Friday, June 1, 2007

Open Government Environments Encourage Ethical Behavior

“(Public Records Laws) are like statistics: You can find a way to get around
them. It comes down to a philosophy: either you are for open government, or
you’re not.”

Illinois Public Access Counselor Terry Mutchler

She's right. Not only are open government laws penetrable by the astute politician, but so are the technologies that try to perpetuate it. That may sound like a defeatist statement, considering the topic of my column, but it isn't. The thought is simply incomplete because the nature of a system in place will reflect upon those who govern its details.

In other words, criminals will be criminals, but a technological open government wordflow solution that is the central engine for all legislative processes gives less wiggle room to those who might favor dishonesty. In addition, for those who have already been operating under the freedom of secrecy, the adaption to such a system is far more difficult than for those who come in as rookies under the newly implemented spirit of open government.

It is being welcomed into an arena where that spirit is implemented and alive that gives any new legislator the foundational context which incubates the philosophy to which Terry Mutchler refers. Even those prone to rationalizing white lies or "harmless" deceptions have always demonstrated stronger ethical behavior when the environment they are in encourages it. Furthermore, power is considered corruptive because the opportunities for abuse without consequence arrive by the truckload. By establishing that open government environment you all but eliminate such corruptive temptations for those who are noble by nature.

While no system is the ultimate guarantor of open government, my message remains the same: change the foundation and the rest will follow.