Open Government, Civic Engagement Get Federal Boost


Open government and civic engagement got a big boost from the federal government this week with two new initiatives. Today, the Sunlight Foundation revealed that it will be releasing a massive index of open data in partnership with the federal government. In addition, OMB and GSA have launched the first version of the US Public Participation Playbook, a handbook on civic engagement.

According to a blog post from Sunlight, in response to a 2013 FOIA request, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will be releasing agency Enterprise Data Inventories. These inventories are comprehensive lists of a federal agency’s information holdings. Together, the inventories would provide a singular and unprecedented view into the information contained within federal government. In all it took thirteen months for the federal government to respond to the request.

Sunlight capitalized on the recent Open Data Executive Order released by President Obama in filing the request. That Order required indexing and infrastructure to be built to handle the release of government data. In effect, Sunlight went ahead and gave OMB what it thought those requirements should look like and OMB agreed – but not before a bit of legal wrangling to make it all happen.

There’s no guarantee that agencies’ indexes will contain all the data that it should (because they are iterative, living documents, many of which are still in various stages of construction). Still, this announcement makes a huge step forward: Rather than wondering what data the government has, we are all now in the position of policing how completely agencies are indexing their data, deciding what to publish and determining why some data cannot be public, the blog post said.

Additionally, the federal government of its own accord has also released the US Public Participation Playbook. The Playbook is meant to act as a resource for government at all levels when it comes to civic engagement and participation. The book will be a volume of best practices designed to fall in line with the first two versions of the U.S. Open Government National Action Plans.

The playbook has been released using the Madison platform from the OpenGov Foundation. That platform essentially allows for document collaboration on authoring and markup, and will allow the playbook to sit online in this format so edits can be seen instead of just individual versions. “Over the last several months, a team of 70 leaders across the government have worked side-by-side with civil society organizations and citizens in a collaborative effort to deliver this tool,” according to the blog post announcing its release.

“This resource is a living document in Open Beta stage, and stakeholders from inside or outside of government are encouraged to continually offer new insights—including new plays, the latest case studies, or the most current performance metrics—to the playbook. The team will continue to evaluate, incorporate, and publicly report on new contributions.”

The Playbook is available here.