As digital government begins to take shape, the public sector is entering a new era of citizen expectations. Emerging technologies offer opportunities for collaboration, information sharing and data analysis, all of which can support better policy and services.
But there are growing public concerns about privacy and security; questions about ownership and appropriate use of personal information. Is open government still relevant?
Governments worldwide are striving to maintain public trust at a time of significant disruption. Agencies are under pressure to be more transparent about their actions and decision-making processes.
Open government has never been more critical for meeting customer expectations, building confidence and delivering public value.
Citizens are demanding greater participation in policy development and service design, as well as ready access to information collected or created about them. A lack of social licence can impede public sector transformation.
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Sven Bluemmel, Victorian Information Commissioner and Scott Miller, CEO of Volunteering Victoria — discuss the need for greater trust and transparency, and how government can meet citizen expectations.
There is increasing recognition of the potential in making data and information for research, analysis and social or economic development. Studies suggest openness encourages efficiency, can inspire customer focus and drive innovation.
Yet despite these opportunities, agencies can find it challenging to put these principles into practice. Leadership, organisational culture and political interference are commonly mentioned as barriers to openness. Senior executives are often concerned the costs of being open, responsive or compliant far outweigh the benefits.
Practitioners are hampered by complex requirements and a multitude of information systems with varying degrees of control. Line of business staff may have limited information literacy skills and reject the imposition of manual governance overheads.
Agencies must also consider a variety of stakeholder interests and rapidly respond to criticism across multiple channels, in an environment that has grown progressively more adversarial and combative.
So how can we make open government a reality? What does it take for agencies to be truly open, in a world of citizen empowerment?
We can learn from colleagues in other jurisdictions who are making use of openness to build trust, engagement and social license for digital transformation. Leading jurisdictions such as New South Wales, New Zealand and the United Kingdom specifically call out openness as a key characteristic of digital government.
Perhaps there also is an opportunity to re-balance the cost-benefit equation, to deliver transparency and accountability, with less overhead and more participation.
Information governance by-design can play an important role in overcoming challenges and supporting reform, reducing the cost and complexity associated with both proactive and responsive information release. While transparency builds trust and participation, feedback loops enable staff to experience the impact of that openness.
Openness is not just about information flowing out from an agency, but also flowing in. More effective use of this information can lay the foundation for collaboration and innovation. Rather than being an obligation, openness then delivers tangible returns, spanning the business and gathering momentum.