Over the last few days I have been meeting with several clients in federal and state government in the US, and I had the chance to discuss at length about the current status of a few open government initiatives. For those who have been following this blog, I often mention the so-called asymmetry of government 2.0 as one of the obstacles to effective citizen engagement. In other words, governments provide public data and create avenues for people to engage, but do not consistently reach out to where people themselves create their own data (pictures, comments, ideas) or to online places and communities where people are willing to have conversations that may be of great relevance to policy-making as well as service improvement. When it comes to open government, agencies want to host data and communities, but do not think about being guests of somebody else’s communities.
My meetings this week confirmed that most government organizations keep their open data initiatives and their social media strategies separated. Often there are different groups dealing with those two topics, although they admittedly “interact”.
I see two main reasons why a tighter integration would be more than desirable.
First of all, open data initiatives already have a social component, in so that they ask for ideas and comments from citizens.
Second, both initiatives feature the asymmetry problem noted above. In fact I can overwhelm citizens by having dozens of agencies asking them for ideas at the same time, and yet miss the connection with online communities and discussion groups that – while ignoring all the open pages of agencies – are developing compelling material about what government could do to be more participative and collaborative. At the same time, I can articulate a wonderful social media strategy, looking very cool on media like Facebook or Twitter, and yet fail to provide my own employees with the right policies, frameworks and tools to allow them to make a better job, every day, by turning participation and collaboration into the normal course of business in service delivery.
It would be great if social media and open data folks would sit together, as part of the same group. I keep meeting very capable and passionate people in government who can go a long way in helping their agencies get this government 2.0 right. Could we just blur some of the boundaries please?