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Governments Can Be Hip 2.0


November 4, 2009

In a panel discussion hosted this afternoon by the ICGFM in Washington, DC, Mark Drapeau lamented just how hard it is to define Government 2.0. Or,  determine how governments can take to successfully adopt it.

We’re not quitters, so perhaps we can leverage the wisdom of the crowds?

To paraphrase Wikipedia, Government 2.0 is the integration of Web 2.0tools such as wikis, social networking sites, blogs, RSS, Google Maps (the list goes on) to devise more effective processes for government service delivery to individuals and businesses.

Basically: Government + Web 2.0 = Government 2.0 = Effective service delivery.

There’s more to it, in our opinion, and there’ll be more on that later. But it’s a good starting point, and besides, improvement through collaboration is the whole point of Web 2.0 anyway, right?

Either way, it wasn’t too long ago (and it’s still somewhat true today) that government was thought of as clunky and inaccessible, a flannel-clad mass of nameless and faceless bureaucrats that taxed you in exchange for traffic signals and a vague feeling of security. (Mind you, public servants have names and faces.)

It took the rise of the internet for this conception of government to begin to change. The wonders of the web brought with it talk of fundamentally different interactions between citizen and state. As we detailed earlier, there was much interest and theorizing. But unfortunately, the hopes of e-Government were not realized. Few governments managed to move beyond its elementary phases.

About a decade since, the buzz around Government 2.0 – and there is a lot – resembles the excitement that accompanied the rising spectre of e-Government. But is Government 2.0 really categorically different? And more importantly, what suggests that, unlike e-Government, it won’t be destined for limited success?

The tremendous interest in Government 2.0 generates opinions across the board on these questions. We’d like to hear your opinions, and have offered two points as ‘food for thought’ that might inform the debate.

First – and this is why the Wikipedia definition is lacking – Web 2.0 is fundamentally different because it is multi-dimensional, multi-scalar, and multi-directional. This is an idea developed from Neil Brenner’swritings on political geography and globalization. Conceived of in the context of Government 2.0, it is clear that its benefits are not just to be found in more effective “service delivery to individuals and businesses.” In fact, the essential difference between the early days of internet and its current mashed-up incarnation in Web 2.0 is its multi-directionality. Web 2.0 is social – it is differentiated by offering a medium that allows two-way (or multi-way) interaction and collaboration.

What does this mean for Government 2.0? The Wikipedia definition leaves much to be desired because it implies only one dimension upon which Government 2.0 operates: government services to citizens or businesses. Web 2.0 tools, on the contrary, can be (and to some extent, are being) leveraged by governments for a wider permutation of flows.

A framework developed in a paperby Dr. Mark Drapeau and Dr. Linton Wells II captures this potential perfectly. Governments can use social software on four different dimensions:

  1. Inward sharing – sharing information within agencies
  2. Outward sharing – sharing information with other relevant agencies
  3. Inbound sharing – obtaining input from citizens and other people outside of government
  4. Outbound sharing – communicating with and empowering people outside of government

The paper presents excellent examples of how these ‘dimensions’ are already in use in various instances around the world, and is necessary reading.

We’re curious whether sequencing Government 2.0 – implementing it one dimension at a time – will ease the ‘cultural transformation’ that is required of governments to adopt it. For example, if government agencies can begin with increased information collaboration within agencies and with other agencies, this might facilitate future efforts to channel this collaboration outwards. And there certainly is scope for them to step up efforts on all four fronts.

It might seem somewhat pedantic to harp on definitions, but defining what a project entails (yes, Government 2.0 is a project) is an essential first-step towards creating a successful roadmap. We’d like to hear your views on whether sequencing Government 2.0 as outlined above is a feasible mode to proceed on – or whether there is an alternative ‘definition’ that better informs how the challenges of Government 2.0 adoption can be overcome.

Second, when considering what gives Government 2.0 a more favourable shelf-life than e-Government, we run into a paradox that we’d also like your input on. On the one hand, as Mark Drapeau said in today’s panel discussion, government culture (hierarchical, secretive, and closed) and Web 2.0 culture (flat, transparent, and accessible) are diametrically opposed. However, at the same time, we recognize a certain “cultural logic of networking” (to borrow from Jeffrey Juris’ brilliant book on anti-globalization movements) that not only transforms citizens’ expectations of government but also empowers them to make demands for openness and transparency with greater effect. Much has been said of President Obama’s use of social media for his campaign efforts, but consider an alternate view: By using tools that intrinsically espouse an anti-hierarchical culture, President Obama’s campaign was strongly attractive to a generation reared on a diet of collaboration, sharing, and openness. In other words, it wasn’t just the effectiveness of the medium in recruiting grassroots campaigners; the medium itself became the message.

Yes, there are numerous challenges to Government 2.0. But we’re optimistic. There’s the normative idea: Web 2.0 tools applied to government are a leap and a jump ahead of the promise of e-Government and must be advanced.

But there’s also a descriptive side. The tools themselves make it easier for government to adopt Web 2.0, whether by informing and advancing the debate through accessible channels of knowledge-sharing, providing incentives for innovation, or creating a social culture that won’t take no to transparency and openness as an answer. These challenges won’t be overcome overnight, we know, but in the meantime we’ll be on the Wikipedia ‘Edit’ page.

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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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