Evaluating Open Government

This site is the “virtual home” of a project organized by OpenTheGovernment.org to evaluate federal agencies’ progress towards fulfilling President Obama’s commitment "to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government" in order to "strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government." The contributors to this project, a group of volunteers with experience working with agencies and evaluating information policies from nonprofit groups, academia, and other organizations that serve the public interest, are committed to evaluating agencies’ progress developing plans for and implementing open government.  

The project was launched with an audit of the Open Government Plans agencies were required to develop by April 7, 2010, under the Open Government Directive (OGD). When the initial results were released, the OpenTheGovernment.org coalition announced the contributors would re-evaluate any plans updated by June 2010. The contributors also are working with a consortium of academic institutions and others to develop a metric to evaluate if agencies are making real progress in openness, participation, and collaboration.

Elements of the OGD require agencies to provide the public with information about how the agency currently handles and maintains information, and a roadmap for how and when the agency will make itself more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. The level of detail required by the OGD can be used to hold federal agencies accountable.  Many of the federal agencies have approached implementation of the OGD requirements with energy and enthusiasm.  If implemented with spirit, vigor, and innovation, the Open Government Plans can serve as a vehicle for fundamentally changing the way the federal government interacts with the public.  This, in turn, may prove to be a catalyst for shifting public trust in government.

Most of the agencies that produced substantive Open Government Plans have made significant improvements to their plans since their initial release. The wide variation in strength among the plans required under the OGD revealed by our initial audit is noticeably less dramatic; many plans that did not meet the minimal requirements have addressed these weaknesses by, for example, providing more specificity on deadlines and identifying where certain items mentioned in the plans can be found. The updated audit results also reveal several agencies are going beyond the minimal requirements of the OGD.

The updated audit results also include agencies that were not required by the OGD to develop open government plans, but did. Evaluators awarded these agencies for going beyond the call of duty by giving them three bonus points. Evaluators also provided each “extra” agency with informal feedback on the plan in May; almost half of the extra agencies responded to the feedback by updating and strengthening their plans by June 2010.

For detailed results of the updated review, click here. For results of the initial audit, click here. For individual agency evaluations, including updates, use the navigation bar on the left side of the site.

Going Forward

Even when all agencies meet the minimal requirements identified in the OGD for the Open Government Plans, more needs to be done to improve openness in government.  First and foremost, the public must be assured that they can obtain certain information consistently across government, regardless of which agency website they visit.  The outside government openness community is putting the final touches on a process for describing minimal elements that should be part of an open government floor.   We have shared versions of this floor with the Obama administration and agency officials, and hope that it or something similar becomes the standard that is adopted by all federal agencies.

As previously stated, contributors to this project are in the early stages of developing metrics to evaluate implementation of open government. The evaluation will include agency progress against its Open Government Plan, availability of items from the open government floor, and other measures of openness, participation, and collaboration. The work is being led by faculty from the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies at Miami University of Ohio and the Center for Library and Information Innovation at the University of Maryland. We welcome participation from any additional institutions of higher learning committed to working in an open research format, and also will release drafts of the evaluation framework for public comment.