7 Tips for Russia, For All of Us

Active community participation is a phrase at the core of “open government”, at least that’s what most countries are putting near the top of their priority lists in their open government initiatives.  In Russia’s Open Government Plan, it’s at the top of their list, citing “involvement of society in decision-making process.”  Based on their draft of their plan to achieve their goals, I believe there are some other countries pursuing similar goals which can help guide Russia’s plans.  Moreso, these ideas and projects that are being taken on can and should be looked at and considered by everyone.  A good idea is a good idea, no matter what country. 

For those following along at home, you can find the initiatives referenced below here – http://www.opengovpartnership.org/countries.  It’s worth taking some time to play around on the site anyway, see what everyone else is doing.  I’ve numbered these ideas in order, but also in parenthesis the action item from Russia’s draft plan.

(1) 1.  Russian Public Initiative – Make sure the whole process is transparent and accessible.  Not just the selection process, but who’s working on what, tracking the progress from beginning to end.  If its budgetary or legislative, let the people see where their proposal is at all times, and give them the opportunity to interact with the agents who are currently handling the project, wherever it may be.  This could be in the form of an online tracking system, with direct links to emails and phone numbers of the government agency overseeing that particular process. 

Or maybe there’s even a more low tech solution.  From Tanzania’s Transparency efforts — “Establishment of public complaints desks in Central and Local Governments. These desks are handled by focal persons appointed by Institutional Chief Executives to receive complaints from the public regarding service delivery, take appropriate action and provide feedback to the public.”  Russia could host “update” desks, where part of their function is to make available updates on any ongoing process.  This could serve as a “low tech” alternative for those still catching up to technology.   

(2) 2.  System of Information Disclosure – an online government manual:  legislation is hard enough to understand and follow even for the legislators, don’t muck up the process for citizens.  “A system for information disclosure” sounds like it could be a basic manual that people could access, describing the processes a bill is going through.  It can be as watered down as an old School House Rock (not sure this reference will carry over in Russian) video, but something that could simply explain in laymen’s terms what’s happening would allow the general public to engage more thoroughly in the process.   

Much like the Transparency Portal Brazil has undertaken – “The Portal provides online information on the execution of the federal budget in clear and understandable language without requiring usernames or passwords to access the pertinent information and data. As of 2010, the Transparency Portal is updated daily, meaning that all of the expenditures executed on a given day are published and available for consultation by Brazilian citizens the following morning.” 

(3) 4.  Non-Profit Sector – In October 2010, Greece launched Labs.OpenGov, “a new experimental attempt in engaging corporate and non-corporate users into generating sophisticated and immediately applicable ideas for crowd-sourced policy making in the field of ICT. It is an open innovations web laboratory that brings together experts from the technological community and institutions that manage information technology projects for the public sector and citizens.”   The interactions between non profits, the public, and the govt. is a crucial development. 

Can the NFP world be a voice for the people?  Is that what the NFP wants?  Is that what’s best for the people?  Strengthening the bond between public service organizations and people is a great task, especially when referring to containing and collecting data.  Who collects the data and who stores it are two crucial questions when regarding data, and local non profits have the ability to assist in both those areas. 

(4) 5.  Control over Execution – “Fulfilling of control over their execution” is a loaded phrase.  Will people be allowed to work on a project directly?  Oversee its management?  Involving people in a project can be a great community growth exercise, if done well.  A project which involves infrastructure in a given community, such as construction of a playground or community garden, would be improved if the community was involved.  Tanzania’s Citizen Participation section, “formulation and approval of Local Government budgets through a participatory approach known as “Opportunities and Obstacles to Development” (O&OD).The approach allows villages to prepare plans and budgets and submit them to the higher LGA level for inclusion in the Council‟s plans and budgets.”  Bringing the government out of the realm of the intangible and into the world of touching and planting raises the level of connection between people and the government. 

(5) 8.1.  Public Surveys – In Uganda, a program, “UReport” – http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/uganda_62001.html – is a great example of creating public surveys for the government to gather information directly from the citizens.  The basic concept is that questions are posed and people can send in their answers via SMS.  The data is then collected around various issues and published publicly.  I think it’s important here to let people bring up the issues and the questions surveyed. 

(6) 9.2.  Information Database – A mass available set of public sector data is a great thing.  But why not make it interactive!  Just seeing the data is one thing, but being able to do something with it is another.  Can it link to a newspaper to report suspicious filings?  Reporters can play an intriguing role in the sense that they can add the accountability factor that the government needs to be held against.  Politically these days, reporters often carry more of a threat than citizens do, so giving a citizen that direct contact will a) empower them to search critically, and b) put politicians on edge.  For example, in Kenya a local newspaper recently launched a citizen reporting app – http://www.humanipo.com/news/1610/Kenyan-newspaper-unveils-citizen-reporting-app – which allows people to report any kind of news directly to the paper.  While this type of technology would need to be monitored for legitimization, the concept could be applied to root out government corruption and empower the citizens directly. 

(7) 23.  Training Program – If we’re looking to develop a new group of public servants with a specialty in open government, why not start with programs in lower education?  Middle schools and high schools can integrate open government curriculums.  After high school, programs could be offered which counted for college credit.  Even further, people could be recruited into programs and the government could supplement part of their higher education.  Much like the US Army operates, a recently graduated high school student could serve as part of an open government program for anywhere between 2-3 years and the government could pay for part of their college education.

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