Blog post

Government 2.0 Won’t Happen Without Officer 2.0

By Andrea Di Maio | May 30, 2009 | 10 Comments

social networks in government

Last Wednesday I had two very illuminating conversations, one with the CEO of a large government IT service provider and the other one with the division head of a state-owned research center. Both told me, although in different terms, that they don’t believe government 2.0 will happen without citizen 2.0, politician 2.0 and officer 2.0.

What they meant is that government transformation cannot succeed unless all stakeholders are ready to leverage and contribute to this transformation, something I covered in a post just yesterday.

Most get the “citizen 2.0” part: this is about the gen-Yers and other folks who use social networks, blog, wikis, shared workspaces as their everyday’s tools. Governments need to speak their language and engage them on their territory.

After the successful Obama’s campaign (but there have been other examples elsewhere), most get the “politician 2.0” part too. Politicians need to constantly engage with their constituents, using social media to both communicate and involve them.

But how many people get the “officer 2.0” part? Maybe because I live in a country where a couple of members of government aim (and fire) at civil servants and accuse them of being lazy or inept,. but it seems to me that there is still little understanding about the pivotal role of government employees in this transformation.

Web 2.0 is about people, and government is made of people who work for people. Social networking can bridge  the gap between silos, between employees and their “customers”, between different levels in a rigid hierarchy, between purchasing officers and their suppliers. Some are clearly afraid of these changes and claim that allowing employees to blur all these boundaries will lead to greater confusion, abuse, insecurity, fraud.

For instance, the idea that government procurement officers network with suppliers may look weird and dangerous. But is it? Wouldn’t bringing their networking in the open reduce rather than increase the lack of transparency and the risk of abuse? Wouldn’t it put prospective suppliers on an equal footing, giving government the benefit of greater choice and ultimately lower costs?

And what about an officer looking at the Facebook page of his head of unit or director, and possibly establishing a conversation with him or her skipping two or three levels in the hierarchy? Couldn’t this bring new perspectives to those in the higher floors and greater motivation for those in the ranks?

Finally, breaking the boundaries between employees and the citizens they serve will lead to a government that is much closer to its constituents, and can establish a new breed of trusted relationships that will be mutually beneficial.

Am I being too optimistic? Is this a dream rather than future reality? Should ministers keep banning Facebook and bashing on employees, treating them as a liability rather than their most important asset? With e-government 1.0 some thought they could get rid of the human factor. With government 2.0, the human factor becomes the single most important one to deal with.

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10 Comments

  • Barry says:

    Innovation in Government has always suffered from zero buy-in at the mid-management level. Telework, remote access, flex-hours, etc., have languished in the past because micro managing Officer 0.1 does NOT want to give up the semblance that they are managing the experts and lifers in their organizations.

  • Andrea,
    Just a fascinating post. I’m not sure you’ll ever get everybody going in the same direction, my impression is this is a unique time — at least for the U.S. federal government. Of course there is the Obama change mantra, but there is also this unique combination of these easy-to-use tools are marrying with the amount of data that agencies have that is enabling a transformation in the way government operates that had been discussed for years but still felt somewhere off in the future. While there is still much still on the horizon, there is so much happening today. So many agencies are wading their way into the water.

    Layer that with the changing nature of the federal workforce — the younger people coming into government — and it is such an interesting time.

    All of that being said, we’d love to have you on DC’s Fedaeral News Radio 1500 AM to talk about this. Let me know who I should contact.

    Thanks for this post.
    cjd


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  • Linda says:

    Agreed. As a federal executive, I find it incredulous that some one thinks that my integrity can be brought for the price of a glass of wine? or a piece of meat?

    And as we move through the procurement process, we go into a “blackout” …. I say we talk as much as we can TO EVERY ONE.

    Transparent and open communication versus secret, cryptic, and opaque.

  • Brian Humphrey says:

    Thanks for the thought provoking article. While we can’t speculate about ‘Officer 2.0’, we can attest that we’ve had ‘Firefighter 2.0’ since first live blogging “Operation Dark Cloud” a homeland security exercise in 2003. Less than a year later, our blog and… well, the rest is history (that we warmly welcome others to learn from).

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Firefighter/Specialist
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

  • Great point Brian. Maybe you’d like to share with others what made the learning of that exercise in terms of collaboration tools stick in your organization?
    Public safety is a natural domain for Web 2.0 tools and approaches to thrive. Besides the overmentioned Katrina example, I’ve seen that this year in major disasters such as the bushfires in Victoria (Australia) and the earthquake in Abrutium (Italy).

  • And how many officers get the officer 2.0 part? There is an inevitable tendency for those who do to overestimate the penetration of anything 2.0. I posted on this just a couple of days ago in relation to UK central government blogs, implicitly taking blogging as a proxy for the whole:

    “Where are the blogs of the policy makers, the operational managers, the chief executives, the tax inspectors, the social researchers, the whole army of people who make up public services? One obvious reason why there aren’t very many bloggers is that there aren’t very many blog readers. The blogosphere is so very large that it’s easy to overlook how very small it is. I don’t think most of the people I work with read blogs, so it’s not surprising that they don’t write them.”

    http://strategytalk.typepad.com/public_strategy/2009/05/the-voices-of-government.html

  • Ari Herzog says:

    If you remove the 2.0 part, you got me sold.

    Governments have employees, agencies, vendors, stakeholders; not versions of employees, et al.

    By adding the versions, you’re turning this into something it needn’t be–and only confuses people who don’t know what you’re referring to.

  • Ari, good point about the “2.0”. I have posted before about my distaste for this versioning exercise that some consultants are doing, but I suspect it is too late to make people change their mind (same battle we lost when telling people that the “e” of “e-government” did not make much sense).
    The crux of the matter is that without people government organizations cannot work, does not matter how much technology you are going to inject. The irony is that while (some) politicians believe that more technology can help them get rid of people, reality is that technology can empower those same employees to become the most important driver for change.

  • Public Strategist is correct in pointing out that blogs by government officials are not there, and I would be surprised if they would. Different employees in different roles will get value from different uses of social media. Some may just read blogs from constituents, others may browse for relevant pictures (witnessing a crime or a fraudolent event), others may engage in fora and discussions with constituents (e.g. in human services), others may publish problems for the “crowd” to solve them (look at recovery.gov). There is no single recipe, but what is absolutely fundamental is for government executives to create a context that is conducive to discovering whether and how social networking can add value to fulfil their agency’s mission, as opposed that stating a blanket policy that applies to everyone.