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European Governments Can Ignore Social Media… Or Not?

By Andrea Di Maio | November 04, 2009 | 5 Comments

web 2.0 in government

After two exciting weeks in North America where I discussed social media in government, I found a somewhat quieter environment among our clients at the Gartner European Symposium in Cannes.

There does not seem to be a real sense of urgency. Engaging citizens remains a noble aspiration but few would consider doing it by reaching out to them on somebody else’s social network. With few exceptions, most seem to be banning access to social sites from the workplace, and there is very little done even in terms of social media strategies and policies, let alone any reflection on the pivotal role of employees.

Do not get me wrong here. European clients are as smart as North American ones, and they can be as articulate if not more. But they seem to be unwilling to challenge the status quo and to believe that anything can happen from the bottom-up and from the outside-in. Most feel comfortable in starting with tackling internal collaboration and – although they know very well that their employees are already using consumer social media – they’d rather ignore the impact that these media might have on internal collaboration goals. When it comes to external engagement, there is no room for individual employee’s initiatives, and any venture needs a political blessing. Unless the mayor, the minister, the governor say that government needs to use web 2.0 to engage people, they won’t.

Although I did not discuss this topic with any UK client yet, it is interesting to note how the fair amount of activity there is probably connected to the political push created by the Digital Britain plan and – earlier – by the Power of Information report. As usual, things take place in government when the hierarchy decides they do, but I’ve certainly noted in North America a greater propensity to explore new avenues, to trust knowledge workers, to step outside traditional boundaries.

So after two days in Cannes, my statement about North Americans being more likely than Europeans to get government 2.0 is even more valid. I hope my last day in Cannes tomorrow will give me hope, as I believe European citizens and government employees are using social media as much as their North American counterparts and denial will not help for long.

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5 Comments

  • Andrea, thanks for stopping by my blog – the N. America Gov 2.0 community has definitely been noticing your work in this area.
    Where I am on the West Coast and around local government, there is also a lower Gov 2.0 energy level. I would guess that you have been working more with DC? As a line-level government employee, much of my activism is focused on increasing citizens’ knowledge about how they can use social media to engage government. My belief is that if citizens engage, it will bring around leadership – especially electeds, who must adapt or fail.

  • Andrea, you sum up my feelings entirely in your remarks. There is an interesting session in the Ministerial eGovernment Conference in Malmo on 18-20th November where I’ll speak at the plenary session “the power of information” which will follow a keynote from Don Tapscott. How provocative this session will be remains to be seen, but certainly there should be some interest to debate and discuss the need to change governance regimes. I note a similar reluctance to embrace social computing in the enterprise domain, but maybe you have more positive evidence of progress in this respect.

  • @David – thanks for your comment and I do wish you and your colleagues a very successful conference. I won’t be able to attend, as we have the Gartner symposium in Sydney on the very same days. Actually, I’m pretty excited to see what the Australians are doing, as their Gov 2.0 Taskforce seems to be asking itself the right questions. As far as the “Power of Information”, I hope somebody will discussion about the power of information that is outside the perimeter of government and how it can be put to fruition to improve government services and governance, rather than just the other way around (i.e. Data.eu)

  • Andrea, your thoughts completely with my observations. I wonder if you have any information from Central and Eastern Europe about use of web 2.0 in governance. As far as I know not looking of explosive popularity of social media and use of social networks, local authorities and communities in CEE very rarely use social media applications. Recently I received information that in Gdansk (Poland) next year it is planned to start a gov 2.0 project – at least some elements of web 2.0. Currently I am doing research on eparticipation experience in CEE with focus on web 2.0 usage, and would be interested in your comments on the situation. Besides I also plan to start a web 2.0 project for local community in Ukraine (so I’ll be also appreciated for comments and recommendations) as a part of MA course \eGovernance and eInclusion in Visegrad states\.

  • Andrés Nin says:

    I´m totally agree with your remarks. There is a continuous trend in Europen civil servants to avoid the use of social media just because no one says they have to use it. I suppose that with a few exceptions of civil servants more closed to the development of e-gov services, no other is trying to enrich its knowledge with ideas provided by citizens outside the Public Administration. It is sad, but it is true.