Sunshine Week translates to one thing: open government activism. It’s the week we, citizens and public servants, act to raise awareness surrounding the needs for open government. While open government is frequently spoken of as a federal level issue, start talking about it to your neighbors and you’ll realize that it is a philosophy, a practice, and an attitude that is needed at every level of government.
Open Government Leadership
“Keeping the public’s business open to public scrutiny is fundamental in any democracy. You might be surprised at how many people in government don’t see it that way.” – Sen. Bernie Sanders
Considering we’re a government of the people, for the people—Sunshine Week is a great reminder of for all of us to ensure our governments strive to achieve these principles in every way possible. For this reason, we need open government leadership.
We need the people who are getting into office to be champions of open government. They need to be educators of its importance. Open government needs executive level evangelism, and it needs you.
With leadership and a public dialog about open government, a society can start to move toward true transparency. But in order for open government to support itself, it needs a proper framework. In the dark days of transparency, the mechanism for providing public data, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), was practically self-defeating with the amount of red-tape surrounding it. So, the discussion about transparency moved from the definition of available-when-requested to ease-of-access. There’s only one solution for ease of access: technology.
Creating an Open Government System
I work for an open government technology company. I have done so for almost 16 years. I’m not good with picketing or lobbying for a cause, so, instead, I made the cause my career. Here at Granicus, we develop ease-of-access open government solutions; we’re helping municipalities and other government agencies put all of their data into your office, home computer, and even your mobile device. We record all the business of governments and make it available to you. It's amazing, and I'm so proud to work here.
Our success in providing open government can be seen in these stats:
- 225 terabytes of government legislative data in the Granicus cloud
- 109 million hits on Granicus open meeting webcasts
- Over 5 million pieces of government legislative data being managed daily by Granicus—legislation, votes, appointments, and other meeting actions in its system
It was for these great technological strides that California Senator Leland Yee stopped by our office yesterday to see what we’ve been brewing.
“Producing a 2,000 page electronic document that cannot be searched or sorted is inadequate and almost useless,” said Senator Yee. “For too long, many government agencies – either by choice or inertia – have been living in the Stone Age when it comes to producing public documents and using technology to facilitate public access.”
That quote alone demonstrates the importance of ease-of-access open government vs. we’ll-look-it-up-for-you-and-maybe-send-you-something-someday open government. And that is where I think Sunshine Week becomes important.
An awareness week can seem directionless. There are so many issues out there, so many claims to certain weeks or months for noble causes. So, this awareness week, it’s time to do more than just be aware… it’s time to share.
What You Can Do
SunshineWeek.org recently delivered their brightest award, Local Hero, to a Floridian who has been suing Florida municipalities found to be in non-compliance with the state's transparency laws. No one expects you to do that, and I recommend much less contentious ways to build open government.
Talking to people about the need for a better open government is point number one. The biggest argument against open government is that it is a drain on resources. Here’s the rebuttal: "Ask Columbus, OH." They thought it would be a terrible strain on their municipal clerk’s office, and yet, when an open government ease-of-access system was put in place, their workload plummeted! Everywhere we see technology employed as a system of automated open government, FOIA workloads get cut by as much as 95%, and always more than 50%. I’d say that’s reason enough right there, aside from the very real fact that the public owns that data.
Aside from engaging in educational conversation or debate, there is the new age of online social networking which we are solidly entrenched in. Facebook and Twitter can make massive differences: just look at what happened with the Kony 2012 campaign… 60,000,000 views in a week, because people shared it. Share this article, share the Sunshineweek.org website, share other open government related articles, share the cartoons above or find more cartoons to share here. Armchair activism is nothing to sneer at; it really is effective.
Let’s open governments, from local to the federal. Make the most of this Sunshine Week, a cause that truly affects us all.