A “Noah’s Ark of Scholars” Discusses Strategies for Increasing Public Engagement with the Government

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The federal government hosts conference to promote research on open government.

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Policymakers and scholars gathered in Washington, D.C., last week to develop ideas for enhancing research on open government.

The federal government’s Open Government Research and Development Summit (R&D Summit) featured speakers ranging from the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, to legal academics such as Professor Cary Coglianese of the Penn Program on Regulation, as well as an array of communications scholars, activists, and state and local policymakers.

Beth Simone Novick, the former deputy chief technology officer for open government and a professor at New York Law School, described the summit as a “Noah’s Ark of scholars” because there were “no more than 2 people from each discipline.”

The R&D Summit followed a recent report by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology calling for developing an R&D program specifically devoted to open government. The summit aimed to identify ways to realize the benefits of open government and learn better “how open government can spur economic growth.”

In his keynote address, Chopra asked attendees to “help us refine the problem statement” of what an R&D program for open government should address. Chopra identified five major discussion items for the summit: (1) strengthening capacity to work with the massive amounts of data that agencies post on data.gov, (2) developing strategies for organizing the sorting the data on that site, (3) identifying the policy implications of hosting open platforms, (4) collaborating internationally, and (5) determining the best ways to provide agency data to the public.

Joel Gurin, chief of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, provided examples of the benefits of open government and crowdsourcing.  Gurin cited the “finder” program on Healthcare.gov, which reviews public and private health insurance options, including each option’s price and surcharges. The Department of Health and Human Services developed this program with data that the healthcare industry provided voluntarily. Gurin also discussed BrightScope, an independent provider of financial information, which ranks 401(k) plans for employers using government-released information.

The R&D Summit was co-sponsored by the National Archives and Records Administration, the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Summit helped to build on the Obama Administration’s overall Open Government Initiative.