Designing for Democracy

On his first full day in office, the President signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, which directed Executive departments and agencies to “offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information.” President Obama is committed to tapping ideas from the American people to make government work smarter, better, and more efficiently. At its heart, open government is about changing the relationship between government and the American people.

One vexing challenge to engaging Americans in governance has been finding new models and tools for the next generation of citizen consultation. We want to take advantage of the latest technology to: 1) enable government officials to circulate notice of opportunities to participate in public consultations to members of the public with expertise on a topic; and 2) provide those citizen experts with a mechanism to provide useful, relevant, and manageable feedback to government officials.

That is why the White House Open Government Initiative and the General Services Administration, working closely with the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Performance and Personnel Management, are today launching a public consultation (through January 7, 2011) to obtain input on a design concept for a government-wide software tool and process to elicit expert public participation. In addition to making government more open and accountable to the public, this also advances the Administration’s objective of strengthening problem-solving networks to improve outcomes and reduce costs, one of three key performance management strategies laid out in the President’s FY2011 budget. To be clear, there is currently no specific funding identified for building this platform. Rather, we anticipate adapting already available tools and know-how to achieve the goal of getting better expertise faster and more openly.

The proposed concept is intended to be complementary to two of the ways the Federal government currently obtains expertise to inform decision-making, namely by convening Federal Advisory Committees and announcing public comment opportunities in the Federal Register.

Because we anticipate that a citizen consultation tool could be broadly used to pose questions to the public to elicit relevant and manageable feedback, we offer a specific example in the design concept on how the ExpertNet process could work to help the hypothetical Department of Innovation’s Adult Learners Division better achieve its stated goal of improving adult reading, writing, and mathematical performance.

How You Can Participate

To provide feedback by January 7, 2011, please go to where you will find a draft description of ExpertNet. (ExpertNet is a working title. You’ll find a page to suggest a better name.) Also, you can discuss the concept on a discussion forum or edit the document on the editable Wiki.

We want to hear from you about:

  1. Any refinements or suggestions to improve the process as described;
  2. Any issues (legal, policy, technical) raised by the features described;
  3. Information about any tools that perform the process described;
  4. Pointers to organizations (public or private) that have a similar platform or process in place.

Why a Wiki for this Consultation?

On May 21st, 2009, the newly minted White House Open Government Initiative launched a three-phased online public consultation period. The public brainstormed more than 900 ideas for open government policy on a free, brainstorming website that let one person make a suggestion and allowed others to give each comment a thumbs up or thumbs down, resulting in a rank-ordered list of proposals. Since then GSA’s Office of Citizen Services has helped every Cabinet Department and major agency set up a site to brainstorm with the public. Agencies can now use more than 35 social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, enabling government to interact with citizens more than every before.

Our work developing greater citizen engagement is just beginning. In 2009, the President launched the SAVE Award competition to gather ideas from federal employees to make government more efficient. OMB asked the public to vote for their favorites among four finalists. Twenty of the ideas submitted were included in the President’s FY2011 budget, and the rest went to agencies for potential action. This fall in the second year of the competition, nearly 60,000 people voted online for their favorite 2010 SAVE Award idea to save taxpayer dollars and make government work more efficiently.

Recently, GSA created, a platform for Federal agencies to post challenges and a place for the public to find and participate. Last month, GSA launched a new suite of citizen participation tools to enable agencies to increase the public’s role in government decision making.

It is in this spirit of innovation that GSA, the Open Government Initiative, and OMB’s Office of Performance and Personnel Management once again pioneer a new model for citizen consultation! We are eager to see if this kind of technology helps us receive meaningful, manageable feedback in response to a written policy proposal like the draft concept for ExpertNet. But while we continue to experiment with innovative ways to engage the public, we also recognize that it is essential to ensure that our opportunities to comment are accessible to all Americans. So, if you prefer not to access the wiki, you can post your comments on the discussion forum or email them to us at

However you decide to make your voice heard, we look forward to hearing from you!