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Is Government 2.0 Heading Toward the Trough of Disillusionment?

By Andrea Di Maio | February 10, 2010 | 11 Comments

web 2.0 in government

In a post published in September I observed that

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.

Events in the last part of 2009, with three major countries publishing reports and directives about this, witnessed – I believe – the peak of the hype.

A blog debate that I intercepted yesterday between Christina Gagnier and Mark Drapeau on the heels of a Gov 2.0 event in Los Angeles may instead witness the start of the descent toward the “trough of disillusionment”.

Christina pointed out that government 2.0 specialists use too much of a jargon and if government 2.0 is about engaging citizens, this is not gong to work. Mark replied that government 2.0 is a specialized field of research, and as such it deserves its own jargon. He also said:

Does the public currently need to understand what Government 2.0 is? Do they need to understand the jargon, or must the specialized language of this burgeoning field go away to satiate the many common citizens who want to know more? I say, no. Few citizens are interested in attending barcamps, few download data from, and few read what the CTO is up to in Washington, DC. Rather, citizens want goods and services and information from their government. I suspect they don’t care much how that comes about

In my view, this is in sharp contrast with a statement he made just a couple of months ago in an earlier post where he said:

Governments shouldn’t always rely on well-funded non-profits, computer experts, or apps contests for getting useful things done with government data. Those things are really great, but how can the average person occasionally do something useful? […] Now that and other initiatives are up and running, a really, really simple user interface for the common citizen would be terrific PR, it would make some citizens think more seriously about what the government is doing, and once in a while something useful may be done with the data.

I was on Christine’s side at the time, when I referenced Mark’s position in a post about “Why Should I and Joe Smith Care about Open Government?

There is nothing wrong in Mark changing his position: this is one of the benefits of the large scale collaboration on social media. However this may also be a symptom that the wind blowing in favor of government 2.0 and open government may change sooner rather than later.

Monitoring the tweets under #gov20 and #opengov I start seeing a few more criticisms than before, and increasing calls for gov 2.0 experts and researchers (indeed, this is becoming a specialized field). It also looks like the Gov 2.0 event in LA has created less buzz than the one in DC back in September.

Also, the first achievements of the open government directive have been underwhelming (see my comments about open data sets and open government web pages) and the various application contests worldwide seem to be spinning around the same old ideas.

I wonder whether the problem with government 2.0 is – indeed – its openness and its ambition to empower citizens with basic facts and raw data.

Take a look at or any of the open government pages published last week: who would care, unless he or she had a vested interest in getting that data?

Now look at, which tracks the performance of individual agencies in DC and provides citizens with homogeneous information about agencies Key Performance Indicators, Budget, Spending and News, and so forth. This looks far more interesting and engaging than a bunch of raw data. On the upside, DC has been traditionally a leader in open government, and this accomplishment may pave the way for federal agencies to do the same (i.e. publish raw data but also seek ways to make data really usable by the target audience).

Therefore there is hope that pursuing an open government strategy will ultimately deliver value. However I would argue that agencies should look for ways to make their data more palatable, accessible and – as Mark said in his older post – fun for people. If  government 2.0 experts can deliver this, then let them use whatever jargon they like.

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Comments are closed


  • Chris Jones says:

    Andrea –

    The biggest challenge with anything “2.0” in my mind is that very few can envision how work gets done in a technology-enabled future where collaboration is ubiquitous, and resources (not just links, but solutions) are a few clicks away.

    Such is the problem with a paradigm shift.

    To me, the best path to Gov 2.0 is achieving a viable Open Government, fueled by agency Plans, as required by the OGD.

    Those Plans are only now being drafted, and there is significant work ahead to ensure they (a.) advance agency missions, (b.) drive value streams (initially, better communication) inside agencies, across agencies, but most importantly, to citizens as “service recipients”, and (c.) produce a sustainable, viable set of long-term solutions.

    Hype is hype, and there’s been plenty of it. Yes, there’s probably a cycle at work.

    But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. We can’t measure meaningful progress by attendees at unconferences, or a few weeks worth of hits on a handful of trial datasets.

    Have you looked at the Agency /open pages?

    How about we track the percentage of Agencies that are taking OGD seriously? Last I checked, I think it’s “all” –

  • Dan Bevarly says:


    I followed that exchange as well and left a lengthy (my apologies) response to Mark’s post.

    At least we’re not dealing with a Betamax or a Newton here. It’s government or democracy and that’s not going away, nor will the public switch their brand. This is a trial and error process. But: Gov 2.0 needs direction or it will fall and remain in the “trough.”

    We know successful online communities are those driven by its members, not its creators. Refining the content to make it interesting and compelling to the American public; learning about their preferences and expectations for receiving it, sharing it and commenting on it are basic elements that are generally not included in most of the Gov 2.0 strategies. We need to include our customer more and do so by using both online and conventional engagement methods.

    There is an important distinction that has to be made between data and information. I am seeing a few posts that address this, and you suggest the distinctions in this post.

  • Any paradigm shift will start as hype and eventutally will result in hope (or mere hobby). In order to assess whether or not #gov20 or #opengov will be succesful or remain underwhelming, it’s necessary to agree on a definition. Let’s try to draw a list of 10 requirements which define both concepts. Example: the e-Citizen Charter which defines #egov. See:

  • James Dellow says:

    For Gov 2.0 to be entering a trough of disillusionment, there is an assumption that everyone is travelling at the same speed. My observation is that different countries, government agencies and even people within agencies are moving along that hype cycle in their own way and even focusing on different things. I do think you make a good point about the focus on openness and empowering through the release of raw data being too abstracted for the average person – but I also think you miss the point that these are the foundations for what comes next, in terms of changing how policy is made and services are delivered. For example, how many people make use of Google Maps for everyday things without a second thought for how all that data got there?

  • Is the disillusionment among the early adopters? Are they the ones who are tiring? Well, that’s not so important.

    Part of what I took from Drapeau’s comments is that people don’t need to know the underpinnings of how something gets on their cellphone. That something may be blizzard warnings, school closing announcements, how long until the next bus, or a cute new app that shows the wait times at an airport.

    The point is, the change has already occurred. People are expecting to have the information that they need/want in the palm of their hand–literally their phones. We are far from achieving that, but the expectations of everyday people are pushing to make more available. No matter what we call it.

    And if the early evangelists are not as excited (excitable), that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a new wave of people in government less interested in the “specialized field” and more interested in meeting the changing demands and needs of citizens. That’s their jobs.

  • @Chris – I agree only partially. I agree that the OGD and the OGPs are the foundation for this, but it is not totally evident to me how sustainable those plans will be. Indeed I have checked all open govt pages and – as I said in a previous post – I was not overwhelmed. It is early days, but over the next couple of months we have to see for how many we can answer “yes” to the question you asked

  • @Dan – you hit the mail on the head. Giv 2.0 is a yin and yang between opening data and facilitating engagement. Nobody has the recipe yet, but my fear is that if we leave this to the “experts”, we won’t engage those who can really make a difference, i.e. government employees (and I do not mean those who belong to the “expert” group).

  • @Matt – The charter has been a very good example in Europe: a pity it has not been adopted in its form by other countries. Incidentally some of its principles are fully applicable to the spirit of open government and cross the chasm between gov 2.0 and e-gov (or gov 1.0). I hope that Europe will start having a serious conversation about gov 2.0, besides what some of the individual member states are doing. Although I appreciate that EU priorities today are somewhat skewed toward monetary policy 🙂

  • @James – I agree that open data is the foundation. However we have seen a few rounds already of data feeds, open data, apps for democracy, and what is apparent is that this remains a turf for the usual suspects (Sunlight foundation, activists, etc). All I am saying is that governments need to be open both ways: provide data as well as listen to people on channels and in ways that people – and not governments – feel comfortable with. This goes back to a point I made a couple of times on this blog about the “symmetry of gov 2.0”: what I am seeing today is quite asymmetrical.
    As far as different speeds, you are right up to a point. Governments love best practices and to get inspiration from others in all fields that relate to technology. This is what made lots of governments waste money in underutilized service portals: it looks like a great idea, but it was not great of even good for everybody. So my sense is that many will fall into the trough, holding each other’s hands (and listening to the usual experts).
    That’s not too bad: there is life after the trough.

  • Andrea — I’m not sure i see the contradiction in Mark’s statement. Seems common sense to me to say that the citizen doesn’t care at “gov’t 2.0” per se — they care about WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Can I get personalized updates of the info I care about? Can I make myself heard without attending the inconveniently scheduled town meeting. Can I follow trash collection schedule changes via Twitter… etc. etc. Who cares what it’s called?

    Second comment — to me a fascinating question with gov’t 2.0 has always been — just how many citizens care? I’ve often seen a (depressingly) low 10 percent tossed around as the number of citizen who truly care about gov’t. I think Mark was saying if you put the stuff out there in a useful format, you never know who might fashion something great out of it.

  • Andrea,

    Given I posted about the same topic (for Australia) back in December referring to Gartner’s Hype Cycle in my post – Managing the future adoption of Gov 2.0 in Australia ( – I have to agree with you 🙂

    I am hoping that, like the global recession, in Australia we see a very rapid return to upwards progress.

    BTW – where’s Gartner’s Gov 2.0 and social media talent in Australia? I’ve not yet met any of them.