Over the last couple of days I have been engaged in a very lively conversation on GovLoop (registration required) about the very definition of Government 2.0. As some you may know, Gartner has one – which I introduced in a previous post – and what I noticed is that it is one of the shortest and the only one that purposely avoids the use of terms that are very popular when associated to government 2.0, such as
- government as platform
- transparent, collaborative and participatory
- citizen empowerment
- citizen involvement
- shift power from governments to individual citizens
- bring government and constituents closer together
Reflecting on these definitions and these terms, it seems to me that very often we confuse the means with the end. Being open or transparent or collaborative is not necessarily an end, but a means to an end.
What is the end then? Well, I guess it is to have a government that fulfils its mission more effectively and efficiently, providing value to its constituents and making the best possible use of available resources. The end is to be better, not necessarily to be different (although very often this will be the case).
If we start looking at government 2.0 as a toolkit that can help government become better, and possibly much better at doing what it is supposed to do, I would argue that we can would all the current and future efforts tagged as “open government” and “government 2.0” under a better light.
Clearly, as government 2.0 does enhance collaboration, participation, engagement, also the finality of government action will evolve. What government will be supposed to do in 10 or 20 years time may be quite different from what it is supposed to do today, and government 2.0 will play an important role in reshaping this.
In this respect, the closer definition is indeed “government as a platform”. The problem with that definition, though, is that it does exaggerate the value of publishing government data versus other important elements, such as gathering citizen data and using them for government purposes. Something like “government 2.0 is a toolkit” is much better, and this brigs me back to Gartner’s definition, where we talk about the use of IT to socialize and commoditize government processes, services and data.
Quite a few people criticize this definition as it does not mean much to the public at large. I would argue that no definition will ever do that, because the public does not really care about government 2.0 (the means) but about a better government (the end). The reason why I like our definition is that it has no ambition of describing the end, as we have no idea how the end state will look like, but we know for sure that it will be very different in different jurisdictions. What the definition focuses on is the journey rather than the destination: what openness, participation, transparency, engagement and so forth do is to allow more individuals to be engaged in processes, services and data (hence the socialization aspect) as well as to leverage the use of standard (as well as consumer) technologies, processes, applications to transform or improve government services and operations (hence the commoditization aspect).
Bottom line: Any definition is a good one, provided it recognizes that it is defining the means and not the end. Unfortunately not many do so today.
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