Blog post

Gartner Symposium Does Not Paint a Pretty Picture for Government 2.0

By Andrea Di Maio | October 22, 2010 | 11 Comments

web 2.0 in government

During the last week I presented and run a panel on Open Government, and I had several client conversations with US federal, state and local agencies, as well a few Canadian federal and provincial ones.

Here are a few highlights:

  • The session on open government was not as well attended as others in the government track on Sunday (such as mine on cloud or Jerry Mechling’s on iPad).
  • The panel on Tuesday (see previous post) revealed very little uptake and demonstrable business impact.
  • A one-on-one with a client from a large federal agency revealed how they failed to engage constituents (response was abysmal) and they struggle now to justify further effort on such initiatives.
  • Another one-on-one with a client from another federal agency that I met last year showed that he cannot get any support from executive management and that communications and public affairs want to retain ownership of anything around social media, effectively blocking any other initiative.
  • Almost none of the clients I met is looking at social media as additional tools for individual employees to get their job done.
  • In a few cases I have found a worrying confusion between cloud initiatives and social media ones, as if the former were a precondition for the latter
  • The CTO from a vendor organization who had attended the O’Reilly’s Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington DC reported that attendance had considerably shrunk from last year.

I found some of the above a bit frustrating, as I am a firm believer in the potential of government 2.0. However, as I’ve said many times, the perspective needs to shift from the organization to the individual, and from communications and public affairs, to program areas.

For Gartner clients, here are two research notes that may be useful:

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  • Laurence Millar says:

    This may say more about the people who attend Gartner symposium than the merits of Gov 20 🙂

  • John Kost says:

    Agree with you that this can be frustrating. But, despite the absence of business buy-in, will these IT leaders attempt to go forward with these things? Many will and will fail. So perhaps it’s better they find out early on where they stand so they can avoid any further damage.

    Obviously, the main challenge many government IT leaders continue to face is the lack of leadership engagement in IT and understanding of the benefits it can bring. The question I ask; is this the fault of those government executives or the fault of the government IT leaders who are unable to communicate proper business value. It’s probably a combination of both. But, government IT leaders need to stop whining about their lot in life (as an ignored cost center) and sort out what to do about it.

    And while it was not exactly the point our friend Laurence Millar was making, indeed it may be that everyone would be better off if we could get more political and government executives outside of IT to attend Gartner Symposium in the future. They are probably the ones who have the most to learn.

  • Paul Nash says:

    I would have three questions:
    How far is Social Media part of the consultation process rather than just something that someone says you have to have?

    Is data transparency part of the relationship with the community?

    Both of these mean, are you listening and are you telling people what they need to know in order to make decisions?

    Finally: How much of the solution do you really need to own?

  • Andrea,

    I would put forth that perhaps it is growing in ways that are different than you perceive either through the window of the Gartner symposium or the recent Oreilly event.

    These are both relatively high cost events – geared for the larger corporation and people with deeper pockets to afford the attendance fees. Contrast this with the growth of un-conferences and “city camps.” Starting with Manorfresh, then London City Camp, next Denver City Camp, then jump to 2011 and you have Gov20LA, Boston City Camp, San Francisco City Camp and many many more.

    I think what you are seeing is instead the dynamics of a small but growing marketplace, one where the innovations and principle leadership is coming out of the entrepreneurial net, not out of the giant corporate interests who can usually afford the high conference fees. Additionally, I would point to budget constraints on the parts of many Government agencies with regards to sending their workers to more expensive events. That does not translate ,to a market not growing or shrinking as you posit.

  • We have had a steady stream of successes in using social media and mobile for diplomacy at the Department of State. We are definitely seeing a trend towards growth in this area globally. One of our largest communities has over 200,000 members. We routinely receive over 30 comments per post. With about 10-15 of these comments being substantive. We expect to see continued growth in the number of people involved in our communities and expect to see a steady increase in engagement on both sides. People have told us how much they appreciate the fact we have these online communities and are talking to them. We are still learning and still have a long ways to go, but we are headed on the right track towards institutionalizing social media and new technologies as part of our diplomacy tools.

    Based on our experiences, I do not think Government 2.0 isn’t happening or not being accepted. Change in any large organization like government takes time. As with any real integration of technology it is more about people than tools.

  • I need to echo what’s already been said multiple times – it sounds more like the Gartner Symposium was lacking, not the Open Government community, and for the anecdotal commentary on the frustrations of Gartner clients perhaps they need to reach out to the larger government innovation community for insight and support – because for the “doers” of Open Government and innovation things have never been busier or in more anticipation of good things to come.

    Lessons the community has been learning:

    – Companies accustomed to charging hundreds if not thousands of dollars for conferences are finding the numbers not adding up. This is because why would anyone pay these fees to hear the ideas of someone whom they could just email or call? That’s OpenGov in action, and yes its cutting into old-school business models but isn’t that the point?

    – Lasting change does not occur overnight. Each initiative requires cultural change, perhaps regulatory change, and certainly policy change. These mountains will become increasingly agile to shift, but in this initial Beta phase there are still processes to follow. This is bad for folks who made their name on the promise of an overnight technology revolution, but its good for those working to ensure the longevity and health of the reforms. And guess who will outlast who?

    – All innovation is not the same. Each agency has its own unique challenges, and will come at it in a different direction, but the more the Federal community works together the easier the individual burden will be. Gartner clients seem disappointed, but for those reading this please let me assure you this is not uniform across the Federal government – nothing is, as you know. Those who are disappointed I ask to please find us and people like Lovisa Williams, Dan Munz, Jenn Gustetic and Amanda Eimich. We would love to share with you how you can overcome these challenges we have all faced.

    Gov20 *is* in a slump. There is a lack of credible, informed voices speaking publicly to the issues we face and the successes we earn together, and that has distorted the perception of progress for many. But like our other challenges, that is being overcome sooner than later.

  • As an Army staff sergeant, I fought the Gov 2.0 fight for around three years. My efforts were primarily focused in the DoD. At first, I fought in seclusion, but we all began breaking through the soil at the same time, so to speak, and started to organize.

    I had many more successes than failures. When I left the military for the private sector in July of this year, the DoD social media movement was going strong. The military branches either all have social media usage guidelines and training, are working on theirs or are coordinating with other agencies.

    At the same time, I can point to friends in certain agencies who are having major difficulties.

    It’s a glass half empty vs. half full situation.

  • It is quite clear that people feel quite strongly about gov 2.0 being an unstoppable force. Before responding to comments, I would like to point out that in our predictions we are quite positive about the medium-to-long term impact of what many call gov 2.0, and in particular about the confluence of commoditization, consumerization and socialization.
    This being said, let me address those – like Laurence, Alan and Justin – who believe this was more a Gartner audience’s problem than a real one. While this is entirely possible, Gartner Symposium is the largest gathering of CIOs worldwide, and this year it had record attendance. A sizeable percentage of our attendees is government, so I guess it is a significant sample.
    Justin’s comment is illuminating in this regard. He says “…they need to reach out to the larger government innovation community for insight and support – because for the “doers” of Open Government and innovation things have never been busier or in more anticipation of good things to come.”.
    This is one of the problems. The so-called “doers” may not be terribly effective in sharing as well as proving the general (or repeatable) value of what they are doing. As I have observed in the past, there is a fair amount of “preaching-to-the-converted” syndrome here, and the fact that the same few names are mentioned over and over again may be a symptom that gov 2.0 has problems in getting out of its corner.
    I would also suggest to take a look at NASCIO’s priority list, and look at how gov 2.0 and open gov make the bottom of their top ten.
    No doubt this takes time as – like most web 2.0 phenomena – it is an organic, bottom up process toward success. However, my point is that attention could be soon diverted toward other, more pressing priorities, and people who may have been excellent contributors to the cause, may find themselves busy with different issues.

  • John F Moore says:

    Great post Andrea and great comments by everyone. My concerns with the way we are thinking about Government 2.0 is that we are making this all about technology and looking to CIOs for leadership.

    Looking at my definition of Government 2.0 I always tell people that it is a goal-oriented strategic approach to government. It achieves goals through increased efficiency, better management, information transparency, and citizen engagement and most often leverages newer technologies to achieve the desired outcomes.

    Government 2.0 is not about using social media, deploying cloud soluions or opening up data. These are often used as means to achieve goals in successful implementations, of course, but these are not the goals, they are but tactics used to achieve goals. We see successes when local governments and agencies take a strategic approach, as DoD has done. We see failures when technology is seen as the measure or failure of success.

    I’ll write a more detailed response on my blog but wanted to weigh in here as well.


  • #John – Thank you for your comment. I will respond on your blog, but I just posted today on a topic that should respond to some of your concerns (which I fully share, by the way)

  • Lots of different directions that I could go with this one, Andrea :). Upon my first read of this post, my gut reaction was similar to Justin’s – “this post is more indicative of the Symposium than the larger movement” – but in reading the post and associated comments again, I think there are larger issues at play here, ones that you allude to, but don’t explicitly state.

    Your last point is your most important one – “the perspective needs to shift from the organization to the individual, and from communications and public affairs, to program areas.” And, as Lovisa and others have pointed out, this has happened in pockets throughout the government. But, as Chris Rasmussen so often points out, even one of the most successful “Gov 2.0” efforts – Intellipedia – is finding out, integrating these sorts of things into the mission is usually the hardest part. It can and is being done, but doing that is a very different animal than simply creating A Facebook page or sponsoring A contest.

    What you, your (our) clients, and the attendees of the Symposium need to understand is that we don’t “do” open government just for the sake of doing open government. We shouldn’t be focused on “doing Gov 2.0” so that we can blog better or get more Facebook fans or get people to submit videos. Those are all just means to an end. Gov 2.0 isn’t “bolt-on,” it’s “baked-in.” What we’re starting to see, and it’s a good thing, is that the people/organizations who saw social media and other Gov 2.0 initiatives as goals unto themselves are growing increasingly frustrated, while those who saw it as a means with which to do their jobs more effectively are continuing to soldier on. Look at what Lovisa and the rest of the Dept. of State are doing. They’re not focused on improving their use of social media necessarily – they’re focused on improving the country’s diplomatic efforts. Social media just happens to be one of the ways in which they’re doing that.