One of the questions that I often ask myself is to what extent Open Government is a goal in itself, or a mean to actually improve the quality of government.

In our study on Open Government Services, we are starting to see pattern emerge from the case studies. One of the ideas that sprang to mind is represented in this sketch, that we will further discuss at our forthcoming workshop.

Basically, when it comes to Open Government, the more sophisticated the input expected from citizens, the more rare it is to receive useful contributions.

Citizens input is useful when it comes to reporting factual issues such as holes in their street; it’s useful (maybe a bit less) also for qualitative input on service co-design, such as how to improve hospitals. But when it comes to abstract policy issues, the majority of contributions are not really useful.

This is also why local eParticipation is more effective: because local politics is mostly about delivering services to citizens, while national politics is about more abstract issues such as regulation. Of course, this overlooks the intangible and long term benefits of open policy making, for instance in terms of increasing citizens’ trust in government. Moreover, we should note that even if the average is not very useful, there can still be some very useful contribution that make the open policy initiative worthy.

Another observation is that the more sophisticated the expected input, the less effective are online methods. Complex issues need face to face discussions, with iterative dialogue that helps mutual understanding between government and citizens. For reporting holes, online methods work well enough.

What do you think?