Government 2.0 is rapidly reaching what we at Gartner call the peak of inflated expectations. This is the highest point in the diagram called “hype cycle”, which constitutes one of our most famous branded deliverables to our clients and that often feature on the press.
Almost all technologies and technology-driven phenomena go through this point, at variable speed. A few die before getting there, but many stay there for a while and then head down toward what we call the “trough of disillusionment”, i.e. the lowest point in that diagram, to then climb back (but never as high as at the peak) toward the so-called “plateau of productivity”, where they deliver measurable value.
If one looks at what is going on around government 2.0 these days, there are all the symptoms of a slightly (or probably massively) overhyped phenomenon. Those that were just early pilots one or two years ago, are becoming the norm. New ideas and strategies that were been developed by few innovators in government are now being copied pretty much everywhere.
There are plenty of examples. Barcamps and govcamps are now happening around the world, from Canada to the US, from Germany to the North East of Italy to the UK. More and more governments state that opening government data is their priority, from the U.S: to the UK, from Australia to Belgium. Application contests (or mashup or idea contests) to engage citizen developers in creating new and valuable applications that leverage government data pop up from Belfast to Washington, from London to Brussels, from New York to the Flanders.
Yesterday I was discussing with a British client over lunch and he told me how the publication of data may lead to requests for more data (through the Freedom of Information Act), in a never-ending cycle of information gathering which is likely to cost a lot to both government and taxpayers. Another client observed (as I said in a previous post) that there is no way people will be able to tell to what extent a mash up on an application actually uses official, trusted government data.
If one reflects about the shortcomings of earlier e-government (1.0) initiatives, many have to do with relatively few people using online services and information or not being able to prove their actual value. Further, digital divide also played a role. I wonder to what extent open data and application contests, certainly two of the most fashionable government 2.0 initiatives, will help on either front.
How many citizen developers are out there who have an intense desire and passion for developing value adding applications? To what extent would those application really benefit those on the wrong side of whichever divide (i.e. digital, social, racial, cultural, linguistic, and so on)? Aren’t these initiatives simply addressing a small elite of technology-savvy individuals (and corporations), giving them further advantages over those who were digitally or otherwise excluded?
It is probably time to use these valuable initiatives in a more focused way. Rather than just engaging the “public” (and the public turns to be a handful of citizen developers), open data and application contests should be directed to NGOs, voluntary and non-profit organizations and – most importantly – to employees themselves. I know I have been mentioning quite a few times the importance of employees (and I’ve coined the quite controversial concept of employee-centric government), but I strongly believe their role is pivotal to unleash the power of the government 2.0 transformation. They need to collaborate with NGOs as well as citizen developers or other groups, they need to be involved in planning, assessing and directing initiatives like mashup contests, which in turn need to be more granular, more focused on specific programs or domains or areas of public interest.
It is time to take government 2.0 out of the hands of elected or appointed high-profile officials, and turn it into a toolset that potentially any government employee could leverage in his or her own domain of activity or expertise. The fact that it will precipitously fall from the peak of inflated expectations to the trough of disillusionment may not be a bad thing at all: only when it will catch fewer headlines and will gradually disappear from politicians’ speeches, it will start to deliver real value. At that time, I’m sure, somebody will be busy launching government 3.0