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What If Government Can’t Accept Help From Citizens?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  March 17, 2010  |  3 Comments

While I was listening to the webcast of a session held at MIT about the Future of Civic Engagement in a Broadband Enabled World, I heard a very interesting question that came form the audience (at 40 mins 50 secs in the video). The gentleman, who represented a network of people working across sectors, made an observation about “open resources”, i.e. information that is not in government data bases but could help government do its job. This is the other side of government 2.0, which I stress when talking about the asymmetry of many programs and directives that focus on how government can provide data to people but not on how it can use data that people collect themselves. He asked whether there is any plan to “recapture” knowledge that people have on very specific issue and convey it back into government to improve its effectiveness and efficiency.

The answer was both disappointing and revealing: as a consequence of events in the nineties, there is a statutory prohibition on government to accept voluntary help. There are certain entities that are allowed to do so and this sort of collaborative work needs to be directed to those entities, but agencies in general are not at liberty of accepting help.

This is one example that shows how sometimes even the best intentions are defeated by bureaucracy and by rules that were introduced – ironically – to make the whole machinery of government more transparent, less vulnerable to external influences and  better.

When many government 2.0 enthusiasts look at the wonders of open data and the blossoming of mashups and new services, they should probably reflect a bit more carefully about those accountability lines that – in spite of the transformative power of government 2.0 – will be the last ones to blur.

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Category: open-government-data  

Tags: government-20  

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 What If Government Can’t Accept Help From Citizens?


  1. Brenton says:

    A short while ago the government of the province of BC in Canada asked its employees in IT if they wanted to stay late one night to develop “an original app for the citizens of BC”.

    Their reward? “… when we’re successful we’re going to have some awesome bragging rights… ”

    At the same time, the government is cutting staffing levels.

    So was this a great idea that was defeated by bureaucracy, or was it government trying to get free work out of its employees because it cut staff and they don’t have the manpower to do their paid work anymore? And would those that volunteered be seen more as team players and be more likely to receive promotions and such?

    It does seem a bit ridiculous that I can’t develop an app on my own and give it to a government, but there’s no way the government should be asking its employees to do work for free that they would normally do on the job.

  2. Cleary existing regs haven’t stopped projects like http://www.peertopatent.org/ from harnessing the power of educated citizens. The future will happen with or without participation from democratic governments; I prefer with.

  3. @Adriel – PeerToPatent was actually started by the US PTO. So government created the avenue for people to discuss patent applications. This is very different than somebody putting his or her idea on a facebook group asking other folks whether it deserves a patent and the US PTO endorse this after it happened.
    IMHO this is one of the key problems with open government: for whatever reason (regulations or just desire to retain control) government puts boundaries from the very beginning on the engagement process.



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