While I was listening to the webcast of a session held at MIT about the Future of Civic Engagement in a Broadband Enabled World, I heard a very interesting question that came form the audience (at 40 mins 50 secs in the video). The gentleman, who represented a network of people working across sectors, made an observation about “open resources”, i.e. information that is not in government data bases but could help government do its job. This is the other side of government 2.0, which I stress when talking about the asymmetry of many programs and directives that focus on how government can provide data to people but not on how it can use data that people collect themselves. He asked whether there is any plan to “recapture” knowledge that people have on very specific issue and convey it back into government to improve its effectiveness and efficiency.
The answer was both disappointing and revealing: as a consequence of events in the nineties, there is a statutory prohibition on government to accept voluntary help. There are certain entities that are allowed to do so and this sort of collaborative work needs to be directed to those entities, but agencies in general are not at liberty of accepting help.
This is one example that shows how sometimes even the best intentions are defeated by bureaucracy and by rules that were introduced – ironically – to make the whole machinery of government more transparent, less vulnerable to external influences and better.
When many government 2.0 enthusiasts look at the wonders of open data and the blossoming of mashups and new services, they should probably reflect a bit more carefully about those accountability lines that – in spite of the transformative power of government 2.0 – will be the last ones to blur.