Almost inevitably the last few days of the year feature an impressive number of lists – on newspapers, magazines, web sites, radio and TV programs – about the best and the worst that happened during the year that is about to end.
As 2009 is my first full year as a blogger, I could not resist developing my own, very personal top ten in the area of government 2.0 and surroundings.
As in the most classical tradition of top tens, I will go in reverse order, from number ten to number one, and provide my own, again very personal and totally arbitrary mark to each of those entries.
Irrespective of my judgment, each and every one of these is a testament to the effort and persistence of thousands of women and men – both in the public and the private sector – who are helping change the way governments operate. We should be grateful to all of them, for what they have achieved and for what will be possible thanks to their accomplishments.
10. European Declaration on E-Government (C-)
Admittedly these declaration are a very complex balancing act. The EU does not have jurisdiction on how public administrations in different member states operate, unless is in connection with a particular EU policy (see the EU Services Directive for an example). Further, EU member states are in very different stages of maturity in their e-government and citizen engagement plans and finding a common denominator across them is a challenge in itself.
This being said, the declaration articulates a rather compelling vision, pressing all the right buttons, from user-driven services to the importance of public information and open government. Unfortunately the suggested implementation mechanisms are the same we have seen in previous declarations and there is no clear attempt at trying something new. Studies, best practice exchanges, R&D activities, call for open standards and open source are all good things, but should we judge their potential from the lack of EU e-government accomplishments in the past, I would not hold my breath here. At most, we’ll see another round of questionable EU-wide e-government benchmarks.
9. Barcamps and Gov 2.0 Conferences (C)
2009 has seen countless conferences, unconferences, barcamps and govcamps. Probably the highest profile one – but by no means the first nor the last for 2009 – was the Gov 2.0 Summit held in DC on September 8 and 9 and organized by O’Reilly (a couple of discussions stemming for that event are here and here).
These events are very valuable for practitioners in the field to exchange views and ideas, to feel a stronger sense of community, to keep gov 2.0 visible to more traditional media and politicians, and to globally advance its agenda (assuming there is one).
The downside of these events is that they usually preach to the converted. Avid web 2.0 users, bloggers, twitterers and the likes find them extremely useful and exciting, but I doubt barcamps help buy more people to the cause. Like some of the discussions we have on our respective blogs, we deal with issues and debate topics that are hardly compelling for the general public, including the vast majority of government employees who have little clue – or little interest – about the potential of social media to change the way they work.
8. U.S: Open Government DIrective (C+)
As the first concrete planning document issued by the young and dynamic Obama administration, I am sure many would expect this to make at least the top three in this ranking.
Well, first of all it made the top ten, which is not bad at all. Second, this placing does not mean that the work done by the Obama team has not been excellent (see later in this ranking). However it is fair to say that given all the anticipation, the Directive itself is underwhelming.
Most likely its value and its transformational potential is in the eye of the beholder. Those agencies that have a genuine desire to seize the advantages of government 2.0 will take it as an enabler to strengthen their social media and citizen engagement strategies. Those who are more reluctant will take this as something they need to comply with and will do the bare minimum to do so.
What is key here is the ability of Office of Management and Budget with the US Federal CIO and the Office of Science and Technology Policy with the US Federal CTO to make sure departments and agencies see the value for their respective missions. Besides monitoring how agencies comply, they should also complement the initiatives required by the Directive with additional measures in areas such as rewarding innovation, empowering employees, sharing and stabilizing effective social media policies, and so forth.
7. UK G-Cloud Strategy (B-)
With less publicity but comparable effort as their overseas counterparts, UK government officials – in cooperation with a few vendors – have been developing a government cloud (or G-cloud) strategy.
While details are still being worked out, elements of its vision have been made public. It appears that, besides creating something similar to apps.gov (the cloud storefront launched by the US), it focuses also on how to rationalize data centers across the whole of government. This is not an easy task, as those data centers are sourced in many different ways. Another aspect that is being considered are also the use of apps.gov for government-developed components that could be shared across departments: this is something that could definitely advance the software reuse agenda that many European governments have been discussing over the last several years.
There are two reasons why this strategy – which looks somewhat more comprehensive than the US one – does not get a better ranking. The first one is that it is blurred with the recently rumored radical outsourcing of government IT (see also Gartner research note, clients only).The second, related reason is that it may suffer from the influence of those – indeed very few – vendors that CAN afford being the players in these massive outsourcing deals.
6. British Smarter Government Report (B-)
The British government has always been exemplary in its reports about government transformation through technology. Since its very first e-government strategy, it has always paved the way for most of Europe and often the rest of the world to examine ways to leverage technology for effectiveness and efficiency. However the execution has not always been at the same level as the vision, due to the complexity and legacy that characterize the UK public sector.
The Digital Britain report first, and the “Putting the Frontline First: smarter government” report afterwards belong to this tradition. As I pointed out in a previous post, the latter breaks new ground in areas like the proposed use of analytics for predictive risk modeling and in encouraging greater citizen participation in service delivery.
Implementation may be difficult and somewhat complicated by the parallel outsourcing trends mentioned above, but the reports lays a good foundation for progress.
5. U.S. Federal Cloud Computing Strategy (B)
Since when he was appointed, the US Federal CIO Vivek Kundra pushed for a cloud computing agenda. His aggressive stance on this topic has raised many eyebrows among federal agencies, but has also set the bar high enough for many of them to start looking into the cloud potential.
The excellent work done by the GSA, taking the lead on cloud computing strategy and hosting its first tangible outcome (apps.gov, the procurement storefront for public cloud services), is moving this in the right direction, looking at critical issues such as security, standards and change management.
Unlike the UK strategy, which is taking a comprehensive look at private and public cloud, the US one focused on low hanging fruits first, although the launch of apps.gov may look a bit premature as it had an unbalanced vendor representation and left some procurement questions still unanswered (see Gartner research note, clients only).
Next year will be critical to move from software as a service on public cloud to other offerings, such as platform and infrastructure as a service on private and community clouds, which are the most important for mission-critical workloads.
4. GovLoop (A-)
This member-only online community has grown into a very large resource for government officials, vendors, consultants and the general public to access to and exchange information around a variety of government topics. Started on a purely voluntary basis by a then DHS employee, it has been acquired by GovDelivery, a supplier of government-to-citizen email and wireless communication systems.
While in a post I said that the acquisition may cast some shadows on GovLoop’s future, in the few months after that the community has consistently grown and thrived.
The mention here is not just for GovLoop’s founder but for the many active members who show to government agencies around the world the tangible benefits of collaboration across boundaries.
3. Obama’s Technology Team (A-)
In the relatively short history of IT in government I do not think we have ever witnessed anything like Obama’s “dream team” of IT leaders. They are young, energetic, enthusiastic and most of them have that little touch of naivety with respect to the machinery of federal government that gives them enough freedom to make innovative and sometimes controversial statements, as well as push the boundaries.
From Vivek Kundra to Aneesh Chopra, Beth Noveck and many others, these people have both individually and as a team the potential to make change happen.
On the other hand, they have been through the easiest part of their job: the early days of a new administration, the huge political capital of president Obama, a green field for innovation. Now they will be measured by how much they are able to deliver on their vision. To some extent, their attitude has changed over time already, as they learn how to deal with internal politics, and adjust times and tone of their deliverables to the pace of federal government.
2. Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce (A)
There is not much more to say about this than what I wrote in previous posts (here and here). This group of individuals produced a truly excellent report in a remarkably short period of time, reaching out to experts inside and outside government worldwide, and showing a rare attitude to listening to other people’s opinions.
We do not know how many of their breakthrough recommendations will be translated into concrete policy action. But even if only a fraction does, their experience will remain a concrete testament to the value of what government people can achieve.
Which leads me to the number one in my personal top ten.
1. The Unsung Heroes: Government Employees (A+)
Behind the many visible efforts that governments are doing around the globe to innovate and lead their organizations into the 21st century, there are many more stories, very often at the more local level, that nobody or very few hear about and that witness the pivotal role that government officials play in this transformation.
Unconventional and unpredictable uses of consumer social media to detect or prevent crime, find a job to unemployed people, deliver better child care, identify tax fraud, reduce the cost of government operation, deal with the new challenges posed by the financial economic crises, and much, much more. While many agencies still block access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, thousands of government employees around the world are using these very tools to solve concrete problems and do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.
Every week, in a client conversation, I find one of these little, big stories. They rarely make the press, and they rarely imply any reward or recognition for those employees who tool the initiative.
I will keep telling these stories because I am convinced that employees are the single most critical success factor for government to transform the way it delivers value to its constituents.
Thanks for reading my blog through 2009. Happy New Year to all of you and your families.