Monday, January 24, 2011

US Government Meets Transparency via Creative Commons

Transparency in nonprofits and grantmaking foundations has been a serious topic of discussion in recent years and every time some baby step is taken there are people like me who write about it and laud it. But now the federal government has taken a BIG step – as big as only the government could take. The reaction has been a little quiet but I think it will begin to roar as people learn about it.

Last week the Department of Labor in partnership with the Department of Education announced $2 Billion in grants to support educational and career training programs for workers. The program has two important distinctions: the magnitude of support for 21st century job skill training and for making grantmaking transparent at a new level.

What makes the grants transparent? The grants require that the training materials, curricula, online courses, and other courseware created by grantees with taxpayer money be made freely available for reuse to the public by means of a Creative Commons License. Wow! Every picture or graphic I use on my blog is from Creative Commons. I always talk about using CC to spruce up your blog or presentations in my workshops. I go to FLICKR, search on a word or phrase and under advanced search choose Creative Commons license only. Its as simple as that.

This means that any nonprofit or institution other than those with the grant can use these materials developed with our tax money in their own training programs – at no cost. The government has paid for them and has decided to make them available for free to anyone who wants them. And it will easily be available at Creative Commons not by some arcane hard to get and know about method. The government has actually been taking quite a number of steps towards transparency with the products of their funding. It is of course in some area a complex issue that cannot be handled with a broad brush everywhere. You can read a more thorough report of other government departments and the steps they have taken here.  
This is big news. And the Departments of Labor and Education should be thanked for taking this step. Besides the practical benefits, it sets a new high note for the power and benefits of transparency. I hope it rekindles the discussion of transparency in grantmaking in the private sector too.

No comments: