5 Guiding Principles for a National Transparency Campaign


Sunlight is working with you to build a national campaign that makes government more open and transparent at every level.

You can see where we are so far by visiting this page. Be sure to check out the wiki.


We believe that a disaffected, disengaged, cynical public threatens democracy in the United States as few other things can. At its heart, our campaign is about building the political and community clout necessary to combat this problem.

We think we can invigorate democracy by coming together, demanding transparency with serious political muscle, using the very latest in technology to make government information more meaningfully accessible to us, and holding government accountable with it.

As we embark on this campaign, it’s important we’re on the same page about a lot of things, but there’s probably nothing more important to be clear about than our values and beliefs.

So here are five principles we will hold to in all our work.

1) Think and Act Like a Movement 2) Listen and Be Authentic 3) Create Beautiful, Compelling Content 4) Fail Harder… 5) Laugh As Often As Possible

Here’s what we mean.

1) Think and act like a movement.

At its heart, this “campaign” is facilitating the growth of a movement. This is not a command and control type thing we are building. To that end, we will share everything and build leaders.

Anything that is created or has success with this campaign – from logos and style guides to resources and training materials to tactics and lessons learned – will be open and shared across the network. With this approach we want to empower any person who is willing to take up the call of making government transparent with the tools s/he would need to be successful.

One of the best examples of this ethos is, oddly enough, embodied by the U.S. Marine Corps as they make “every man a rifle man” – or “every person a rifle person” as it’s been reworked in recent decades. In other words, if you’re a Marine, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the infantry, an officer or a cook; in all cases, you receive some of the best rifle training in the world and could take up arms on the front lines if required.

While we certainly aren’t militaristic, we can’t stress it enough:

In the open government movement, we want every single citizen to have easy access to all the tools and resources they would need to communicate the need for transparency at the local, state and federal levels, and be able to take actions that help bring it about.

2) Listen and be authentic

From our failures to our concerns to our needs and questions (big and small), we want to listen first and make statements second. We’ll be upfront and honest with each other, acknowledge what’s working and what’s not, and remember that we’re all on the same team trying to accomplish a very large mission.

3) Create beautiful, compelling content.

Making the case for anything in a way that gets hundreds of thousands of people to buy in and actively support takes a lot of convincing and influence. When it comes to transparency, we are trying to build public support and influence government with a relatively new, still relatively amorphous concept. To that end, image and message matter in a big way. We commit to making sure we deliver compelling messages in simple to understand, beautiful packages – from email to video to data visualizations to Web sites to text messages to …whatever we come up with.

4) Fail Harder.

Or: Fail “quickly and cheaply.” We are taking on a very challenging mission in making local, state and federal government transparent. If it was easy, it would have been done already. That means in order to succeed, we’re going to have to try some big things that have never been done before – and that means sometimes we’re going to fall on our face. The internet makes it possible to “fail” quickly and cheaply, and when that happens, that’s a good thing – as long as we learn and grow from it. If we’re not failing sometimes, we’re not pushing hard enough.

5) Laugh as often as possible.

Whether we are building a network of leaders, being open with each other, creating content, failing harder or dealing with jerks, laughter helps a lot. Just about always. Just because our mission is challenging doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be having fun along the way.

And to that end, a somewhat related principle to number 5 that is worth noting and will make all our lives easier:

6) Have no tolerance for jerks.

We adhere strongly to this rule. Please don’t be one. If it needs explaining to you, it’s possible you’re a jerk :)

With these values in place, there are a couple of assumptions we will have in the approach to our work, that we also want to be very clear about. I’ll discuss those in the post right after this one.

** UPDATE 02/09 **

As promised, we added a post outlining the 9 assumptions or beliefs at the heart of open government as well.