There is a new compact on the horizon: information produced by and on behalf of citizens is the lifeblood of the economy and the nation; government has a responsibility to treat that information as a national asset. Citizens are connected like never before and have the skill sets and passion to solve problems affecting them locally as well as nationally. Government information and services can be provided to citizens where and when they need them. Citizens are empowered to spark the innovation that will result in an improved approach to governance. In this model, government is a convener and an enabler rather than the first mover of civic action.
Tim O’Reilly in Government as a Platform
As a new transplant into NASA’s Open Government Initiative, I’m often asked why I joined the team and what exactly it is that we do. Once that conversation starts, it usually evolves around to the state of NASA. My well-meaning friends begin to wonder why we are investing in something like Open Government when it might seem like we are divesting from actual space exploration. The conversation generally goes one of two ways – either the Shouldn’t NASA be focused on other things right now?route (the fallacy that choosing OpenGov means not choosing exploration) or the We can’t be transparent about what we do!route (the misconception that OpenGov means limitless data and process transparency.)
I smile and reassure them that I’m not here to steal their data or expose anything or give them extra work to do. I’m here to help them find solutions that will allow government to work better in our current technological, economic, and social climate.
You see, here’s the thing: the goal of OpenGov is not just data transparency or technology use. “Open government is an innovative strategy for changing how government works,” Beth Noveck, the original director of the White House Open Government Initiative, explains. “By using network technology to connect the public to government and to one another informed by open data, an open government asks for help with solving problems. The end result is more effective institutions and more robust democracy.”
From the beginning, democracy was supposed to be participatory. Thomas Jefferson noted in a letter how he envisioned a government where “every man…feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day.”
Every day. Every mission. Every American.
Now is the vital time for us to expand the practice of open government across NASA, because now is the vital time to change the way we work.
When NASA puts hundreds of new datasets online about climate, and then creates tools to communicate and apply that data, it is collaborating with the public to solve real-world problems together. (Check out some of NASA’s open data: http://www.nasa.gov/open/data.html and one way we are putting that data to good use: http://www.nasa.gov/open/rhok_2010.html)
When NASA considers “open source first,” it can often save time and money from reinventing the wheel, and helps insure the best, most current, and most compatible software use. (Check out updates from our recent Open Source Summit: http://www.nasa.gov/open/source/)
When NASA continues to expand its practice of open innovation, it can access the ideas of citizen scientists and inventors, sharing resources and lessons learned for the good of the agency – and the country. (Check out NASA’s Innovation Pavilion: https://www.innocentive.com/pavilion/NASA)
When NASA creates more coworking/collaboration spaces instead of sustaining more unique infrastructure, we not only save money and share resources but cross-pollinate, share ideas, and make space for new partnerships. (Check out the sp.ace, one of just a few coworking spaces across the agency: http://open.nasa.gov/space)
When NASA doesn’t just do education outreach but invites public participation in the mission in concrete and meaningful ways, we create a public who is personally invested in space exploration and is ready to advocate for its value. At the same time, we increase the breadth and depth of STEM education vital for our country’s success. (Check out some of the recent efforts in Participatory Exploration: http://www.nasa.gov/open/plan/peo.html)
The core principle of OpenGov is collaboration informed by data. We are facing some pretty big questions as we move forward into the next phase of space exploration. What is more innately “NASA” than putting the best minds – wherever they are to be found – around the data to come up with the best solution? OpenGov means that NASA belongs to all of us – and we acknowledge that mission success will take all of us. Committing to the principles of OpenGov (transparency, participation, and collaboration) will improve our performance, better inform our decision-making, and encourage entrepreneurship in our work.
I have friends and colleagues doing incredible work developing next generation space vehicles and system, sustaining the work on the International Space Station, and doing life and earth science research that advances technology almost daily. I know those who are ready to write seriously inspired space policy, who are building bridges with commercial crew and cargo companies, and who are training for exploration that most of us can’t yet imagine. I believe that OpenGov is going to give them the kind of NASA where they can accomplish these important tasks.