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Government 2.0: Just a Means to an End

by Andrea Di Maio  |  March 9, 2010  |  15 Comments

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

  • open,
  • government as platform
  • transparent, collaborative and participatory
  • engagement,
  • inclusion
  • 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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Category: web-20-in-government  

Tags: government-20  open-government  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Government 2.0: Just a Means to an End

  1. Chris Beer says:

    Hear hear! states “(government) the system or form by which a community or other political unit is governed”

    So I think you’re absolutely right – 2.0 is a toolkit – the “application software” for the “operating system” so to speak. And as is self evident – people don’t care how it all works, just as long as it does (and doesn’t crash) and that its user friendly and lets them do the things they need or want to.

  2. […] I was inspired by This post about the aims of Gov2.0 rather than a definition (the subject of this linked article at GovLoop) […]

  3. Brigit Law says:

    I can only agree. It often happens in comms, this confusion about means and end(message), tools and strategy. Government 2.0 is not much more than governement (organizations) using social media for publishing the messages and building network (voters/sponsors). However, if you do not have a clear strategy/vision/end, the tools/means will not work.

  4. […] Government 2.0: Just a Means to an End "use of IT to socialize and commoditize government processes, services and data" eek (tags: gov20 government technology socialbusiness enterprise2.0 hks20) […]

  5. HI Andrea,

    I’m not sure it’s so simple. It’s easy to say that one should adapt one’s means to the ends one wants, but you’ve already said that you don’t know what the shape of the ends will look like. Which raises a problem don’t you think?

    Often means are important and it’s important that they conform to certain values. Government is structured in this way since we understood the importance of separation of powers. Throughout government decisions are not just means to ends, it’s important that they ‘make sense’ in and of themselves – particularly in a world full of unintended consequences.

    Government is shot through with this – and it should be. Judges make decisions based on a mix of values, principles, consequences etc. A freedom of information act isn’t just a means to an end, the power of its values is one of its driving forces.

    So I think Government 2.0 is also powered by its appeal to shared values. That’s one of the ways we try to navigate when – as you’ve indicated in your post – we don’t really know where we’re going – we’ve just got hunches.

    An argument I put recently about Government 2.0 is that, amongst other things, it represents a broadening of the values base of ‘open government’ from a preoccupation with civil rights and constitutional hygiene to one in which this is coupled with economic reform and making the most of our resources.

  6. I don’t think that Gov 2.0 is a means to an end; it’s a totally new understanding of the role of government in people’s lives, and includes both IT and traditional human components (as well as new regulation of industries that didn’t exist ten years ago, like search).

    Here’s my take on it from last August, and a new post is coming soon:

    More Than a New Web Site: What Gov2.0 Is (and Isn’t)


  7. @Nicholas – Thanks for your comment. I am very conscious of the apparent contradiction between gov 2.0 as a means, and an end we cannot clearly articulate. But there are certain tenets for that end that we can establish: better service, greater effectiveness, greater flexibility, better use of resources ( and you make this very point at the end of your post). What we don’t know is how much transparency, participation, collaboration is required.
    To take a culinary analogy, we have certain ingredients, we have a vague idea that we want to bake a cake (and not to roast a duck), so we try different combinations of those ingredients to see which sort of cakes comes out. My contention with the current focus on gov 2.0 is that it is like looking at those ingredients as the actual recipe: just throw them all in the pan and something will happen.
    The missing link, once again, is the chef. Who is directing how those ingredients will mix (and pay the consequence for any mistake)? Well, it is government and more specifically government employees. Another reason why they play such a central role, despite the magics of citizen engagement.

  8. Hi Andrea,

    I doubt we’re disagreeing much here. But I’m suspicious of too ‘rationalist’ discussion of planning phenomena which are ultimately emergent.

    But I’m certainly not downplaying the role of the public servant – in fact I couldn’t agree more with your emphasis on that – and it was our emphasis as well in our report. The role of the public servant is as an architect, chef if you like, but only to the extent that the process can be foreseen and is reasonably foreseeable.

    Beyond that, other metaphors might be more in order. And the dominance of ends over means breaks down, it seems to me.

  9. Cameron Wilson did a nice job of breaking “Gov 2.0” into a number discrete phases over at his blog, which highlights that Gov 2.0 is not the end game, it’s just one step on the journey.



  10. Craig thomler says:

    Interesting points Andreas and I do tend to agree that Gov 2.0 is simply an extension to the toolkits available to the public, corporations, not for profits and governments to achieve public governance goals.

    However I would never consider ‘better government’ or ‘better governance’ as the end.

    Governments are themselves simply a means used by complex societies to meet the real end goals, personal security and satisfaction and societal survival.

    Government systems evolve over time to better meet the needs of societies and humans have experimented with a wide range of government models attempting to best fit their particular society’s needs.

    Government 2.0 techniques, supported by digital technologies, help some (not all) governance structure function to meet society’s ends. They also open new modes of governance which, as yet, we have not significantly explored.

    The printing press and electronic communications technologies (telegraph, telephone, radio and television) all altered modes of government to greater or lesser extent, allowing experimentation with different governance processes.

    The Internet will do likewise, not simply providing governments with new tools within their existing governance structures but also, and more importantly, give societies new tools for experimenting with new governance approaches to better meet the real end goals – secure, satisfied and stable societies.



  11. […] Also the very definition of government 2.0 we use at Gartner, which has been the subject of a recent debate on GovLoop, looks far beyond the open data movement that is catching so much […]

  12. […] Also the very definition of government 2.0 we use at Gartner, which has been the subject of a recent debate on GovLoop, looks far beyond the open data movement that is catching so much […]

  13. […] House details how agencies should legally organize contests – Nextgov 4 Tweets Government 2.0: Just a Means to an End 4 Tweets 5 Emerging Social Media Sites to Watch in 2010 | Social Media Examiner […]

  14. Andrea, This post has several good points. It is certainly interesting to see Gov 2.0 not as a completely new form of government, but rather a mean to achieve the form of government we are entitled to. The means and tools for creating a more efficient government is what should be at focus of discussion. Although, Gov 2.0 offers new possibilities for governments to act which also changes our (citizens’) perceptions of what government should be doing.
    The Sunshine Week (March 14-20) is an initiative to collect voices calling for government transparency and citizens’ right to information. Obviously, ICT has a huge potential in making government services and data more accessible, and certainly more available, which significantly will benefit citizens seeking information etc. However, in order to fully reap the benefits of eGov services, standards will have to come in place to ensure interoperability, portability, security etc. These issues and many others will be discussed at open forum on March 18 at 4 pm GMT. //Mattias Ganslandt

  15. […] in this kind of – let me be bold and call it –  ’cheap rationalism’ when he says that Government 2.0 is just a set of tools, a means, not an end in itself.  Well yes, there’s some sense in saying that, but then there’s some sense in […]

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