sincere “IMHO” anymore (like there was 20 years ago).

    Also, the fact that Chris Dorobek allowed me (and others) to read your posting on his blog indicates to me that he is more open-minded about the whole idea of “constructive dissent” than you make him out to be in your posting. I thank him for that.

    I am definitely interested in further discussion on the quality of the OMB public-wiki after it comes out and, FYI, my blog is at http://www.UStransparency.com

    stephenjbuckley

    March 4, 2009 at 2:59 PM

  9. Prokofy,

    I have the same concern as you do that the “public-wiki” for the OGoD might be set up in such a way that alternative ideas which might sound innovative to you or me might be viewed as dissenting (i.e., “negative”) and, as such, might be disallowed or discouraged by the way that the platform is set up.

    One thing to keep in mind is this language from President Obama’s memo on the “Open Govt. Directive” (link provided in Chris’s original posting, above):

    “Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.”

    So, when an agency provides an opportunity for public input (like OMB will be doing with this pubic-wiki), then that agency needs to be ALSO asking “how are doing” with respect to that very process.

    IF they put out this public-wiki, and they do NOT offer a clear (i.e. transparent) way for you or I to raise and share ideas for improving the decisionmaking process, then they are not following the spirit, or the letter, of the President’s memo.

    And if so, it may just be an unconscious error on their part. All of us, at one time or another, have been hypocrites until someone points it out to us (usually it’s someone who can’t be fired, like a spouse or a friend).

    And while I did get valuable insight from reading your response, I would like to suggest that, with a bit more effort, you could have made it better by making it shorter and less absolutist (“they-ALL-think-that-way”). A co-worker in the federal government once told me “It’s hard to condense a 5-page memorandum into a 1-pager, but it’s much more likely to be read.” And it’s sad that I don’t see more use of a sincere “IMHO” anymore (like there was 20 years ago).

    Also, the fact that Chris Dorobek allowed me (and others) to read your posting on his blog indicates to me that he is more open-minded about the whole idea of “constructive dissent” than you make him out to be in your posting. I thank him for that.

    I am definitely interested in further discussion of the OMB public-wiki after it comes out and, FYI, my blog is at http://www.UStransparency.com

    stephenjbuckley

    March 4, 2009 at 3:00 PM


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