I have just finalized the agenda for the government tracks in our three flagship events, i.e. our Fall Symposia in Orlando, Cannes and Sydney. In two of these events I will present what I hope will be a controversial session, looking at reasons why government organizations should be very cautious with web 2.0.
I have been covering web 2.0 in government for three years now and I have been one of those pushing hard government clients toward taking into serious consideration how these technologies may improve engagement, trigger transformation, empower the workforce. Those who read this blog will have found ample proof that I am an enthusiast and truly believe these technologies can make a difference.
But there are two important caveats. (1) they have to be used wisely and (2) government business and IT leaders need to understand the profound and long-lasting implications of some of these changes.
As far as the wise use, there is plenty of literature and management focus on security and productivity risks. However there are other aspects that – in my opinion – are not receiving sufficient attention. One that I have covered several times here is how to make sure employees can benefit from these technologies and become innovation agents that help create public value, as opposed to ignoring them or using them unproductively.
Where I feel there is more to say though is not in pulling those who are more reluctant to use these technologies, but in warning those who have broadly adopted them about some risks they may have understimated. Even if they have taken all the sensible steps (so they may be seen as using web 2.0 wisely), they are unlikely to be totally aware of some of the consequences of what they are putting in place.
Let me pick a couple of examples: open government data and crowdsourcing for IT solution design. Both are being used extensively by the US federal administration and have been welcomed as a breath of fresh area and proof of true innovation. There is no doubt about that.
But what if combining open government data among themselves reveals inconvenient truths? Of course this is for the common good, but would government be prepared to react? What if combining information from government and non-government sources blurs the perception about who is responsible and liable for what? What if government becomes so transparent that the public starts questioning its structure and size?
Also crowdsourcing for IT solutions is a cool thing, as one can gather ideas and suggestions and even prequalify vendors almost for free. But then, how does one bring a half baked free-of-charge idea into the public procurement process? Can a vendor solution be selected without an open call for tender based on the submission of a high-level idea? Could crowdsourcing discourage traditional service providers from bidding? And could it encourage submissions by individuals who – if chosen – would be for sale for the best IT vendor offer?
These are just two examples, but think about implications on HR policies, organizational structure, constituencies (shifting from organizations with a legal status to a dynamically changing set of self-organized virtual communities cutting across those traditional organizations). Think about openness and transparency rapidly moving from the top down throughout a government organization, so that the fact of being an employee dealing with the public makes your life totally public. Think about the new ways in which corruption can be fed by and through social media. And much much more.
Too many books, too many management consultant pitches, too many government 2.0 strategies, too much faith in all the good that can come from greater sharing and engagement. And too much focus on security as the primary reason not to pursue such a strategy. There is much more along the road and It is time to take a good look at the darker side to then come back stronger and – if needed – change course.
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