Open Government: Lessons for Corporate Governance

Daniel Lathrop and Laurel Ruma have edited a new volume, Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice. Although the book is focused on civil governments, I found lessons here for corporate governance as well.

For example, the chapter by Douglas Schuler discussed online deliberation, including the work of e-Liberate, which developed an online version of Roberts Rules of Order to facilitate online deliberations. The system in its current form can support meetings that take place in real-time over an hour or so and, also, meetings that are more asynchronous (and leisurely), meetings that could, in theory, span a year or so, making it necessary for meeting attendees to log in to e-Liberate once or twice a week to check for recent developments and perhaps vote or make a motion. Might not such a system be useful for facilitating online shareowner forums, shareowner collaboration in deciding on proxy access candidates, or even annual shareowner meetings?

David Eaves builds off the work of Clay Shiky who looked at Ronald Coase’s, The Nature of the Firm. Coarse theorized the people didn’t self-organize in a manager-free environment because managing transaction costs – the costs of constantly negotiating, coordinating and enforcing agreements – would be prohibitive.  In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Shiky asks, “But what if transaction costs don’t fall moderately? What if they collapse?” The Internet seems to make that possible. Eaves cites the DIRECT Launcher project, where NASA and non-NASA employees created a virtual “skunk works” to design a rocket that outcompetes NASA. Eaves argues that with the acknowledged end of objectivity, sites like Wikipedia have increased credibility because their transparency documents partisanship. You can trace bias. Eaves goes on to discuss many self-organizing tools that I think might be readily adaptable to, CII and others. Other variations are discussed by Charles Armstrong. For example, One Click Organizations utilize the Themis Constitution developed by CIRCUS Foundation, designed to take advantage of electronic decision-making to simplify governance and administration.

Sarah Schacht takes us back to the fundamentals of democracy, points made in the Constitution,  like the fact that a Journal of the Proceedings of Congress shall be published with Yeas and Nays of Members voting for and against bills. Of course, we can’t have Board minutes released right after meetings but wouldn’t it be reasonable to release minutes or at least votes after some reasonable amount of time… perhaps a year later, unless otherwise deemed strategically critical to remain secret? How can we hold our board members accountable if we never know how they vote?

If corporate directors really begin to represent shareowners, rather than CEOs and self-replacing boards, they might learn a thing or two from Then there’s Sheila Krumholz’s discussion about why the Center for Responsive Politics decided to publish their data on, which reminds me of decisions by funds to disclose their proxy votes at It turns out giving away what may cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to compile can actually increase your clout and help better fulfill your mission than hording information like gold.

Another site all in governance can benefit from is, which facilitates the ability to upload data, visualize it, and talk about it with other people. Explore your data through word tree maps, bubble charts, phrase net, tag clouds, etc. Visualization provides powerful insights.

That’s just a few observations on a few chapters. Open Government contains 34, so there is a great deal to explore., which improves the accountability of elected leaders by letting you vote on funding for websites/blogs that cover how you are being represented. This can improve policies and reduce corruption in organizations, including governments, corporations, unions, nonprofits etc.. However, Lathrop and Ruma have done an excellent job of compiling a list of useful sites and essays that will go far in creating more open governments… whatever their form. (see also, Corporate Accountability, Web 2.0 & CorpGov Functions at Public Funds)

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