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Using Knowledge Development to Increase Citizen Participation

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Susanna Foxworthy and Lisa Blomgren Bingham
January 30, 2015

This is part two of a two part column on open government. Click here for part one.

Foxworthy jan 2Wikis and knowledge development allow citizens to become better educated, contribute to policy development and allow the public to co-produce goods. In OG 2.0 plans, 52 percent of agencies propose to develop new platforms for knowledge development for the public, other agencies, nonprofits and for profit organizations.

An example of a knowledge development platform is the DOE’s National Training and Education Resource. This Web-based learning platform allows organizations to train and certify people in a variety of energy-related topics. The goal of the platform is to provide high-quality education resources for teachers to integrate into curricula. By providing platforms for education resources, agencies can collaborate with citizens to create new tools directly related to agency services.

All agencies plan to expand use of online media to engage citizens. Agencies currently utilize a variety of platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and Flickr. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan engages in Twitter town halls with the public. This allows citizens to ask questions in real-time and for the Secretary to respond directly.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to use Ideas in Action, a platform powered by UserVoice that allows people to share ideas in response to a question, discuss ideas and vote on the top suggestions. This forum differs from Regulations.gov in that it allows citizens to provide feedback and ranking upstream in the policy process, before rulemaking. A challenge for forms of online engagement is that participation involves self-selection; it is difficult to gauge whether agencies receive a representative voice on policy issues.

A key component to genuine collaboration is developing the infrastructure for creating representative partnerships between agencies, organizations and the public. In 2.0 plans, 48 percent of agencies propose programs to develop these platforms.

One of the most extensive examples is NASA, which plans to restructure its entire Web environment to make it cloud-based and open source. This will have several far-reaching effects. First, it will liberate NASA data and applications for open source use by individuals and organizations. Second, it will remove the barrier of proprietary programs that can hinder innovation. NASA currently administers a portal through which individuals can access open source software. This will allow developers and individuals easier access and use NASA technology to collaborate on projects.

Moving Forward

In “An Open Government Implementation Model: Moving to Increased Public Engagement,” written by Gwanhoo Lee and Young Hoon Kwak, there is a four-stage model for open government initiatives:

  1. Increasing data transparency.
  2. Improving open participation.
  3. Enhancing open collaboration.
  4. Realizing ubiquitous engagement.

Based on this model, the OG 2.0 plans suggest that agencies are still in stage two- open participation- of an open government implementation model. Challenges for the future of open government include finding a way to enforce these plans and creating ways to evaluate their effectiveness. Overall, agencies propose a diverse set of programs, initiatives and strategies in OG 2.0 plans. By using research to better design and implement collaborative efforts, each agency can ultimately achieve more open governance.


AuthorsSusanna Foxworthy is a research assistant at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Bloomington. She earned her MPA from IU, specializing in nonprofit management, and investigates open and collaborative governance. 

Lisa Blomgren Bingham is the Keller-Runden professor of Public Service at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Bloomington, Indiana and a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

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