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EPA’s national dialogue — a good start on government transparency

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EPA's National Dialogue

EPA's National Dialogue... how do you want environmental information

The Environmental Protection Agency, which has been innovative in using collaborative tools, has posted a National Dialogue on Access to Environmental Information. You can find it — and participate — www.epa.gov/nationaldialogue.

Of course, I have been watching OMB and the National Academy of Public Administration’s National Dialogue on Health IT and privacy. As I mentioned earlier, we spoke to NAPA’s Lena Trudeau about how things were going. [Hear that interview here. MP3]

There are two reasons I’m following this closely.

First, these information sharing policies are so important. I am fascinated by programs that tap into existing data. In the end, there is a lot of data out there. The big problem is that we don’t share that information very effectively. So I’m fascinated by organizations that build platforms that enable people — you, me… whomever — to tap into that data. It is why I have been repeatedly fascinated by Virtual Alabama. The Alabama Homeland Security Department essentially built a platform that enabled people to tap into existing data. But you can see it in other frameworks. It is why I’m fascinated by Facebook, which also builds a platform that enables people to share information. Twitter, the microblogging platform, is a similar site — there are a proliferation of sites that tap into Twitter data feeds to pull information together. It is why I was fascinated by the Twitter Vote Report Web site — again, tapping into data and sharing it.

So my principle would be that the EPA as they look at how to share environmental data — free it. Let it go. Make it transparent. Let people use that data on maps and Twitter feeds andFacebook… and other ways that we can even begin to expect now.

The second reason I’m following these kinds of projects closely is because I think they demonstrate a real innovation in the way government reaches out to people — democratization of government. This will win me no friends, but… I have been frustrated by the Regulations.gov e-government initiative. I understand that it has won some awards, but… it just doesn’t do much for me. Regulations.gov was a good initial start, but I think there are many more effective ways to deal with soliciting public comment. I still find it way too hard to find the regulation that I am interested in… and find it way too hard to find the consensus on the regulation or how people would change it to make it better. Essentially, to me it seems like we have just put an electronic face on the old paper method — people still submit comments and they get published. To make sense of them, you have to click through them. In the end, it doesn’t build consensus or really involve people in the creation of rules and regulations. And in the end, it has the appearance of transparency, but doesn’t result in real transparency, which is enabling people to see what is going on.

I would love to see an agency experiment posting a regulation in a wiki and ask people to actually edit the document the way people can inWikipedia items. To be honest, I’m not sure Wikipedia has it just right yet — it isn’t simple enough for the average use. But it gives you an idea of the realm of the possible. If you’ve never done it before, go into the “discussion” tap ofWikipedia items. Take, for example, the Wikipedia item on e-government…  and look in the discussion tab for what some people are watching… and the history tab for what has been changed. Again, I don’t think this is a perfect model — in the end, it is too complex. What I’d love to see is almost a way that you can see changes in the document and that would click through to who made them and a discussion in why those changes were made. This is somewhat complex, but it may also spur a change in how we make these rules and regulations. There are some people who will be able to make changes to broad principles, while others with more expertise will be able to suggest actual wording.

So… I think these national dialogues are fantastic ways of reaching out to more people. I can’t wait to hear the lessons learned on what works… and what didn’t work as well as they hoped.

Written by cdorobek

November 9, 2008 at 12:50 PM

Posted in EGov, Government 2.0, Policy

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  1. […] Mary McCaffery… again, there are so many things, selecting one will be difficult, but… EPA’s National Dialogue. (I’d love to give one to EPA’s Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock, who has created a […]

  2. […] After all, not many organizations have tried this — particularly federal agencies. The EPA conducted it’s own national dialogue … so this is really only the second real […]


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