Earlier this week, the Knight Foundation opened a new Knight News Challenge, this time focused on promoting innovative approaches to "open government." The announcement has received quite a bit of attention; any time you commit up to US$5 million in funding for something, people's ears tend to prick up.
We've spent plenty of time here at Global Integrity thinking about thedefinition, potential, and limits of open government in the past few years. We invest heavy amounts of effort into making the Open Government Partnershipwork and generally think that open government is a really good thing. Personally, I track the continued conflation of "open data" with "open government" over at this Tumblr.
In short, we pay very close attention to the uses and abuses of open government as a term of art. Here's what we're seeing so far come out of the Knight News Challenge on open government that both excites and worries us.
Open government = technology for governance?
Happily, the positioning and language behind the contest avoids the conflation of "open data" with "open government," which can be a very misleading mistake. Rather, what we are picking up is a tendency to equate technology, or more specifically citizens + technology, with open government. The contest is framed as a way to "improve the way governments and citizens interact," but virtually all of the examples involve leveraging technology or "civic hacking."
Don't get us wrong, we love technology; we even build software to advance our own work. But open government goes well beyond technology and software tools. It involves a fundamental reorientation of power and decision-making, two decidedly non-technical (but pretty important) things. We hope to see at least some contest entries focused explicitly around non-technology ideas.
We still don't know what open government really means.
We've discussed this ad nauseam elsewhere; see our "Working Definition of Open Government" for how we think the term might be defined. The Open Government Standards project is another place to find some ideas (although please let us know in the comments if anyone is keeping that alive…it seems to have gone silent).
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.