Key Area to Consider in the Open Government Planning: Employee Readiness

Importance of Employee Readiness in Open Government Planning

The Obama Administration’s commitment to creating an unprecedented level of openness in the Federal government will undoubtedly shake up existing organizational cultures, employee values, and most if not all of the ways the government’s business is currently done. Therefore, thoughtful planning and execution of an effective change management process tailored to the organization’s specific needs as well as the level of employee readiness at each government agency would be a critical factor in the successful transition to the Open Government. At the same time, before the change process can even be started, it is important to create a positive environment in the organization where employee engagement is encouraged and valued, needed training and development are provided, and commitment to increasing employee trust by improving on internal and external agency communication and information sharing is clearly demonstrated.

Before increased collaboration with the public and greater transparency in its affairs can be woven into the government’s daily work and interactions with the outside parties, steps need to be taken within the agencies to encourage and empower all of the employees to become more open-minded about the myriad of possibilities for citizen-centric public administration practices. In the beginning, starting to include Open Government tools and techniques into the daily work would require tremendous learning, and, sometimes, continuous learning, on the part of the government employees. Providing adequate training around the new tools and techniques and professional development that would include goals and metrics directly linked to the objectives of the Open Government strategy would help ensure better employee buy-in and, consequently, readiness for a successful transition. The technologies used in making the government more open, collaborative, and participatory would also need to be truly user-friendly and would need to be designed to completely replace old processes and tools. The old processes wouldn’t be phased out overnight; however, careful consideration and mitigation, whenever possible, of the extra time commitment required from the employees to learn about and incorporate new tools and techniques into their work would facilitate a smother change process and would help the government to avoid extra costs associated with the duplication of work.

Linkages with the Open Government Directive

The Open Government Directive calls on the Federal agencies to proactively use modern technology to disseminate useful information to the public on a regular basis rather than waiting for specific requests under FOIA. In addition, within 45 days from the day of the Directive’s release (December 8, 2009), each agency is required to identify and publish online at least three high-value data sets and register those data sets via Data.gov. The Directive asks that the agencies consider publishing the data sets and information that are not currently available to the public. Being familiar with the conservative nature of information handling at the Federal agencies, it is easy to see how decisions associated with such requests would require many levels of approval and, potentially, lengthy back-and-forth debates between various agency offices – mission services, technology, legal, public affairs, and others. To avoid heated discussions every time there is a data call from within or outside of the organization, each agency will need to revisit their standards for openness and information sharing. The Open Government plans that the agencies need to develop within 120 days of the Directive’s release could incorporate ideas for how such standards would need to be changed. The right roadmap for the realization of the Open Government vision built into these plans as well as the right employee mindset, that can only be achieved though preparing employees by all available means and easing the transition for them, would make all the difference in the successful implementation of the Federal Government’s Open Government Initiative – the Government 2.0.