Blog post

For Government 2.0 the Community is the Tool

By Andrea Di Maio | June 10, 2010 | 5 Comments

social networks in government

It is quite interesting to notice in how many conversations clients ask questions like “which web 2.0 tools should we use to be successful”? As usual, they are looking for best practices and for technologies that are a relatively safe bet: for example, wikis have a good track record in many government organizations, while blogs tend to be a but more controversial in how they create value (or otherwise).

Since the discussion either happen with or is dominated by technical people, this is not surprising. They have always looked at tools as software products or new technology approaches, asking themselves whether and how they should become part of their technology stack.

But web 2.0 is different. It is not about what tool is best: video sharing, microblogs, RSS, collaboration suites… what makes the difference? The real question to ask is whether the community can be a tool. it does not really matter what platform is supporting the community but the fact that the community exist and can support a mission-critical function. Self-established communities (i.e. those formed without any government intervention in planning and orchestrating) choose their own platforms and the problem for government folks is to decide whether they want be there, where the people are, or not.

The assessment about the relevance and usefulness of a community must be left to individuals in government. Employees should decide whether they want that community as part of their toolset. Following a bottom-up approach like the one described in Gartner note “How governments can use social networks” (login required) allows to determine whether a community deserves to be looked at as an enterprise tool, as opposed to remaining an individual tool.

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  • It’s a little bit shocking – to say the least – that one has to remind governments that the community (that is: the citizenry!!) is the “tool” and not whatever else.

    It looks like, for many politicians, social networking sites and other web 2.0 spaces are but the online version of the traditional panem et circenses: give them online entertainment and keep them occupied while we rule the world.

    Maybe we should strengthen our discourse in the part that says “the Internet is more than porn and copyrighted downloads”.

  • Dead on, Andrea. I think what makes this hard is that the community can be seen as a threat, or as something that has already been taken care of through traditional means (public comment, town hall meetings and workshops, etc.). The challenge is to look at how new technologies can help scale access and participation. It’s also easy to deploy a technology, much harder to engage a populace.

  • I whole-heartedly agree. The hard part for Gov 2.0 is community development, engagement, and management. If you do that well, it will succeed across multiple channels. If you do that poorly, you won’t succeed regardless of technology.

    -Steve Ressler, Founder,

  • Andrea, your article corroborates what we’ve being seeing across the country. The “kool factor” of Web 2.0 and Social Media often misses the mark when the community is left out of the mix.
    In fact, there are many instances where a slick Web 2.0 veneer hides the fact that basic citizen services are still not being provided.

    In more than one case we’ve heard “so what if I can submit a request on my smart phone, the City still won’t fix that pothole for months!”

    To your point, regardless of any tools selected, meeting the needs of constituents is still mission one!

    James Sullivan – Director 311 Consulting, Winbourne & Costas, Inc. (twitter: @jsullivannyc)

  • Chris says:

    It’s spot on that the usual assumption is that communities are one more bolt-on feature of a technical package, such as the aforementioned wiki, blog, RSS, etc.

    But functioning, collaborative communities are obviously already well in place despite technology. When I read:

    “Employees should decide whether they want that community as part of their toolset.”

    I’d argue it IS a part of their toolset today, though it may not be utilized or is lying dormant. A latent community of government employees, participants, etc, still has a ‘diaspora’ of experience, motivation, and engagement that can be mined, regardless if it’s mined with a water cooler and post-it note or a microblog or discussion forum.

    It should still be noted that just because people function in offline or non-e20 communities of practice doesn’t mean they can immediately adopt and sustain e20 community functionality though. That’s where the enterprise needs a flexible but focused strategy to provide the right hammers for the right nails, and not simply chase what they’ve been pitched.