Technology evangelists believe that Barack Obama has the potential to fundamentally alter communication between the presidency and the people. Wikis in the White House? Online public comments on legislation? A real-time two-way conversation between citizens and their elected officials?
For better or worse, however, nothing is as easy as it might seem. Federal regulations, First Amendment issues, and just plain common sense are going to slow -- and potentially stagnate -- technological innovation in Washington.
Panelists discussed their hopes for a more transparent Obama administration and the challenges to a more open and participatory government. Ellen Miller offered three basic principles to transforming government with transparency; 1) Transparency is government’s responsibility; 2) Publicly available information means online; 3) Data quality and presentation matter. Sascha Meinrath suggested the need for government-wide FOIA for the primary statistical data utilized for government reports to allow for external analysis and reports. Craig Newmark noted a number of good proposals and ideas had been developed by the Federal Web Manager’s Council, but bureaucratic obstacles and federal regulations had prevented their implementation.
Panelists acknowledged there were substantial obstacles in terms of federal regulations to implement more participatory forums. Online discussions are susceptible to trolls (commenters that pick fights for attention or to bring disinformation to discussions) and current laws and regulations prevent comments from being taken down. Mindy Finn noted open government discussions tend to encourage the loud and angry, leading policy decision to ignore those who are not participating. She suggested that the Obama administration clearly demonstrate how participation and input were shaping policy in an effort to encourage more of the public to participate. The panel acknowledged there were concerns about privacy and accidental release of sensitive information. Panelists agreed there would be a need to change the culture of government that would require transparency efforts to be coordinated by a high-level CIO or CTO to mandate government-wide practices.
The event was Co-sponsored by the New America Foundation, Wired Magazine, and Google.
1101 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC, 20001
See map: Google Maps