Looking at some tweets and feeds around open government, I have come across two interesting snippets.
The first one is about the National Telecommunications and Information Administration looking for a contractor to build content management and social networking Web sites as an almost direct consequence of the Open Government Directive.
The other one is a Microsoft-sponsored step-by-step guide to Open Government Directive compliance, where – not surprisingly given the sponsor – there is a lot of emphasis on use of platform and tools. Indeed one of the steps invites to “extend the use of Microsoft platforms and products”: just a few years ago, who would have thought that the Microsoft name would be so often associated to the term “open”?
Furthermore, a client who decided to attend my open government plan webinar earlier this week, told me that he was looking for “some new tools for his toolbox”.
It appears that, between Drupal, ideaScale, cloud computing conversations, a disproportionate part of the discussions around open government concerns tools and technologies. Should we use a wiki? What is the best enterprise social software suite we should deploy? Should I use open source or proprietary platforms?
There are different reasons for this. Open government and government 2.0 originate from the vendor and technology community, are driven by individuals who hold technology or technology-intensive positions (such as CTO or CIO), and require a piloting, trial-and-error approach that is closer to the technology world than to the government process world. Also, it has always been easier to say “let’s buy a new tool” than to reflect about deeper process and cultural changes. Finally, on a topic that is new to most people, with boundaries that are quite unclear, it is easier and somewhat more comfortable to be able to point to a new tool or a new functionality, something distinct from what one has been doing so far, as a way to tick a box in a compliance exercise.
However, with the variety of consumer technologies that allow government to pilot transparency, participation and collaboration at almost no extra technology cost, agencies can focus on what they want to accomplish and how to use those tools rather than which tools to use. Challenges are organizational (“what’s in it for me?”), procedural (“how does this integrate with dozens other processes we have to comply with?”), cultural (“do I really want people to know what I am doing?”), managerial (“how do I know these folks are not wasting time wandering on social networks?”).
The sooner we can take open government out of the technologists’ hands, the better. Do not get me wrong here. As open government is mostly about information, the Chief Information Officer plays a pivotal role . But he or she should keep web 2.0 freaks and consultants at bay and make sure open government helps the agency mission rather than just animate blog discussions, geeky events and the technical press.