Evaluating What a Difference a Year Makes: US Participation in the Open Government Partnership

In late January, OpenTheGovernment.org will release a report on whether and how well the Obama Administration has carried out the National Action Plan (Plan) it submitted as a part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). For those of you who don't know, the Open Government Partnership is an international effort to make governments more transparent and collaborative. Nations that join the Partnership must, among other things, collaborate with civil society organizations to develop a National Action Plan with concrete commitments. In the vein of encouraging and rewarding collaboration, the evaluation released in January will look at not only whether the government completed the letter of its commitment, but also the extent to which it collaborated with civil society organizations and acted on our recommendations.

Since shortly after the announcement of US engagement in the OGP, OpenTheGovernment.org has served as the primary coordinator for the engagement in the US Plan of civil society organizations with a stake in US transparency and an interest in the OGP. Our goals throughout this work have been three-fold: facilitate collaboration; set high standards; and keep attention focused on the effort by monitoring and issuing reports on the government's efforts.

Facilitating Collaboration

To make it easier to put people with expertise on particular issues in touch with the right people in the government, we worked with our consultant Wayne Moses Burke of the Open Forum Foundation to organize teams of representatives from interested civil society organizations around each of the commitments made in the US National Action Plan, and worked with Administration officials to get each team at least one meeting with the official charged with executing the commitment.

One member of each Team was asked to serve as the Team Leader. The Team Leader is responsible for reporting back to us about what progress has been made, and we are grateful for their work.

A summary of each meeting the civil society had with the government, and more information about our model is posted on OpenGovPartners.org/us.

Setting High Standards

We worked, from early on in the process, to set high standards by making it clear to the government that civil society organizations were concerned to have the hortatory goals laid out in the Plan fulfilled. It would not be sufficient for the government to only carry out the commitments in the US Plan. To convey our perspectives on what was needed to complete a full open government agenda in the areas highlighted in the Plan, we worked with our partners and other allies to develop and issue a detailed report laying out civil society's recommendations for making the federal government more open and effective. This extensive report was shared with the Administration – and we urged them to share it with the responsible agencies. As described below, many of the recommendations from this report became criteria upon which we are evaluating the government's over-all effort to execute the plan.

Reporting

On the September 20th anniversary of the release of the US Plan, we issued a Progress Report chronicling what commitments the Obama Administration had already carried out and what work clearly remained. Unsurprisingly, given that many of the commitments were relatively small steps forward and that the government only had a few months left to meet its own implementation deadline of January 2013, the majority of the commitments had already been met.

The methodology for the upcoming January report is much more extensive. It is the result of input from academics at the Information Policy and Access Center at University of Maryland – College Park iSchool, our partners and allies, and others. We also accepted input from Administration and agency officials on our evaluation plans.

The evaluation seeks to answer two basic questions: what was accomplished; and was it done in a meaningful and sustainable manner? The section on accomplishments looks at both whether the government did what it said it would do, and whether or not it acted on civil society's recommendations. For the purpose of the evaluation, our Team Leads chose, from the extensive report noted above, a subset of recommendations that they thought the government reasonably could have accomplished in a year. A separate section evaluating the meaningfulness and sustainability asks our team leads to elaborate on what the government did particularly well or poorly, and what are the next steps that must be taken to accomplish the overarching goals of the Administration.

We look forward to reporting back to you on our results in January.

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