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A Cool Idea On Government 2.0 From An Unlikely Vendor

By Andrea Di Maio | July 03, 2009 | 2 Comments

web 2.0 in governmente-government

Yesterday I met a European service provider and system integrator that is quite active in the public sector (both government and health care) and financial services, mostly in its own country. I used to know this vendor pretty well from my times at the European Commission (prior to joining Gartner), as they used to participate in some EU-funded R&D projects.

I have not covered them as a Gartner analyst so I had only some sporadic news from time to time, until yesterday, when  they came to visit me and presented a little, straightforward demo of how a “government 2.0” city portal could look like.

From a technical perspective, nothing really extraordinary: widgets, mashups, a mock-up portal that users could personalize, a few social media bells and whistles. What struck me though was its simplicity and immediacy.

As you might appreciate I sit through numerous vendor briefings, and often vendors compete in richness and complexity of their demonstrations to make sure they fill my brain with as much information as they possibly can in a short period of time. They also think analysts are smart enough to be able to catalog, prioritize and store all that data for future use.

Well, most likely I’m not that smart, but I loved the simplicity and low-key of this vendor’s presentation. They chose an example pretty much anybody could relate to (finding a kindergarten for your kids, and all related information and services), and that worked as a very good basis for discussing the very essence of some of the channel challenges that web 2.0 is posing to governments. Would that be an evolution of a city portal? Would that be better built with iGoogle or as a Facebook page? The good thing about their idea and little prototype is that one could imagine multiple scenarios where that information and those services could be consumed, aggregated, augmented. Actually, it made most of the abstract discussions about “government 2.0” alive.

Honestly, I do not think the vendor realized that, nor did they develop the little mock-up for such purpose. But it was quite refreshing and also made me think about whether there are new ways to figure out how the next generation of e-services will look like. There are so many government organizations around the world, from cities to supranational organizations like the European Commission, that are struggling to figure out the balance between traditional life event portals and and new ways for intermediary or user platforms to add value. Building a mock up like this vendor did is quite easy and would save lots of discussion (and lots of money) by concretely focusing the attention on what is possible and desirable.

I hope this vendor will make its voice heard outside its national borders and that other vendors will follow suit, helping governments figure out how to evolve their web channels. After all, if it is true that with web 2.0 governments need to relinquish control on their channels, then let vendors – as well as other businesses and user communities – step forward and propose.

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  • Nick Jones says:

    It seems to me that what this experience illustrates is that the big challenge of e-government is not delivery but discovery. I.e. finding out what it is that citizens actually want to do online. IMHO the answer to this question won’t ever be found by government initiatives or individual departments creating “government 2.0” sites which support their political and operational goals but may be totally irrelevant to citizens. It seems to me that we need to reformulate the problem and ask not “how should we deliver e-government” but ” how should we find out what e-government should be”?

    Looked at from this perspective maybe the role of government ought to be to expose lots of information and APIs to maximise the number of individuals and organisations who can experiment with them.

  • Great point Nick. In fact some people start talking about “government as a platform”. However for this to work one needs to overcome a lot of barriers. Not only the reluctance of governments tio relinquish control, but also the many vested interest built around technology investments for e-government.