On the current state of Government 2.0

Since I’ve just stated a brand new blog I thought it would be good to provide a quick recap on Government 2.0, primarily from an Australian perspective, but also, such is the world we live in, with examples and policy from overseas.

For those who are familiar with all things Government 2.0 there will be little new here, it’s more a composite of information available elsewhere – but hey, isn’t that one of the benefits of Government 2.0? Being able to reconstitute and re-interpret information from a variety of sources to provide a unique perspective?

Definition of Government 2.0

Whilst there are many definitions of Government 2.0, I prefer Gartner‘s which focuses on it’s potential outcomes:

“Gartner defines Government 2.0 as the use of information technology to socialize and
commoditize government services, processes and data”.

However, I’m not sure that really describes to the layman what it is. How about this from Don Tapscott (quoted in the must see free download-able movie Us Now).

“There’s a whole new model emerging where we become part of the government. I call it Government 2.0 … This is a very profound change. I’m not talking about people lobbying outside parties influencing government … I’m talking about un-bundling and reconstituting what is a government”.

Now that’s more exciting! We all want to be part of a revolution right? Forget the ‘socializing and commoditizing of government services etc’, make me part of a ‘profound change’!

The Australian Government 2.0 Google Group uses the following definition:

“Government 2.0 is not specifically about social networking or technology based approaches to anything. It represents a fundamental shift in the implementation of government – toward an open, collaborative, cooperative arrangement where there is (wherever possible) open consultation, open data, shared knowledge, mutual acknowledgment of expertise, mutual respect for shared values and an understanding of how to agree to disagree. Technology and social tools are an important part of this change but are essentially an enabler in this process.”

The definition actually isn’t that important. The outcomes it achieves for the benefit of the community are.

But what does Government 2.0 look like?

Transparency and Openness

Firstly, Government 2.0 is about Transparency and Openness. It’s about government agencies making available information about their operations and decisions. Proposed federal government legislation flips the default switch on the disclosure of government documents from ‘closed’ to ‘open’.

Miriam Lyons, from the Centre for Policy Development, paints a wonderful picture of this in her post Opening Windows:

“Think of FOI as the ability to knock on the front doors of parliament house and demand access to documents that you’ve guessed are contained inside. Now think of open access as a parliament house that leaves its windows open so you don’t need to knock, and you don’t need to guess – all the information on which governments base their decisions, or that they gather in the course of doing their job, is there to be seen. There will still be some locked and curtained windows labelled ‘private’, but openness will be the default”.

Indeed in Queensland, such legislation is already in place in the form of the Right to Information act of July 2009 and Queensland Government agencies are now required to produce Publication Schemes highlighting the information they now routinely make available.

But transparency and openness is more than making policy and other documents available online. It’s about opening up datasets, both structured and unstructured, in order that groups outside of Government can innovate with and add value to that data.

There are numerous examples of this type of innovation in action. In the US, EveryBlock uses civic information together with news articles, blog entries, photos from Flickr, user reviews of local businesses and lost and found notices on Craigslist to provide a hyperlocal view of what’s going on in any given neighbourhood.

In the UK, the Newspaper Club is a quirky prototype which extends this idea one step further by taking government data available online and turning it into a hardcopy newspaper for a given area. Who said the internet would end the printed press?

Here in Australia, Suburban Trends combines publicly available online resources of the Australia Bureau of Statistics, Australian Institute of Criminology, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research and Google to produce an overview of any given Australian suburb.

The point is that making government data available allows it to be combined with other datasets from other agencies and other organizations to gain real insight.

The report, Harnessing the Power of Digital Data for Science and Society, says this:

“The power of a data set can be amplified by ingenuity through applications unimagined by the authors and distant from the original field”

Citizen Participation

Secondly, Government 2.0 is about Participation. It’s about providing citizens with increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and in return providing government to tap into the collective expertise of their constituents.

There are many examples of government using Web 2.0 tools to more easily communicate with wider audiences at a cheaper cost and in a more timely manner. The Premiere of Victoria has a YouTube Channel, Mosman Council in New South Wales, like many others, uses Twitter, but in many cases these are primarily being used as communication tools – simply additional media channels over and above the traditional front desk or telephone numbers.

True citizen participation comes when the information flow is two-way, an example being the Future Melbourne initiative, “the city plan anyone can edit”. A wiki based tool allowing anyone to express his or her desires for the future of the city.  Participatory Budgeting initiatives like that implemented recently by a number of New South Wales state MPS, led by Paul McLeay, to give constituents a voice in how the New South Wales government stimulus package allocation might be best spent. Harnessing the wisdom of the crowd can also provide much needed volunteer resources to add value to existing government websites, a great example is the National Archives of Australia Mapping our Anzacs where citizens can view and add to information about the original Anzacs.

Whilst all these initiatives have borne good fruit, I (and others) believe that government initiated sites and communities will form just a small part of future participation initiatives, as public servants are sent out more and more to participate in existing web based communities – to ‘fish where the fish are’.

Community Collaboration

Thirdly, Government 2.0 is about Collaboration. It’s about Government agencies using innovative tools to collaborate amongst themselves across all levels of government, with the private sector, with not-for-profit organizations and with private individuals. It’s more than simply citizen engagement.

In many ways, it’s this third aspect of Government 2.0 that has the greatest potential to improve both the lives of our public servants, and the outcomes they can provide to the community.

Social Networking tools such as Facebook have facilitated the creation and maintenance of personal networks and provided for simpler communication and idea sharing between those communities. So it only makes sense that such tools can provide the same benefit across government departments and out to the wider community. Often, however, many government agencies block their employees from using such tools, and indeed many public servants don’t want to collaborate in such a public arena, often for good reason.

Interestingly though, a similar tool specifically for government employees and those with which they work has sprung up in the US. GovLoop provides web based social networking to close to 25,000 members worldwide.  However, more focused collaboration around specific areas of interests might better be achieved by following the lead of Intellipedia a private wiki for collaborative data sharing used by the US Intelligence Community.

However, it is in the planning, consultation and publication of Policy documents, the bread and butter of government, that the public sector, and the communities it serves, stand to benefit most from social tools.

Which is why it’s exciting for me to report that today, Objective Corporation is launching in the Asia Pacific region its uCreate, uEngage and ePetitions solution suite which allows public sector organisations to streamline the collaboration and development process of key policies. It combines multi-channel publishing and management of citizen involvement through an integrated end-to-end collaborative portal. The three solutions streamline document creation and information gathering, ensuring corporate brand consistency across all content and delivery mechanisms.

Objective have produced a compelling whitepaper detailing the potential savings to government of such technology solutions. It’s available for download here. Highly recommended reading.

*Disclosure: I work for Objective

Where to Next?

Clearly, much progress has been made along the path towards what is being termed Government 2.0. As I said earlier, the term itself is not important (it’s actually not even universal), but the changes in the way Governments govern and Citizens interact with each other and their Government is.

I believe we are entering, what Gartner would term, the Trough of Disillusionment when it comes to Government 2.0. The early adopters have led the way in terms of whats possible, but like all things technology, advancements will only occur when the majority of agencies and councils see demonstrable benefits in terms of cost savings or improved service delivery, and indeed when existing commercial organisations and new startups grapple with the issues already identified and figure out a way to effectively commercialise their offerings. According to Dominic Campbell of FutureGov UK, the UK is already going through this consolidation:

“But, overall, quite honestly there is still a lot more talk than action. Few inside government are willing to truly invest the time and effort in digital engagement in the UK, with much of the best Gov 2.0 work being led by non-profits and parts of the private sector (although the big consultancies are nowhere to be seen on this in the UK unlike in the US). The Power of Information Review once led the way globally, but a lack of backing and investment in the agenda has meant it has progressed extremely slowly and we have now fallen behind. Local Councils across the country and departments at a national level remain steadfastly silent, citing a lack of evidence of outcomes as a reason to wait and see. But with few willing to experiment how is this possible?”

It’s a similar story around the world, a result, according to Gartner analysts Andrea DiMaio, of Governments responsibilities and policies towards citizens:

“All government institutions say they want to be citizen-driven but being driven has an implication that is pretty powerful – you have to let go of control. You have to accept that you go where the citizens want to go and this immediately clashes with your accountabilities and you policy priorities and so on.

“‘Citizen-driven’ implies a loss of control and that’s why you will see governments struggling a lot around walking the talk about government 2.0.”

Of course, eventually we will emerge into the Slope of Enlightenment, the widescale adoption of these ideas within the community of Government.

I believe that Government will then be free to focus it’s resources on what it does best and what society needs it to be. I believe we will see a rise in the importance of the not-for-profit sector in addressing the needs of those on the wrong side of the ‘new digital divide’ and I believe that we as citizens will realise that, to use a dreadful but apt cliché,  with greater power comes greater responsibility.

It’s more than 20 years since Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. I wonder if back then he ever imagined that his invention would also radically transform the way Government works? Of course there’s more to come, from both the web and the application of it’s technologies and culture in Government. But perhaps in reality we are just taking a step back to the way things used to be. When communities mattered and there was always some empathetic sole to offer advice, support and a friendly smile. When citizens took on responsibilities for their neighbours and environment. And when Government wasn’t seen as simply a vending machine.

Who’s up for that ‘profound change’?!

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4 thoughts on “On the current state of Government 2.0

  1. brainmates – product management people » Blog Archive » Government 2.0 – a Product Manager’s Perspective

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