Blog post

The Government 2.0 Critical Success Factor Is To Let It Go

By Andrea Di Maio | November 01, 2009 | 7 Comments

web 2.0 in government

Over the last several months I have been writing extensively, both on this blog and in our client-focused research notes, on the characteristics of what many call government 2.0. Citizen-drive, employee-centricity, open data availability, emergent architectures are all key features. But I have always tried to figure out which of these characteristics is the most important.

I have been reluctant to pick the number one factor, until when during a meeting last Friday, an executive from a federal Canadian agency used the term I had in mind but I had never put on paper. We were discussing how to make content more appealing to citizens using social media, and what the Smithsonian and others have been doing with Flickr, where they push content that can be tagged, classified, augmented by people on line. As I was going through this and other examples, I concluded with what I thought was the  common denominator in all success stories so far. Funnily enough, this government executive (a very smart lady, with a long experience in several large agencies, and an enviably open mind) and I used the same term at the same moment, so much so that it almost sounded like a duet: “You have to let go” we both said.

This is it. This is the key ingredient, the secret sauce for government 2.0 initiatives to succeed. Of course it is not the only one, and it won’t always guarantee success, but should be top of mind for all those who strategize about and lead government 2.0 projects.

“Let go” means that you cannot plan in advance, you cannot set a future state architecture, you cannot control your employees too tightly, you cannot make assumptions about where and how and when value will be generated.

Pretty scary, isn’t it?

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  • Andrea,
    I have to agree with you on this one. The recent moves by the United States White House and Defense Department are but the early actions in a sea change. As a private sector vendor and Government 2.0 Technology innovator, I have seen many organizations attempt to throw obstacles in the way of this changes. One biggest one has been attempts by Governments (In the US) to limit their employees use, access and choice of social network implementation. But that does not work. The changes are coming from both inside and outside at the same time. Outside, society is pulling Government(s) into a giant technological leap, because it is becoming so ubiquitous. Inside Governments, people are are pushing their respective agencies to make big changes. it is a fascinating time indeed.

  • Martha McLean says:

    Hi Andrea,

    An interesting post for me as I’d love to know which executive you were speaking to – I’m always searching for those 2.0 leaders in my government, let alone my own department!

    To your points. I was happy to find the one critical success factor I continue to champion mentioned: “how to make content more appealing to citizens using social media.” In my case, however, I remove the ‘using social media’ component. Bottom line for me, if the information we’re providing isn’t well written and useful for the user; if they aren’t able to share it then we’re not going to succeed no matter what other tools we leverage.

    Tools continue to be the shiny new toy. I agree we’ll need to let go, but I’ve seen what’s happened to content on many government websites when we let go of that as well.

    After 10 years in Government online communications – numerous worlds (CMS vs opensource, content, social media, governance etc.) all formerly treated in isolation or silos, are now converging. Finally!

    For my department, I think it’s time to let it go into the hands of those who can quickly, skillfully and responsibly transform the engine and prepare to hand over the keys – so we can truly let it go.

    Wish that I had a crystal ball. In the absence of that – I’ll participate, engage and observe and be fascinated along the way.


  • Andrea,

    It is a bit scary. But it can have some very positive effects too. Imagine social media not necessarily “driving” government decision making, but at least having a strong influence.

    The government and the voice of the people in the USA, has been growing further and further apart in the last 40-50 years. While the impact of social media is daunting for the private sector in those companies that continue to ignore social media influence, I see much upside in social media’s potential to empower citizens in governemnt decision-making. Can you imagine a state senator or a US House Rep with a staff of social media/reputation managers? Even state and local representatives… Your post spurred my thinking…Thank you.

  • Jeff Braybrook says:

    Great insights Martha. Keep the faith. We really are moving forward.

  • j. woodbury says:

    Sounds pretty much like being an artist. You have your materials, your supplies, and your sensibilities. Go.

  • marius johannessen says:

    So simple, and yet so difficult. I would like to see the politician who dared to let go and allow citizens to participate on an equal basis. I don’t see “letting go” as a feasible option as long as we have a representative democractic system. But for gov2.0 outside of politics I definitely agree that “letting go” should be the key success factor.

  • Kris Joseph says:

    I completely agree with the “Let it go” mantra. The social media and internet revolution has shown that traditional means of communication are falling on deaf ears. As a public affairs officer in the U.S. Army I can only hope that this wave of transparency will continue to grow in the US Government. We have to show our true faces and not hide behind our slick, crafted command messages and strategic rhetoric. People want to listen to real people, not programmed response machines. Looking forward to 2010 as a year of drastic change in how we in the government communicate with our citizens.