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Government will Never Change, Government 2.0 is doomed


November 18, 2010

Doug Hadden, VP Products

There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Last year, a gentleman attending my Financial Management Institute presentation on government performance management sat attentively with a rather bemused look on his face. He’d heard it all before. The enthusiasm for some technology-driven change. Some technology adoption, but no change.

I reflected on this a few months ago suggesting that open government isn’t “getting any respect“. As I said about change:

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.

We’ve Got Government 2.0 All Wrong

The Government 2.0 adoption debate centers around assumptions for technology-induced change:

  1. Narrow categorization view: we debate about the differences among technologies like Government 2.0, e-Government, and collaboration, so we don’t see the real trends
  2. Narrow time view: we debate about cause and effect over very short periods of time, so we don’t register the change effects
  3. Narrow technology view: we debate about the technology in isolation of other societal drives, so we don’t see the results in cumulative

Historical Perspective

Government structure, culture and mandates are in constant flux. Harold Innis described how empires were structured and developed based on dominant method of recording and communications whether stone, papyrus or velum. Marshall McLuhan described how the technology medium results in societal change.

Getting Government 2.0 Effects Right

It’s not a question of whether Government 2.0 will or will not be adopted. Or whether it will or will not have a material transformation on government. Government 2.0 is another signpost in government change. So, the question really is: Will Government 2.0 be able to keep up with the change or not?

Technology-Induced Change in Government

  • Movable Type/Printing Press: generates rise of the “nation state” as languages become standardized and people begin to identify with ethnic and “national” characteristics
  • Radio: generates rise of government dominance in communications from Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” to incendiary propaganda
  • Television: increases the scrutiny of government from political debates to war reporting
  • Photo-copier, fax, personal computer, mobile technology, blogs: gives individuals publication capabilities to extend discussion creating new pressures for government transparency and accountability. It also enables groups with affinities to self organize. (Also appears to enable the move to supra-national institutions and the devolution of the nation state to accommodate regional, ethnic, religious and language groups.)

The Trends of Change

Transparency has become a meme for government. It’s in almost every political debate and promise.Government 2.0 is one of may technology signposts in the long term change in government to:

  • Higher levels of participation in policy and operational government by citizens, whether in participatory budgeting, idea factories or political campaigns.
  • Increased focus on outcomes away from inputs and outputs as the main driver for government spending – away from what the money was meant to accomplish to what it really did.
  • Collaborative government with multiple government tiers, international organizations and the private sector whether in response to fiscal crisis, trade liberalization or public-private partnerships
  • Flattening of organizations to enable more efficient and effective public services whether through one-stop services, on-line services or shared services

Government 2.0 is a vehicle for higher levels of participation through on-line communities. The use of mashups and other techniques enables the focus on outcomes. (This was the main theme of my presentation last year.) Collaboration is enabled through Web 2.0 tools like wikis.

So, in the end, when we look back at this transformation in government, we may call it Government 2.0, or we may call it something else.


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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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