Open Government consists of a range of activities including information provision to various forms of participation, interaction and collaboration. Note that we do not include here the ideas of open source in government, open standards or open formats. These activities may or may not be used to promote “Open Government” as per our definition, but they are not Open Government activities themselves.
The common understanding of e-government overlaps with Open Government (in the same way that web2.0 is used as a close synonym to openness). In general, it is thought that the implementation of e-government occurs in stages of increasing complexity. These stages can be seen as a movement towards increasingly open processes: it starts with centralized provision of information, generally through a web presence or perhaps SMS; then there are some new forms of interactions and transactions; and eventually (theoretically) come the more transformative changes where interaction and service delivery is done through a more horizontal and decentralized processes, such as new forms of democratic participation and the co-creation of services (e.g., Bellamy & Taylor, 1998; Silcock, 2001; Weare, 2002; West, 2004, 2005).
Open government allows for a range of activities: increased information provision (including commercial, non-commercial, cultural, etc.), increased information provision for accountability purposes, enhanced participatory governance and co-creation of public services. Empirically, e-government implementations across the world remain mostly in the early stages (web presence and limited interactions) rather than advancing to the transformative stages (Snellen & Thaens 2008). Countries have not yet begun (nor is it well understood how) to tap into the true transformative potential of open government – moving towards more participatory inclusion in service delivery and democratic processes. Forward thinking, citizen-centred strategies will take more time as it requires a rethinking of the current structure of public sector bureaucracy so that it is capable of engaging in its activities in a more inclusive and participatory manner enabled by the use of new ICTs. Especially difficult, and unexplored, are ways of engaging in true e-Democracy (participatory governance).
Examples of open government activities include:
- The Philippine Department of Labour provides job seekers with relevant job information via SMS. The Philippines Civil Service Commission (CS) set up a system (TXT CSC) that allows citizens to report, via SMS, improprieties when dealing with government transactions.
- The Seoul municipality OPEN (Online Procedures Enhancement for Civil Applications) system publishes a list of the civil applications that most frequently cause irregularities, citizen inconvenience, etc., as well as information about required paperwork and how applications are processed making the decision-making processes and actions of individual civil servants more transparent (Bhatnagar, 2004).
- E-procurement systems, such as in Chile and Brazil, publish public sector purchasing information online and generally (depending upon their level of development) requires online open bidding. The system acts as a check (and a physical constraint against) corrupt (or poor) purchasing practices.