New Policy Papers Call For Adoption of Strategies to Expand Government Transparency and Create Online Hubs

Press Release

February 25, 2011

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Washington, D.C.—Today the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released two policy papers that call on community and elected leaders to adopt sensible strategies to expand government transparency, make public records and civic data more open and accessible to the public, and create local online hubs that provide maps for a community’s information resources.

Government Transparency: Six Strategies for More Open and Participatory Government, by Jon Gant and Nicol Turner-Lee, urges state and local governments to adopt six strategies that are particularly important for accelerating the trend toward open government at the state and local levels. The strategies focus on enhancing government expertise and transparency, educating citizens regarding the availability and utility of government information and e-government tools, expanding efforts to support greater adoption of broadband Internet access services and devices, and forging public-private-citizen partnerships in order to enhance open government solutions. Adopting these strategies will enable state and local governments to tap into the expertise and innovative spirit of the public to create new “public goods” apps and community information resources and ultimately enhance government accountability.

Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action, by Adam Thierer, explores three scenarios under which community leaders and other stakeholders can work together to create local online hubs where citizens can access information about their governments and local communities. Government information, requiring real transparency of public information, should form the foundation for building local online hubs according to the three models proposed by Thierer. Promoting greater government transparency and ensuring that every local community has at least one high-quality hub are two of the recommendations made by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

These papers are the fourth and fifth in a series focused on implementing the Knight Commission’s 15 recommendations for creating healthy informed communities across the country released last year in a landmark report, Informing Communities. This bipartisan blue ribbon commission called for universal broadband, open networks, transparent government, a media and digitally literate populace, vibrant local journalism, public media reform, and more local public engagement.

The first three papers in the series cover universal broadband, digital and media literacy, and public media.

“Local online hubs can serve as maps of information flow that enable citizens to connect to the data and information they want, much as communities depend on maps of physical space,” said Charles M. Firestone, executive director of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program.

“Building effective local hubs will require coordination among local governments and universities, libraries and other community organizations, local businesses, local media and other patrons and supporters,” notes Thierer, who outlines specific tasks for each of these stakeholders.

Notably, Thierer says that government’s role in creating high-quality online hubs “will likely be quite limited and primarily focused on (a) opening up its own data and processes and (b) providing limited funding at the margins for other local initiatives.”

Thierer’s three models include:

• Model 1: A Community Government Information Model, including such resources as government data feeds, civic information and events calendars;

• Model 2: A Community Connections Model, including all the information in Model 1 plus local forums and community e-mail listservs; and

• Model 3: A Community News and Commentary Model, including Models 1 and 2 plus local media and local blogs. Gant and Turner-Lee explore the evolution of transparency and open government policies and the important role that broadband technologies play in moving beyond analog-era notions of transparency.

They also address the practical barriers that stand in the way of realizing the full value of open government, including design flaws in open government tools, inadequate broadband access and adoption among the public, misunderstanding public demands for information, and legal constraints. The six strategies they recommend for more open and participatory government include:

(1) Convening chief information and technology leaders to determine more effective technical and operational procedures for open government purposes;

(2) Create sustainable public-private partnerships for developing public goods applications;

(3) Establish more flexible procurement procedures, off-the-shelf purchasing and easier contracting for the technologies used to disseminate government information;

(4) Improve broadband access to community anchor institutions;

(5) Create government content that is relevant and accessible to all populations;and

(6) Promote new partnerships for professional development that leverage industry and university knowledge within government. Both papers were featured today in a high-level roundtable discussion among a select group of leaders, innovators, advocates and critics from the national, state and local levels at the Aspen Institute headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The release of these papers comes just ahead of Sunshine Week 2011 (March 13-19), a national initiative to promote a national dialogue about open government and freedom of information.

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy was a blue ribbon panel of seventeen media, policy and community leaders that met in 2008 and 2009. Its purpose was to assess the information needs of communities, and recommend measures to help Americans better meet those needs. Its Report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, was the first major commission on media since the Hutchins Commission in the 1940’s and the Kerner and Carnegie Commissions of the 1960’s. The Commission’s aims were to maximize the availability and flow of credible local information; to enhance access and capacity to use the new tools of knowledge and exchange; and to encourage people to engage with information and each other within their geographic communities. Among its 15 recommendations the Commission argues for universal broadband, open networks, transparent government, a media and digitally literate populace, vibrant local journalism, public media reform, and more local public engagement. The Knight Commission is a project of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Aspen Institute does this primarily in four ways: seminars, young-leader fellowships around the globe, policy programs, and public conferences and events. The Institute is based in Washington, DC, Aspen, CO, and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and has an international network of partners. For details, see www.aspeninstitute.org.