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What the White House is Thinking About How to Architect for Openness

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, June 15 2009

Taking a close look at the White House, it's not difficult to see that they're fairly quickly shifting focus from the "Why?" aspect of open government -- that is, making the case for why a more participatory, collaborative, and transparent democracy is a positive, progressive development -- to a "So, how exactly do we go about doing this open government thing?" phase. They're setting their mission big. If they ultimately succeeded with even part of what they have in mind, it's probably on the safe side of hyperbolic to say that they would be putting the United States at the leading edge of participatory democracy. Below are a trio of insights from the last few days into what the Obama Administration is thinking, doing, and inviting us to do on the way to a future of more engaged and engageable government.

Over on the White House blog, CIO Vivek Kundra and White House Director of Citizen Participation Katie Stanton blog on the notion of what they're calling "context-driven government." Another way to think about the concept is as as everywhere government (though that's perhaps a bit too reminiscent of the previous administration's Total Information Awareness plan) or ubiquitous democracy. Beyond Facebook, beyond Twitter, beyond YouTube, there's a chance that powerful government-driven information, from Medicare data to the state of the national power grid, could be more fully integrated into our daily comings and goings. That vision is similar to a promising but ultimately limited project we saw during the election: the Voting Information Project co-led by Google. The idea was simple; your polling place specifics, for example, could pop up everywhere from your local newspaper website masthead to widget running in the sidebars of every website you visit. Ignorance of how and where to vote would be no excuse, architecting your way to the ballot box and our way to a more participatory democracy. The choice was ultimately yours, but you're now equipped with more information to make a smarter decision, without you hardly noticing that you've been better informed. (Stanton and Kundra then take on the idea of appropriate technologies to desired government ends. When is a wiki the right tool to use? When might a Digg-like forum be a better fit?)

Then there's John Moses, Director of's eRulemaking Program. Also on the White House blog, Moses is putting out a call for ideas on how people might be better educated about the federal regulatory process, and how technology might smooth their path to their participation in it.

Finally, NextGov has a wide-ranging interview with Bev Godwin, White House Director of Online Resources and Interagency Development on leave from GSA. Godwin fleshes out how the eight-person White House new media team slots into the rest of government, and ruminates on some of the hurdles impeding the progress of open government, from the Presidential Records Act to the remnants of a broadcast culture still scattered about the federal government. (Photo by Seansie)