It has been two weeks now since I reported that the DHS Open Government Dialogue web site was once again accepting comments on the DHS Open Government program. A second new comment (Federalize or Deputize the Contract Security Force) has joined mine on the site and both of our comments now have 2 positive votes. Great participation. Actually, considering that I am apparently the only one that is publicizing the DHS site, I guess the miniscule participation is to be expected.
To make matters worse, anyone that had participated earlier in the dialogue and then returned to the site would see the old results as a default setting (showing the ‘most popular’ comments first). This would lead them to assume that there was nothing going on at the site and they would move on.
If DHS had decided to justify killing their mandated participation in the Obama ‘Open Government’ program, this is the type design that I would use to make it clear that the ‘public’ just wasn’t interested.
The lack of participation would, at some point, become adequate justification to stop expending the resources necessary to maintain the site; just another attempt to expand public participation in government that died because of public apathy.
Now, to be fair, I don’t know that anyone at DHS is trying to kill this program. No one would admit such a thing if it were true. I can say that I have seen no attempt to direct traffic to this site. None of the Twitter or social networking tools have been used to let the public know that that there input is being requested on the site.
Now it is a good thing that the old dialogue is still available, but those pre-plan ideas need to be moved to another page where they won’t confuse current efforts. Now those of us who submitted earlier ideas may decide to re-submit an old idea to address a new issue, but that should be kept separate from the historical record.
How to Use the Dialogue
This dialogue mechanism is a good way to get a large number of people to look at a significant problem and propose solutions. The voting mechanism can provide a first-sort mechanism that will allow promising ideas to become separated from the chaff.
The current problem with the leaking oil well in the Gulf is a perfect example of the type problem that could be addressed by this mechanism. A new page on the site could be started for this ‘problem’. Two of three apparently intractable problem statements could be posted with a request for ideas. Publicize the hell out of the site and then watch the ideas flow.
Now most of the ideas will not be workable. Ideas are like that. But the more suggestions that are received, the higher the probability that a potentially workable idea will arise.
The voting mechanism allows the public to do the initial idea sort and then the experts can be brought in to look at the high-ranked ideas. Even when the actual ideas are not workable, they may trigger another idea in the mind of the expert, pointing them at new ways to think 'out-of-the-box'.
Use the Dialogue
Of course, this presupposes that the leadership at DHS really wants to engage the public. If they do want public participation, they have developed a tool through last year’s QHSR and this year’s Open Government Dialogue that can prove useful in pulling in the public’s input. All they have to do is use the tool that they have available. We’ll see….