2016-10-06 / Opinion

Embracing Gov 2.0

EDITORIAL

No consensus exists on how to define democracy, but history demonstrates a healthy system depends on an open, transparent process.

The impact of open government became unmistakable during the “print culture” of the 17th and 18th centuries, referred to as the Age of Enlightenment. During that period, the general public had access to information for the first time. The printed word transformed the way people thought, eventually leading to the American and French revolutions.

Since then, our concept of open government has gone through another major development. A technological revolution has introduced Gov 2.0, referring to the use of technology to deliver greater transparency and public collaboration.

Gov 2.0 isn’t just theoretical rhetoric.

In 2009, the U.S. Open Government Directive was established, requiring agencies to publish government information online, release datasets on data.gov and develop an open government website (whitehouse.gov/open). In 2011, the Obama administration expanded the open government efforts, by launching the Open Government Partnership at the U.N. General Assembly.

Rhode Island is one of 40 states that participates in the program and maintains an open data site (http://www.ri.gov/data/). The nearest city to participate is Providence (https://data.providenceri.gov/).

Locally, we are encouraged that some leaders share the open government vision.

In recent months, Middletown Councilor Antone Viveiros has petitioned his fellow councilors to support video recording at least three boards he feels directly impact residents' quality of life: the Planning Board, the Zoning Board and the Conservation Commission.

Although the idea has received a lukewarm response from the other councilors, we hope with time they fully embrace the opportunity.

The Middletown administration has made arguments against recording board meetings due to cost, and argued it would increase meeting length due to changes in board member behavior.

We argue a healthy democracy embraces an open process, which is not necessarily a brief process.

In the past, expensive storage fees and camera equipment restricted local governments' ability to record public meetings. Today, however, the cost is primarily limited to employee labor hours. Twice a month, using town-owned cameras, Middletown employees record council meeting and upload the videos to a vimeo.com account, which costs $60 per year.

Technology is just a tool. It is up to our leadership to use it.

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