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CIOs Brainstorm About Government 2.0: Good Ideas But Not Bold Enough

By Andrea Di Maio | April 29, 2010 | 6 Comments

web 2.0 in government

During the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum held in London earlier this week, I had the pleasure of running two workshops on the topic of how to use Government 2.0 to contain costs and innovate.

Both sessions were attended by a cross section of European, national, state and local administration CIOs from several different countries.

Each session started with an introduction on Gartner government 2.0 definition and list of examples of where the combination of innovation and cost optimization proved possible. After this, attendees were asked to think individually about problems that might be addressed with a “2.0” approach, and then to socialize those to pick those that looked most promising. Attendees were asked to look only at potential benefits, and not to focus on risks, while keeping the cost aspect into account.

Most of the idea that came out of both sessions were quite intriguing and included the following:

Crowdsourcing picture crops and zooms. For a museum or cultural heritage department that have a huge archive of pictures of items that they store or exhibit, the problem often is  how to make that archive more accessible and usable by constituents, including researchers, publishers and other museums, at an affordable cost. Pictures of artifacts are not necessarily ideal to show individual items, for instance they may contain multiple items and not show a particular item right in the center. It is possible to automatically generate alternative crops or zooms of the original pictures, but then choosing the right crop or zoom for each item is a manual, time-consuming process. Crowdsourcing this process to web site visitors, who are presented with alternative crops or zooms and can vote for the best can significantly reduce the effort. This was a real case that one of the attendees had already implemented in her organization.
Our discussion about possible benefits focused on time saved for employees as well as greater availability of higher-quality pictures to a broader audience and helping strengthen an international reputation, although the web 2.0 contribution to the latter two was less clear.

Open data about properties. Releasing property information (such as surface, volume and other characteristics of houses) may encourage the development of citizen and third party applications that could help determine environmental impact and options for house improvement (e.g. for energy-efficiency purposes).Of course the whole idea is predicated on the assumption that somebody will actually develop such application and that potential users will know about it.
Benefits would concern the availability of a new citizen service and the simplification of certain administrative obligations that are required when homeowners intend to sell their house. It was more difficult to determine an immediate impact on operational efficiency, besides saving government from developing the actual service.

Government Surplus eBay. An online exchange, available to government employees only, to trade recyclable or surplus items within government, or to make excess capacity available (such as scanning or copying services). Although the 2.0 dimension was not immediately clear, many agreed this is a great idea, and it emerged – although in different forms – in both sessions. A social dimension may be added by making this a more localized rather than enterprise-wide initiative, as well as by leveraging the rating and reputation management mechanisms that are typical of systems like eBay.
Savings on procurement costs look quite straightforward.

Social care assessment. To simplify assessment for social care one could use YouTube and other social media sites to explain the process and promote self assessment. An additional direction would be to create online communities of recipients of social care who could support each other, but also simplify monitoring by social workers to identify potentially critical situations (for example it was mentioned that monitoring the use of Twitter by people affected by depression one can derive their status from the frequency of tweets).
Savings would be accrued by reducing the face to face time spent for such assessments, but other benefits in terms of greater constituent service are quite evident too

Reporting potholes. The relatively well established example of citizens reporting about potholes in the streets was also mentioned as a good example of how costs can be reduced by relying on citizens’ information rather than on sending employees or contractors to regularly inspect, as well as by reducing the number of claims from people who were allegedly damaged by a pothole.

Engaging external resources to solve local problems. This concerned the development of communities to attract external resources (mostly citizens, volunteers or lower-cost professionals) to address particular local government issue. One example was the provision of cycling lesson to kids, which could rely on existing cycling communities as opposed to requiring government to hire and pay teachers and trainers.
Savings would accrue from relying on community effort rather than on internal resources..

It is interesting to observe how all ideas implied that government develops some form of web presence or community, as opposed to assessing whether any such communities exist and liaising with them..

So, why do government people insist to “build something” with web 2.0 rather than realizing that in most cases people self-organize and select the channel they want to use or the community they want to belong to? Why do they focus so much on “citizens” and so little on “employees”?

From discussions over these two days I’m pretty sure that CIOs who attended the sessions understand the difference, and yet they are not prepared to accept what t takes, which is  release control, to encourage and even reward individual initiatives. Now, while this is understandable for people in the “business of government”‘ it is less so for their IT colleagues, who are supposed to be able to advise the former about risks and opportunities.

In these cases I’ve found that in order for IT executives to fully realize the potential and the disruptive nature of gov 2.0 it is quite effective to make them reflect about what they do personally with social networks, and how – in many cases – these tools have already crept into their professional lives,:through LinkedIn contacts, product ratings on forums and other online communities, instant chats with colleague and friends to informally discuss an issue they are facing, and so forth.

I thoroughly enjoyed the level of energy and interaction in both session. I do hope that, in return, attendees brought back to their organizations a different perspective about how to do, and – even better – how not to do government 2.0.

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  • Steve Ardire says:

    Yes I agree Good Ideas But Not Bold Enough…

    These open datasets must be aggregated into useful semantic frameworks to build next gen next gen apps that bring more citizen engagement into the process to contribute and create a dialog to shape policy which you nicely outlined in Fighting the Asymmetry of Government 2.0

  • Sanchezjb says:

    Andrea, you state that “attendees were asked to think individually about problems that might be addressed with a ‘2.0’ approach, and then to socialize those to pick those that looked most promising.”

    Were problems associated with making museum archives more accessible and usable, making home properties available, implementing a government surplus exchange, etc. the most serious challenges that the attendees identified? If they were to have gone to their constituents and asked them to confirm that these problems were high on their constituents’ priority list, would their constituents agree? If not, one perspective might be that the solutions weren’t bold enough, it’s that the problems and challenges identified by the attendees were not bold enough.

    If Gov 2.0 approaches and solutions are going to make an impact, leaders need to be able to conceptualize how Gov 2.0, per the Gartner definition, “using IT to socialize and commoditize government services, processes and data,” can either solve or mitigate high priority constituent-identified problems. Granted, not every problem can be solved by a Gov 2.0 approach. However, even in those cases, Gov 2.0 may be an enabler that’s part of a larger solution.

    The challenge for approaches like Gov 2.0 and Open Government is to show how they are making a definitive difference in solving problems and impacting outcomes that matter to citizens, communities, and businesses.

  • Mathew Sanders says:

    I can’t really relate to being in a CIO level position, but I imagine that it must be pretty terrifying to support a “2.0” type project in the Government sector where not only there are not a lot of case studies but also we talk about embracing [the chance] failure.

    Coming from a background in ecommerce, and only working in local government for less than 6 months, something that I’m trying to get my head around at the moment is how to encourage local government to investment in exploring 2.0 thinking and ideas.

    In commerce it’s easier to get investment in these ideas because companies are willing to explore ideas with the possibility of failure because the possibility of a huge commercial payoff or strategic advantage is a big enough motivator. Also businesses I’ve worked with are willing to adapt a more agile approach to development where as local government goes through a more structured procurement where payoffs need to be guaranteed.

    It would be great to see more support for experimentation in Gov 2.0.

    In terms of actually brainstorming new and innovative ideas, my experience leads me to believe that it’s a very tough ask for a time period of a short workshop. Also my gut feeling for Gov 2.0 is that the sum of it’s parts are going to be more valuable than each alone.

    Look forward to reading more of your thoughts 🙂

  • @Steve- of course I agree, but it will take time I’m afraid

    @Sanchezjb – Attendees were asked to address problems they are aware of. Most of the gov 2.0 hype is about asking constituents what they want or making assumptions about what they need. But at a moment in time when there is an urgent need to save money.
    I think the exercise was important to make them reflect about how they can solve differently problems that they can control.

    @Matthew – I agree, but the whole purpose of the exercise was to start a thinking process, not really to solve specific problems. And – as expected – the discussion was far richer and useful than the specific cases at hand

  • Brian Hill says:

    @Matthew Your post is timely, I’d just finished posing a question to the thread announcing the formal Australian Government response ( to their Gov2.0 taskforce ( as they have indicated that a register of Gov 2.0 reference implementations will be made available, but only to Agencies (see Seems a bit like a Gov2.0 anti-pattern at first glance 🙂

    I’m sure that Citizens and the eco-systems of suppliers looking to assist would also have a keen interest in seeing what’s working, what’s not, what’s been tried and failed, what are realistic expectations for Agencies to have of Gov2.0. Local Govt authorities and NGOs typically have very tight budgets so I’m sure will be very keen to stand on the shoulder of early-movers/early-adopters rather than shouldering the finance/risk burden alone, or without reference to a precedent.

  • Hugh Flouch says:

    Great article as usual Andrea.

    My organisation, Networked Neighbourhoods, is involved in projects which touch on two of the issues you mention.

    Social care assessment – we’re just about to start a project with a north London council using social media for older recipients of social care. The aim is to connect care receivers with one another and also, through a secure channel with health & social service providers. We’re also hoping to activate higher levels of neighbouring in this context through social media.

    Engaging external resources to solve local problems – we’re also engaged in a research study for London Councils looking at the impact of citizen-run local websites and the implications fro local councils. There’s a particular focus on how these sites can be used to activate co-production.