Open Statecraft for a Brave New World

Open government is the doctrine and governance approach which holds that the business of government and state administration should be opened at all levels to effective public scrutiny and oversight to improve capacity and legitimacy of collective action. It outlines a “brave new world” of doing governance. The discourse on the topic has focused on the technical aspects (open data) and the legitimatory aspects (e-participation) but has dangerously ignored the managerial aspects (open statecraft). In the following I argue, why we should put more emphasis on this concept.

In 2010 we are confronted with new policy and management approaches in the public sector like technologically mediated policy initiation and formulation (Obama’s Open Government Initiative), distributed intelligence gathering (the US intelligence communities Intellipedia), crowdsourcing of accountability (The Guardian’s British Parliament invoice scandal platform), or peer producing political campaigning (the Obama Campaign), and social media enhanced (twitter) revolutions (Iran). No government in 2010 can afford to not use these types of new public governance. Most governments today are confronted with several policy and administrative challenges (transparency, effectiveness, corruption, legitimacy, etc.) that can be addressed by an open value creation.

Open Value Chains that interface to experts, local knowledge, stakeholders, and crowds allow for new modes of organizing collective action in business, society, and government. Recent dramatic reductions of transaction costs in organizing collaboration have allowed for amazing advances in collective value production (think Wikipedia, Linux, or Ushahidi) and will transform our lifeworlds.

Open government introduces new logics of collective action that move beyond the “modern” core ideas of governance, which are based on institutional legitimation of processes and very restrictive information sharing (arcana imperii/state secrets, administrative secrets, business secrets, complex intellectual property rights regimes). This conceptualization of collective action as open value chains implies three important perspectives:

Open Data

The technological perspective represented by the Open Data Movement. Open data is a philosophy and practice requiring that certain data be freely available to everyone, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.


E-Participation is the use of information and communication technologies to broaden and deepen political participation by enabling citizens to connect with one another and with their elected representatives.

Open Statecraft

I propose the term open statecraft to introduce the managerial and strategic perspective, to open value creation. The term statecraft refers to the art of conducting state affairs, sometimes with sinister implication, as used by Macaulay (1855) in his Hist. Eng. xviii. IV. 163 A double treason, such as would have been thought a masterpiece of statecraft by the great Italian politicians of the fifteenth century. So open statecraft openly states the ambition of actors to utilize the logic of openness to achieve objectives. Anything else, would be insincere.

The core technologies of open value creation from a managerial perspective are the wiki (principle-based, user-generated platforms, with flexible moderation capacity), the forum (question driven user-generated knowledge platform), blogging (core message with feedback/discourse loop), social networks (such as Ning-communities or Facebook groups) and work flow management and visualization tools (Government resource planning, government process mapping tools, think SAP, Oracle, SugarCRM, etc.). Together they allow us to structure policy and administrative public value creation processes, by enhancing ideation (idea-generation), deliberation (commenting and discussion), collaboration (generating public values), and accountability (parsing data to hold government accountable).

In the discourse on open government the main focus has been on open data and new modes of participation, often without considering the political ramifications of these ideas. It sometimes even seems that the idea of thinking through the strategic, managerial, and political consequences of opening value chains is considered as untrue to the original idea of the concept or even “Machiavellian.” However, without the buy-in of political entrepreneurs that are able to structure open value creation processes, we will not get there. Utopianism without strategy spells disaster.

Therefore, we need to augment the technocratic ideas of open data and the democratic ideas of e-participation with the strategic, manegerial, or political perspective of open statecraft. Only if we offer a perspective that involves the power politics taking place in any institutional setting, can we realistically discuss and implement Open Government as a new form of collective action.

About Philipp

Philipp Müller works in the IT industry and is academic dean of the SMBS. Author of "". Proud father of three amazing children. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

13. July 2010 by Philipp
Categories: Blog | 22 comments

Comments (22)


    Philipp, I think that E-Participation is mainly a perspective for citizens to connect with and participate in policies by administrations rather than elected representatives. Most e-participation we see today confirms this, from participatory budgeting to fixmystreet, these platforms connect the public to public services and bureaucracies, rather than their elected representatives. Those are already mandated by the public, and can be influenced by petitioning, lobbying, communication platforms (opencongress, etc), but so far, the participative dimension in that regard is rather low


    I agree to the comment, Sebastian wrote. eParticipation refers a lot to connect citizens to public service. Thats where we have enormous deficites (at least here, in Germany). Thats the difference between Campaigning 2.0 (which all political parties have embraced by now) and Government 2.0 (which is still not strategically endorsed by most governments).

    Philipp is, however, right in arguing, that open data and eparticipation alone will not do the trick, if they are not embodied in a new open statekraft model. Thats the strategy needed. It must be as simple as a constitutional paragraph. Wait a minute: Obama has already defined this paragraph: “Government has to be open and participative”. Well, thats it. And it is NOT ONLY about open data…Its has as much power as the sentence “men and women are equal”. It has to be debated and interpreted and it refers to all aspects of life – or respectively, government. Thus, any action or process of truely open governments should be checked: are they open and participative? if not, why not? Being open and participative should be default, exceptions need explanation and justifications.

    Open statekraft may be the term needed to better describe what is meant with open government. Since open government is usually reduced to open data and participation. However, open statekraft as I understand the concept, should comprise of a new governing culture – which in itself is open. Where civil servants are empowered – e.g. to actually connect with citizens via social media, to have a human face. Where agencies start to act like a human counterpart – having conversations with their customers (=cititzens, businesses, civil society…), having open minds and open doors. This implies open data, of course, but its not limited to it. It goes far beyond.

    Open culture is also about publishing agency pics at flickr, connecting to citizens via social networks, engaging at twitter, using viral means of communication – but not only to talk to citizens, also to listen to citizens. Open doors mean you can leave and you can enter a room or a house. Open data is just for download. Thats just leaving, not entering a house. Its a kind of agency talking but not listening. What open statekraft should imply is the listening bit. The “entering the digital door” concept.
    An ad from microsoft put it quite nicely: “government 2.0 – like government, just without the walls.”. No more walls: thats open government, governed by open statekraft. No more secrecy, no more corruption, no more lonely governing kings of agency kingdoms, no more slave-like-acting civil servants, who just “do their duty”. Instead – empowerment of the individual, opening up of civil service value chains, open processes where civil society takes over bits and pieces. Just like in apps 4 democracy competitions.
    This will be modern world and a better world. This will be a more real democracy.
    you may call it open statekraft.


    Common sense says that the powers that be have to give up some power in order to make participation meaningful. Michael Kopatz writes, that public administrations can only be cititzen orientated, when they are permeable internally. Therefore one has to develop methods that convey unmistakeably – internally as well as externally – that the participative process is not only for the gallery, but is meant to produce relevant outcomes, shaping future decicions. Public employees have to be encouraged, to take their cititzen's concerns serious an act upon them. Leadership should only then engage in participative processes when it is prepeared to cease at least some power and control over the decision making process.

    Tom Steinberg originally expected more direct democracy through the internet tools he developed. Yet it turned out, that the representative democratic system seems to improve due to the new communication channels, enlarged transparency and accountability.

  4. None'

    agreed! I just took a standard definition of e-participation, because that was not what I wanted to focus on in this article, but I really like your argument! Worthy of a blog-entry?


    possibly, but honestly I am fairly convinced that e-participation's conceptual focus on administrative rather than legislative participation is a fairly accepted/standard definition, or should I say contemporary feature of e-participation

  6. None'

    wow. Thank you!!!

    1. I really love your idea of thinking open government as a constitutive principle of our society – you must write a blog-entry for me on that! The “man and women are created equal” analogy is powerful. However, we are still far away from even the consensus that such a principle should apply and we will have to give up several constitutive principles that have become dear to us (e.g. territorial sovereignty or representative democracy as we know it, privacy as we know it, administrative discretion, etc.).

    2. In this entry, I focus on open statecraft as the managerial aspect of open government, in a way as a perspective and approach for those who want to create open value chains. I think you add a more comprehensive approach to open gov as a set of shared core beliefs that needs to be fleshed out…

  7. None'

    This is a very interesting philosophy. I would like to see it in operation. But I fear that something like this would not be approved by most Governments as they may see it as tying their hands in ways that we as citizens may not anticipate. That being said, this conversation also touches on the Digital Divide and the accessibility to information that presents. Tie these two together and it becomes ever more of a powerful argument for providing basic, broad access to information. Nice post!


    What about Internet voting as a form of E-Participation? Trials in the US, Canada, and Europe have been conducted without security breaches.

    William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.


    I don't think the old “digital divide” problem carries the same weight in the US now that it did in the 90s. In 2004 the Michigan Democratic Party offered an Internet voting option. Candidates took lap tops to house-bound supports, kiosks were set up in union halls. In Estonia, cell phone voting is increasing.

    But expanding broadband in the US would make e-gov easier.


    I have shown how Internet voting in the US can be organized to make elected officials directly dependent upon the voters. The power of Big Money can be neutralized in this process. That would change the legislative and administrative cultures dramatically in favor of the common person.

    can't say it all here, but check it out at and


    Thanks for this post Philipp, I think it outlines an important aspect of open government being an ideology in its nature. Do you view open government as an ideology, a doctrine of its own kind?
    what is needed is the operational logic, the practical aspect of openness and citizen participation. Open statecraft can address the need to incorporate managerial views alongside with highlighting the strategic and political meaning of open government ideas.


    by including e-voting as a form of direct democracy into e-participation, we would be having a completely different debate. e-participation as practiced in most places has nothing to do with direct democracy. e-participation practices delegate problem solving capacity rather than decision making authority. I don't dispute that voting is a form of political participation, but whether you do it at the polling station or on the internet, it does not change existing practices. In fact, electronic voting booths are already a form of e-voting, and for transparency they need to produce a paper trail.


    why macchiavelli again at the end of this very interesting article (compliments!)? otherwise: self-interests are never the only motivation, people like to share for a common good – despite being told that this is against their nature… look at a french table full of food and passing strangers – the food is immediately shared (sometimes the strangers too:-)

  14. None'

    We should all re-read “The Open Society and Its Enemies” written more than sixty year ago, because the thesis of Karl Popper (together with Friedrich Hayek “The Road to Serfdom” ) fit exactly with this trend to a brave new world of transparency. It could be perfect … really brave
    But all these fine visions of open source for open communities let aside the very human desir of individual power.


    “Only if we offer a perspective that involves the power politics taking place in any institutional setting, can we realistically discuss and implement Open Government as a new form of collective action.” Philipp

    Hi All!

    Terrific discussion! E-technology is forcing a complete re-conceptualization of the political system. What potential does the new technology implicate for the way government operates, and how it relates to its citizens?

    Philipp’s idea for a new open statecraft model is sure to stimulate interesting debate.

    Sebastian and I seem to be at opposite poles. I don’t see how “open statecraft” can be fully realized in a vacuum. He writes, “by including e-voting as a form of direct democracy into e-participation, we would be having a completely different debate.
    e-participation as practiced in most places has nothing to do with direct democracy.”

    I disagree.

    If one of the primary intentions of e-participation is to empower, and therefore de-alienate, the people governed, then the citizenry must not only be involved in a “problem solving capacity,” but must have actual “decision making authority” by the power to elect their representatives. Unless those representatives are directly beholden to their constituents for the offices they hold, those representatives will be significantly disconnected from their constituents. For example, in the US our elected officials are directly connected with their principle campaign contributors, and only indirectly connected with their electorate.

    How can the ideal of open statecraft ever be realized in this political environment? The legislative and administrative cultures in the US are oriented towards servicing the contributing class much more so than serving the public interest. Just look at the recent health care debate, and the legislation that resulted.

    As to the “managerial aspects” of government, which is Phillip’s main concern in the essay, the agenda of management is oriented by the existing power structure. As long as elites control the choice of elected officials, the management of government will be oriented towards servicing their interests. In the US, for example, the regulation of the financial industry is stricter under Democratic Party administrations than under Republican Party administrations. The IRS under Bush was reputed to be tougher on middle class folks and kinder to the wealthy, than it was under Clinton.

    Managers take their cues from elected officials, who owe their offices a) to their campaign contributors, and b) to their electorate.

    Indeed, the process of “value creation” in any political system is going to be largely, if not wholly, dependent upon who puts officials in office. If the king’s power depends on the military’s enforcement, then all values will be oriented to the interests of the generals before the interests of the people. If the election system is dependent upon the campaign contributions of “fat cats,” as it is in the US, then the value orientation of public policy will be what the fat cats want it to be.

    Much of “social networking” in the US is simply busy-ness, which gives the illusion of e-participation and open value creation, but which has little actual policy effect. For Open Value Chains to be the actual cause of policy, and not merely manufactured illusions, elected officials must be directly dependent upon the electorate for their positions, and not indirectly dependent, as in the US.

    Internet voting, properly organized, can neutralize the power of the contributing class and place all elected officials directly dependent upon the electorate. That would cause an earthquake of a shift in value creation. Openness can only be fully realized when the locus of power is in the people; for, that is when the government has nothing to hide.


  16. Angelica, I agree that we should re-read Popper (I actually made that point a few years ago in this blog…), but for slightly different reasons: his focus on the “here-and-now” on piece-meal social engineering becomes an important reminder of what can go wrong if we put our sights on very long term objectives and by aspiring to do “Utopian social engineering” we slip into totalitarianisms… (more on this in a future entry).

  17. Dear William, I see your point much more clearly now! Thank you!

    I personally have much less faith in the power of voting as the main/core/fundamental (whatever-metaphor-we-want-to-use) mode of ensuring a just, fair, and functioning society. Maybe because I am German and we did vote the Nazi party into power.

    Therefore, I focus on trying to understand how different political mechanisms (right metaphor?) are impacted by peer-to-peer media and digitization, however, I do believe the job you do, by thinking through one aspect (voting) and then pushing this in the public discourse is very valuable.

  18. the difference is not in kind, but in scale. The transaction costs of having dinner in a French village are fairly high for me (I live in Munich). With peer-to-peer media suddenly chatting with my french friends at night, working together, or doing politics becomes possible… and that change in scale transforms collective action qualitatively…


    does (electronic) participation in general – broadly speaking – include e-voting, yes. But the term “e-participation” in its narrow definition however, is mostly referring to things like participatory budgeting, or, applications where participation by the/a public is possible in problem-solving or policy formulation/prioritization dimensions, rather than direct democracy. In the end, it's of course the definition of e-participation one choses, but also, direct democracy does not make government more open or collaborative. if “participation” is reduced to saying yes or no to something pre-defined, you end up with a proposition jungle like in California, maybe. In my view, the interesting thing about e-participation is how the public can participate in governance in a constructive, collaborative way, independent from the modes of decision making…..


    btw on the discussion about definitions of public (e)participation see also:

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