Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a government organization that is considering the development of a single point of contact for grantors, grantees and the general public. They want to meet a variety of objectives, including better impact assessment for disbursed funds, greater accountability and transparency in how funds are utilized, and providing a single information source for all communities interested in grants on both the issuer and the recipient side. Grants can be of very different nature, and there is also a voluntary component as people and organizations can offer to join some of the funded projects in a pro bono basis.
Different systems currently support different processes, from marketing available grants, to the applying, managing and reporting, from impact assessment to assessing the trustworthiness of both grantors and grantees. The idea is to create a single portal for all concerned communities for all of them to get most of what they need.
Following my usual line about the limited value of government portal, I tried to talk them out of this and we went through what are the basic components of an offering that would add value to each and every one of the communities involved.
One of those components is, indeed, a social media platform. Allowing organizations to present themselves, meet, connect, rate each other and so forth, could be done with an existing, consumer platform such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Personal pages or organizational pages could then contain links to web sites or applications to support specific functionality (such as applying for a grant, which would send to a grants management system, or submitting an idea, that could send to something like IdeaScale or Google Moderator).
It was interesting to see that most of the functionality that the client was looking for could be implemented with consumer solutions or free software. While we were discussing, I thought about the incredible amounts of money that some grantor organizations have been spending in the past to give potential grantees the ability to build minisites, network and exchange information, and help determine overall impact. Most of this can be done with something most of us are used to, at almost no cost, without requiring consultants and system integrators for the most part.
This was a great example of how consumerization and commoditization are moving to the next level. Available platforms like Facebook can dramatically slash the cost of a collaboration platform, and provide much richer functionality than anything people could sensibly put in an RFP.
All it takes is a reversal of perspective. Rather than government dictating what different audience members are supposed to do with a portal, it can provide a platform where audience members develop their own presence and co-develop with others (and government alike) the functionality they need.
I am pretty sure that the vendors who are waiting for this government organization to tender its portal work would be quite unhappy to see them going with Facebook and the likes.
But consumer and commodity technologies are here to stay and may soon become an unavoidable option for government organizations that face sever budget constraints going forward.
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