Key Areas to Consider in Open Government Planning: Participatory Activities

Another key area to consider with Open Government planning is participatory activities. Participatory activities involve the participation and collaboration of two or more groups to achieve a common objective or goal. These types of activities occur everyday, whether it’s the local police working with citizens to solve a crime, or the federal government working with private industry to solve a public issue. Regardless, participatory activities can only be solved through teamwork.

Given the collaboration required to complete any participatory activity, using available technology to enhance partnerships (particularly when working in multiple locations) can only strengthen the potential results of these activities. For example, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has cited developing a National Rail Plan with collaboration from each mode (a.k.a. division). The development of this plan can be enhanced via Open Government tools that can maintain communication between each mode. At the same time, DOT leadership can use Open Government tools to study other agencies that may have implemented similar plans. In the end, DOT’s Rail Plan and all other participatory activities can be enhanced via
Open Government tools in several key ways:

Encourage all Participants to be Engaged: Participatory activities require involvement from multiple sources in order to achieve a common solution. When Open Government tools are combined with these activities it enables employees to become active participants. How many meetings have you attended where someone sits in the back of the room and never speaks? Open Government tools will give the quiet participant a forum through which they can explore information and provide responses at their leisure. In the end, even the most shy of participants will feel that their voice has been heard.

Active Listening: Active listening is not often discussed when referring to Open Government. However, in many ways it’s exactly what Open Government is all about. Active listening is defined as “a method of listening that involves understanding the content of a message as well as the intent of the sender and the circumstances under which the message is given.” When applied to participatory activities, active listening is vital to developing sustainable solutions. Each Open Government tool strives to present information in a manner that any reader, or “listener”, can fully discern the meaning, intent, and reasoning behind the given statement. Open Government tools allow those involved in participatory activities to read and contribute to open discussions regarding the activity. Ultimately this active participation should lead to sustainable, robust solutions.

Quicker Solutions: How many approvals does your organization need to implement any large-scale plan? How long does it take to get those approvals? Participatory activities are filled with delays, scheduling conflicts, and personal issues that can halt the progress of an organization. However, when the activity engages Open Government tools, these delays can be minimized as each party can access the key information needed to make a decision and give approval or disapprovals immediately in an open environment.

Enhanced Flexibility: Any business professor will tell you that often the success or failure of a company, division, or project will rely on the flexibility of that organization to adjust to change. Participatory activities and their solutions are often changed in some way before reaching a final result. Open Government tools will enhance the ability of an organization to make quicker decision and adjust more efficiently when plans need to change. For example, if OMB creates a new requirement that affects a current participatory activity, the organization can disseminate the new task, offer solutions, and implement those solutions while keeping all involved parties informed. Ultimately, the organization will be more successful due to these tools.

Given the above benefits to participatory activities, organizations should not view OMB’s Open Government Directive as a compliance exercise forced upon them. Rather, this is an opportunity to expand the capabilities of each Agency through the transparency, participation, and collaboration the directive strives to achieve.