Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice
One thing is the book is not a utopian view of what is possible. The authors point out issues like the motives of groups or individuals.
Each chapter in Open Government covers either a project (like a website) or an idea or reports on ways of achieving the goal of creating institutions that are easier for outsiders to examine. There are some chapters, like Entrepreneurial Insurgency, that are more reports on current events, while others like Open Government, Open Society, that are a lot more theoretical. Some sections also look at new spins on older ideas, like the chapter on a Peace Corps of Programmers. This chapter is particularly exciting in that it tackles the problem of connecting today’s risk-taking programmer culture with a mostly risk-averse government workforce that largely relies on contractors for technical tasks. The writers seem to be drawn from both the left and right of the political spectrum with Republicans and Democrats as well people whose party affiliation is not given. While the book is written from an American perspective, most of the ideas are transplantable, at least in democratic political systems.
Many of the chapters focus on ways to make information collected available to the outside public, chiefly this is done through putting it online in formats that can be read by computers and in turn make it easier for interested parties to analyze. Three problems are encountered frequently: rules and institutional procedures that make it difficult to share information collected, starting with things as basic as reporting on the way a senator voted on a piece of legislation. The lack of machine-readable information which is typically submitted as scanned documents or PDFs that must be manually edited to be useful. And finally the fees for obtaining available information.
One thing is the book is not a Utopian view of what is possible. The authors point out a lot of issues like the motives of groups or individuals wanting more transparency. Most of the chapters address these motivations but one answer given in Open Government, Open Society is interesting: the solution is more transparency that sounds like the old hacker maxim, “Information wants to be free.”
In conclusion, the book is quite readable. The chapters are self-contained. Some of the chapters feel very much of the time, especially ones dealing with the Obama administration – and you can’t help think that they will feel dated in a few years. While the problems presented will probably still be with us; many of the chapters are calling for a sea-change in the way things are just done in Washington and other countries, so the problems presented are going to be with us for a long time.