Lately the terms “smart” or “smarter” have become quite fashionable in combination with terms like “city”, “planet” or “government”. Vendors such as IBM, Oracle, Cisco and others use this adjective to allude to how the use of information technology can help government agencies or entire jurisdictions to better achieve their strategic objectives.
Like most catchy terms, “smart” or “smarter” carry multiple meanings. Smart means environmentally sustainable, but also financially savvy, innovative, citizen-centric, integrated, transparent, and much else.
They may also carry a negative connotation. Does the fact the government needs to become smarter imply that it is not smart enough today? Does the move toward being a smart city assume that the city is rather dumb now?
I believe there are four different ways of “being smart”:
- Smart in planning. By using up-to-date, accurate data about past year performances, citizen needs, political priorities, governments can articulate a strategic plan that balances the multiple objectives of the political leadership (mayor, governor, prime minister)
- Smart in oversight. By using up-to-date, accurate data about current performances and checking them against their strategic plan, governments can promptly reprioritize activities, rebalance resources, and – where needed – trigger another strategic planning cycle.
- Smart in operation. By using real-time data from both information systems (supporting internal and citizen-facing processes) and operational systems (e.g. environmental monitoring, electrical grid, road charging), governments can ensure optimal management of resources as well as an effective functioning of the critical infrastructures they are responsible for.
- Smart in engagement. By providing open and transparent information to citizens and constantly engaging with them in planning, oversight and operation, governments can continuously improve both the performance of their jurisdiction and the level of satisfaction of their citizens.
Governments can decide to be smart wherever they like, but I would argue that there is a natural progression from 1 to 4. Many jurisdictions already plan very smartly, and a few are rather good at checking their progress against plans and take corrective actions. Even fewer have entered the realm of “smart operations”, and mostly in a quite patchy fashion. Finally, many spell terms like “openness” or “engagement” but almost none has taken a truly holistic view of engagement
For many people, “government 2.0” refers to engagement. It is about providing open data to people who can help government do its job.
But my contention is that not all “government 2.0” strategies and plans are conducive to being really “smart in engagement”. In order to productively engage citizens in planning, oversight and operations, governments need to be also smart in planning, oversight and operations. This does not mean that they must be excellent at doing all this (otherwise there would be little point in asking people for help), but they must have processes, policies and architectures in place that allow the outcome of that engagement to be turned into improved plans, oversight and operations.
Open government data is only one component. The concept of open data must be extended to a wealth of operational data (see previous post), government processes and services need to be able to interoperate with processes and services developed by an ecosystem of third parties (including virtual communities), and engagement has to work both ways (from citizen to government and from government to citizen).
It is probably easier to be open or 2.0, than to be really smart.