On Wednesday had a great meeting with a federal government organization in Australia that exemplifies very well the struggle that many capable people face when dealing with government 2.0 and social media strategies.
The people I met, including the CIO, clearly got the basics of citizen engagement, which is to be where people are. For certain constituencies and demographics, trying to attract them to a government forum or Facebook page does not really make such sense. However they wanted to discuss how to create a virtual space that government would offer to people to participate. When I asked the reason why they were asking a question that they knew made little sense, the answer was: “this is what the minister wants and this is what we have to deliver“.
This sounded a bit depressing. I can accept that there are still people who do not get how engagement works, but I have a hard time with people who know they are being dragged into impossible tasks, and yet don’t seem to have a way to talk their boss out of them.
Interestingly enough, Australia is the place where the government 2.0 taskforce has recognized the centricity of employees and the federal government has bought into that idea. And yet, employees believe they would not be heard if delivering bad news. Unless governments create a culture of mutual trust and debate, where top executives are prepared and indeed eager to listen to experiences from the field, the whole concept of government 2.0 falls apart.
We have been through the compliance phase with e-government, we have developed hundreds of web sites and online services to find out that people care about and use only very few. How come there is no way to make politicians or directors general reflect about past failures and understand engagement 101?
Irony is, I met these people shortly before meeting Senator Lundy. One more example of why we would need more people like her to shake things up and make her colleagues understand that, going through this path, they are developing the next edition of a famous British sitcom, Yes Minister. Although, unlike in the eighties, it will be broadcasted on YouTube and not on TV and get ratings through Facebook rather than newspaper critics, it will still show the disconnect between politicians and the civil servants.