Ed Felten spells out the difference between outreach and transparency:
Outreach means government telling us what it wants us to hear; transparency means giving us the information that we, the citizens, want to get. An ideal government provides both outreach and transparency. Outreach lets officials share their knowledge about what is happening, and it lets them argue for particular policy choices — both of which are good. Transparency keeps government honest and responsive by helping us know what government is doing.
Outreach, by its nature, must be directed by government. But transparency, which aims to offer citizens the information they want, is best embodied by vigorous activity outside of government, enabled by government providing free and open access to data. As we argued in our Invisible Hand paper, many things are inherently more difficult to do inside of government, so the key role of government is to enable a marketplace of ideas in the private sector, rather than doing the whole job.
And by pleasing coincidence on this side of the Atlantic, Rewired State tomorrow will be be building a bit more practical transparency:
We expect the output of the day to expose better processes, application and ways of working for better use of public data as well as to expose government officials to the concept of allowing great creative minds to play with the data to provide interesting and creative solutions.
I have the fun of going along at the end after all the hard work has been done to see what they have come up with. Among the many reasons why that should be interesting, there is the sheer range of data to play with. That’s not of course to say that everything is rosy – far from it. But it’s an interestingly different tone and approach from the way things are developing in the States:
Congress has apparently listened to the public’s complaints about lack of convenient access to government data. The new Omnibus Appropriations Bill includes a section, introduced by Rep. Mike Honda (D-California), that would mark the first tangible move toward making federal legislative data available to the public in bulk, so third parties can mash it up and redistribute it in innovative and accessible ways.
“In our web 2.0 world, we can empower the public by providing them with raw data that they can remix and reuse in new and innovative ways,” says Honda, who is vice chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. “With these tools, the public can collaborate on projects that can help legislators to create better policies to address the pressing challenges facing our nation.”
In the meantime, Carl Malamud has launched a public campaign to become head of the US Government Printing Office, with a manifesto based on transparency and resuse. That’s not quite the way anybody is managing their application to become Director of Digital Engagement – but the agenda is the same, even if the politics is different.