Over the last week or so I’ve had a number of clients asking me to summarize the impact of Web 2.0 in government.
I’ve come up with four different but interrelated areas:
- Internal (intra or inter-government) collaboration.
- Institutional presence on external social networks
- Open government data
- Employees on external social networks
Internal government collaboration. This is where most of our earlier conversations with government client around Web 2.0 started.
When we did a survey at the end of 2007 (see Gartner research note – subscription required) we found out that government clients were mostly planning to use web 2.0 for collaboration within their boundaries (i.e. intra and inter-agency), and had very little concern for other aspects, such as user content, mash-ups, tagging.
Internal collaboration remains an important area, where government IT managers need to figure out what are the best tools and how not to spend a fortune to then find out that people use just a fraction of the functionalities those tools provide and rather use consumer tools (Iike Facebook, Live or Tweeter) for the same purpose.
Institutional presence on external social networks. Government executives who believe they “get it” have established a presence for their agencies, departments, cities on mainstream social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, SecondLife, YouTube.
While on surface this looks very sensible – “let’s go where our citizens already are” – if you try to see how many “friends” or “fans” these organizations have on such network, you’ll find out that they are very few (for federal agencies or entire states, we are in the hundreds, not even the thousands).
There are a couple of problems with this. The first one is that people are not exactly thrilled by visiting an agency page on Facebook or following their news on Twitter. The second one is that, although being on citizens’ turf looks like a great idea, it is not if you can’t play by their rules. In particular, government organizations tend to disallow tags or moderate comments: by doing so (and I appreciate it takes quite some courage to do otherwise) they alienate most of their potential fans.
Open Government Data. The largest scale and probably most hyped example is Data.gov (see previous post), where people will be able to find increasing amounts of references to raw public data that various US federal agencies have on their web sites. But there are other examples, such as showusabetterway.com, appsfordemocracy.org (see previous post), or the mash-up request for information launched in Singapore a few months ago. Also the European Commission recently carried out a review of activities concerning the reuse of public sector information.
The whole point here is to make as much public information as possible available to people and businesses, in order for them to leverage that information and create value.
This is certainly very promising and carries a significant political capital. However, as I observed in a recent post, “providing a wealth of data is a necessary condition for open government and value creation, but not a sufficient one. More emphasis is needed on stimulating people’s and vendors’ imagination on how to leverage those data”.
Employees on external social networks. In my humble opinion, this will be the most important and long-lasting impact of Web 2.0. In a previous post I mentioned that I am working on a research note where I introduce the term employee-centric government to indicate that civil servants, enabled by Web 2.0 technology, will be a key factor in service delivery and process transformation.
The discussion about whether employees should even access social networks from their workplace is still on going (see examples of people in favor and against). Reality is that this is an unstoppable force: employees got access to the Internet and were allowed to send and read emails from outside, and so they will to all sorts of collaboration environments where boundaries between inside and outside simply vanish.
This is already happening and is having positive effects. Public safety officers tapping into external content to figure out where they need to deploy resources to face a natural disaster; law enforcement officers gathering crime evidence on social networks; case workers in human services establishing contacts with networks dealing with child support and welfare; tax agents finding cases of non compliance through Facebook or Google Maps; and so forth.
Last but not least, the real power of web 2.0 will be realized when these four areas will become one. When an employee will be networking with the citizens he or she services as well as colleagues, will be mashing up government and non-government content to post on his or her personal profile, which will become part of the institutional presence of government.