Toward a Research Agenda on Opening Governance

Members of the MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance at Medium: “Society is confronted by a number of increasingly complex problems — inequality, climate change, access to affordable healthcare — that often seem intractable. Existing societal institutions, including government agencies, corporations and NGOs, have repeatedly proven themselves unable to tackle these problems in their current composition. Unsurprisingly, trust in existing institutions is at an all-time low.

At the same time, advances in technology and sciences offer a unique opportunity to redesign and reinvent our institutions. Increased access to data may radically transform how we identify problems and measure progress. Our capacity to connect with citizens could greatly increase the knowledge and expertise available to solve big public problems. We are witnessing, in effect, the birth of a new paradigm of governance — labeled “open governance” — where institutions share and leverage data, pursue collaborative problem-solving, and partner with citizens to make better decisions. All of these developments offer a potential solution to the crisis of trust and legitimacy confronting existing institutions.

But for the promise of open governance, we actually know very little about its true impact, and about the conditions and contingencies required for institutional innovation to really work. Even less is known about the capabilities that institutions must develop in order to be able to take advantage of new technologies and innovative practices. The lack of evidence is holding back positive change. It is limiting our ability to improve people’s lives.

The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance seeks to address these shortcomings. Convened and organized by the GovLab, and made possible by a three-year, $5 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Network seeks to build an empirical foundation that will help us understand how democratic institutions are being (and should be) redesigned, and how this in turn influences governance. At its broadest level, the Network seeks to create a new science of institutional innovation.

In what follows, we outline a research agenda and a set of deliverables for the coming years that can deepen our understanding of “open governance.” More specifically the below seeks:

  • to frame and contextualize the areas of common focus among the members;
  • to guide the targeted advancement of Network activities;
  • to catalyze opportunities for further collaboration and knowledge exchange between Network members and those working in the field at large.

A core objective of the Network is to conduct research based on, and that has relevance for, real-world institutions. Any research that is solely undertaken in the lab, far from the actual happenings the Network seeks to influence and study, is deemed to be insufficient. As such, the Network is actively developing flexible, scalable methodologies to help analyze the impact of opening governance. In the spirit of interdisciplinarity and openness that defines the Network, these methodologies are being developed collaboratively with partners from diverse disciplines.

The below seeks to provide a framework for those outside the Network — including those who would not necessarily characterize their research as falling under the banner of opening governance — to undertake empirical, agile research into the redesign and innovation of governance processes and the solving of public problems….(More)”