open government

An Experiment in Blending Dialogue Media    

Picture of the US flag on a political button.What’s working in our political system? What isn’t? Our company is OnlineTownhalls and we are passionate about improving the quality of our national dialogue. We recently joined the Open Model for Citizen Engagement Working Group here in Washington, DC which inspired us to give this a shot.

From June 23-27, 2010 we are conducting an experiment called the American Townhall on National Politics. Our mission is to find deeper ways to discuss critical issues facing our democracy combining tools for discussion online, in-person, and over the phone.  The target audience is not the general public; we’re testing these tools on our own communities: opengov, NCDD, e-democracy, transparency, etc.  When we learn what works and what doesn’t, then we’ll repeat the experiment with the general public and publicize the method for others to replicate.

Image of a hand-held camera.Join Us In-Person:

We’ve kick-started the townhall by conducting video interviews on the National Mall in Washington, DC. We’ll be asking visitors to our nation’s capital what they think is broken and what they think is working well in our national politic system. All the videos are available here and are included in the OnlineTownhall mentioned below where others participants can build on these ideas.

Image of a phone receiver.Join Us on the Phone:

The central question for the three-day show is, “What is working in our national political system, and what isn’t?” We’ll be joined by Wayne Burke of the Open Forum Foundation and the lead organizer of the Open Model for Citizen Engagement, key staff in the Sunlight Foundation, and members of the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation (if you’d like to be interviewed about your dialogue work, 6:30pm EST is open on Thursday and Friday; email [email protected] if you’re interested).

We have three live call-in radio shows:

  • Wednesday, June 23 from 5pm-7pm EST. Click HERE to listen.
  • Thursday, June 24 from 5pm-7pm EST. Click HERE to listen.
  • Friday, June 25 from 5pm-7pm EST. Click HERE to listen.
  • From June 23-27, join this OnlineTownhall to discuss the ideas raised in the radio shows.

Want to call into the radio show? Dial (917) 889-2510 to join the discussion during the times listed above. You can also add your thoughts via email to [email protected] or through Twitter using the tag #ATHNP (for American Townhall on National Politics). We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

A quill and paper.Join Us Online:

Using this conversation at OnlineTownhalls, participants will be able to take the conversation started on the videos and the radio show deeper from June 23-27.

OnlineTownhalls is different than standard commenting software; it helps participants visualize all the branches in a conversation and see which issues are controversial and which are common ground.

For those that would like a brief orientation to the software, we will be available over the phone. The dial-in number for the live walk-through is 605-715-4920 with an access code of 616033 from 7pm-9pm EST on June 23-25. The online discussion will be open through June 27.

If you’re comfortable with online tools, you’ll probably be able to figure out the townhall technology after watching this three minute intro video.

OpenGov and the Gulf Coast Restoration Plan (July 16th)    

I just got an invitation from NCDD member Lucas Cioffi for July’s Open Government Community Summit (July 16 from 9-12 EST, location in D.C. TBD).  Previous summits and workshops have been hosted by the Department of Transportation, the General Services Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, and the US Department of Treasury.

Who: This workshop is open to federal, state, and local officials involved in restoring our nation’s Gulf Coast.  Members of the Open Gov Community from the private sector and non-profit organizations are also welcome to participate. RSVP here by July 14th:

What: The summit will focus on the intersection of open government and the Gulf Coast Restoration Plan which President Obama assigned to the Secretary of the Navy on June 15th. (more…)

Call For Papers – 3rd issue of eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Gov    

Thought some of you might be interested in this announcement I saw in one of the Democracies Online groups I’m part of. In collaboration with the European Network for eParticipation, the Centre for E-Government at the Danube University Krems invites you to submit an article for the third issue of the eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government (JeDEM). The eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government addresses the theory and practice in the areas of eDemocracy and Open Government as well as eGovernment, eParticipation, eDeliberation and eSociety. The aim is to impact the quality, visibility, efficiency and use of research and work in eDemocracy, Open Government and related fields. (more…)

NCDD’s 2010 Events…    

As many of you know, since 2002 NCDD has been holding biennial national conferences on the even years. We wanted to formally announce that in 2010, rather than holding a single National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation, we are in the process of mobilizing our members to organize a number of smaller one-day NCDD events.

We are looking into holding events in fall 2010 in the locations we feel best equipped to mobilize our members: Austin, San Francisco, Washington DC and Denver, where we’ve held past NCDD conferences, as well as cities like Boston and Portland where dialogue and deliberation are thriving.

We feel that holding regional, largely self-organized events in 2010 has the potential to move NCDD and the field forward in vital ways.  We hope the events will position members of the D&D community to successfully navigate new opportunities that are emerging in open government and online engagement so they can make a greater impact in their communities. (Learn more about our concept for the 2010 events.)

At this point, we are looking for dedicated people to help move things forward in most of the locations mentioned above. Our first priorities are (1) to find and secure affordable venues so we can set the dates and (2) to start identifying partners and co-sponsors who share our goals.  Please contact me (Sandy Heierbacher, NCDD’s Director) at [email protected] if you are interested in getting involved.

Federal Agencies and Depts Release Open Gov Plans    

I wanted to share an important press release I received today from Chelsea Kammerer of the White House Office of Public Engagement.  Many U.S. departments and agencies released their Open Government Plans today.  Here’s how Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, describes this milestone on the White House blog:

For too many years, Washington has resisted the oversight of the American public, resulting in difficulties in finding information, taxpayer dollars disappearing without a trace, and lobbyists wielding undue influence.  For Americans, business as usual in Washington has reinforced the belief that the government benefits the special interests and the well connected at the expense of the American people.

No more. Since coming to office, the President has launched a series of initiatives to let the sunshine in, including posting White House visitor records, disclosing lobbyist contacts regarding stimulus funds, and launching and That’s why independent groups recently gave the Administration an A grade for transparency.

Please help spread the word about this development on your blogs, websites, facebook groups, etc. This is big news for our country, but since this story doesn’t “bleed” it may not get the press coverage it deserves!

Here is the press release… (more…)

Three Great OpenGov/Participation Events in DC    

As federal agencies near the April 7th deadline to release their implementation plans, there’s no shortage of energy surrounding the Open Government Directive.

There are two great events in DC that you won’t want to miss if you’re within driving distance: ParticipationCamp on April 17th and 18, and the half-day April Open Government Directive Workshop on April 28th.  Both events are using the Open Space method.  You’ll also see information below about a significant discount to the Politics Online Conference on April 19-20th.


Previewing Agencies’ Open Government Plans (by Lucas Cioffi)    

In accordance with the White House’s Open Government Directive, top-level agencies will post their open government plans on April 7th.  Several agencies gave a public preview of their plans on Monday at the White House Conference Center, and I had the opportunity to represent NCDD at this meeting.

The bottom line is that I was highly impressed with how much effort has been put into these plans behind the scenes; there is a tremendous amount of buy-in from senior officials at these agencies.  The biggest challenge- and a significant concern of mine- is that agencies will have to find ways to implement their plans without additional funding or resources.  It won’t be easy, but it can be done.


Featured Member: John Spady and the Countywide Community Forums    

Today is our first in a series of NCDD “Featured Member Days.” All day, we will be using our social media tools (our blog, our listservs, our facebook group, our twitter feed, our linkedin group, etc.) to introduce as many people as possible to an extraordinary NCDD member.  Today we’re featuring John Spady and the Countywide Community Forums.

Feel free to add a comment here or respond to a post you see on the listserv or in our social media groups!  John will be responding to any questions or comments you ask him today.

John is the Executive Vice-President and Director of Research for the Forum Foundation in Seattle, and he’s been an active and supportive member of NCDD since the beginning. John’s story intersects considerably with that of his father’s. John’s father, Dick Spady, is the owner of 5 iconic Dick’s Drive-In restaurants in Seattle, and he has been a strong proponent of quality dialogue and citizen engagement for decades.

Last year, at the age of 83, John’s father submitted Initiative 24 — not to the voters of the State of Washington, but instead to King County, home to the largest city in the state: Seattle. After over 80,000 valid signatures were collected, King County (Seattle area) Councilmembers decided to directly enact Initiative 24, which created the Citizen Councilor Network. The Citizen Councilor Network’s first project is called the Countywide Community Forums, which are designed “to enhance citizen participation, civic engagement, and citizenship education in government through a network of periodic public forums….”

With the backing of his family, Dick Spady pledged that his private business, Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants, would underwrite the cost for the first two years of the Countywide Community Forums. This included the cost of the county employee in the Auditor’s Office, and all the costs associated with production, distribution, and website creation: a stated commitment of $350,000. Now in its third year, Dick’s Drive-In has recommitted itself through the end of 2010. This was critically important for the project, as King County Councilmembers stipulated that no tax dollars would be used to establish and maintain the new Citizen Councilor Network.

Our featured member, John Spady, is one of three coordinators appointed by the King County Auditor. His official title is “Deputy Citizen Councilor Coordinator.” (more…)

How to Hold a Public Meeting    

Archon Fung (professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government) sent me an email a few days ago letting me know about a short article he wrote that was published in the March/April 2010 edition of Capitol Ideas, the magazine of the Council of State Governments.

Archon’s article can be seen online at, and outlines 5 tips for holding an effective public meeting: be clear on the purpose, get help (he links to NCDD here!), avoid the usual format, go beyond the usuals, and avoid promises you can’t keep.  It’s a nice, concise one-pager worth sharing with public officials and others.

Florida court says “open to the public” doesn’t mean citizens can speak up    

Steve Zikman brought an interesting article to my attention today, suggesting we share it with the network…

In a brief article titled “Appeals court rejects public comment time” at, a Florida appeals court upheld a year-old judgment that, in essence, found that government meetings required to be “open to the public” don’t necessarily have to give citizens a chance to speak at them.

View the whole article here at, but I’ve copied it below so we have an archive of it.  Please comment on this post and share what you think about this judgment and its implications. (more…)

The February Open Government Directive Workshop    


This article is co-authored by Lucas Cioffi and Alexander Moll, the two NCDD members who co-organized the February Open Government Directive Workshop in partnership with the US General Services Administration, the National Academy of Public Administration, NCDD, and GovLoop.

Summary and Purpose of the OGD Workshop

The February 17th OGD Workshop in Washington, DC was a blast.  We convened sixty participants working in-person and online, from the public and private sectors, and across agencies.  Third in an evolving four-part workshop series, this workshop was designed to help the federal government implement its recent Open Government Directive.  Fellow NCDD member Kaliya Hamlin facilitated the previous two workshops.

Since federal agencies are currently working on their individual open government plans that are due on April 7th, frontline federal managers needed the opportunity to exchange best practices across agencies.  The purpose of this particular workshop was to provide that opportunity, to synthesize, cross-pollinate, and transform great ideas into actionable recommendations.


Help the Federal Government Understand Participation    

We have a simple opportunity to advise the federal government about public participation.  We have so many great ideas that we routinely share with each other on our email list, so let’s spend a few moments to share them with the federal employees that are just now entering this space.  Our NCDD colleagues within the federal government at the EPA and CDC have demonstrated that just a handful of individuals with the right knowledge can make a tremendous impact, so let’s spread that knowledge!


Announcing the February Open Government Directive Workshop    

This month’s Open Government Directive Workshop will take place at the Charles Sumner Museum and Conference Center (17th and M Street NW, Washington, DC).  The workshop will take place from 9am to 4:30pm on February 17th.  RSVP is required by February 9th (instructions are below).

NCDD is a partner of this workshop series, as is the General Services Administration (GSA), the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) and GovLoop.  NCDD member Alex Moll will facilitate February’s workshop.

We have a great program planned.  Building off the January 11th workshop at the US Department of Transportation (over 200 people attended the January event; the photo you see is from that event), we are going to transition from divergent thinking to convergent thinking.  This workshop will be focused on creating specific ideas that agencies can drop into their actual open government plans which are due on April 7th.  Some agencies are farther along than others, so this workshop will help spread good ideas from one agency to the next.

This workshop will be different.
This workshop will be highly productive and engaging.  We are using a framework of competitive collaboration to surface the best ideas.  There will be six teams with twenty participants each.  Teams will work in separate spaces for four hours and then a few representatives will present the team’s work to a panel of judges at the end of the workshop.  Judges will be high-ranking thought leaders from the public sector.

How to RSVP (more…)

NCSL’s The Rise and Fall of Town Meetings    

Check out this 66-minute video of the NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) 2009 Fall Forum held on Friday, Dec. 11. “The Rise and Fall of the Town Hall Meeting” video features three legislators talking about the effective use of town hall meetings and deliberation.

One of the legislators featured is NCDD member and Hawaii State Senator Les Ihara. The other speakers included: Representative Sheryl L. Allen (Utah), Representative Ellen Roberts (Colorado), and Katie Ziegler (NCSL).

Senator Ihara’s presentation cites NCDD’s work heavily.  He talks at length about our Upgrading the Way We Do Politics resources, which we created in response to last fall’s town halls on health care reform, and he presents the 7 Core Principles for Public Engagement, explaining that the D&D community worked together to agree on the Core Principles in response to Obama’s memorandum on transparency, collaboration and public participation.  You can view or download Senator Ihara’s powerpoint presentation here.

Here’s the description of the Fall Forum from NCSL:

Town hall meetings have traditionally been a wonderful opportunity for legislators to meet with their constituents, both to hear what is on people’s minds and to tell them about legislative news. However some recent town hall meetings have seen disruptive and uncivil behavior. This session described some recent legislator experiences and examined methods to hold productive and courteous meetings. Presenters provided tips and best practices and also explained how to use a legislator’s “power to convene” to hold collaborative meetings to solve community problems.

Levine Article on Obama’s Failure to Engage the Public, So Far    

peterlevinePeter Levine had an important article published on the Huffington Post yesterday titled The Path Not Taken (So Far): Civic Engagement for Reform. The article outlines the Obama Administration’s failure-so far-to engage the public in our great national challenges.

In his article, Peter writes…

Candidate Obama argued that positive change comes from organized social movements, not from the government alone. Social movements should be broad-based, not narrow groups of people who all agree with one another. They should promote discussion and collaboration across lines of difference-including ideological difference.

As he said in May 2007, “politics” usually means shouting matches on TV. But “when politics gets local, when the person talking to you is your neighbor standing on your front porch, things change.” In that speech, he called for dialogues in every community on Iraq, health care and climate change.

Later, on Obama’s executive order on transparency, participation and collaboration, Peter writes…

“Transparency” came to mean feeding information to organized interest groups, reporters, and a few independent citizens who have deep interests and skills in particular areas. Participation and collaboration have not been part of the agenda since Inauguration Day.

Service and transparency are not nearly “edgy” enough; there is no fight in them. People are angry – from the Tea Partiers to MoveOn. When citizens try to solve serious social problems, they identify enemies. They do not just hold hands and serve together; they strike back at those whom they perceive as threats. “Active citizenship” reduced to non-controversial “service” or downloading government data completely loses touch with the legitimate anger of the American people.

An expanded version of the article is posted here in Peter’s FaceBook and here on his blog.  What do folks think of Peter’s article?  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to comment here.

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