The Opportunity

Convened and organized by the GovLab, and made possible by a three-year 5 million USD grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance works to develop the blueprints for more effective and legitimate democratic institutions to the end of improving people’s lives. A core group of twelve members (listed below) is complemented by an advisory network of academics, technologists, and current and former government officials. Through both face-to-face and online collaboration, the Network is focused on assessing existing innovations in governing and experimenting with new practices and, eventually new norms, for how our institutions make decisions at the local, national, and international level.

The Network’s Kick-Off Meeting was held in New York City on January 20-21, 2014. You can view the meeting agenda here.

The goal of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance is to build an empirical foundation and fundamental understanding of how the redesign of democratic institutions influences effectiveness and legitimacy in governance, to the end of improving people’s lives.


In seeking to accomplish this goal, the Network tests a core research hypothesis:

When governments and institutions open themselves to diverse participation, pursue collaborative problem-solving, and partner with citizens to make decisions and perform the functions of governance, they are more effective and legitimate.

The Network’s efforts to test its hypothesis and move closer to achieving its goals are built around agile and empirical experiments with institutional partners such as governments and NGOs. Experiments are designed to apply and test the latest advances in technology as well as new scientific insights on collaboration and decision-making to improve real world decision-making in the public interest. This action research is complemented by theoretical writing and compelling storytelling designed to articulate and demonstrate clearly and concretely how we might govern better than we do today.

From prize-backed challenges to spur creative thinking to the use of expert networks to get the smartest people focused on a problem no matter where they work, this shift from top-down, closed and professional government to decentralized, open and smarter governance may be the major social innovation of the 21st century.

The MacArthur Research Network on Opening Governance is the ideal crucible for accelerating the transition from closed and centralized to open and collaborative institutions of governance in a way that is scientifically sound and yields new insights to inform future efforts, always with an eye toward real-world impacts.
— Professor Beth Simone Noveck, Network Chair and author of Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger and Cities More Powerful.