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It is Time to Look at Government 3.0 (or Better Understand 2.0)

By Andrea Di Maio | December 21, 2009 | 2 Comments

web 2.0 in government

Although I said some time ago that I did not like the term government 2.0, I have surrendered to its popularity among government clients as well as vendors, to the point that Gartner now has its own definition

Government 2.0 is the use of IT to socialize and commoditize government services, processes and data.

Reading some reactions to it and following the ongoing debate on government 2.0, I have come to the conclusion that what many experts are looking at is just the tip of the iceberg.

Some people say that the Gartner definition puts too much emphasis on IT. While I do not think government 2.0 could happen without IT, this is not the point. What I believe is far more important in this definition, is that we have tried to capture the two main phenomena (i.e. socialization and commoditization) that determine the most important characteristic of government 2.0: it does blur all boundaries.

Socialization concerns the engagement of citizens in service delivery, business processes and data management. A social network providing professional connections that help increase employment changes the way unemployment services are provided. Crowdsourcing an RFP so that many people (including suppliers) can contribute to writing it changes the procurement process. Posting historical photographs on Flickr to get people classify and tag them, or reaching out to social networks where citizens post information that can provide crime evidence or assist in maintaining a municipal infrastructure, all this changes the way data is used and managed in government. In all these cases, the boundaries between government and its constituents blur.

Commoditization concerns how the use of non-government and even consumer-oriented resources can change service delivery, business processes and data management. Using an employee’s personal profile and connection in Facebook or LinkedIn (which are commodities) to solve a government problem (such as re-employing a person, or providing child care) changes the way those services are delivered. Using a cloud-based CRM application challenges the assumption that government processes are necessarily different from other industries. Posting information on consumer social media rather than government web sites and gathering information from those same media basically make data management rely on commodities rather than enterprise tools. Again, in all these cases boundaries blur between personal and professional use, consumer and enterprise technology, government and society.

We are just looking at the surface

Talking to clients and reading blogs and white papers I have the feeling that this “blurring boundary” nature of government 2.0 is not fully appreciated.

Is it more important to post on or to spend time connecting with external social media? Will engagement happen more easily by creating an official presence on consumer social media or by letting employee free to operate there? Will the wisdom of the crowd be better captured by throwing a problem at it or by finding out where it is already discussing about similar problems and solutions?

There is no definitive answer to these and many other questions that relate to how boundaries blur between citizens and employees, governments online and social media, innovation and accountability. Different dynamics will occur in different regions and domains, but what remains a constant is that boundaries will blur.

What’s next?

Technology will make the sharing of totally new categories and quantities of data (from governments, businesses and individuals) both possible and inexpensive.

Today the “open government data” we have in mind is collected, processed and published by “traditional” information systems: traffic, air quality, budget spending, hospital bed utilization, students per class, crime rates, incidents, and so on.

But there is plenty of other data that is used to operate and oversee infrastructure such as traffic lights, security cameras, electrical grid, water pipes, and so forth. This is the realm of “operational technologies” (OT) and nobody, today, would think that data should be considered as public in any shape or form.

Consumer devices become more powerful and citizen expectations evolve. Today we praise mashing up crime reports, traffic accidents and real estate prices with maps to give citizens better information about if and where to relocate. Tomorrow we could make the same case to allow access to traffic light signaling data or real-time video feeds from traffic cameras to allow consumers to program their car navigation control system to continuously adapt the route that provides the best time/carbon ratio. Or we could allow home automation systems to read electric grid information in real time to control the operation of several electrical appliances in our home in the most cost-effective way (assuming that electricity will be priced much more dynamically than it is today).

At the same time, information and operational technologies used by government could increasingly rely on data collected by citizens: consumer GPS devices (including smartphones) that are connected to the Internet to receive traffic updates could transmit anonymized information about their location as well as programmed routes in order to dynamically update road charges and/or change traffic light operations to make traffic more fluid.

As I wrote in The Crucial Nexus Between Information, Operational and Consumer Technology (Gartner access required), the boundaries between information, consumer and operational technologies are also blurring. In a world where every single device or object becomes web-enabled (what many call the “Internet of things”), how “open” will open government be?How will the “symmetry of government 2.0” (government both provides information and uses external information) evolve to encompass operational data?

Toward Government 3.0

In the future, terms like socialization and commoditization as well as the founding principles of Open Government (transparency, participation and collaboration), will take a much broader meaning, as we face questions like:

  • Should we allow people to package public services by composing basic services and information offered by an ecosystem of providers, only few of which would be government?
  • Should we make operational data transparent and to what extent?
  • Should we crowdsource real-time traffic management to car drivers and their devices?
  • Will collaboration extend from citizen-to-government to consumer-device-to-government-infrastructure?
  • Will government IT and OT applications run side by side with consumer applications (and share data) on what we call today the “public cloud”?

Although some of these questions might look premature, they may help us understand how open government or government 2.0 are likely to evolve.

If I go back to the Garter definition above, it seems to me that the focus of almost all government 2.0 efforts today is on socializing data and commoditize some of the processes (e.g. government cloud computing initiatives).  To understand the deeper implications on participation and service delivery, we must open our minds to what “data” will mean in the future, and to how far socializing and commoditizing services and processes could lead us in a world where data from trillions of sources (people, institutions and devices) will be available to virtually every person and every device.

I am not sure we need a term like government 3.0 to conceptualize all this. However, if it helps us get passed the obsession with posting public data and developing social media policies, so be it. It is time to look at how the future will totally blur role, data, service and process boundaries as we know them.

Comments are closed


  • Alorza says:

    Great! Insightful article, Andrea. It will take some time to understand the implications.

  • Kerry Webb says:

    When you have to explain the terms in a definition in a separate document, I think it’s time to try for Definition 1.1

    Socialize? Commoditize?

    I can see a lot of naked emperors nodding wisely.

    Not that I disagree with the sentiment, at all.