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A Roadmap to Open Government

Fumiko Nagano's picture

My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.

--Barack Obama, January 2009

From the perspective of good governance, the Obama administration’s efforts at transparency and participation—to make government open to public scrutiny through (easy) access to government information and to engage the public in designing and improving government initiatives—are simply impressive. The President’s first executive action after taking office was the signing of the Memorandum of Transparency and Open Government. This memorandum signaled his commitment to open government based on three core values, clearly spelled out in the Memorandum and on the administration’s website:

  • Transparency. Government should provide citizens with information about what their government is doing so that government can be held accountable.
  • Participation.  Government should actively solicit expertise from outside Washington so that it makes policies with the benefit of the best information. 
  • Collaboration. Government officials should work together with one another and with citizens as part of doing their job of solving national problems.


Since then, the administration launched in May 2009 the Open Government Initiative—an unprecedented outreach effort that lasted three months, during which the government conducted consultations and solicited feedback from thousands of Americans on the design of the Open Government policy. Once the ideas were collected, the government vetted and evaluated them. The culmination of these efforts was the Open Government Directive, which the White House issued today, along with the Open Government Progress Report to the American People.

The Open Government Directive is targeted at all federal departments and agencies, and contains specific instructions and guidelines for them to open their operations to the public, including timelines within which to do so. The directive outlines four main steps for creating a more open government: 1) Publish government information online; 2) Improve the quality of government information; 3) Create and institutionalize a culture of open government; and 4) Create an enabling policy framework for open government. Similarly to Attorney General Eric Holder’s issuance of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines in March 2009 that instruct a presumption of openness when administering the FOIA, the Open Government Directive also spells out that “with respect to information, the presumption shall be in favor of openness.”

It is going to be fascinating to watch this process unfold, to see what impact it has on the quality of governance, and to see what other governments can learn from this example--both the successes as well as the failures or retreats.

Photo Credit: Flickr user mikesalibaphoto