OPEN GOVERNMENT -- The White House this morning released a long-awaited Open Government Directive
that follows up on the president's promise—memorialized on his first
full day of office—to usher in a new era of transparent,
participatory governance. says Peter M Shane, the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law at the Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, writing in the Huffington Post.  But what's needed like never before among both old- and new-style journalists, he says, are technically adept translators of exposed data into facts that tell news stories.

The Directive, issued over the signature of OMB Director Peter Orszag, explains:

"Transparency
promotes accountability by providing the public with information about
what the Government is doing. Participation allows members of the
public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can
make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed
in society. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by
encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the Federal Government,
across levels of government, and between the Government and private
institutions."


What is arguably most impressive about the Directive, as highlighted
in a public briefing by CIO Vivek Kundra and and CTO Aneesh Chopra, is
its specificity and focus on execution.

Some examples:

  • Agencies get 45 days to "identify and publish online in an open format at least three high-value data sets."
  • Agencies get 60 days to "create an Open Government Webpage .
    . . to serve as the gateway for agency activities related to the Open
    Government Directive and shall maintain and update that webpage in a
    timely fashion."
  • Agencies have 45 days to "designate a high-level senior
    official to be accountable for the quality and objectivity of, and
    internal controls over" publicly disseminated Federal spending
    information.
  • Each agency has 120 days to "develop and
    publish on its Open Government Webpage an Open Government Plan that
    will describe how it will improve transparency and integrate public
    participation and collaboration into its activities."

This is exciting stuff, but it only heightens the need for what
communication scholars call "trusted intermediaries" to help everyday
citizens make the maximum use of new information resources.

A couple of weeks ago, I was briefing a Columbus city employee who
is working on social networking innovations for the city on
transparency initiatives at the Federal Communications Commission. She
said, "Great! I now have another mountain of information I cannot
possibly digest myself."


If Americans are to take advantage of newly available data sets,
community institutions need to alert them to the ways in which they can
do so.

If citizens are to contribute their ideas in ways that truly affect
policy, then organizers need to mobilize public interest around those
opportunities and help people to elaborate their ideas in ways most
likely to affect policy thinking.


If transparency is truly to promote accountability, then the public
needs journalists to help discover, gather, compare, contextualize, and
share the new information becoming available. These journalists may be
citizen journalists. They may work for community foundations. They may
be graduate students. They may work for Huffington Post or any of our
local, regional, or national media outlets.

But if more information is coming, we need more people who engage
with information not only for their personal benefit, but for the
benefit of the public as a whole. It is skillful engagement with
information that turns greater transparency into deeper democracy.