Blog post

Government 2.0: Half Empty or Half Full Glass?

By Andrea Di Maio | February 02, 2011 | 7 Comments

web 2.0 in governmentsocial networks in government

On January 30 Mark Drapeu, Director of Public Sector Social engagement at Microsoft, published a post about Government Social Media: Five Questions for 2011. His questions and his answers were very much aligned with the rather cynical view I personally take about government 2.0 (see here, here and here for a recent taste of that)

  • Who are the public faces of government agencies online? about the struggle that agencies have in finding a balance between officials speaking on behalf of the agency or on their behalf, although in a professional capacity
  • Why is government social media organized around agencies and not topics? about taking too much into account the government organizational structures when creating social media presence
  • What is the relationship between social media for government and things citizens care about? about the difficulty that governments have in organizing their engagement channels in ways that are compelling for citizens
  • Is government prepared to interact with Citizen 2.0? about the ability of governments to scale up their dialogue with citizens on social media
  • Where are the open government entrepreneurs? about the questionable value of open data

His questions have triggered an interesting discussion on Twitter and on Govloop, with people like Alex Howard and Andrew Krzmarzick pointing out how he would seems excessively critical. Having been there (Alex has been hitting me with a stick a few times when I sounded way too negative), I sympathize with Mark’s approach, which is to expose problems and shortcomings for people to react. On the other hand, I do understand people like Alex and Andrew who are afraid that too much negativity could put off the vast majority of people in government who are not gov 2.0 experts or enthusiast and would probably keep looking at it as a nice-to-have or, even worse, a too-risky-too-have, should commentaries like Mark’s and mine become the norm.

As usual, the right approach is in the middle. I think that both Mark and I are true supporters of Gov 2.0 and want to see it succeed but try to flag Alec, Andrew and others that the current success stories need to be expressed in terms that government people can understand and relate to their everyday’s business.

A good start would be to show more and more cases where government employees have been driving (rather than being driven by) social media in order to do their job better.Incidentally, I am just writing a research note about engagement not being an end but a means.

Comments are closed


  • Alex Howard says:

    Andrea, I’m afraid you’re painting me with a broad brush in a kind of inverse to the approach Mark took.

    Yes, Andrew is more positive, as along with compatriot Steve Ressler, and you conflate his reply on Govloop with mine.

    I think tough, informed critiques of what is happening in this space are both useful and relevant, whether they come from you, Mark or any other voice, including my own. Any “stick” that I might have applied here was not necessarily about the substance of a critique, as past comments will show.

    My objection to Mark’s piece was not because he was critical (otherwise, I’d have to file an objection to nearly everything he tweets or writes) but because I felt that he’d misrepresented the body of my work, and provided a set of recent examples that demonstrate that point. I also pointed out that one of the few success stories he cited was a Microsoft product, a detail I think many readers might have missed.

    I wrote more about why government social media use matters to citizens yesterday. Mark is right: the average citizen could get stuck in a lot of buzzwords and jargon quickly.

    Most people don’t care about how a satellite gets into orbit, the release of community health data or the standards of an API for product recalls. They care quite a bit, however, about whether their GPS receiver enables them to get to a job interview, if a search engine can show them ER waiting room times and quality statistics, or if a cradle for their baby is safe. Those wonky policies can lead to better outcomes for citizens, and it’s worth telling those stories in ways that expand the conversation to new voices and perspectives. It’s not just about informing more “government people,” after all – it’s all citizens that are stakeholders in these systems and processes working better.

  • Doug Hadden says:

    As McLuhan pointed out, the old medium becomes the content for the next. Television started as radio with pictures. I dare say, that if we look back, the critics and analysts were asking similar questions about the dubious value of television and why radio programs migrated to TV without too much change.

    Change takes time – especially for the characteristics of a new medium to mature. The first 4 points are organizational remnants of the previous dominant “command and control” era. We shouldn’t expect dramatic and instant change, especially from those who grew up in the book and early television era.

    The last point, which seems to be rather typical when looking at new technology (i.e. “get a horse” in the early automobile era) is using the previous medium’s measurements. For one thing, it is hard to measure return when there is a network effect – open data generating business opportunities & innovation when combined with other open data that generates downstream tax revenue. It seems to me that rather than using traditional technology ROI analysis like revenue generated by selling data compared with cost to create and manage the data, we might look at how the value on government investment in highways and railways is determined.

  • @Alex – Sorry for being a bit B&W, but your posts very often point to good stories and you’ve been pushing back on some of my cynicism (whether it was just a matter of style, I cannot say). However I always welcome your view, as you know.
    The problem is that the issue of value can’t be solved by government folks or citizens alone. Cooperation is required, but it does not look it is happening yet. Some open data initiatives look like “throwing data out of the window” hoping something good will happen, and sometimes assuming that there is more creativity outside than inside government. My contention is that the creativity that we need is at the boundary between govt and citizens and require both,

  • @Doug – let’s not forget that the discussion about gov 2.0 is mostly about how to transform government and not how to create value for citizens and society. No doubt that open data will generate value and ROI calculation is almost impossible, but at least identifying areas where value might be accrues would help government prioritize open data efforts (that do cost money at a moment in time when there is relatively little)

  • A good start would be to show more and more cases where government employees have been driving (rather than being driven by) social media in order to do their job better. How about and my original at

  • Hi Andrea – Here’s my first of five responses to those questions:

  • Andrea, besides the fact that Mark’s post named names without appropriate context, a key reaction has been that it was too easy.