Since my recent week in Washington DC I have been more than ever aware of transparency issues as they unfold at the national level. And I have found myself musing with admiration about the real work of those who labor relentlessly and outside the public eye to tweak the gears that open the system.
There are those who maintain that the Obama administration is not living up to the promise of transparency. And there are those who think Rome was built in a day. I saw progress midst massive technological and political change. As a citizen advocate without portfolio I am often overwhelmed – though undaunted – by the acronym-laced dialog and reporting from the political pros.
One of the most citizen-friendly activities in which I participated in DC was the webcast sponsored by Open the Government and the Center for American Progress. That superb program was enlightening, even entertaining, and definitely accessible to the public at large. It’s available online to anyone who wants a quick review of what’s happening in the access arena – with a chance to meet some of the key players including White House staff, representatives of the press and good government groups. Check it out.
There are legions of committed, informed and ardent advocates for access at work every day on Capitol Hill, in the bureaucracies and in countless committees, task forces and interest groups. Most of their work is widely accessible through the mix of social networks. While it is clearly impossible to track all that’s happening, my advice is to keep on eye on some of the key players, e.g. Open the Government, OMB Watch, American Library Association Washington Office, Society of Professional Journalists, and, even more important, to stay in touch with the arm of your own professional or good government organization that commits time and energy to open government issues.
From my citizen perspective these bold interactions offer hope. Access to information creates a mighty thirst for more access to more and better information – and a profound appreciation of good information at the moment of need or interest.
Still, there is a gap – a chasm – to be breached. Investigative journalists crave access. Their insatiable public depends on their access and on them. What happens when the ranks of the journalists diminish and the owners of the mighty channels of communication fail to meet their monetary demands.
Since my Sunshine Week in DC I have had the chance to participate in a dynamic conference at MIT sponsored by Journalism That Matters (JTM). That conference brought together librarians and journalists in what must have been the first-ever open discussion of joint purposes, issues and possibilities. It was a great complement to the DC experience — More about that in another most.