Wednesday, February 11, 2009
What Does 'Transparency' Mean?
Reposted from GovLoop, Feb. 11, 2009
At CGI Federal, where I now work as a "thought leadership" editor, we've been mulling the meaning of transparency lately. Current parlance seems to have it meaning things like posting legislation and regulations for comment, posting videos of speeches and directions via YouTube or other such services, agencies getting on Twitter. All sorts of public-facing openness, in other words.
But we've been focused on another sort of transparency: "management transparency," for lack of a better formulation. Admittedly, this interests us because we put into operation a large percentage of the government's financial management computer systems and we know they can harvest a lot of very useful data and transform it into insight about agency operations. In other words, we have a business interest in managerial transparency. But even if we didn't, I would be thinking about transparency this way.
I am, after all, a true federal management geek. I ran Government Executive magazine's part in the Federal Performance Project for five years, for Pete's sake. The thought of dashboard displays on the computer screen showing things like changes in units of performance by location and cost per unit in different operations boosts my blood pressure. Discussions about how to best measure results of federal programs in outcome terms can keep me up until dawn!
So I am, of course, hopeful that the Obama administration's transparency focus includes the notion that federal managers should be making decisions about programs, personnel and budget using data about how well or badly their programs and administrative functions are delivering internal and external results. After all, data-driven decision-making should apply to more than just global warming!
So now I am wondering, is anyone else looking at and thinking about transparency this way? That is, as opening the books on how agencies operate and how money is apportioned within them both to those who run the programs and to the public and Congress and everyone else with some skin in the game?
Has anyone gotten past the "coolness" factor to begin thinking about what meaningful and relevant transparency would be within government? I just read David McClure's new Gartner piece about transparency and even he only hints at this kind of definition. I ask because if we don't get past the MySpace/mashup phase of transparency, we'll have wasted a prime opportunity to apply data-driven decision-making where it could really do some good.
I'm just askin' . . .