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Open Governenment: A Framework and Case Study Overview


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A research paper that describes analytical frameworks and success stories from around the globe.

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Open Governenment: A Framework and Case Study Overview

  1. 1. Borenstein 1 E-government and E-Participation: Democracy in the 21st century Jeff Borenstein,
  2. 2. Borenstein 2 I. Introduction and Frameworks to Approach E-Democracy Across the world countries are employing information communication technologies [ICTs] “to promote more efficient and cost-effective government, facilitate more convenient government services, allow greater public access to information, and make government more accountable to citizens.”1 A majority of countries in the Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin American regions are in the emerging stages of e-government adoption, while Western Europe and the United States are at the connected stage, using social media and Web 2.0 technologies in e-government programs. Government in the West is becoming more efficient and participatory.2 In Latin America for example, the Organization for American States point to specific examples in which countries utilize technology to reduce poverty, increase trade and promote foreign direct investment.3 In addition to the socio-political challenges facing countries and multi-national institutions, governments still face practical challenges on a local levels. Everyday millions of people across the world encounter long lines to renew or gather travel documentation; they endure confusion while filling out tax forms, and have trouble accessing government sponsored medical services. Despite its transformational abilities, ICT will not undo the decades of bureaucracy and inefficiencies overnight. But in the last 10-15 years, countries have implemented ICTs into the governing process and reduced inefficiencies. From online portals to web based transactions and participatory tools, the Internet has fostered a 21st century democracy aimed at reducing transaction costs and increasing efficiency. 1 Clay Wescott, “E-Government in Asia Pacific Region.” 2 Ibid. 3 Organization of American States, “E-Government Applications in Latin America: An overview.”
  3. 3. Borenstein 3 Researcher Sushil S. Sharma broadly defines e-government as “the uses of information technology and particularly the Internet to support government operations, engage citizens, and provide government services.”4 Countries across the world are at various stages of E-government readiness, and the United Nations e-Government 2008 Survey measures over 189 nations as they implement online services. The survey also measures e-participation, “an environment that allows citizens to voice their views online and more importantly, to create a feedback mechanism which shows citizens that their views are taken seriously.”5 Both components rely on political will and public support for their success. The United Nations e-Government 2008 Survey uses the following framework as one tool to measure e-government readiness. The five-stage model evaluates web-readiness as it charts the progression from basic online services to the connected stages in which stakeholders use technology to communicate and govern collectively. As published in the Survey: Stage I - Emerging: A government’s online presence is mainly comprised of a web page and/or an official website; links to ministries or departments of education, health, social welfare, labour and finance may/may not exist. Much of the information is static and there is little interaction with citizens. Stage II - Enhanced: Governments provide more information on public policy and governance. They have created links to archived information that is easily accessible to citizens, as for instance, documents, forms, reports, laws and regulations, and newsletters. Stage III - Interactive: Governments deliver online services such as downloadable forms for tax payments and applications for license renewals. In addition, the beginnings of an interactive portal or website with services to enhance the convenience of citizens are evident. 4 Shailendra C. Jain Palvia and Sushil S. Sharma “E-Government and E-Governance: Definitions/Domain Framework and Status around the World” 5 United Nations, “United Nations e-Government Survey 2008 From e-Government to Connected Governance,” 17.
  4. 4. Borenstein 4 Stage IV - Transactional: Governments begin to transform themselves by introducing two-way interactions between ‘citizen and government’. It includes options for paying taxes, applying for ID cards, birth certificates, passports and license renewals, as well as other similar G to C interactions, and allows the citizen to access these services online 24/7. All transactions are conducted online. Stage V - Connected: Governments transform themselves into a connected entity that responds to the needs of its citizens by developing an integrated back office infrastructure. This is the most sophisticated level of online e-government initiatives and is characterized by: 1. Horizontal connections (among government agencies) 2. Vertical connections (central and local government agencies) 3. Infrastructure connections (interoperability issues) 4. Connections between governments and citizens 5. Connections among stakeholders (government, private sector, academic institutions, NGOs and civil society) The UN framework suggests that countries can evolve from basic online services to a highly connected political system in which stakeholders interact in real-time using the latest in collaborative web technologies. The report also states that the developing world’s biggest challenges in obtaining a functioning e-government solution is infrastructure problems, a challenge mostly solved by Western Europe, parts of Asia, and the United States.6 In spite of the challenge to wire the world with broadband access, there is growing institutional support as investment continues to increase and emerging countries adopt e-government solutions. As of 2008, 189 countries were online in some capacity.7 In addition to the basic information delivery and online transactions associated with e-government, countries such as the United States, Korea, and Europe are entering the connected phases of government and transforming how people and the state interact. Technology supports e-government programs and as a result the interactions between citizen and elected officials are being transformed. E-participation is emerging. According to scholars Hackler and von Dijk, “‘E-Participation has the potential to 6 Ibid, xvii. 7 Ibid, 60.
  5. 5. Borenstein 5 establish more transparency in government by allowing citizens to use new channels of influence which reduces barriers to public participation in policymaking.”8 The UN Survey on e-participation employs a methodology to measure three areas: E-Information, E-Consultation, and E-Decision-Making. E-Information lists government officials, budgets, laws, and other forms of public interest. Web 2.0 tools disseminate the information. E-Consultation ensures that elected officials are listening to their constituents through blogs, petitions, and other social media tools. Finally, E-Decision- Making is the willingness of government to consider the citizens in the policy process.9 The United States ranks number one in e-participation, followed by Korea, and Denmark/France.10 In the 2008 rankings, more than one-third of the top 35 countries were newcomers and a significant portion of countries made dramatic leaps forward from the 2005 survey. For example Bhutan, which was ranked 90th in 2005 jumped to 19th, and Jordan, which was also ranked 90th in 2005 jumped to 15th.11 According to the UN Survey, information communication technologies have raised citizens’ expectations of government. To meet the peoples’ needs, governments are implementing technology to upgrade backend servers and software, or deploying social media tools like blogs, podcasts, and wikis. The UN survey tries to quantify the readiness and participation levels by considering factors like literacy rates, broadband infrastructure, and web presence. Therefore, the score profiles can obscure fundamental gaps in web presence, especially if literacy rates and broadband access are high. For example, in the e- Information category only 19 percent of countries surveyed provide a clear e- participation mission statement; 11 percent use e-mail and an online calendar to distribute 8 Ibid, 17. 9 Ibid, 18. 10 Ibid, 58. 11 Ibid, 59.
  6. 6. Borenstein 6 information, and 10 percent use RSS. In the e-Consultation section only 17 percent of countries surveyed use polls to solicit citizen opinions, and worse, only 4 percent use blogs for the same purpose. Finally, 11 percent of countries surveyed “formally or informally” use e-participation in the decision-making process.12 The survey results suggest a wide disparity in e-participation from country-to-country and it is not clear what tools countries are using in their e-participation programs. Gaurav Mishra’s framework provides a granular approach to measure e-participation. Gaurav Mishra’s framework can be used in conjunction with the UN Survey to better analyze e-participation in regions like Europe and the United States where governments and non-profits are using Web 2.0 technologies. The model can be applied to countries in the connected stage of e-readiness and to countries that are implementing e-consulting and e-decision-making services. The model is as follows: * Level 1. Allow government employees and elected officials at all levels to access and use social media tools like blogs, wikis and social networks to connect with their constituents. * Level 2. The strategic use of social media tools like blogs, wikis and social networks by government agencies to achieve their objectives and solicit citizen feedback to improve their processes. * Level 3. A participatory platform that engages citizens in policy debates and voluntary service at all levels of the government. * Level 4. Open availability of all non-sensitive and non-personal government data so that citizens can use it and third parties can build web 2.0 mash-ups on top of it. * Level 5. Crowd-sourcing the government, party by institutionalizing a process that directly uses the aforementioned participatory platform as an important input into government functions, including policy formation. In Brussels at an e-participation event in March 2009, a small survey was conducted among the participants asking them about the expectations and changes associated with e-government and e-participation .13 When asked “What is eParticipation 12 Ibid, 62-65. 13 Brussells Survey,
  7. 7. Borenstein 7 expected to achieve?,” 42 percent said “Improve the quality of decision-making,” followed by “Reduce the democratic deficit,” and “Improve trust,” at 24.7 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively. Secondly, when asked, “How will eParticipation change the nature of public engagement and politics?” 39.5 percent said “Spread political power throughout society,” followed by “Enable citizens to better scrutinize the work of politicians,” and “Lead to direct democracy with no need for elected representative,” at 28.4 percent and 11.1 percent, respectively. The results suggest collective knowledge and the diffusion of power have the broadest appeal for e-participation practitioners. Nonetheless, implementing services to meet these goals is the primary challenge facing governments and non-profit organizations. II. Access, Feedback and Participation: Proven Examples E-participation has the potential to harness collective knowledge, distribute decision- making across a diverse population, and lead to a greater diffusion of power in a society. According to the UN Survey, “E-government as a transformational project should be framed first and foremost as a conversation, one that should ideally resonate across the widest possible set of individuals and organizational actors within any given jurisdiction.”14 The conversations are happening in places like China, the United States, Korea, France and 189 countries in total. In China for example, the Government Online Project started in 1999 promotes e-government programs, improves coordination across agencies, increases public access to information, and reduces expenses while increasing efficiency.15 The site is a user-friendly portal, a place where visitors can find important 14 UN Survey, 124. 15 Xiang Zhou, “E-Government in China, a content analysis.” Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, Vol. 9, Issue 4.
  8. 8. Borenstein 8 information quickly and read the latest news pertaining to government policies and services. While the site lacks interactive features, it does excel at information delivery. In Korea, one of the most connected countries in the world, the government has established multiple portals for information and transactions., the official English language homepage of the Republic, lists official government positions on sensitive issues like North Korea and the 2009 economic slowdown.16 Both of these websites are typical of countries that are engaged in e-government programs and have adequate infrastructure both inside government and among the population to warrant an investment in timely web content. Nonetheless, portals are just one component of an e- government and participatory strategy. Europe and the United States are global leaders in technology that bridges the conversation among government and citizen. The following case studies show how the leading countries in e-readiness are using online tools to gather collective knowledge, diffuse power and open data. Not every department or agency should crowdsource sensitive political decisions, or collaboratively write legislation; nor should all levels of government institutionalize participatory platforms on the web. However, with the current technologies available, countries should strive to reach citizens in meaningful ways and open the dialogue and foster debate. The first set of case studies will be categorized under Levels 3 of Mishra’s framework, with a focus on countries or regions using advanced web platforms to facilitate conversation about political issues or regional concerns. The United States will serve as the primary example for Levels 4 and 5, where government and NGOs are using open data and crowdsourcing to engage citizens in the democratic process. At each level of Mishra’s frameworks, websites or technology can solve real-world 16 Official website of the Republic of Korea,
  9. 9. Borenstein 9 problems, such as improving access to elected officials, opening the policy making process to citizens, expanding the debate and dialogue on important issues, and finding ways to collaborate with the public in governance. One solution has been the adoption of Twitter by Congressional Representatives. Despite the unique broadcast model that blends one-to-one and one-to-many, Twitter has given local constituents better access to lawmakers. A simple solution, using off-the-shelf technology, lets the Representatives and constituents engage in an ongoing conversation, providing an insiders view of Washington lawmakers. Claire McCaskill, a representative from Missouri has more than 20,000 followers and she tweets updates at least once per day. Even though she follows no other users directly, McCaskill replies to direct questions and blends her daily life (baseball, TV watching, etc.,) with policy issues facing the US government. For example, in one tweet she wrote, “Just saw reverse mortgage ad on evening news. Scary. Calling it a "Govt benefit. Potentially another sub prime mess. I'm on it.” 17 Micro- blogging may be a valuable tool for other elected officials as a way to engage a wide audience and humanize the role of elected officials. Blogs are another communication tool used at the agency level. In the United States, the Transportation Security Administration enhances its web presence by maintaining a blog. The blog is a bi-directional communication tool, a place where administrators monitor feedback and make changes to policy partially based on citizens’ input. For example, employees at the Transportation Security Administration respond directly to citizen blog comments. The website reads, “After leaving your feedback, it will be emailed directly to the person in charge of TSA customer service at 17 Clare McCaskill Twitter page,
  10. 10. Borenstein 10 the airport for which you are commenting.” 18 This direct engagement is a central feature of successful e-participation endeavors. And while Twitter and blogs are important tools in the evolution of participatory government, web platforms are comprehensive projects that incorporate multiple technologies into a central location. Successful platforms listen to the users’ needs, broadcast information, and work toward collective decision-making. The European Union has developed a site, Europa Debate that tries to meet these challenges. III. Europa Debate: Implementing Multiple Levels of E-Govt Tools Europa Debate, a website run by the European Union, is a model for eParticipation at the third level – a platform that engages users with a combination of forums, blogs, multimedia tools and wikis.19 The website tries to solve the problem of poor dialogue between constituents and elected officials – a challenge in a multi-state, highly diverse population like the European Union. To achieve its goals, the bright and clean design invites users to “Join the Forum in Democracy, Dialogue and Debate.” Well-designed graphics inform the viewer of the main issues to discuss on the site: Climate change, Future of Europe, European Elections, and Miscellaneous. According to the About page, “The Commission will use this forum to gauge public opinion. You will be given the opportunity to connect with each other and with the staff at the European institutions. The debate topics reflect the biggest challenges currently facing Europe: this is your chance to express your views and concerns.”20 The call to action is a type of e- Consultation, or mutual listening between government and citizen. By listening to 18 Transportation Security Administration Official Feedback blog. 19 Europa Debate, 20 About Europa Debate,
  11. 11. Borenstein 11 members of the European community with interactive forums, the commission bridges the divide among countries and the political differences within the EU, a challenge in a region that has over 490,000,000 people.21 Forums are the main social media tool used on the Europa Debate website. Despite the simplistic technology, the conversation is lively and regularly updated with user posts. On April 06, 2009 for example, posters debated new European coin designs, Gibraltar, and postcards from Poland. In the Climate Change forum, over 1,000 people had viewed a post on water-fueled cars, conversing about the benefits and feasibility of the technology and how the EU could embrace the challenge. Through the use of forums, the EU commission has begun to solve a major problem in e-government: how to foster two-way conversation between constituents and elected officials. New threads appear on a daily basis and users actively converse on a wide range of issues. The simple, modern design and pledge from the Commission to monitor the forums are three features that may draw users into the site and retain their readership. Europa Debate is fulfilling a need of European citizens – a forum to debate important issues in their lives. The site could expand its reach by implementing the guidelines from Levels 4 and 5 in Mishra’s eParticipation model. For example, the commission could post official EU commission documents and allow the community to comment on legislation before the commission vote. Or it could better integrate with other EU websites such as Jose Manuel Barroso, the current EU Commission has a website, that invites EU residents to participate in a survey: “Your opinion matters. What can Europe do for you?” Funded by the European Parliament, the well-designed interface is 21
  12. 12. Borenstein 12 like an interactive suggestion box, a virtual repository for EU citizen to voice their opinions. The questions are basic and open ended, for example, “What areas affecting your daily life should the EU focus its energies on?” A visualization translates the responses into a graphical user interface where citizens can read one another’s suggestions and comment directly on their postings. One commenter writes, “No cameras on street corners, no DNA-registers, no Internet censorship, no spying of citizens on the Internet, no listening of their phone calls or reading their e-mails”22 One can spend hours reading the collective opinions and according to the site, EU officials monitor the content but they do not comment directly – the site is effectively a one-way transmission model. If the EU could integrate sites like TellBarroso and Europa Debate into a centralized location, a place where citizens could revisit and mobilize participation in a virtual commons, the repeat visit rate and overall effectiveness may improve. The commission could also expand its presence within the forums by engaging directly in the conversations by sponsoring live debates, or inviting officials to comment directly on the forum threads. The site could even incorporate data streams into its feature set by using content that draws on budgetary spending, legislative voting records, or mapping data. On a country specific level, nations like France are using participatory technology to improve dialogue. In Paris, DebatPublic merged interactive technologies and targeted local citizens before a major infrastructure project began.23 The website was an interactive and participatory platform used in an infrastructure project that enabled two- way communication among citizen and government officials. The project opened dialogue on a proposed sanitation plant outside of Paris in 2007. Multiple technologies 22 TellBarrosso.Eu aey6kgky56f 23 DebatPublic,
  13. 13. Borenstein 13 were combined so that videos, photos, and text-based questions merged into one resource, a virtual town hall for users to interact and debate the merits of the program. Project planners reviewed the content and responded to comments within two-weeks. Unlike the Europa Debate site, there were no forums, but users could post questions and markup the proposal directly on the site. In theory, the public debate model seemed innovative and suited for Web 2.0 technologies. The open debate was held for three months in the fall of 2007 and was well received.24 Even though the design was confusing and the project limited in time and scope, other cities could use the DebatPublic project for similar needs – short-term websites to host dialogue between the citizen and state, focused on a specific issue. The web is replete with examples such as DebatPublic. Government and web developers begin a project with the intentions to reach a wide audience for a local debate, to enhance dialogue between officials and citizens during election period, or create a space for citizens to access the decision makers currently serving in office. Often times, poor publicity or weak design stalls the project in its tracks. How can government overcome these challenges? Is it a question of finding the right tools to solve a problem? Do outreach efforts to promote the site online and offline translate into page hits? Or are the best projects the ones that fulfill the greatest user needs, relying on the service itself to draw traffic? Simply building an interactive website does not ensure success. The conditions and timing are of great importance. DebatPublic and Europa Debate are two examples that have clear goals and a well-defined target audience. Europe is a world leader in e-participation and e-government services, creating new technologies to improve conversation and collective knowledge gathering. Despite the fragmented 24 UN Survey, 86.
  14. 14. Borenstein 14 nature of the European Union’s web presence, the breadth and scope of the services it provides serve as a model for other countries and regions working toward the connected stage. The next section focuses on the United States and the latest movement toward open data and mash-ups. Web 2.0 applications harness public information and make the complex workings of government more visible and transparent. Barack Obama’s administration has pledged greater openness and transparency in the United States, creating the conditions for innovative solutions. IV. The United States: Open Data Initiatives With Barack Obama’s historic United States election victory in November of 2008, the digital era had began anew inside the White House, the non-profits lining the Capital Beltway, and citizens across America. On his first day of office, Obama wrote in an official memorandum, “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government,” he wrote, “We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government”25 Obama’s mandate signaled his dedication to building a new framework within government and changing the way citizens interacted with elected officials. The administration is committed to a new paradigm for government, which means harnessing the power of the social web and using Executive branch powers to make sweeping changes to policy and governance. It will take time to change how government and its citizenry interact in the digital age, but there are countless citizen run websites and official agencies using social media technology. E-government and e-participation are 25 Barack Obama
  15. 15. Borenstein 15 still emerging, but the Untied States has a leader willing to support dialogue, debate and decision making to the public. One function of government is to produce data about the workings of taxpayer money and publicly run services. For example, this data may include: financial information such as budget expenditures, educational test scores, public works contracts, crime statistics, etc. In the digital era, governments at the federal and state level have started to release this information in XML, RSS or other open formats on the web. 26 Low-cost and open-source software can visualize the data, giving citizens a deeper and clearer perspective of how the government operates. Organizations like the Sunlight Foundation based in Washington, DC advocate for “the Internet to shine a light on the interplay of money, lobbying, influence and government in Washington in ways never before possible.”27 The National Association of Public Administration, another Washington, DC based think-tank released a report in March 2009 entitled: “Enabling Collaboration, Three Priorities for the New Administration [Obama].” In the report NAPA recommends that the President “1) create an open technology environment, 2) treat data as a national asset, and 3) foster a culture and framework for collaboration.”28 As of 2009 the theme in Washington, DC is clear: open and transparent government will lead to a healthier, more engaged democracy. In Europe change is also underway. A lawsuit brought by MEP Maurizio Turco resulted in “a historic ruling require[ing] the Council to ensure that all its documents and information are in the public domain, 26 Washington, DC Portal, 27 The Sunlight Foundation, 28 National Association of Public Administration, “Enabling Collaboration, Three Priorities for the NewAdministation,” March, 2009.
  16. 16. Borenstein 16 including the identity of members of national delegations and working parties.”29 This ruling signifies the European commitment to freedom of information and access to the political process. Both Europe and the United States are creating a culture where openness and innovation can be applied to government services and to the elected officials who represent the citizens. Individuals can access information in ready-to-use formats, an essential condition for openness and transparency. But how can the social web and open data integrate with existing platforms and solve real world problems? In the United States in 2009, watchdog groups, non-profits, and the United States government have devised technologies to track the spending from the stimulus bill passed in the winter of 2009 to combat the global recession. At over $787 billion dollars, citizens are concerned where and to whom the money is being spent. The Pew Charitable Trust, a leading think-tank based in Washington, DC, recently launched a website called, an online resource which “aims to raise public awareness about the role of federal subsidies in the economy. “30 The site uses open data technology to track government spending and visualize it into charts, graphs and downloadable spreadsheets. Bold colors and interactive graphics make it easy to see how much money is being spent on the stimulus package and who are the biggest beneficiaries of this legislation. The site does succeeds in its mission: “to create a searchable database of federal subsidies and publish the data online.”31 But the site could be improved. For example, each Congressional district could be displayed on a map, European Parliament News, 90220090114IPR46169-12-01-2009-2009-false/default_en.htm 30, 31 Ibid.
  17. 17. Borenstein 17 linked to its representatives website or Twitter page and the amount of money being directed in by the Federal government. Users could watch as spending dollars flowed from Washington into local projects. A site like Subsidyscope should have a forum where users can post questions and read responses from other concerned citizens, or ideally from government officials. is an organization that takes up some of these challenges, but better partnerships could be built between the two. What has the Federal government done to improve transparency after the 2009 stimulus package? is a Federal website with three main goals: education, transparency, and accountability.32 The site is designed to explain the current legislation and to show where and how the money is spent. It also provides open data for the public to use in mash-ups or to review directly, like on Subsidyscope or Shovelwatch. claims that users will be able to track where the money is being spent down to the contractor level, as soon as the Federal government releases the data.33 Even though the functionality is not yet optimized, the pledge to release government spending in a user-friendly, open data platform like, signals a transformative moment in American government policy. President Obama is trying to make good on his campaign promises. However, the conversation is still one-way, with government pushing data to the public through well-designed, transparent websites. On a smaller scale, government data can be transformed into dynamic applications that operate in Level 4 of Mishra’s framework: open data and mash-ups In Washington, DC, the city government launched Apps for Democracy, a contest that invited users to submit the best mash-ups based on local government data. Mash-ups are web-based applications that combine multiple data sources into one tool, made 32, 33
  18. 18. Borenstein 18 possible by open programming standards and open data.34 Mash-ups can exist on the web or mobile devices, any tool that can access the Internet. One of the winning applications, Park-it-DC, gathers parking meter information from the DC government every 10 minutes and maps their status on a Google map, thereby allowing the user to check a specific area of town for available meters as well as recent crime information. Applications like Park-it-DC combine multiple data sources and create applications that are greater than the sum of their parts. A gold-medal winner in the contest, mashes up over a dozen data sources including transportation data (subways, buses), emergency services, crime statistics, recreation facilities and demographics. The application overlays the data onto a Google Map, giving the user a broader view of his neighborhood. Mash-ups benefit both the user and the government. As services like and Park-it-Dc become common and accessible to users via mobile devices, the government will be forced to keep their data streams up-to-date and accurate or face negative publicity. is another web-based service that filters news, civic information, Flickr photos and other data streams. “We aim to collect all of the news and civic goings-on that have happened recently in your city, and make it simple for you to keep track of news in particular areas,” the website writes, “We’re a geographic filter — a “news feed” for your neighborhood, or, yes, even your block.”35 As data opens, so will sites like Everyblock, designed to fulfill a niche between government services and local news. But these Level 4 examples, “Open availability of all non-sensitive and non- personal government data so that citizens can use it and third parties can build web 2.0 mash-ups on top of it,” are limited by their collaborative potential. In fact, mash-ups are inherently tied to data controlled by government officials and its operations. For 34 35 About Page,
  19. 19. Borenstein 19 example, a mash-up creator can incorporate RSS feeds or XML from a government portal like, but he can only sort or reappropriate the information, not directly change or add to it. While limited by data, future mash-ups will merge with participatory online services, bridging data and citizens’ collective knowledge. The Sunlight Foundation recently announced a contest called Apps for America, a competition that will reward the best entries “that makes Congress more accountable, interactive and transparent.”36 Entries like Beyond the Bite plays soundclips from Congressional members, and lets citizens contact their representative directly within the application. Mash-ups are only limited by the data and creativity of the coder. The speed in which coders can develop and deploy mash-ups will continue to accelerate as programming APIs become more intuitive and the data more accessible. Finally, there are organizations and web projects that are pushing democracy toward a connected stage where citizens and policy makers work together in collective decision making. V. A Convergent Approach to Policy Making AmericaSpeaks is a national non-profit that creates programs that merge public-private partnerships, open data, and participatory models. The nonpartisan organization based in Washington, DC uses webcasts, online deliberations and a 21st century townhall meeting to address policy issues.37 Technology replicates small-town dialogue across the country, bringing together the minds of many in a virtual space. In one case study, AmericaSpeaks “engaged 45,000 Americans in 50 states in direct discussions on Social 36 Apps For America, 37 AmericaSpeaks,
  20. 20. Borenstein 20 Security reform. More than 12 million were engaged through the project's media and public education effort.”38 The project incorporated teleconferences, town-hall meetings, polling, and advertising, home discussion kits and grassroots engagement. The widespread campaign resulted in a middle ground approach to Social Security, a theme that lawmakers were unaware of before the campaign.39 The AmericaSpeaks model can be replicated to match different user groups. In Davos, at the World Economic Forum in 2005, AmericaSpeaks worked with 700 leaders to collectively decide the top six issues facing the world, and prioritize the forum’s agenda. The exercise combined laptops and keypad entry to solicit the information from the leaders. Data was fed back into the room where dialogue was encouraged among the participants. The results, published in a report and disseminated to the leaders and the media, showed poverty, globalization, and climate change as the top three priorities.40 The multiple channel approach to listening employed by AmericaSpeaks is a model for collaborative consultation. Town halls and polling are excellent tools for gathering data and drawing out deep analysis on complicated issues such as climate change, regional development strategies, or budgetary concerns, but the two-way process does not fully enhance collaborative decision making. AmericaSpeaks is just one example of a partnership that has incorporated multiple technologies and stakeholders to solve a fundamental problem: engaging citizens in the decision making process. Their multi-level approach to problem solving requires extensive resources and converging stakeholders in both virtual and real world spaces, but the outcome – deep data and rich analysis – are valued assets. Websites like 38 AmericaSpeaks, &parentID=499 39 Ibid. 40 AmericaSpeaks, andparentID=473&parentID=688
  21. 21. Borenstein 21 WhiteHouse 2 may be another component of successful e-participation strategies, linking citizens with leaders in a participatory and interactive platform in collective knowledge gathering. is a website that “imagines how the White House might work if it was run completely democratically by thousands of people on the Internet.”41 Users create an account and endorse or oppose policy suggestions submitted by other users; the most endorsed policy ideas rise to the top of the site. The simple, direct democracy approach is an idealized version of the official White House website, based on the idea of crowdsourcing, a form of decision making that is “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” 42 Unlike crowdsourcing in the private sector, such as Dell’s IdeaStorm, Proctor and Gambles Open Innovation Challenge, or the creatively inclined Crowdspring, White House 2 has no direct influence on the governing process, but rather, the site offers a alternative vision of a democratic future, a virtual commons in which citizens and the President debate issues in an online platform, where people’s votes are heard directly, and the administration takes the people’s voice into account. But does the future of e-government look like a direct democracy, where individuals participate in every legislative act and have the ear of a country’s President? According to the OECD report on e-Government in 2020, the main benefits will be a synergy between local and central governments, be client-centric, and a create a competitive, inclusive democracy, not direct access to the legislative 41 Whitehouse2.Org, 42 Jeff Howe, “Crowdsourcing in Government,” Wired Blog
  22. 22. Borenstein 22 process.43 Perhaps the future of e-government and participation is a complex hybrid, a seamless platform that serves the public at the local level while providing tools for conversation at the federal and global level. The specific tools of e-participation will change over time, but the values they embody, openness, transparency, participation will continue to drive innovation in the 21st century. A fully connected government would implement all 5 stages of the UN model on e- participation and meet the 5 conditions of Mishra’s framework. Specifically, a government would seek ICT solutions to reach its constituents and solicit their feedback on pertinent issues then use the data such as poll results or user comments to inform the decision making process. Imagine a government in which all elected officials are connected to social networking sites like GovLoop; they micro-blog throughout the day on what bills are on the floor or with whom they are meeting; government agencies push live data to dynamic websites and open the feeds to the public; everyone collaborates using crowdsourcing; mash-ups to visualize data and display trends on the day’s happenings; and finally, the public comments and engages with policy makers through interactive portals and voting tools. A connected future, a wired world in which government and the people are seamlessly transferring information and collectively deciding the future is not just a utopian ideal for the 21st century – it is slowly becoming a reality. Powerful ICTs and innovative developers are moving the world closer to connected governments. Nonetheless, the UN Report on E-Government tempers the enthusiasm found in the United States and in non-profits lobbying for radical change by showing the large disconnect between the West and the developing world. 43 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, “E-Government in 2020 Report”
  23. 23. Borenstein 23 VI. A Long Way to Go On a macro scale, countries should focus on creating interoperable networks, collaborate on e-government solutions with the help of incentives, and strive to build public-private partnerships.44 A connected government does not emerge from patchwork websites and opening the doors to endless data. “It is the connected and transformational nature of e- government, together with its complexity and, often, its resource intensity, that drives such partnerships,” writes the UN Survey.45 The partnerships that flourish from effective e-government create ripple effects across nations, governments and its people. According to the OECD report on E-government in 2020, as countries grow into the connected stage, the positive externalities may include better cost savings, economic growth, access to information, and in terms of participation, the citizens become the central focus of governments, benefiting from the greater access to the political process.46 For countries that are able to harness technology and political capital to transform government, sustained growth and public participation are just two of the likely outcomes. The e-government revolution has swept the world in varying degrees. Certain regions like Europe and the United States are entering the connected stage, where stakeholders seamlessly communicate using the latest technologies and citizens reap the benefits from improved services and participation. Public-private partnerships foster openness and dialogue, two conditions of a healthy democratic state. Web technology can bridge gaps in policy making, linking concerned citizens with lawmakers, and the public sphere continues to shift online. While the West moves forward, Latin America, 44 UN Survey, 171. 45 Ibid. 46 OECD Report
  24. 24. Borenstein 24 Asia-Pacific and Africa are slowly getting connected with infrastructure projects and online websites. Anisur Rahman, a Bengali researcher puts the digital divide into perspective. According to his research, the total bandwidth of Africa is equal to the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo; the total bandwidth in Latin America is equal to that in Seoul, Repbulic of Korea; and in the United States 54.3 per cent of citizens use the Internet, compared to a global average of 6.7 per cent, and 0.4 per cent in the Indian subcontinent.47 Even though the figures paint the developing world as disconnected and lagging far behind the West, as the world frees itself from 20th century democracy and embraces e-government, regions like Africa, Asia and Latin America will benefit from the lessons learned by the increasingly connected nations. E-government has increased openness, transparency, and accountability to democracies around the world. And despite the challenges that lie ahead, mainly infrastructure development and increasing Internet access, the world is on the brink of an exciting and transformational era. 47 UN Survery, 136. Rahman, Anisur. (2006) Access to Global Information—A Case of Digital Divide in Bangladesh. Northern University Bangladesh: Library and Information Division.