Building a Better Partnership for Open Government: Right Here


President Obama recently attended an Expo on Democracy and Open Government on his trip to India and announced the creation of a US-India Dialogue on Open Government, a partnership that the White House blog declared to be “built on shared values.” It is very exciting to see the President’s renewed commitment to this issue, particularly with one of the world’s great democracies and a country for which I have a personal fondness.

It is equally exciting to see that the President had an opportunity to meet with many of  the same Open Government groups that I personally visited less than a month ago, including the NGO Janaagraha, that focuses on empowering citizens and actively engaging with government for change. Sound familiar? They have built online tools on exciting ideas like their ‘I Paid a Bribe‘ distributed research project to keep local officials accountable for illegally demanding brides. (Still trying to think of a way to adapt this for the U.S.)

After returning from my trip in India with my colleagues from Omidyar Network I wrote:

Sunlight’s work is certainly far more data centric than many of the organizations I visited. And I didn’t see anything that rivaled some of the tools for digesting and using that data that we’ve built.  But some of the university-based projects and other NGOs have figured out things we haven’t on the engagement front, including excellent online and offline organizing models around government accountability, and thinking way ahead of us on the mobile platform. And while certainly some of the problems are different (real bribery is still prevalent in many places as opposed to the “honest graft” we have in the US), there’s tremendous room for cross-continent collaboration.

I agree with what appears to be the President’s take away. These are fascinating developments in India. As Samantha Power on the White House blog wrote:

India is at the vanguard of figuring out how to exploit technology and innovation on behalf of democratic accountability. U.S.-based groups, as well as those throughout the developed and developing world, could learn an enormous amount from these efforts.

Sunlight is happy to already be in dialog with many of the groups that had the opportunity to shake the president’s hand in Mumbai. We do have the same goals. And as we continue to advocate for open government here , we encourage the President to lend more of his time and energy to the effort here at home. Perhaps the White House could start by hosting an expo of open government tools built by American organizations for American politics?

Update: Read some of the additional materials that the folks over at TechPreisdent have secured.