Photo by opensourceway on Flickr.

The National Capital Planning Commission is working on an Open Government Plan, to “increase transparency, public participation, and collaboration.”

You can vote on their various ideas at an interactive site. Ideas include putting online more of the plans that are under review, live streaming meetings, creating an online platform for people to collaboratively suggest changes to plans, and using more social media.

NCPC is one of many boards in DC which review proposed projects. Each group has varying levels of openness for various elements of the process. I’d like to see all project review boards strive for a basic level of transparency for all of their decisions:

  • Post submissions soon after they are received, including images, maps, etc.
  • Post dates of meetings and meeting agendas
  • Post staff reports and recommendations
  • Post comments that have been received from government agencies and ANCs
  • Provide an online mechanism for people to submit comments
  • Post comments that have been received from individuals
  • Broadcast meetings via Web audio or video
  • Provide an online archive of prior meeting audio/video
  • List the body’s vote and order quickly after the conclusion of the meeting

These are the boards that review projects and have some approval or disapproval power:

  • The Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) and Zoning Commission (ZC), both of which are managed by the Office of Zoning (OZ)
  • The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), for historic properties and districts
  • The Public Space Committee (PSC), for curb cuts, sidewalk cafes, and other items in public space
  • The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), for projects that touch on the federal interest
  • The Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), for Georgetown and projects abutting certain federal areas

How are these boards doing today?

BZA/ZCHPRBPSCNCPCCFA
Post submissions
Post agendasEmail1
Post staff reportsN/A2N/A2
Post agency/ANC comments*
Receive emailed commentsUnclear
Post individual comments
Stream audio/video
Archive audio/video
Post actionsEmail1Very
slowly

1 The PSC has an email list people can subscribe to where they transmit meeting agendas and a very brief listing of the decision in each case.

2 The BZA, ZC, and PSC do not have staff reports on projects. However, the comments from individual government agencies like the Office of Planning and DDOT serve to fill a similar role.

When I last wrote about this a bit over 2 years ago, Sara Bardin from the Office of Zoning said they are working on a system to post BZA and ZC cases online, and would launch in FY2010, which ended last summer. Someone from OZ said they are still working on it and have it working internally, but it’s not yet available for the public. I’ve emailed the project manager to find out more.

As for NCPC, you can vote on their open government ideas and submit your own until March 11.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.