Over the last several months I have stressed both the promise and the danger of the many activities around the use of web 2.0 technologies in and by governments, currently nicknames as “government 2.0” (incidentally, I am working on a research note with a formal Garner definition of this term).
Most of my criticisms to some of the common wisdom is the excessive focus on the role of organizations (e.g.. government institutions, parliaments, political parties) and the very limited concern for the role of individuals within those organizations.
There is a lot of talking about individuals, but they are citizens, i.e. somebody to whom government is a service provider. In previous posts I have already articulated the complexity of the relationships between government and citizens, and highlighted why government cannot simply be equated to a platform.
Now, as the biannual European E-Government Conference is approaching (it will be held in Malmoe, Sweden, on 19-20 November), I have come across a draft Open Declaration on Public Services in the European Union, which – as far as I understand – will be presented at the conference, where we can expect a ministerial declaration expressing the willingness of EU member states to continue pursuing initiatives around e-government, government 2.0 and the likes (this has been the same every other year for a few years now).
The Open Declaration is being finalized with the help of several people, in pure crowdsourcing style (could it be otherwise?). It is certainly an interesting initiatives, but surprises me for stating the obvious and missing the key point.
Don’t get me wrong. What is obvious to those who do research on Government 2.0 may not be to the “person in the street” or the average, not too IT-literate politician. Therefore it is very good to restate that the three core principles for European public services are
1. Transparency: all public sector organizations should be “transparent by default” and should provide the public with clear, regularly-updated information on all aspects of their operations and decision-making processes. There should also be robust mechanisms for citizens to highlight areas where they would like to see further transparency. When providing information, public sector organizations should do so in open, standard and reusable formats, but with full regard to privacy issues.
2. Participation: government should pro-actively seek citizen input in all its activities from user involvement in shaping services to public participation in policy-making. This input should be public for other citizens to view and government should publicly respond to it. The capacity to collaborate with citizens should become a core competence of government.
3. Empowerment: public institutions should seek to act as platforms for public value creation. In particular, government data and government services should be made available in ways that others can easily build on. Public organizations should also enable all citizens to come together and solve their problems for themselves, by providing tools, skills and resources.
Now read the above a few times. Do you find anything missing? There is transparency (some commentators suggest to add “openness”, but that does not really change the basics). There is participation (citizens get at the center of government processes). And there is empowerment (with the platform concept taken from O’Reilly).
What this declaration misses – and in my view it is a big miss – is the role of those who work in government, i.e. its employees. Indeed they are citizens, so they will participate and be empowered but… wait a minute… they are bound to a code of conduct that could somewhat constraint their ability to participate Further, they are likely to know more about government objectives, procedures, processes, than the average citizen. So, wouldn’t it be appropriate to single them out and finally recognize that they are an asset government should leverage, through a wise use of “government 2.0”?
I am still amazed to see how little employee-centricity there is in today’s government 2.0 conferences, debates, positions and articles. It is as if employees were considered legacy, just part of an organization that will be transformed, and not the real fuel and soul of those organizations.
Until when their role will be given equal dignity as “citizens”, government 2.0 will remain an interesting subject for discussion, will marginally contribute to service improvement, but won’t realize a fraction of its potential.
What does it take to take a step in this direction? Is the Malmoe ministerial declaration going to say anything about government employees?