Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
Is President Obama’s open government mandate being taken seriously?
The White House issued an “open government” directive in December 2009, requiring federal agencies, “to take immediate, specific steps to achieve key milestones in transparency, participation, and collaboration.” This directive established deadlines for action. Those deadlines though were not meant to be waited upon. Since the President has endorsed openness from the beginning, agencies were encouraged to advance their open government initiatives well ahead of those deadlines.
According to the 2010 open government research report nearly 60 percent of constituents don’t think the U.S. government is serious about this mandate to be more open with citizens. This report also looks at how constituents believe government agencies can improve communications, how they hope to be able to engage with government agencies in the future, and how long they believe it will take agencies to catch up with businesses in their use of the Web and social networks.
Today’s constituents are more comfortable online and engaging in social networks than ever before with 54 percent having interacted with the government online or via social media.
Constituents chose to connect with government agencies online for the following reasons:
- 86 percent to be able to connect on their own time, not only when government offices are open;
- 80 percent to receive information or answers to questions faster;
- 72 percent to receive more detailed information;
- And 49 percent to support or advocate for the agency’s mission or the work they do.
Almost 70 percent of constituents think that government should prioritize use of online social media tools as a way to be more open with citizens. Commercial organizations have seen a lot of success with leveraging social networks, forums and blogs to better engage with customers, but 43 percent of constituents think it will take the government 1-5 years to catch up to commercial organizations in terms of using technology with citizens, if they can do it at all; 22 percent think the government never will.
Transparency and openness are two things you cannot avoid with the Internet and the rise in social networks. President Obama seems to understand this and has reinforced the need for an open government, “ushering in a new era of open and accountable government meant to bridge the gap between the American people and their government.” The 2010 open government research report found that 96 percent of constituents think government agencies could improve how they interact with them.
Constituents suggested that government agencies could take simple steps to better engage with them by doing a number of things:
- 71 percent said improving search functionality on agencies’ websites;
- 52 percent said creating an agency-branded forum or online community;
- 34 percent said increasing their presence on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter;
- And 32 percent said delivering tailored information via mobile devices.
The report also showed 83 percent of constituents prefer the phone, specifically speaking to a live agent to engage with government. Accessing the government online was next with 77 percent. Expectedly, 92 percent of the 18-34 year olf demographic prefers engaging with the government online, while 87 percent prefer the phone, and 79 percent prefer in-person interactions.
The 2010 open government research report found that 69 percent of constituents said they have had a negative experience with a U.S. government agency. When constituents have had a negative experience with a government organization, 58 percent of them complained about the bad experience, and of those who complained, 98 percent used word of mouth through phone or in-person conversations to voice their frustration.
Other reactions to negative experiences with a government agency included 39 percent complaining to the agency directly, followed closely with 31 percent downright cursing, 24 percent shouting, and 24 percent vowing to never to business with that agency again.
Kevin Paschuck, vice president of public sector, RightNow, said, “With Obama’s recent open government directive, citizens now have even higher expectations for government agencies and are expecting real information, transparency, and engagement across multiple channels, including online. Agencies now have an opportunity to focus on delivering consistent, superior experience to citizens. It is imperative that they learn to collaborate with citizens in order to provide them with the answers they need.”