Blog post

The Four Facets of Web 2.0 in Government

By Andrea Di Maio | May 29, 2009 | 7 Comments

web 2.0 in government

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:

  1. Internal (intra or inter-government) collaboration.
  2. Institutional presence on external social networks
  3. Open government data
  4. 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 (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, (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.

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  • Andrea, I appreciate your work to categorize facets of government and Web 2.0 (see also the framework from Drapeau and Wells here I do, however, take some exception with the anecdotal breeze-by analysis of government efforts.

    Specifically regarding the use of social tools by government, there is a remarkable breadth and depth of activity by local, state and federal sources–both administrative and political. Your assessment that government strategy is to amass “fans” or “friends” in social spaces may be true for some, but there are terrific, strategic examples of using social media to meet recruiting, public information, safety and other information or engagement goals.

    The study that you cite from 2007 may have well as been from 1997–since the incredible speed of technology change and adoption and the push by the new administration (see the Open Government memo from President Obama’s first full day in office has caused a huge development, including a number of experimental efforts.

    Your future-state of a combination of “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,” while nascent is already occurring. See the efforts of Steve Ressler from GovLoop and Jeffrey Levy at EPA. See also the success of Transparency Camp and Gov2.0 camp in bringing government, industry and good government groups together to participate in the future.

    Yes, government is in the early phases of outreach and collaboration–just like private sector companies and entities. The mandate of government definitely nudges (shoves?) us in the direction of more openness. And, there are probably more, and more effective, examples in the public sector than in the private sector.

    The White House put together a short video with in production examples.

    Thanks for your post and letting me “discuss.”

  • Gwynne,
    thanks a lot for your comments. I fully agree with you that there is progress, but – as I said in this blog a few times – this is just at a very early stage.
    First of all, while I agree that the survey gave remarkably “backward” results, the sample included about half respondents from the US. What is more important, I still have quite a few conversations with clients who look at Web 2.0 from that perspective.
    My point on friends and fans is based on a regular analysis I perform on a selection of Facebook pages for state and federal agencies. I’m afraid numbers are still pretty low. My best example remains EPA, which you mention and I fully agree is doing a good job. As I said in a previous post ( they had been relatively unsuccessful in drawing a decent crowd to their Facebook page until when they launched “Pick 5 for the Environment”. This tells me that a clear purpose defeats the pure institutional presence.
    I also posted before on the early moves from the President, but also on how difficult it is to implement some of these changes: you may take a look at my recent posts on and
    I have not yet seen a situation where the boundaries between those four areas have gone, although they are becoming more fluid. I have been witnessing cases where discussions in Facebook are in between external and internal collaboration, but I have not yet seen the “open government data” and the “institutional flavor” to integrate with that.
    Finally, GovLoop and BarCamps are mostly for the converted. When I talk to clients I suggest that they pick unlikely users to pilot social networks, as opposed to those who have already been doing this at home or in a previous job for a long time. That’s my point about employee-centricity: it is not about being “social”, it is about having a clear purpose to become so in order to do your job better.
    I’ll be very pleased to know about more examples and keep the dialogue going. Thanks again for participating.

  • Andrea, I tend to agree with Gwynne. Your analysis lacks depth and a connection to the real experience and activity that is taking place in the public sector in the US, my country, Australia and others.

    There are very many efforts that are bringing Western governments closer to the ideal of open government. The issue more often than not is the reticence to discuss and share through the risk averse nature of the public sector. This leads to an inability to connect efforts up. Siloed workplaces are still the norm in public sector agencies.

    Like many other former public servants who now work with government on these issues, I see people striving daily to try to be more open and less “fan attracting”.

    Change, especially in the public sector, is slow. Much slower than I would like, and probably you too. What we need to be doing is encouraging, opening channels, getting people to talk and analysing the positives in their work really hard to empower other individuals and agencies to take their own steps in the right direction.

    I’m finding more and more that the analysis done by your organisation and your competitors like Forrester lacks connection to the subject matter and depth of real analysis. Which is a shame, because I know several people from your organisation and they are smart.

  • I am a complete new comer to this topic. I do not work for or around government. The only connection I have is that I am a citizen. And that a few friends created a site called

    The intro is to frame my general feeling about this and many other posts I read regarding gov 2.0. That feeling is that while it is a welcomed effort that our government is taking steps towards an open government, I do not believe that open government will happen as a result of these efforts. Rather – it will happen as a result of citizen involvement through tools developed by citizen businesses to have their voices heard.

    The point you make: “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.” In my opinion, this is the key. Citizens must take the data they are being provided and make use of it.

  • Stephen, thanks for your comments. One of the reasons why organizations like ours and our competitors blog is to reach out to the research community and indeed improve our research.
    I do agree with you and Gwynne that there are many good examples of use of Web 2.0 in federal, state and local agencies, nor do I believe I ever said otherwise. In case you are a Gartner client, you may wish to look at a couple of research notes that you may find of some interest: “Web 2.0 Opportunities Abound in Most Government Domains” (see and “How Governments Can Innovate and Cut Costs at the Same Time” (see
    It seems that both you and Gwynne don’t like my observations on agencies having few “fans” on Facebook. I’m sure there are counterexamples, but the ones I’ve been tracking show a very modest growth and little sign of a vibrant community.
    But do not forget this is only one of the four facets, and IMHO the least promising one. I am friend with civil servants in different countries and I am witnessing how some of them leverage these tools very well. This goes back to my point about the fourth facet (the use of Web 2.0 by individual employees) being the most important one.
    I suspect we are in violent agreement on this but – as it happens sometimes – the skeptical or cynical tone of parts of our analysis make some people miss the bottom line. For the very reason you mention – i.e. change in the public sector is slow – we need to alert our clients as early as possible about whether they are taking a dead end, in order for them to focus their energy and limited resources on efforts that can deliver “sustainable value”. Sustainable value means long-lasting change and not the a-ha effect and the burst of enthusiasm of some pilots that make the news one day to then die by lack of oxygen and interest after a while (or stay on life support just to be able to tick the “Web 2.0” box).
    This triggers another thought: we should do (indeed) deeper analysis on how to evaluate success in this area, as we just skimmed the surface last year in “What Is the Public Value and Risk of Web 2.0?” (
    Thanks again for sharing your views, and please keep them coming, maybe with factual references to examples that you deem as being a “sustainable success”. Both I and other readers of this blog will be very interested.

  • I feel obliged to respond to the two previous commentators who suggested a lack of real analysis.

    Andrea is correctly regarded as an authority on the subject of the relationship between government and the participative web. Suggest that you read some of his recent reports including The Future of Government is No Government (ID Number: G00167368).

  • Thanks Richard, it is always great to have supporters.
    As I said in previous replies, both Stephan and Gwynne offer useful perspectives and gave me a chance to more clearly articulate some of my positions.
    I’d also like to pick on another comment, highlighting that my four facets “miss citizen participation completely”. I do not think I missed it. In fact participation can happen either through facet number 2 (Institutional presence on external social networks) or facet number 4 (Employees on external social networks).
    What is missing – and I’m pretty sure some readers noticed that – is a facet where governments gather participation and achieve engagement by enhancing their existing web sites or creating new ones. Indeed this has been – and still is – pursued by some under the banner of “e-participation” (something that is quite popular on this side of the pond). The reason why I did not mention it is that it can either be seen as a particular instance of facet 2 (a government has such a compelling “social” proposition that people will come to whichever channel it established for participation) or – most likely – it is irrelevant.
    When Gartner was saying in 2000 that government portals for service delivery would have enjoyed a modest success – if any, many clients (and their suppliers) felt outraged that we dared challenge the common wisdom. The same applies here: we do not believe that sustainable citizen participation will take place on government-owned or controlled channels.