Open government’s double standard

Open Government

Despite open government calls for performance metrics and financial transparency in government, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of this for the movement behind it.

Over the past four years I’ve followed the contests, challenges, apps, projects, hackathons and people, and there’s been tens of millions granted to organizations and individuals with little structured insight into the movement’s inner workings or even its return on investment.

There’s no visualization or centralized, accessible open data platform that highlights how much is granted to whom, and how these individuals are affiliated with one another. There’s no Influence Explorer or Clear Spending for open government. There’s no regular feedback loop or “OpenGovStat” review that publicly reviews satisfaction or effectiveness to evaluate whether these efforts are solving issues of real importance.

Perhaps we make the assumption that because this is open government “the movement,” it is free from politics, connections or influence, but even the most well-intentioned people and professions fall victim to these traps, especially when unchecked.

As we watch the Knight Foundation News Challenge process begin to allocate millions of dollars to open government efforts, I’d like to see them “double down” on viability and financial clarity within the movement.

Here’s my “GovFresh Challenge” to open government movement leaders and those who fund it: heed your own philosophical approach to metrics and transparency and be more open and collaborative in providing better insight into how you’re leveraging resources.

By doing this, the movement as a whole is better able to assess what’s working and what’s not so that millions more aren’t wasted on pet rocks or efforts that, as they say in government, are non-mission critical. We’ve seen too many projects come and go with a sense of naivete, fanaticism and meme-making to not begin to honestly and publicly evaluate their effectiveness, learn from their mistakes and openly contribute to a better approach.

There’s a solid case to be made on open government’s return on investment. It’s now time for the movement to be more true to itself so we can better evaluate its own ROI.

I hope the open government movement takes me up on my challenge.

I don’t have millions to hand out, but I can guarantee you everyone will win.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh, co-founder/CEO of ProudCity and co-host of the podcast, The Government We Need. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at

7 Responses

  1. Great Luke. I’ve been thinking about this as well because, as an open-gov focused entrepreneur it would help me and I’m certain many others to identify opportunities better. There are various directories of entities in the field (i.e. CFA’s Civic Commons) and many others I’ve run across but, the bottom line is that civic engagement energy wasted on things such as duplicative app-development is going to slow progress, not accelerate it. I believe the current economic pinch we’re all feeling, especially local govs, is making things very easy for the open movement now. If the govs were fat and happy, they’d have little incentive to change. My concern is that the funders and industry, not to mention engaged citizens, might waft away if they feel their investment isn’t being optimized. So, your argument for all of us to steer towards a more evidenced-based approach is right on.

  2. Luke I really appreciate your continued leadership on these issues. I think we (collectively) missed a very small window in early 2009 when both political parties seemed to be pushing for transparency and open government. Now the only way to make progress is for us all to hold them as accountable as possible.

  3. Deborah Bryant

    Luke, I think you’re right on the money (or should I say funding) on this topic. We’ll exhaust the energy and good intention in this space if measurable results can not be shown. And now with the recent release of the Executive Order on Open Data, this becomes event more important.

    Who has developed any type of metrics in this space?

  4. Thank you for the comments, Deb. I don’t know of anyone developing metrics or being overly transparent in this area, which is what compelled me to write this. Would love to hear if this changes or if someone out there is doing it that I’m not aware of.


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