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Government 2.0 (blogosphere) 7 Deadly Sins


March 31, 2010

Is Open Government the next Rodney Dangerfield?

by Doug Hadden, VP Products

Has “open government” reached the trough of disillusionment? Like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, Government 2.0 isn’t getting any respect.  Open Government 7 deadly sins from the blogosphere include:

  1. Change: governments have shown no culture change
  2. Gauge: governments have not been able to better gauge public opinion
  3. Retread: Government 2.0 is nothing new, just a facade on e-government 1.0
  4. Misled: open data will result in more confused electorate
  5. Illusion: Government 2.0 will never achieve the promise
  6. Economic: there is no return on investment for open government
  7. Social: government is serious business, not a social activity

It is high time to address these issues. Much of the blogosphere commentary extrapolates specific situations into generalizations. Many commentators in the United States seem to define “open government” entirely within the American government context. Technology change and cultural transformation is affected by unique structures of governments. The incentives and disincentives for the “checks and balances” structure of the American federal government are unique. So many Government 2.0 successes or failures in the United States may not be indicative or wider trends or predictive of future successes or failures.

The broad spectrum of “Government 2.0″ functionality seems to have become hijacked by one aspect: open government. Exposing raw data. A more realistic approach is to put this subset within the entire context of Government 2.0 that includes internal and external collaboration.

1. Change

Premise: There has been no culture change in government from Government 2.0. Politicians and civil servants remain reluctant to embrace transparency.

Reality: Change is not easy for large organizations. We’ve written about the skills necessary to lead Government 2.0 change. And there any many examples of culture change and Government 2.0 adoption.  Change is unevenly adopted.  That’s why we talk about early adopters. There is a culture of expertise in large organizations. Knowledge is power in traditional organizational structures. So, we cannot expect widespread immediate culture change. At the same time, we cannot expect that no change will occur.

2. Gauge

Premise: Government 2.0 and open government is all well and good. But, governments and politicians are not able to better gauge public opinion.

Reality: Many commentators are stuck in the broadcast model of thinking. Where citizens are passive consumers. Government 2.0 is not about gauging the opinion of passive consumers. It’s not about finding ways to influence citizens by opening up new channels of propaganda. Government 2.0 is about regular citizen engagement with government policy. It’s a much deeper relationship than passive consumers who periodically vote.

3. Retread

Premise: Government 2.0 is nothing new. The tools used are variations on what has been available for years. We are kidding ourselves to think that there will be any substantial change in the way governments interact with citizens.

Reality: There are always technological similarities among different generations of software. Collaboration and document management software has been readily available for some time.  Yet, these software applications have not been as widely adopted as Web 2.0 and social networks. There are fundamental differences in Web 2.0/Government 2.0 that will result in wider adoption and new usages. The most important aspect of Government 2.0 is openness: open standards to enable comparison, mashups, and integration. Openness to support adapting software to meet goals rather than forced into the limited processes envisioned by the software vendor.

4. Mislead

Premise: The exposure of raw data and documents will overwhelm the public. Government information requires expertise to understand. Citizens will misunderstand government information and make incorrect conclusions.

Reality: The press do not have a franchise on misunderstanding government data. Specialization has been a skill associated with the 20th Century. Professionals developed deep technical expertise in narrow subjects. The ability to learn and use strong generalization skills to find patterns across multiple disciplines is a characteristic of the 21st Century. Government information needs to be made more accessible – there is no question that jargon can be simplified. Open data can enable more effective methods of visualizing government information through charts or maps.

There also seems to be a focus on documents in open government discussion. Documents are a remnant of the pre-digital age. Documents and reports are the final container of government processes. Documents are vetted and edited. The data within documents are selected for a particular purpose. Open government will open up the process. Citizens will interact with governments before documents become documents. For example, participatory budgeting can be enabled via Government 2.0 tools well before a proposed government budget is produced. And, budget execution information can be made available for mashup and analysis outside the preparation of government documents.

5. Illusion

Premise: E-government did not achieve the promise of transforming government. Disincentives for transformation will persist. We are fooling ourselves to think that Government 2.0 will provide anything but incremental improvement.

Reality: We’ve written about why Government 2.0 will fulfill the promise of e-government.  The fundamental flaw with e-government predictions is that they did not take culture change into account. Change is important – it is the first deadly sin.  Culture change in government requires exercising social muscles. Government organizations are using social tools to interact beyond ministries and agencies. Positive results have encouraged government organizations to open up to the public. And, many civil servants at the forefront of Government 2.0 initiatives have found fast promotion.

6. Economic

Premise: Governments are under increasing budget constraints. Governments sell data. Open government will result in high cost to implement while reducing revenue opportunities. There is a negative ROI for Government 2.0.

Reality: Return on Investment is the wrong measurement for open government. ROI is very much a private sector concept. And, one that assumes a rather narrow set of parameters and effects. (Such as increasing or decreasing the advertising budget for a consumer product.) The effects of government initiatives can cascade across many economic sectors. The appropriate measurement for open government is Economic Value Add.  Releasing government data assists businesses. It enables mashups that provide insight. That improves government and business decision-making. It increases economic stability.

7. Social

Premise: Governments have mandates to fulfill. Governments need to be highly efficient and effective in order to achieve goals. Government 2.0 is about social networks and informal methods of interaction. Governments must be formal. There is no place for toys or social networking in government.

Reality: We’ve written about the “S” word before – how the word “social” implies play rather than work. There seems to be a view that all government functions can be articulated as strict business processes – as if government has no creative function. Civil servants learn from each other. They find solutions to problems. Social networks support knowledge management, creative discussion and problem solving. Nevertheless, there is no question that selling Government 2.0 to decision-makers as “social” or “innovative” or “cool” is probably not the best approach.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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