I spent most of the day attending an interesting workshop held as part of the European Forum in Alpbach, a beautiful town hidden in the mountains of the the Tyrol region in Austria.
The topic of the workshop was the conflict between citizens and public administration in government 2.0, and there was quite an impressive line up of speakers, including a minister, CIOs and high level executives from the Austrian federal government and from a neighboring German provinces.
Austria has done remarkably well in the area of e-government, so much so that it has been ranked number one in the EU e-government benchmark: some of you know my position about benchmarks in this area, but still it is the recognition of significant progress. With a solid, process-oriented tradition, and the ability to coordinate on key areas like electronic identity management and common registries, Austria has established itself as an example for many around the world.
However, for the same reasons, it may also be more vulnerable than others to the threats of government 2.0.
During the morning there were a few presentations touching upon some of the achievements (all material is in German, but you can find the proceedings here) and the challenges; these mostly concern better joining up government (the EU Service Directive is an example) and increasing efficiency.
The afternoon segment, where I had the chance to address the audience, together with speakers from Cisco and the Danube University Krems, was a clear discontinuity, presenting examples, trends and possible scenarios of government 2.0. I used material from my “Future of Government is No Government” pitch and stressed a lot the angle of employee-centricity (which raised a few eyebrows in one of my latest posts). The discussion was very lively (special thanks to two of the best real-time translators ever) and ranged from the impact on political participation, to whether government should play a greater role in “policing” social networks and educate people about privacy implications.
Throughout the second part of the day the tension between the planning-oriented attitude used to achieve current e-government leadership status and the bottom-up, outside-in approach implied by social media was almost palpable.
Several topics surfaced, such as demographic divide, rigidity of government organization and processes, privacy concerns by many users, to show that the impact of web 2.0 could not be as deep as some of us were suggesting. I reiterated that web 2.0 and social networks are in no way going to wipe government away, but they will challenge how decisions are taken, how information is managed and assessed, how services are delivered, where trust is placed. Government organizations and social networks can coexist, but in many areas government will follow rather than lead or control.
There is a concrete risk that governments like the Austrian one, which have achieved good results with e-government in the past, sit on their laurels and do not see this wave of change coming. Thinking that this change concerns only new generations and only some aspects of government is a mistake: focused social networks that have a compelling purpose for prospective participants will grow irrespective of age or geography, although at various paces.
It is important for governments to address the complexity and variety of such changes by holding to their own mission: which means, different departments should develop pilots engaging their specific constituencies, in areas where social networks are most likely to provide a compelling proposition.
And, once again, only government employees can drive their organizations in the right direction.
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