Monday, January 17, 2011

Understanding Government 2.0


A view of what Government 2.0 could be (courtesy of ZD Net)

What does Government 2.0 mean? Does it merely entail government agencies embracing the use of multiple social technologies and community platforms? Is it reflective of a more open, engaging and inclusive approach to governance? Or does it epitomise the beginning of active citizenry in all public affairs?

As I'll be moderating a Gov 2.0 session on 'Connection' next week at Govcamp, I thought I should dig in deeper into this topic. For a start, here's a definition of what Government 2.0 means according to Gartner:

"...the use of IT to socialize and commoditize government services, processes and data."

A more descriptive definition of Government 2.0 is adopted by the Australian Government. The definition reads:

"Government 2.0 is about the use of technology to encourage a more open and transparent form of government, where the public has a greater role in forming policy and has improved access to government information."

Expanding on these two definitions, there are probably several pillars involved in embracing a Gov 2.0 strategy. In my mind, they are:

1) Increased citizen access to information, delivered in various formats

2) Greater degrees of citizen participation, engagement and dialogue

3) Delivery of e-services that improves convenience and ease for citizens

4) Use of social media platforms like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr and other community content platforms

5) Decentralisation of government services to citizen communities, companies and nonprofits

Many governments around the world, especially in Western economies, have embraced these core tenets of Web 2.0 in efforts to provide better services to their citizens. The core ideas behind these platforms is to improve the levels of connectivity and communication between government and citizen:

- The American Federal Government is one of the most 2.0 enabled government. There is an entire list of ways to connect with the US government through various social networking channels - blogs, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, webchats, photos, and more. Public officers can also network and share content on Govloop, a Federal government initiated space. By now, of course, everybody would have read or heard of how President Barack Obama employed Web 2.0 in a big way for his Presidential campaign efforts.


Obama's Social Media Strategy (Courtesy of Edelman)

- In the UK, several interesting possibilities have emerged, ranging from access to public health information, e-petitions to the government, as well as local grounds-up initiatives like FixMyStreet (where citizens report damages to public amenities), and Pledgebank (a platform for communal action and activism). British politicians are also bending it like Barack (Obama) and more are embracing social media.

- Down under in Australia, the use of Web 2.0 tools in providing public services is well documented here. In fact, the Aussies are so serious that they have drafted a comprehensive Government 2.0 Taskforce Report here. Of special significance are efforts in Emergency 2.0 which reported on social technologies for crisis management - check out this case study on using Twitter for the Feb 2009 Victorian bushfires.

- Many government agencies here in Singapore have adopted various tenets of Web 2.0. The recently concluded Youth Olympic Games (YOG) has seen a plethora of citizen engaging technologies being adopted by the team. Other examples include the Singapore Police Force's Facebook page, Health Promotion Board's Nutriline podcasts, National Library Board's various blogs plus Facebook application, and the National Environment Agency's regular Twitter updates on the weather. The National Heritage Board has also pioneered various initiatives here, most notably the Yesterday.sg blog, "I Love Museums" Facebook fan page, and Heritage TV on Youtube.

Perhaps a good way to understand the responses of Government 2.0 could be found in this post by O'Reilly (the folks who coined the term Web 2.0). According to them, there are three phases of Government 2.0 in the US:

Phase 1: Government 2.0 Surprise (200?-2008)

In this nascent stage, Governments are surprised by how prevalent social networks like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and wikis and significant. At this stage, Gov 2.0 was certainly at its infancy not just in the US, but the rest of the world. I suppose this was also the stage whereby governments around the world quickly tooled themselves up for the realities of this new space.

Phase 2: Government 2.0 Experimentation (2009)


This occurred after the Obama election, and particularly after his inauguration. In the White House, for instance, the "goverati" formed the core of a movement to bring the White House vision of a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government to fruition.

Around this time, the term "Open Government" also became popular. This summed up a philosophy of how government should work for people, to social media, social networks, cloud computing, mobile technology, open source, open technology/interoperability, to topics like cybersecurity and privacy of citizen data. Experimentation was the key then.

Phase 3: Government 2.0 Solutions (2010-201?)

In O'Reilly's radar, the landscape of Gov 2.0 in early 2010 is shifting once more. A more critical and questioning approach is embraced in the use of technology, placing greater emphasis on stable, reliable, legal, interoperable, and complete solutions to government problems. Examples like Crisis Camp Haiti, the Iranian elections and other global issues show the way.

Many government agencies also beginning to take a more serious look at Gov 2.0 metrics which goes beyond the number of followers/fans/comments/links. The critical thing now is to measure "how many truly unique comments you get that are actually novel and useful, that actually lead to change". Its quality as opposed to quantity. A greater partnership approach is also adopted where governments link up with companies to provide services to citizens.

The Future of Government 2.0

So what's the future of Government 2.0 like? The way I see it, the adoption of social technologies and a more inclusive approach to governance appears to be inevitable, judging by the generational shifts from the Baby Boomers to Gen X, Gen Y and the Millenials (who are all digital natives).

Perhaps a more collaborative and engaging approach may be embraced, harnessing the power of social technologies (mobile or otherwise) to tap on the collective wisdom and imagination of the citizenry to resolve thorny issues. Government agencies may also work more closely with companies and citizens to jointly develop solutions to public problems or challenges, relying on crowdsourcing approaches that go beyond traditional face-to-face focus groups and feedback sessions.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to share them here at the Govcamp website.
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