Open Government… open innovation?

Andrea DiMaio’s latest blogpost is critical about how much the various federal agencies in the US are being succesful in adopting the spirit of the Open Government Directive.  Different authors have given different interpretations to the motivations behind “openness” in governance, but the US directive captures it all and builds upon the three fundamental pillars of transparency, participation and collaboration.

The application of the concept of open innovation is to be applauded. Companies like Google do not only create products for use on the Web, but also live by the Enterprise 2.0 culture. Google Labs showcases a part of the company’s research portfolio while it is still at prototype stage. The company uses this method to attract feedback that would help improve the product’s usability. The open approach has also been taken by the European Commission in its Living Labs project. The idea behind the labs network is to develop a ‘beta-culture’ which engages users’ creativity through their participation in the R&D and Innovation life-cycle. The concept of open innovation offers benefits to all actors in the system, allowing users to feel empowered to influence product development and companies/institutions a larger and live test-base for validating and integrating innovation.

Back to Washington’s Open Government Directive…

Each federal agency had until the 6th February to implement an online Open Government page and many have done so using a free public dialog tool developed by the GSA. The tool allows users to submit ideas and others to deliberate on whether or not they agree — thus raising the “popularity”  of the submission. OpenGov Tracker was launched just a few weeks ago. It allows the public to be informed from one dashboard about the interest being generated in the Open Government concept.

Veteran Affairs and NASA rank at the top by attracting 124 and 121 ideas, from 79 and 71 authors, respectively. They are followed closely by EPA which clocked 96 ideas from 76 authors. My first observation is the relatively low takeup of this system (compare with Facebook).

Andrea DiMaio made another interesting observation: a particular user has submitted the same idea of webcasting all meetings to a large number of federal agencies’ ideas collection system. This same idea ranked as the most popular idea in 20 of the 21 IdeaScales that DiMaio surveyed. The data collection using GSA’s IdeaScales is based on the usage of this electronic tool which, as already highlighted above, is far from representative of the population of the United States. But bearing this constraint in mind, DiMaio’s observations remain very valid and as he rightly points out:

   “open government enthusiasts will learn from this first experience and realize that they need a tighter connection between the idea collection process and the nature and mission of individual agencies”

While Governments are relatively late-comers into the arena of open innovation, it is encouraging to note how its adoption is felt to be directly associated with the process of democratisation.

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