New reports on citizen participation and rulemaking offer open government guidance

Earlier today, AmericaSpeaks released a new report, “Assessing Public Participation in an Open Government Era: A Review of Federal Agency Plans.” This represents the most comprehensive review of the public participation aspects of the federal open government initiative to date.

The Obama Administration’s Open Government Directive required Federal Agencies to publish Open Government Plans describing how they would become more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Before this research, the public participation elements of the plans had not been subject to an in-depth analysis.  We reviewed the more than 1,000 pages contained in the plans of the 29 Agencies that were included in the White House Open Government Dashboard and compared them to the standards used often by practitioners in the field of public engagement that we believe are most important.

The report, embedded below, highlights best practices for public participation and suggests ways to enhance the role the public has in shaping federal policy, including implementing the ExpertNet open government platform.

Overall, the administration received mixed marks. While the AmericaSpeaks found that agencies “display an admirable willingness to experiment with new tools and techniques to involve citizens with their decision-making processes,” the “Open Government Initiative and most Federal Agency plans have failed to offer standards for what constitutes high-quality public participation.”

On the one hand, agencies are increasing the number of people devoted to public engagement and using a range of online and offline forums. On the other, “deliberative processes, in which citizens learn, express points of view, and have a chance to find common ground, are rarely incorporated.”

New guidance on rulemaking

Separately, University of Pennsylvania professor Cary Coglianese prepared a report to the Administrative Conference of the United States on the use of electronic media in the rulemaking process. Here’s the short version: agencies should use social media more, involve the millions of non-English speaking members of the public and significantly upgrade, streamline and optimize agency websites. For the long way, read on:

Federal Agency Use of Electronic Media in the Rulemaking Process

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.