Open Innovation, Open Government and Twinning Projects

Sir Bernard Woolley: What’s wrong with Open Government?

Sir Arnold: My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: You just don’t give people what they want if it’s not good for them. You give Brandy to an alcoholic?

This brief passage of “Yes, Minister” mocking the concept of Open Government might be an amusing way to introduce the question of whether open government and open innovation in the public sector (PS) are the same. Often , when talking about open innovation in the public sector, many people tend to confuse both terms; particularly, in the sense that they believe that the field of open innovation is mainly circumscribed to incorporate citizens ideas within the policy innovation process, usually through new communication technologies.

Let me start by stressing, from the very beginning, that this two are not the same at all. Although both Open Government and Open innovation share the “open” idea at their heart, the former focuses on the concept of “transparency” and “access” for ensuring government oversight by citizens, while the latter substantially understands openness as a mechanism to generate innovation in the public administration.

On the other hand, although the expansion of both concepts is, to great extent, linked to the extensive development of information and communication technologies in public administrations, Open Innovation in the PS and Open Government are not exchangeable concepts. In this sense, although Open Innovation in the PS might be often based in the use of new communication technologies, it is not always necessarily the case, as it might be implemented also through other channels, such as knowledge transfer and dissemination through the exchange of expertise between government officials and experts, as the Twinning model example demonstrates.

However, the expansion of Open Government is inextricably connected to the development of ICT, as it has made available great chunks of institutional data on a massive scale. Indeed, you can have, in principle, Open Government without internet but, of course, in practice, it would be not be possible to grant immediate access to the public to such huge amounts of data without this technology.

Finally, understanding these distinctions, somehow, show that actually you can have “open innovation without citizens”, while for Open Government citizen oversight is a crucial feature. Probably, this latter assertion may sound a bit controversial and would need to be discussed thoroughly in a future occasion. However, allow me to stress, again, that Open Innovation in the PS may incorporate citizens in innovation processes, but also, by the contrary, it may not actually do so; as probably Sir Humphrey Appleby from “Yes, Minister” would agree 😉


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