Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don't put the 'how' ahead of the 'why' for egovernment

I've been engaged in an interesting discussion in GovLoop regarding the definition of Government 2.0 and Web 2.0.

Initiated by Jeffrey Levy, who managed the official blog of the EPA, the discussion is around the proposition that Gov't 2.0 is a set of ideals. Web 2.0 is a set of tools.

Jeffrey contends that,
Gov't 2.0 means reaching out in new ways to engage people in helping lead, create policy, etc. It's not linked to a particular technology. It will usually be accomplished using technology, but at its best, I think it'll mix up good old-fashioned things like town meetings with stuff like blogs, wikis, and webinars.

Web 2.0 is a set of tools that can help us get to gov't 2.0. But you can't just throw up a blog and claim success.

I largely agree with this view. To quote my comment in the discussion,
I'm reading Groundswell at the moment and the book very clearly makes a point that I sometimes struggle to communicate well to my government colleagues. Government 2.0 is about a way of doing business which includes increased transparency, pro-active engagement and am innovation-based culture (rather than a risk-adverse/blame avoidance culture).

Web 2.0 are some of the technologies that can be used to support the transition, but are not the transition itself.

Leaders in the political and public sector space need to model Government 2.0 attitudes and behaviours, then allow their agencies to come up with innovative ways to realise these behaviours - whatever the channel or technology being used.

Often social media evangalists get too far ahead of the market, focusing on cutting edge technologies which frankly scare political leaders and agency heads. Instead they need to focus on the goals of the organisations and the benefits of Government 2.0 attitudes and behaviours in achieving these goals - the 'why'. Once there is agreement on these the approaches (the 'how') can become part of the discussion.

Essentially we need the agreement of senior public sector managers on the 'why' of Government 2.0 before we can achieve agreement on the 'how'.

Therefore as communications and internet professionals, we need to communicate to senior management the benefits to our agencies of greater transparency, active listening, greater engagement and greater consultation with our citizens, customers and stakeholders.

Only after this has been agreed (and in Australian government I feel there isn't yet total agreement at senior public service levels) can we tackle the 'how' questions,
  • How do we need to change our overall behaviours and processes?
  • How do we need to change our approach to communications?
  • How does the internet fit as a comms channel?
  • Do we need to use Web 2.0 tools?
  • Do we use open-source or publicly available software?
  • Do we build our own tools?

What do you think?

Come join the discussion!

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