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Should Governments Use Consumer Tools for Social Networking?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  April 23, 2009  |  1 Comment

Yesterday I participated in an interesting discussion with Gartner colleagues about how to deploy collaborative and social networking capabilities in public sector organizations. In particular we were discussing the IT strategy document of a parliamentary organization.

A colleague of mine said:

The only thing that’s missing is not working on or adding collaborative / social networking capabilities – for internal staff / members to better collaborate amongst themselves, member- citizen collaboration as well as citizen-citizen collaboration.  Given the diversity of cultures involved in the jurisdiction,  I would think that a government sponsored collaboration platform would be a very good thing

This implies that this organization should actually implement such a platform for citizens (as well as members and other employees) use it.

When I replied that in our coverage of web 2.0 in government we tend to discourage clients from deploying social networking platforms as they already exist and people actually use them, he added a very important point: 

For “plain old” social collaboration, utilizing consumer solutions is probably fine …But, lets not forget that you usually get what you paid for …For collaboration “with a purpose” (i.e. with a value proposition that’s “job/mission critical”), I’m not sure that I’d hang that out on a consumer site.  Having sensitive internal working collaborations & discussions hang out there in ether might not be the thing to do.Today, social networking / collaboration is typically not in the “mission critical” category of tools … but, it can and should be viewed as moving into that areas as it could provide as much value as any mission critical application in some very specific instances … as such, it should be treated just like any other mission critical application.

This seems to be the problem that many government agencies are facing today. But here is my reply:

When collaboration is with citizens, public sector organizations have a much better chance if they go where their “customers” are, i.e. on external, consumer social networks. For what concerns internal collaboration for mission critical purposes, I tend to agree with you BUT… the problem for many of these organizations is that the boundaries between internal and external collaboration are just going away, so if they have to choose tools that allow citizens and employees to collaborate seamlessly among them (citizen-to-citizen, employee-to-employee and citizen-to-employee) consumer tools are a more suitable proposition. This is even more true for a Parliament where many users are elected officials, so we are talking about politicians, many of which have already used or will soon use whatever tool is most appropriate to have a dialogue with their voters. Last but not least, there are cases where the use of consumer tools (such as LinkedIn or Twitter) is already supporting mission-critical capabilities.

Both viewpoints have their merits and different public sector organizations have different relationships with their constituents which may make one or the other more or less valid. This is a very interesting space to watch, where we will do further research in the coming months.

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Category: social-networks-in-government  

Tags: consumerization  facebook  linkedin  parliament  social-software  twitter  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio


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