DC’s Open Gov Advisory Group Turns 1

It’s been one year since the District government’s Open Government Advisory Group (OGAG) re-launched. A year ago, after being appointed to the group as a public member, I wrote a post about what I was looking forward to:

Here are some reflections on the last year, organized according to what I said I was looking forward to in 2016:

I wrote: “The group has the right people serving, with members of the public (8) and representatives of the Mayor (11), the Council (1), and independent agencies (3).”

That turned out to be true, but only in a glass-half-full kind of way. The OGAG members who show up have been earnestly interested in finding ways to make the District government more open, in many ways.

But those are only about half of the members. Staff turnover in government and changing life circumstances for some public members have left around five seats effectively vacant for most of the last year (but counting against quorum because they are technically filled). We’ve only reached quorum (12 members) at about half of our meetings, and as a public body quorum is required for us to make group decisions and conduct legally required routine business like approving the minutes of our meetings.

And although we formed three committees early on to split up the group’s work, only two committees ever met and only one continues to meet.

I wrote: Our next meeting will be at a public library, with the hope that we may rotate through different locations throughout the District going forward.

We did hold two or three meetings at a DC public library, but the effort to meet the public where they are stalled when we faced our legal obligation to provide either a recording or extensive minutes of our meetings. Recordings were difficult to do in libraries because of a lack of equipment and bad acoustics, so we’ve been meeting recently mostly in the Wilson building downtown (it’s the DC government’s headquarters). It’s not clear that that has actually helped us produce a better record of our work, though.

I wrote: Our group appears ready to focus on people and the real problems residents are facing.

That did not materialize. The bulk of our efforts over the year have been to provide feedback on the District’s new Data Policy, a project spearheaded by Chief Data Officer and OGAG vice-chair Barney Krucoff. The Data Policy is important and I’m glad that has been a part of our work, but it should have been only part of our work.

In recent weeks I’ve been working with fellow OGAG members Julie Kanzler, Kathryn Pettit, and Sandra Moscoso on a project to create a data publisher’s toolkit with best practices and to start a blog to highlight open government efforts in the District, which will be a little closer to looking at the real needs of District residents.

I wrote: In addition to transparency and participation, the group will likely form a working group to improve the understandability of government information, maybe including civic literacy and data literacy.

That remains a top interest of many members, but we haven’t yet done any substantive work on it.

What I’m looking forward to in year two…

With the Data Policy finally approved by the mayor, we’ll turn our efforts there to monitoring its implementation. Barney, and OGAG, has come up with a good list of measurements for holding himself (!) and District agencies accountable.

I expect that the data publisher’s toolkit and a blog about DC open government stories will have some successes within the next few months.

One thing I’ve been surprised about is that we haven’t surfaced more open government success stories that are happening all around us. I don’t think that’s because there aren’t any — in fact, I know of many. But we haven’t talked much about them within OGAG. My surprise is that the government members haven’t been more eager to boast about the good things happening within their agencies. We need to talk more about what’s actually happening, find the success stories, and then work to replicate them.