Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Has "Transparency" Concerning Federal Stimulus Funding Been a Success? Part 1

By Dennis D. McDonald

Has “government transparency” concerning US Federal stimulus funding been successful? How you answer that question depends at least in part on how you measure “success.” It is not the same as answering whether the stimulus itself has been a success.

I am  reading the IBM Center for the Business of Government’s report Recovery Act Transparency: Learning from the Experience of States to see if any of Dr. Francisca M. Rojas’ findings match up with what I anticipated back in 2009 in my own preliminary assessments:

Back in 2009 I remember thinking about the overall issues in terms of an information system where huge amounts of data will be gathered and made accessible for use in ways that might not be familiar to the people most concerned with collecting and using the data.

I also remember thinking that the attention being paid to data standards and quality was appropriate but that user requirements — as is the case with any new information system — needed to be taken into account as well.

At the time I began development of a database to track the different methods associated with providing web access to the various reports being made available to states and localities. I dropped the effort — client work took precedence — but I spent enough time with the effort to see a wide variety of initial web site practices being used to report the data, ranging from well documented site pages, frequently updated, to haphazardly designed pages from states lukewarm about the whole recovery effort.

I remember thinking, “Transparency Is Good — But It Ain’t Cheap,” based primarily on personal management experience in commercial database publishing. Quality and timeliness are important in such efforts in order to develop trust among users in developing ongoing demand for such data, and quality and timeliness in data need to be managed.

Aside from an interest in seeing how such a wide effort at government “transparency” has fared, there is also some relevance to current interest in many government agencies in making their web sites “mobile friendly.” See, for example, Jill James’ Your Feedback Wanted: More Open ED Data from the U.S. Department of Education and my own comments on recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mobile access efforts. If you look at the wide range of web resources directly or indirectly provided through Federal funding, what you often see is a bewildering range of web site management practices with little standardization and a wide range in quality, timeliness, and user-friendliness.

Making such a wide range of resources “mobile accessible” at the agency or departmental level is a challenge, one that I have been giving some thought to (e.g., see Toward a Definition of Enterprise Mobility, Part 2: Key Questions.) In looking at an individual agency’s web sites, for example, I don’t think the first question to ask should be, “Which of these web sites should we make accessible via mobile devices?” A more important question is, “Can we use mobile technologies to make our policies and programs more effective?”

This is closely related to the same question we should be asking about transparency, i.e., “By making our programs and policies more transparent, how can we make them more effective?”

I’ll be looking at these and other questions in Part 2 of this series; please stay tuned, and comments are welcomed!

Copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald

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