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Background

Although Open Government is not about technology per se, the internet brings with it the promise of new and improved models of governance. It requires the public sector to consider how it might use new technologies to act more efficiently and effectively, and enable stronger relationships between government, industry and the public.

At a time of increasing concerns about the risk of a disengaged and disillusioned electorate, Open Government offers the possibility of reconnecting citizens to the democratic process. Current economic problems of growing debt and government deficits are also demanding new thinking about how public services are delivered. Given these challenges, it seems increasingly clear that government must be re-envisioned and re-designed for the 21st century. The success of the Open Source movement suggests that the value of openness lies not only having access to information, but also having the ability to participate in a meaningful way. It suggests that government must become an interactive, two-way process, designed to be open-by-default.

One of the responses of the European Commission has been to launch their eParticipation initiative. Starting in 2006, the initial “top-down” approach focused on improving transparency in order to promote trust in political institutions. More recently, the emphasis has shifted to a “bottom-up” approach, utilising technologies to directly engage citizens in policy development and decision-making.

Despite the challenges that must inevitably be faced, the potential for Open Government and eParticipation is huge, offering the opportunity for engagement with citizens across the whole of society on a scale that was previously unthinkable.