In a post published in September I observed that
Government 2.0 is rapidly reaching what we at Gartner call the peak of inflated expectations. This is the highest point in the diagram called “hype cycle”, which constitutes one of our most famous branded deliverables to our clients and that often feature on the press.
Almost all technologies and technology-driven phenomena go through this point, at variable speed. A few die before getting there, but many stay there for a while and then head down toward what we call the “trough of disillusionment”, i.e. the lowest point in that diagram, to then climb back (but never as high as at the peak) toward the so-called “plateau of productivity”, where they deliver measurable value.
Events in the last part of 2009, with three major countries publishing reports and directives about this, witnessed – I believe – the peak of the hype.
A blog debate that I intercepted yesterday between Christina Gagnier and Mark Drapeau on the heels of a Gov 2.0 event in Los Angeles may instead witness the start of the descent toward the “trough of disillusionment”.
Christina pointed out that government 2.0 specialists use too much of a jargon and if government 2.0 is about engaging citizens, this is not gong to work. Mark replied that government 2.0 is a specialized field of research, and as such it deserves its own jargon. He also said:
Does the public currently need to understand what Government 2.0 is? Do they need to understand the jargon, or must the specialized language of this burgeoning field go away to satiate the many common citizens who want to know more? I say, no. Few citizens are interested in attending barcamps, few download data from data.gov, and few read what the CTO is up to in Washington, DC. Rather, citizens want goods and services and information from their government. I suspect they don’t care much how that comes about
In my view, this is in sharp contrast with a statement he made just a couple of months ago in an earlier post where he said:
Governments shouldn’t always rely on well-funded non-profits, computer experts, or apps contests for getting useful things done with government data. Those things are really great, but how can the average person occasionally do something useful? […] Now that data.gov and other initiatives are up and running, a really, really simple user interface for the common citizen would be terrific PR, it would make some citizens think more seriously about what the government is doing, and once in a while something useful may be done with the data.
I was on Christine’s side at the time, when I referenced Mark’s position in a post about “Why Should I and Joe Smith Care about Open Government?”
There is nothing wrong in Mark changing his position: this is one of the benefits of the large scale collaboration on social media. However this may also be a symptom that the wind blowing in favor of government 2.0 and open government may change sooner rather than later.
Monitoring the tweets under #gov20 and #opengov I start seeing a few more criticisms than before, and increasing calls for gov 2.0 experts and researchers (indeed, this is becoming a specialized field). It also looks like the Gov 2.0 event in LA has created less buzz than the one in DC back in September.
Also, the first achievements of the open government directive have been underwhelming (see my comments about open data sets and open government web pages) and the various application contests worldwide seem to be spinning around the same old ideas.
I wonder whether the problem with government 2.0 is – indeed – its openness and its ambition to empower citizens with basic facts and raw data.
Take a look at data.gov or any of the open government pages published last week: who would care, unless he or she had a vested interest in getting that data?
Now look at track.dc.gov, which tracks the performance of individual agencies in DC and provides citizens with homogeneous information about agencies Key Performance Indicators, Budget, Spending and News, and so forth. This looks far more interesting and engaging than a bunch of raw data. On the upside, DC has been traditionally a leader in open government, and this accomplishment may pave the way for federal agencies to do the same (i.e. publish raw data but also seek ways to make data really usable by the target audience).
Therefore there is hope that pursuing an open government strategy will ultimately deliver value. However I would argue that agencies should look for ways to make their data more palatable, accessible and – as Mark said in his older post – fun for people. If government 2.0 experts can deliver this, then let them use whatever jargon they like.