Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Government 2.0

"Government 2.0" is in danger of collapsing under the weight of semantic satiation - "a cognitive neuroscience phenomenon where intense repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who can only process the speech as repeated meaningless sounds" (Wikipedia). The phrase is burdened with so many expectations and meanings, that it may pass out of currency.

Which would be a shame, because behind the overuse there are a number of important concepts that challenge politicians and bureaucrats to think and behave differently, as they discharge their responsibilities as our employees. Here I will unpick some of the threads of Government 2.0, starting with a bit of whakapapa:

My first encounter with "2.0" was the Esther Dyson book - Release 2.0 - which I bought when it was published in 1997 (back in the dead tree era). The term Web 2.0 was first used by Darcy DiNucci in 1999. After that, we had the boom and bust, and it was not until 2004 that the term was resurrected by Tim O'Reilly and popularised through a series of Web2.0 summits and expos.

Government 2.0 was the title of a 2005 book by William Eggers, but the book is mainly about the application of technology , and there is little reference to the unique characteristics of a 2.0 world. The first time I came across a meaningful exposition of government 2.0 was in a presentation by Tara Hunt in May 2007; Tara took the O'Reilly tenets for Web 2.0 and applied them to government - coming up with nine concepts that are listed here as an anchor for the discussion. I refer back to them often in thinking and in presentations.

Web 2.0

The Web as a Platform
The Long Tail
Data is the next Intel Inside
Users Add Value
Network Effects by Default
Some Rights Reserved
The Perpetual Beta
Cooperate, don't Control
Software above a single device
Government 2.0

the government is my springboard
the long diverse tail of citizens
data is .. tricky
going to the edges for feedback
citizen community is about relationships
some rights reserved
evolution is an ongoing process
trust is the truest way to empowerment
government on the go

Since then, we have experienced the meteoric rise of social media, and the effect on the political domain, most notably in the election of President Obama on the back of an internet-savvy campaign, his early release of the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, and the raft of open government initiatives coming from the administration in Washington DC.

So, armed with this background, what do we make of the smorgasbord of issues under the government 2.0 banner today? I would like to suggest that they fall into the following categories:

Open and Participatory Policy Development - by bureaucrats

I have earlier commented on wiki government as a tool to get better results from the policy development process. The traditional model for policy development is a hub and spoke model, with the public servant at the center, gathering comments and integrating them in a final policy position. However, we know that the best results come from building on the ideas of others in a rolling conversation, which has the public servant as a participant in a dialog with a broader and diversified community. The approach to public policy arising from the recent Public Sphere conference in Canberra is an example of this.

Connection with citizens - by elected officials

Elected politicians have always placed a special emphasis on connecting with those that they represent; this has been through electoral offices, letters and emails, phone conversations, and their daily interactions with individuals, both in an official capacity (when opening a new facility) or casually (for example taxi drivers or the person in the next seat on an airplane). For these purposes, the new channels of communications such as blogs and their related comments, Facebook, and Twitter, are no more than an additional way of interacting with the public. Successful politicians will listen and talk in these fora and incorporate the ideas in their positions and decision making. However, researchers in both Australia and New Zealand have found that politicians have been slow to adopt interactive and Internet based communication mediums because they are fully engaged with existing modes of interaction with constituents.

Participation by public servants in new media

Most government agencies restrict the use of the internet by staff in some form; blocking access to sites and giving a variety of reasons - security, inappropriate use, productivity drain and others. Clearly it is important that information collected and created by the state is protected from unauthorised access, and that confidential and personal information is held securely; but this needs to be balanced with the need to give people the tools they need to do their job. As digital natives enter the public service, access to social media will increase in importance. In the future, I think we are likely to see a separation between core operational systems, which are secured to maintain confidentiality, and knowledge and information systems, which have full access to global internet resources.

Access to government information - open data

Most western jurisdictions have laws that provide for full public access to information as a default, with exceptions to be subject to specific justification; while this legal position is clear, operational practice is far from compliant with the law. There are a variety of reasons given for this, some of which I outlined in my last blog post as government CIO, and all of the barriers can be overcome by public servants who want to deliver better value to citizens. While government collects and stores a lot of information, it rarely has the time or resources to fully use the data; we know that the public will voluntarily add value to raw data, whether it is MPs expenses, adding metadata to historic records, or creating a mashup of data on stolen bicycles. This area is the most exciting for me, and is a genuine example of we-Government.

Other related areas

There are a number of other topics that often get incorporated in discussions on government 2.0. Specific examples include the use of open source, kick starting the local ICT economy, on-line service delivery, ICT capability and skills, identity management and authentication, and better broadband. While all these are important factors in our use of ICT and are all neceesary to improve government performance, they are peripheral to the four key areas outlined in this post. of government 2.0.

Government 2.0 is about using technology to strengthen the connection between people and government activities (funded by taxation and exercised through the authority of elections).

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