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Government CXO

Beth Noveck, former US Deputy CTO in interview: part one

Beth Noveck spent two years as Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House. She was responsible for defining and driving the open government agenda for the Obama administration, working at Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). She left the position in February 2011, to return to her position as Professor of Law at the New York Law School.


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I was delighted to be able to conduct an extended interview with Beth, which will be published in four parts over the next two weeks. In accordance with the open government mantra of Transparency, Collaboration and Participation, Beth took the opportunity to ask me about my experiences with open government data – for her, every interview is an opportunity for two-way communication, a philosophy that she sees as fundamental to open government.

You must be very pleased with what was achieved over the last two years; what do you see as the successes?

As anyone who works on a reform project knows, you always want to do more. But if I afford myself the time to look back, I think the most significant accomplishment was the emergence of a community of innovators across the executive branch of government. In every single cabinet department and major agency, there is a group of people, often a large number, who are working on bringing innovation to government and devising strategies to make public institutions more creative and effective problem solvers, which is what open government is ultimately all about. These “open govvies” are represented on an Open Government interagency working group. They create the contagion of innovation that spreads to others within agencies. People often say - “what’s the lifespan of a good on-line forum or discussion group? You start with a lot of energy, and then it trails off.” For the open government community, every meeting has seen a steady increase in attendance; every single agency was showing up and had a presence at the table. That is the most exciting indicator for the future – it’s the institutionalisation of the work, and it’s happening through the people.

I recently presented a testimony to the Canadian Parliament last week which outlines some of the tangible work that got done, along with ten principles for designing open government institutions:

Every cabinet department and major agency in the US has a brainstorming website for public consultation and can visit the General Services Administration’s online catalog to select from many more.

Each of these organizations also has a fully articulated Open Government Plan, laying out concrete and specific steps they will take to make themselves more transparent, participatory and collaborative.

Agencies are putting up thousands of collections of government information online on their own agency websites and making those data sets searchable through the national data portal –  

Ten quick guidelines for creating more innovative and effective government are:

Go Open – Government should work in the open.

Open Gov Includes Open Access - After the public has paid once, it shouldn’t have to pay again.

Make Open Gov Productive Not Adversarial - Articulate what you hope people will do with the data

Be Collaborative - Actively solicit engagement.

Love Data – Design policies informed by real-time data.

Be Nimble – Where possible implement in 90 days or less.

Do More, Spend Less – Design solutions that do more with less.

Invest in Platforms - Tools to engage the public

Invest in People – Policy empowers people

Design for Democracy - It is not enough to simply “throw” Facebook or Twitter at a problem.

Details of these principles, and more examples of Open Gov are in the testimony.

In the next part, Beth talks about the reasons for the success of Open Government

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