Over the past few months, I have noticed that some people, including the media, do not always “get” what open government is all about. Fair enough – we are breaking new ground.
They often equate open government with transparency and the release of information.
While open government does foster greater transparency and accountability, it’s much bigger than that. Fundamentally, open government is about charting a course for a new relationship between municipal government and the people it serves.
Historically, governments were seen as vending machines – you put tax dollars in, and got services out.
Open government asks citizens to be more than just consumers of services. It empowers people to be involved in decision-making, and to use their skills and creativity to help tackle complex challenges and serve others in their community.
And, it asks the local government to be more than a vending machine. It re-casts government as a facilitator – a platform that brings people, resources, and technology together to meet our collective goals.
The vending machine works perfectly well for some things – for example, filling potholes. It does not work well for complex issues like affordable housing, wellbeing, or energy security.
An open government model allows us to address complex social issues with the resources we already have at our disposal. It breaks us out of the false dichotomy of either funding our way out of tough problems, or cutting services to save money. The latter only drives up costs in the system. For instance, we see how failing to support seniors to live well in their homes forces them to turn to more costly emergency services to get the help they need.
Open government responds to two major societal trends: on the one hand, growing complexity; and on the other hand, increasingly limited funds. It enables us to do more with less.