Times have changed. Governance in the Information Age has evolved, however access to information remains a crucial element in the effort to increase accountability and transparency and to cultivate trust among citizens and their governments. A leading organization in this field is the OpenGov Foundation.
The OpenGov Foundation was created from the success generated by the development of Madison – an online application that allows legislators to upload policy documents for public feedback. At the request of the Republic of Costa Rica, ITU is currently collaborating with Madison on the #PP14 youth initiative, which will, for the first time, provide public input to draft a youth resolution which will be presented to the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-14) currently underway in Busan, Republic of Korea. This marks the first time that an ITU Member State has embarked on a public consultation to help develop an ITU-level resolution, and provides a real life example of how ICTs can create synergies between policy makers and citizens.
ITU had the opportunity to speak with Seamus Kraft, Leili Slutz, Bill Hunt and Chris Birk, from the OpenGov Foundation, about their organization and the Madison collaboration tool.
What was the reason and motivation for establishing the OpenGov Foundation?
This all got started in the U.S Congress at the end of 2011 during the web blackout in the US, and with the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (S.O.P.A) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Many believed that these bills posed a threat to the future of the internet, not only in terms of the content of the bill but also the drafting process, which failed to include internet experts and stakeholders. Chris Birk (Head Developer) and I tried to find a way to fix this, which led us to develop Madison with the aim of opening up the legislative process. The success of Madison led us to establish the OpenGov Foundation with Congressman Darrell Issa, as a non-partisan non-profit organization building civic technology.
What is different in today’s environment that allowed Madison to flourish?
As an organization, we recognize two broad movements which have created the environment for Madison to flourish. First is a positive one, in that everyday technology is rapidly improving making every aspect of our daily lives more efficient, more collaborative, more on demand anytime/anywhere as well as increasingly user friendly. Second, on a less positive note, is the frustration that we are not taking full advantage of all this rapid technological progress. Both aspects played a key role in the project’s success thus far.
What was the personal motivation behind Madison?
The motivation behind Madison came from the technology we have at our disposal today, and the possibilities it provides for greater participation in political processes. We also wanted to give ordinary people a voice in policies that really do impact them on a daily basis. Madison and other initiatives’ such as State Decoded – a platform which displays U.S. legislation in a more ‘people friendly’ format – are examples of how the OpenGov Foundation is working to include these voices in policy-making.
Do you think that e-governance is working?
Madison is our version of e-governance. Many legislators worry about opening things up online because of all the “noise” that comes with the internet. Madison tries to solve that problem by creating a dedicated community around specific policy issues, and provides an online forum for citizens to engage with legislators. Another important aspect to consider is that while technology facilitates the process of transparency and responsiveness, it is the growing willingness of both legislators and citizens’ to engage in conversation which has given Madison the legitimacy it needs.
What is the potential for international policy-making applications?
The core function of the Madison software is linking policy makers with concerned stakeholders. At a national level, that may include linking government officials with private citizens to collaborate on national, local or grassroots policies. However, the software has interesting implications for issues of international policy-making as well. Whether it’s a bilateral agreement between two nation states, or a multi-lateral agreement between many, such as those developed at the United Nations, Madison has the potential to cast light and transparency on these processes, to improve understanding and ultimately buy-in from the general public. Naturally, some policy issues are more conducive to participation and feedback from citizens, whereas others may be confidential. The motivation, however, remains the same: a policy developed in consultation with the people whom it affects gives such policy greater legitimacy and support.
Currently, ITU is gathering public input for the #PP14Youth Initiative, by taking feedback and suggestions on a youth-related resolution which will be presented to Member States during the current Plenipotentiary conference #Plenipot14, the key forum at which ITU Members decide the future direction of the organization. The draft document and online discussion have been sponsored and facilitated by the Republic of Costa Rica, to provide a space for young stakeholders to have their views incorporated into a strategy to better align ITU’s work with the needs and aspirations of young citizens. This is a first for ITU and signals exciting developments for the future.
To view or participate in the consultation, please visit: http://itu.mymadison.io/docs/pp14youth-statement-v1
Seamus launched the OpenGov Foundation with Chairman Issa in 2011 while holding down a Congressional day-job as Director of Digital Strategy and press secretary for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Bill has been a web developer for seventeen years. In that time has worked for a variety of start-ups, client service firms and government agencies, including as the technical lead for several award-winning teams.
Chris previously worked for a series of startup web development companies before diving into Madison with the OpenGov Foundation. He was part of the inSourceCode team that first built Madison and KeepTheWebOpen.com.
Leili joined the OpenGov Foundation to be a part of the digital democratic revolution. She has a background in nonprofit communications and development with a variety of organizations around DC and Virginia.