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Austin, United States

Open Governance Operating Board (AUS0003)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Austin, United States Action Plan

Action Plan Cycle: 2017

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: City of Austin Office of Innovation

Support Institution(s): CS Partner: Mateo Clarke, Community Tech & Telecom Commission; Nic Moe, Vision Zero ATX

Policy Areas

OGP, Public Participation, Records Management, Science & Technology, Subnational

IRM Review

IRM Report: Austin Final IRM Report 2017

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Not Relevant

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

To improve collaboration within the City of Austin and between the city and residents, we commit to furthering civic participation​ and accountability​ by adapting the City Manager’s existing executive Open Government Operating Board to oversee broader open government efforts, including these OGP projects. Short Description:​ Adapt the City Manager’s executive Open Government Operating Board to oversee broader open government efforts. Leads: Civil society partners​: Mateo Clarke, Community Tech & Telecom Commission; Nic Moe, Vision Zero ATX Government facilitator:​ Kerry O’Connor, Chief Innovation Officer. Project Brief: This project answers these pain points from our civil society partners: 1. How might we increase multi-sector collaboration that results in scenarios in which downstream problems are neither identified nor addressed? - Vision Zero ATX 2. How might we develop alternate ways to receive citizen feedback? - Council members 3. How might we best manage, prioritize, and support the growing portfolio of technology and innovation initiatives? - City Manager’s Executive Open Government Operating Board. 3.1 Desired Outcomes: 1) Collaboration is increased among city departments and with civil society partners. 2) Multiple avenues are created for feedback loops within government and between community members and organizations, all of which will help open government projects succeed at developing better outcomes. 3) City Management has a more collaborative and effective way of managing, prioritizing, and supporting the growing portfolio of technology and innovation initiatives. 3.2 Exploration Questions: 1) Who at the city and in the community is pursuing open government projects, that is not currently involved? 2) How might the mission and purpose of this group be revised to encompass or interact with these open government projects? 3) What is an effective feedback loop for this environment? 12 4) What kind of support do open government projects need to be successful? 5) How might we create an awareness and feedback group to incorporate community feedback into projects? 6) How do open government principles influence the selection and responsibilities of key City Management positions like City Manager, Police Chief, Information Officer, Innovation Officer, City Clerk, etc especially in periods of transition.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

3. Collaboration and City Departments – Open Governance Operating Board

Commitment Text

To improve collaboration within the City of Austin and between the city and residents, we commit to furthering civic participation and accountability by adapting the City Manager’s existing executive Open Government Operating Board to oversee broader open government efforts, including these OGP projects.

Milestones

1. Clarify Phase. Expected deliverables: Assessment current state of the Open Government Operating Board’s purview and structure; Assessment the open government portfolio; Review existing Open Government commitments and assess compliance.

2. Framing Phase. Expected deliverables: Publish proposed method for managing, prioritizing, and supporting open government efforts.

3. Conceive/Prototype/Test Phase. Expected deliverables: Report of tested governance process flow and feedback; Document Open Government Operating Board process, success, and challenges.

4. Plan/Build Phase. Expected deliverables: Draft recommendations to City Council, City Management, and other appropriate stakeholders; Funding sources identified for Open Government, Open Data, Civic Tech, and Civic Innovation in City of Austin Budget.

Commitment Overview

 

Commitment Aim

Overall Objective & Relevance

The City of Austin’s third OGP commitment addressed management of open governance initiatives within city government. City officials and their civil society partners worked to improve the way that open governance initiatives are undertaken, managed, and monitored by the city manager’s office. This commitment outlined a process for assessing and restructuring the Open Government Operating Board’s method for managing open government projects.

The Open Government Operating Board (OGOB) was tasked in 2011 with overseeing open governance initiatives in Austin. The City of Austin’s City Council initiated a series of open government reforms by passing Council Resolution 2011208-074 on 8 December 2011. The number and variety of open data and open governance initiatives continues to grow in Austin, with three open data portals now operational on the city website and more than 300 datasets now available for public download through the city’s Open Data Portal. The City of Austin’s Open Data Portal and other open government resources are published at http://austintexas.gov/page/city-council-open-government. City officials recognized a need to reassess and restructure the board to increase collaboration across departments and between government and civil society organizations. The commitment aimed to create new methods for community engagement on open government issues and to increase the OGOB’s efficiency when “managing, prioritizing, and supporting the growing portfolio of technology and innovation initiatives.” City of Austin OGP Subnational Action Plan, page 12. Each milestone concluded with the production of a detailed assessment, report, or list of recommendations. The commitment was robust and promised to generate a new, complex understanding of how open governance initiatives are structured and executed in Austin.

Austin’s third commitment, as written in the city’s OGP action plan, set out to catalog and publish a complete inventory of city open government initiatives. This constitutes new information, including project information that was previously unavailable to the public. Such a release aligns with the OGP value of access to information. The stated desired outcomes mentioned a need to increase feedback loops between community members, other stakeholders and the government, hinting at civic participation, but the commitment’s language and milestones did not elaborate on this goal. The IRM researcher believes that restructuring of the OGOB may have potentially created opportunities for increased civic engagement. However, the action plan, as written, did not identify specific mechanisms for encouraging this collaboration. Commitments that are relevant to the OGP value of civic participation must specify a mechanism for increasing participation. This commitment did not identify such a mechanism.

Specificity and Potential Impact

Austin’s third commitment was coded as medium specificity. The milestones listed in the action plan were objectively verifiable but lacked specific, measurable details. For instance, the IRM researcher could verify whether the proposed assessments of the “current state of the Open Government Operating Board’s purview and structure” and the “open government portfolio” were completed. City of Austin OGP Subnational Action Plan, page 13. However, these milestones did not identify specific, measurable indicators or procedures that would guide the assessments. Likewise, the outcomes identified in the action plan, such as increased collaboration and more effective management of the open government portfolio, were objectively verifiable but lacked measurable indicators. The IRM researcher understands that the commitment’s language may have been broad by design and due to the one-year time constraint of the OGP commitment process.

This commitment had the potential to create a minor impact within city government. As an increasing number of transparency and public engagement initiatives are taken up by city leaders, reforming the management process was a positive step to create a new method of collaboration between the city and civil society. According to IRM interviews with city officials in the Innovation Office, this commitment had the potential to increase the efficiency of the OGOB by replacing the current open governance management structure with a model that is more suited to handle the rapidly expanding portfolio of new open government initiatives in Austin. Daniel Honker and John Speirs (City of Austin), interviewed by IRM researcher, 23 August 2017 While this commitment sought to improve the function of the open governance management structure at City Hall, the commitment language is limited in scope. The set of recommendations that would come out of the implementation of this commitment represent an incremental step towards improving the way that open governance initiatives are undertaken, managed, and monitored. However, as written, the commitment fell short of identifying a mechanism to ensure implementation, without which it did not constitute a potential major change to the status quo.

Completion
Limited

Austin’s third commitment was designed to assess and adapt the City Manager’s Open Governance Operating Board, which oversees open government initiatives. The commitment team completed the assessment of open government initiatives defined in the first milestone. City of Austin Innovation Office. Inventory of Austin’s open gov/”smart city” projects. https://opengovpartnership.bloomfire.com/series/3202373/posts/2748674 The initial inventory included forty projects. The inventory eventually grew to more than eighty open government projects. To catalog as many open government projects as possible, the commitment team opened the inventory to submissions from all city employees. Ibid. In April and September 2017, the commitment team published an analysis of the open government projects contained in the inventory. City of Austin Innovation Office. Analysis of the list of open/smart projects: What we know about project needs and challenges. This analysis included several key findings, such as a need for more cross-departmental coordination and a lack of “resources, funding, and staff capabilities to achieve goals.” Ibid.

The commitment met with 23 city staffers and two community stakeholders working either directly or indirectly on open government projects to “identify what project teams need, how subject matter experts might advise projects, and how public stakeholders want to engage with City efforts.” Responses from these conversations were used by the commitment team to draft six “guideposts” for redesigning open governance at City Hall. City of Austin Innovation Office. March 2017 Update – Redesigning Open Governance. https://opengovpartnership.bloomfire.com/series/3202373-commitment-3-redesigning-open-governance/posts/2740571-march-2017-update-redesigning-open-governance The guideposts were presented to the Open Government Operating Board on 9 March 2018. City of Austin Innovation Office. Empowering “open” and “smart” initiatives with the Open Government Operating Board. 9 March 2017. The publication of these recommendations fulfilled the second milestone of this commitment. At the time of this report, the commitment team was in the process of drafting a new charter for the Open and Smart Advisory Committee (OSAC, the new name of the Open Governance Operating Board). The original charter of the Open Government Operating Board can be found at https://opengovpartnership.bloomfire.com/series/35086/posts/1356750. The draft of the revised charter can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1fwKLo_9YXwOKRKyaOxN1Wxc6i8cirTh54qIVpYsVW2E/edit?usp=sharing. Simultaneously, the commitment team is drafting a proposal to fund and staff an “Open and Smart Program Team” that would support the work of the OSAC. City of Austin Innovation Office. Open and Smart Program Team. Design brief. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NPP19g1dlbIC96Lr-TFvjszdaXwNYivnU87jj6NvQjk/edit#heading=h.yy11p9kptx6u

As part of the implementation process, the commitment team detailed a series of findings based on their rigorous investigation of Austin’s open government and smart cities projects. The team compiled a list of needs and recommendations to inform the OGOB/OSAC’s work moving forward. This list includes recommendations for increased cross-departmental collaboration, design-centered qualitative research and new public-private partnerships to advance project outcomes. City of Austin Innovation Office. “Analysis of the list of open/smart projects: What we know about project needs and challenges.” City of Austin OGP Bloomfire site. 12 October 2017. The commitment team’s recommendations informed the redirection and renaming of the OGOB/OSAC. During IRM interviews, commitment staff members said that understaffing and the ambiguous nature of the commitment contributed to the delayed implementation. Project Manager Daniel Honker highlighted some key challenges during the implementation phase. “Our experience with most of the commitments has underscored the need to resource and staff these efforts adequately so that we can meet the goals we set.” Daniel Honker (City of Austin Innovation Office), interview by IRM researcher, 5 January 2018

Early Results: did it open government?

Access to Information: Marginal

This commitment was designed to assess and restructure the city’s Open Government Operating Board to oversee the expanding portfolio of open government projects at City Hall. Prior to implementation, the city government had not compiled a comprehensive dataset of open government projects, though many such projects were concurrently underway across a variety of city departments. The commitment team identified a series of potential outcomes of this restructuring: increased collaboration between city departments and civil society, new feedback mechanisms for civil society, and more effective management of open government initiatives as potential outcomes of this commitment.

By December 2017, the commitment team had contributed new information about open government initiatives in the form of an inventory of open government projects “government projects (and opportunities) City departments are involved in, as well as what challenges these projects face in achieving their goals.” City of Austin Innovation Office. Inventory of open gov/”smart city” projects. https://opengovpartnership.bloomfire.com/series/3202373/posts/2748674#about

The inventory is being continuously updated, and the initial collection of eighty projects provides new, publicly available information on open government projects at City Hall. This constitutes a minor improvement in the availability, quality, and access to information that was not available prior to the implementation period.

Recommendations

During interviews with the IRM researcher, city staff assigned to implement this commitment expressed frustration at its ambiguity. While the completion of this commitment may not be a part of future action plans, the commitment’s ambiguous nature provides a learning opportunity for the those developing future commitments. OGP commitments should be highly specific and clearly relevant to OGP values. Future commitments should also receive adequate staffing and budgetary support. This commitment was also primarily internal and lacked a major role for civil society partners. Likewise, milestones addressed primarily internal city government operations. Future commitments should include more opportunities for civic engagement, especially opportunities for direct public input during the design and implementation processes.

Links to further evidence

· City of Austin Innovation Office – Commitment 3 Project Information Page

· City of Austin Innovation Office – Open Gov Board change effort – Design Brief

· City of Austin Innovation Office – Open and Smart Program Team – Design Brief

· City of Austin Innovation Office – Empowering “open” and “smart” initiatives with the Open Government Operating Board – Presentation Slides

· City of Austin Innovation Office – Assessment and Inventory of Open Government projects

· City of Austin Innovation Office - Analysis of the list of open/smart projects: What we know about project needs and challenges