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Government 2.0 Has Not Failed Yet, But The Clock Is Ticking

By Andrea Di Maio | November 17, 2010 | 5 Comments

web 2.0 in governmentsocial networks in government

While at the Gartner Symposium in Sydney, I was interviewed about my take about the progress of government 2.0 initiatives in Australia and worldwide.  About a year ago I had been quite complimentary of the work done by the Government 2.0 Taskforce here, so the journalist was somewhat surprised about my skepticism, already expressed in my previous post covering a Gov 2.0 panel that I had the pleasure of moderating on November 15.

Not surprisingly the article has raised a few comments in Twitter, but it is interesting to note that most commentators agreed that, while the title is a bit sensational (Gartner Grades Gov2.0 a Failure),the content is accurate, pointing to my usual line about the insufficient emphasis on the role of employees.

This is actually the thing that I found most refreshing in the Gov 2.0 Taskforce reports in Australia. However, this got somewhat diluted (or implied) in the subsequent Declaration of Open Government. While I know that there are many people making a genuine effort at the Australian federal government level to make this work, I was also surprised by the number of federal clients that I met there and are still blocking access to most social networking sites.

So the problem is not that government 2.0 is failing. The problem is that it is not proceeding in those areas where most of the value can be accrued, i.e. the ability of employees to use social media as working tools.

We have to take Government 2.0 off the policy table and move it into the machinery of government, into bureaucratic processes, into transforming the way civil servants work.

I find that the three new realities mentioned in the Gartner Symposium keynote are absolutely spot on to describe where government 2.0 should be going:

  • The power of unprecedented choice – Employees have now much greater choice about technology devices and platforms that can allow them to access information and people they could not access before.
  • A Wild Open World – The days when information was contained within the four walls of any organization are long gone. Government employees need to be able to access external information to become more effective and efficient.
  • A shift from output to outcome – Government employees must be measured by how they contribute to their agency’s objectives and not by the outputs they produce by complying with a process

The story that opened the keynote and mentioned in the article summarized all these aspects. A case worker deciding whether to pay a visit to a fosterkid by tracking changed in her Facebook behavior is a great, and real example of where government 2.0 should be going.

It was quite refreshing to see how those same clients who block access to social media today saw that story as an eye opener, and could easily relate to what this might mean for their employees. Australian clients in domains like veteran affairs, health and safety, employment, tax and revenues all came with ideas about how this may work and unleash great opportunities in their own agencies.

In order not to fall into the trough of disillusionment government 2.0 must shift its emphasis from the organization to the individual, and from policy to operations. There is still time for that to happen, but we need to talk less about transparency and open data and do more around training, encouraging and rewarding government employees.

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5 Comments

  • Tim Evans says:

    While I believe the overall thrust of your article is accurate, pinning the whole thing on the ability of civil servants to use social media seems a bit over the top. I have trouble imagining how government can effectively use social media in contexts other than time-essential ones (e.g., emergency communications in a disaster).

    Citizens want service from Government; we can’t take their application for social security benefits via Twitter, sorry.

  • Tim, it is not an either-or. And you make a great point that citizens won’t tweet their applications: what I’m saying is that employees checking the validity of an application may use social media to assess whether it is valid or not.
    As far as emergency communication, this is already happening. Tweets have been used to assess the severity of emergency situations as well as to diect first responders to where people might need help.

  • John F Moore says:

    Andrea, while we disagree on employee-driven vs. top-down driven approaches I wanted to thank you for the follow-up post.

    I would simply state that Government 2.0 is in its infancy. We must harness the energy and passion shown by those that are being successful and focus it on achieving the highest priority goals first.

    My initial response to the ITWire post can also be found here:

    http://govinthelab.com/government-2-0-is-not-failing-but-is-not-a-success-yet-either/

    John

  • Alex Howard says:

    Thank you for the reply to the question posed elsewhere, Andrea. Looks like your analysis was tweaked by a sensational headline. I know the feeling.

  • Ignore the sensational headlines, Andrea. I agree whole-heartedly with your position here. Open up. Get the tools as needed into the hands of employees. Have them teach each other, up and down the org chart.

    Top-down alone won’t work and nor will employee-driven alone. But putting the pieces in place so we can at least try, as I’m doing with the organisations I work with, will help change come and the efficiency and effectiveness (let alone employee and client satisfaction) benefits come to the fore.