What Your Country Can Do For You: Why Open Government is Saving Lives

In a given day, I hear the words “open government” more times than I can count.  In a Web 2.0 world, it’s all around many of us in the public sector and it’s certainly all around me.  As a journalist at heart, I am a huge supporter of transparency within the government. The ability to collaborate and affect policy within the federal landscape has been crucial – especially in rather unsettling times.   While some people question whether or not Open Government is losing momentum, I think we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg to where it can take us. When people talk about Open Government, they’re often talking about Gov 2.0 and participating to make government better.  And the fact that technology has yielded every day citizens with the ability to have a say and have an opinion that can actually make a difference is a huge part of why I agree with my colleagues Mike Rupert and Dan Morgan – Open Government is here to stay.

That all said, I credit the majority of Open Government’s longevity not on what people can do for government, but what the government has done for the people.  I know I’ve just twisted JKF’s words, but I promise it’s for good reason.

If there is one thing I am passionate about – both from a political and a social standpoint, its health and fitness and the measured lack of in this country.  The first time I realized that we needed a serious change in our youth’s fitness regiment was when I was 17 years old and working as a summer camp counselor.  Note to parents: putting a can of soda and bag of Doritos with your kid’s turkey (and mayo) sandwich does not a healthy lunch make.  Oh, and letting them bring their handheld video games to sports camp is a terrible idea.

But before I go into a sermon about bad parenting, I’ll get to my point.  In my opening, one of the best things about the Obama Administration has been Michele Obama’s Let’s Move campaign aimed at combating childhood obesity in the United States.  And what I love about Open Government and Gov 2.0 and that though it did not set out to, it has really affected behavioral change in a way that can help the Let’s Move Campaign actually succeed.  In a landscape of “how can I use social media to make government better,” Open Government can be leveraged as an opportunity for “how can social media make me better?”

For example, when MyPlate was launched last month by USDA, they went to Twitter and encouraged Americans to take a picture of their plate and Tweet it using the #myplate hashtag and to also share them with USDA on their Flickr page.  This exercise not only got people’s attention about a program (a program that at the end of the day could save their life), but it also put accountability in their hands, which is what ultimately can change behavior.  Those who wanted to participate but were slightly embarrassed to tweet what they’ve been eating may be convinced to change what they’re eating and how they’re living before joining the conversation.  And those who may not know how to change their habits can use the tips and recipes that @MyPlate already provides or follow the online conversation of others that have succeeded in changing their lifestyle.  It takes a little effort, but it’s an easy, relatively low cost way to get healthy and decrease the cost of health care (as an added bonus for those who still feel they want to make government better).

Here’s the deal – Open Government and Web 2.0 are powerful tools and they are essential for the collaborative and transparent conversations happening between leadership and the people that are changing America and its government for the better.  But one thing to remember for those so destined to influence those on in Washington is this: government’s ability to use of Web 2.0 to affect the health of our country is just as important as our ability to use of Open Government to affect change in our government.