From Web 2.0 to Government 2.0?    

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John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of GovernmentI’ve spent the past few days at a symposium in Berkley, California and came away with a question: “Will the next President take advantage of the new tools of technology commonly called ‘Web 2.0?’”

The definition of Web 2.0 is still evolving, but its elements are increasingly moving from toys to tools – text messaging, Second Life, YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia. Don Tapscott, in his book “Wikinomics” talks about how these new technologies are changing corporate business models. But how about government?

The impact of Web 2.0 is starting to bleed into political campaigns – just look at the YouTube videos about the presidential candidates— and into the civic engagement elements of elected officials, such as California Assemblyman Tom McClintock’s blog that is influencing that state’s budget debate. . . . But what about the “real” government?

The Berkley symposium was a gathering of a handful of state officials from around the country who came together to ponder the implications of Web 2.0 for state government. Their deliberations might have some predictive powers for the federal government. It certainly triggered some thinking on my part!

Some high points from the presentations and discussion:

  • Web 2.0 is a reflection of the Millennial Generation, born between 1980 and 2000. They think differently; after all they’ve not known a world without cell phones, laptops, or wireless connectivity. They have different expectations and values, and they are just starting to enter the workforce. They assume a world that will be Web 2.0. For them, the question is: will government adapt to it by design or by default?
  • Web 2.0 is characterized by low entry barriers for communities, communication, and engagement. It is based on shared content, shared tools, and unbounded dialogue, generally not framed or controlled by an owner. It has a self-regulating nature that is uncomfortable to older generations – and to government. It tends to be in a “perpetual beta” state.
  • Web 2.0 isn’t a project or just a set of tools. It is a capability, another way to get work done. It is a philosophical shift that demands that government be willing to give up and/or share control over information. As a results, it can be a double-edged sword that allows self-organizing systems outside government control.
  • So how does government fit in this world? Can it change incrementally, or will it go through a disruptive change with new business models? Right now, it is an uneasy fit. Several state government Chief Information Officers at the symposium noted that many state agencies block employees from visiting sites such as YouTube, E-Bay, Second Life, and blogs – under the rationale that they are preserving bandwidth, or preventing employees from engaging in inappropriate activities. This is may have the effect of isolating government employees from the tools that citizens and businesses use to communicate and engage each other.

    However, some agencies at the federal are stepping forward, especially those with younger employees such as the Defense Department and the Intelligence Community. There, they are often using Web 2.0 tools internally, to do their work in very different ways. The Intelligence Community has Intellipedia. The Army has created on-line collaborative games for recruiting, such as America’s Army. Most recently, the State Department has created Diplopedia. These are all designed to serve internal agency needs. What are some of the other (citizen-facing) opportunities for government, to make government smaller, more personal? Symposium participants came up with a short list of things that government could do to participate in the Web 2.0 world:

  • Be a platform and enabler, that it should supply the content citizens or business could use to create ” mash ups” and market places, such as provide housing, school scores, and public safety data to real estate brokers.
  • Be an honest broker of information and communities, maybe even create a safe space for some on-line communities or serve as a convener. For example, provide recycled building materials from tear-downs via CraigsList.
  • Create a space for conversation (e.g., Amazon allows its users to comment on products they buy, and the quality of the services they receive) to improve citizen access and allow comments via blogs or wikis on government policy issues, such as the development of new regulations.
  • Encourage “co-production” of services with citizens, such as enlisting citizen volunteers to help their fellow citizens to solve problems or answer questions about government services that they’ve experienced themselves – especially problems that reach across agency boundaries.
  • The symposium organizers plan to develop a white paper for government leaders in the next few months. The examples developed at the symposium are still formative. Do you have ideas or examples of how Web 2.0 could be used in federal agencies or programs that the next President should follow through on?

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    One Response to “From Web 2.0 to Government 2.0?    ”

    1. Anthony Rainey Says:

      The presidential campaigns used new tools in their strategies to engage people. The financial manager and their staffs need to become familiar with these new tools and incorporate them into their strategies. The major change required for these new tools is that finance must be more proactive rather than reactive, with results examined in real time.

      · Internet —We need to monitor the changes in the Internet (the enormous network of networks connecting disparate computers using languages called protocols). Internet Protocol Version 6 (aka IPV6) has now expanded the addresses and tags that can be used. Have our governments transitioned to IPV6?

      · Web—We need to accommodate the different vehicles that customers use to travel on the “http” protocol to visit our sites. Can the different vehicles (MS Internet Explorer or Firefox or Safari or on a Web-enabled phone or PDA) that visitors use to access out sites allow them to seamlessly navigate through our Web pages?

      · XML—Do our Web pages use of “eXtensible Markup Language” utilize well-formed and valid smart tags with corresponding end tags to get the user where she or he needs to go?

      · XBRL—Are we presenting our financial documents—PAR, budget, CAFR or PAFR—into “eXtensible Business Reporting Language” to our customers so that they are not seeing a large financial document as a mere block of text but rather as a set of smart tags for the different parts (assets, liabilities, net assets, revenues, expenditures) that can be drilled down to the lowest level?

      · Wikis—Are we using “What I Know Is” tools, internally and externally, to aggregate and share financial information on an ongoing basis in a collaborative manner?

      · Blogs—Are we utilizing blogs to discuss financial topics and issues, internally and externally, to enhance and refine ideas, opinions and approaches in a collaborative manner?

      · Social Bookmarking—Are we engaging the customers of our financial information by inquiring what they want to know (categorize whether it is a salary or revenue query) and where they go (assigning a tag—bookmark) to find it? Do we examine these social bookmarks to modify or adapt our financial information based on user trends?

      · Social Media —Are we creating financial information forums utilizing blogs, Wikis, podcasts, MySpace, Facebook, Youmeo, Twitter or Plaxo to keep in touch with our users of financial information?

      · Collaboration—If we do not manage collaboratively now, then what do we need to learn about it to enable us to take advantage of collaborative tools like Google Docs or MS SharePoint? Do our Intranet websites allow for collaboration? What is our government’s or agency’s strategy on collaboration?

      If you expect that citizens and customers will wait for you to implement the above, or come to you asking you to implement the above, then nothing will change. I believe that we must engage our customers about government finance with these existing tools. I believe that the government budget, accounting and auditing professions must incorporate these tools into their existing strategies. The easiest way to implement them is to incorporate them, where appropriate, into your defined business processes. If presidential campaigns can use these tools with people all across the country, many of whom never met face-to-face, then why can’t government finance do the same?

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