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2010 Vol.4
A long path to achieve Obama’s Open Government


Presidential Candidate Obama advocated, during his campaign, a basic idea of open government aimed at strengthening democracy with increased government transparency and more public engagement by using technology. Immediately after his inauguration, he made public three guiding principles of open government-transparency, participation, and collaboration-in the Presidential Memorandum, “Transparency and Open Government”. This article mainly examines issues in experimental participatory dialogues through social media which were conducted last year during the process of developing an implementation plan for the federal government agencies, called “Open Government Directive”, based on the Memorandum.
Typically, participatory dialogues have been conducted with the physical presence of people assembling in one place as part of participatory democracy in some Western local municipalities. There are various types of participatory dialogue: deliberative democracy, citizen jury, and Planungszelle (“planning cells”). However, all of them involve a process of intensive discussions with face-to-face interactions among participants and all require sufficient information and time. Obama’s principle of participation indeed pursues this type of process through social media as well as on a national scale, which is far more complex than community-level discussions. The result of the experiment revealed numerous unresolved issues that need to be overcome, as detailed in the article.
But this does not mean in itself that participatory dialogues through social media are of no value. The method has not yet matured. However, the fact that the general public can communicate and share policy-related information immediately and easily is of irreplaceable value to enhanced democracy, and it is worth continuing experiments incrementally and innovatively in spite of the long and bumpy path towards better participatory dialogues ahead.
Lastly, the performance of open government by each agency after the Directive varies and may not yet be welcomed by some advocacy groups. The author argues that guidance to connect the three principles with the policymaking process remain insufficient and needs to be articulated by using a matrix of relations between them.