Yvonne R Thompson
Lead by example.Eat the elephant one bite at a time.
The ‘culture’ is based on the fears of individuals (various, eg loss of control over the information threatens sense of job security…ie if other people know as much about this as me then I’m no longer needed; fear of getting in trouble for allowing access eg what might they use it for? will I be blamed if there is a mistake?).
Any strategy to change the culture must allow for overcoming fears by showing that information can be released in a safe way. That releasing the data doesn’t cost you your job, that rather you have more interesting feedback and the data gets better, is used by more people, and your job is more important not less.
Thus, find every opportunity in government to walk the walk. For example, identify some young leaders / innovators in government and get them actively blogging. Insert some web 2.0 ‘doers’ in government to start disclosing and show that it can be done and that the world does not collapse. Actively ferret out interesting data to release, and release it in a Web 2.0 environment that allows feedback to the data custodian.
We sometimes forget that citizens and government should not be a master-slave relationship. Each needs the other: Good government and good policy depends on an informed citizenry.
When government is secretive and fears to share or expose its information to the public (lest it be criticized or fallibility exposed) then government reinforces its role as slave to an uninformed citizenry. The result is bad policy.
Forgive me an over-used bit of reality television jargon, but good policy development is journey that citizens and government must take together. The reality is, this rarely happens, and ‘consultation’ is notorious for being a cynical and artificial ruse.
Government policy-wonks leap in, do the hard yards, research and often produce some pretty good, well-informed policy. All too often they are blind-sided by some misdirected outrage or political maneuvering from the opposition.
This may all be a fun game of poke and jibe that’s served politicians well, particularly in an environment of a lazy and biased media, too many spin doctors and a penchant for opportunistic sound-bites. The result is often that years of good policy work are shelved because a couple pollies and a few talk back radio ferals exercized their larynxs.
I am of the view that trust with citizenry will only build slowly through sharing and exposing fallibility. This is what allows citizenms to begin to grapple with the cpomplexity that policy makers deal with every day. Education, real xcollaboration, and sharing of informationas well as sharing responsibility for hard decisions with citizenry makes the public a true partner, not a master.
The alternative is what we have now, which operates as an implicit contract of the type of a service level agreement, with citizens cast as unhappy customers, and government in the role of evil secretive service-provider out to rip people off.
Either we oputsource governmnet entirely (maybe India would do it less expensively?) or we forge a new kind of understanding. Government must take the first step, through the actions of the bureacracy, not through words or political announcements. This implies that bureaucrats must freed from the shackles of fear of political or other retribution that corrodes their initiative and innovation.