GovLab Blog

Quotes of the Week

Paul Kennedy, professor of history at Yale, opens his review of Mark Mazower’s  new book, Governing the World: The History of an Idea in the Financial Times today, with the following reflection:

“When thinking about the peculiarities of our human condition and the international political order, I have often imagined that I have to describe such things to a puzzled group of visitors from another planet.

GovLab Blog Smarter Governance

Finland is about to change what we mean by "law-making"

From October onwards, Finland will use a “citizen’s initiative” that requires the Eduskunta (Parliament) to vote on any citizen-drafted law that garners 50,000 votes of support through the Open Ministry platform – which is open-source and available on GitHub. The initiative is the latest effort to incorporate more popular participation into the the law making process through crowdsouring – allowing for the widest range of input, viewpoints and ideas.  It provides yet another example of what Steven Johnson calls “Peer Progressive” in his latest book.

GovLab Blog

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) turns one

The first anniversary of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was celebrated in New York this week – on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The Open Government Partnership formally launched on September 20, 2011, when the 8 founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States) endorsed an Open Government Declaration, and announced their country action plans. Since 2011, 47 additional governments have joined the Partnership”. An infographic about the OGP is available here.
At the event the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM)  was launched– a panel comprising three high-profile senior advisors and five technical or policy experts. – who “will track progress and ensure strong accountability of OGP participating governments”.
The UK has taken up leadership of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude wrote in a blog post in the Guardian that: “Open data is driving growth and prosperity. Data is the raw material of the 21st century and a resource for a new generation of entrepreneurs. But transparency is not just about economics. Transparency shines a light on underperformance and inefficiencies in public services. It allows citizens and the media to hold governments to account, strengthening civil society and building more open societies.”
Twaweza’s Rakesh Rajani from Tanzania made closing remarks at the event. “Noting that the OGP could be a breakthrough if governments organised to respond to citizens, Rajani underlined [We need] to create a new collaborative way of doing government, a way that is less about issuing directives and more about creating conditions in which governments and citizens come together to solve common problems.” (See Rajani’s Remarks)

GovLab Blog

The Open Government Revolution: the Day After the Arab Spring


  • Governments exist to organize the transmission of information and expertise to and from citizens, but our current system of information flow is designed for an earlier age of communication.
  • Scientists have recently begun to see flow as a defining feature of systems, offering insight into the pervasive public dissatisfaction with our current institutions.
  • The next great superpower will be the one whose governance structures connect hierarchical institutions and networks to enable its citizens to collaborate to address our most significant social problems.
  • Citizens must redesign their institutions of governance to curate more participatory opportunities and devolve power.

In her TED Talk from June 28, 2012, former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck argues that citizens must demand a more open source government. In her view, this open government revolution would happen in two steps.
First, information is beginning and will continue to flow more rapidly and efficiently between citizens and their governments, making governments smarter. According to Noveck:

“In the first phase of this open government revolution, we’re seeing designs for channeling information to government to make institutions smarter. Safecast is supplementing and checking government with distributed radiation measurements in the wake of the Fukushima plant disaster. We’ll want to experiment with new ways of educating legislators and bureaucrats independent of lobbyists to inform decision making.”

Second, Noveck posits that open government is not simply transparency and data-sharing. A more open government would be one in which citizens actually begin to take on more traditional functions of governance:

“The second phase is in getting decision-making power out. Participatory budgeting has long been practiced in Porto Alegre, Brazil; they’re just starting it in the 49th Ward in Chicago. Russia is using wikis to get citizens writing law together, as is Lithuania—when we start to see power over the core functions of government–spending, legislation, decision-making–then we’re well on our way to an open government revolution.”

Ultimately, Noveck argues that the most important step citizens must take next is to demand a more open source government:

“We need to start with our youngest people…we start by teaching young people that we live not in a passive society–a read-only society–but in a writeable society where we have the power to change our communities, to change our institutions. That’s when we begin to really put ourselves on a pathway towards this open government innovation, towards this open government movement, towards this open government revolution…The important thing for us to do is to talk about and demand this revolution.”

The talk is an excellent provocation, but the devil is in the details. How do we get from where we are to where we must go? How do we redesign the flow of our institutions to allow for meaningful participation and devolution? Our work creating a research agenda and community to help design participatory innovations is a response and a starting point.
For three related TED videos on the future of government, check out Jen Pahlka’s talk on “Coding a Better Government,” Clay Shirky’s presentation on “How the Internet Will (One Day) Transform Government” and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron’s speech titled, “The Next Age of Government.”
Beth Noveck is a member of Opening Government and can be found on Twitter at @bethnoveck.

GovLab Blog

Opening Government: Collaborative Strategies for Tackling the World's Hardest Problems

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is funding a multidisciplinary group of thinkers and doers to explore the possibility of creating a Research Network on “Opening Government.” This “pre-network” group will analyze the potential impact of technology on democratic institutions—specifically, how we can use technology to create more collaborative ways of governing to tackle the world’s hardest problems.
We start from the premise that our government institutions do not yet adequately use the public’s collective know-how to govern effectively, and in order to address this governing deficit, our society must use technology to open our institutions and bring our diverse talents to bear.