Monday, August 31, 2009

The most difficult leap for Government is not from 1.0 to 2.0, but from consultation to collaboration

With all the hubbub about Gov 2.0 at present it's often forgotten that a lot of what is being attempted is simply taking what is already done in other mediums and doing it online.

For example, online engagement and consultation is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary step. Where governments used to host robust town hall meetings, they are now conducting these discussions online.

In most cases this lowers the consultation risk for governments,
  • every audience question or comment can be moderated before it is public,
  • there is no physical proximity and therefore less risk to the health of political representatives, 
  • discussions can take place over time (and with no time limit), allowing greater participation and reducing impositions on the time of everyone involved,
  • they cost less - no venue or travel expenses, no security contingents or vetting,
  • there are less errors or gaffes as aides and advisors can vet the representative's words for factual and political errors before they are published, and 
  • the political representative's words will not be distorted as easily through word of mouth. Anyone can go to the online consultation and review what they actually said.
Looking at the  open data aspects of Gov 2.0, again this is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary step. Government has made some data available for years - albeit not always in machine-readable format. Data that is collected but does not become publicly available is still generally captured and stored by departments and can be subject to our current freedom of information laws.

Gov 2.0 ups the ante, changing the definition of what should be made public and requires processes and systems to be revised, however it doesn't require entirely new behaviours and approaches - data is collected, stored and reported now, in the future only the access and formats will change.

The real challenge for governments in Gov 2.0 is moving to a collaborative or participatory model. This is a fundamental shift in the power arrangement - the government is no longer central to the relationship, it is simply working with partners to achieve agreed goals.

In a collaborative environment the government doesn't control the terms of the discussion (as in a consultation), control the message (in a promotion) or set the parameters on what and how data will be released from internal silos. Instead the government is merely one of the players at the table - and often not the most influential.

Overseas we've seen some examples of this collaboration in action, generally initiated by the public and then seeing their governments forced to participate based on the number of people in the community involved.

One example is Fix my street, a UK-based community-developed service allowing people to report local infrastructure issues that their council is responsible for maintaining, such as potholes, street lights, pavements and blocked drains. Looking at the site, there have been over 50,000 issues reported, with over 1,200 fixed in the last month - by councils forced to pay attention to their community's needs.

It's hard to find lots of other examples as yet - and it's even difficult to think of the potential shapes of collaborative initiatives - possibly because our paradigm is still too narrow, the internet as yet too young.

I'm not yet sure whether or to what extent the principle of collaboration will take hold in governments. There needs to be further changes in government policy and processes, society, education systems, legal systems and the concept of ownership for effective collaboration between a constituency and its government to become streamlined and fully effective.

However, in my opinion, collaboration is the space where both citizens and government can see the greatest benefits from Gov 2.0 as it engages the community as an equal stakeholder in the development and management of public goods.


  1. Excellent post and I hope some examples are posted. I see the network (WWW) as having its own (organically grown) philosophy & methodology and if government wants to take advantage of the 'public good' inherent in the network it must adapt its process to the network.

  2. Great post, Craig! For public participation consultancies and IAP2 the leap is certainly from 1.0 to 2.0.

  3. I wonder if one of the milestones of the evolution of participation might be the channelling of lobby groups as "just another collaborator" in an online process with no opaque privileges - all arguments by the lobby being placed in the document set associated with the policy area.

    Put another way, this evolutionary milestone would be a level playing field for all those who would particpate, whether individuals or "large" (e.g. industry, environment) lobby groups.

  4. You may want to check out Peer to Patent community patent review ( for another example of government collaboration with the community.

  5. Thanks dltallan,

    I have posted about Peer to Patent before (last September - US public invited to review proposed patents in egovernment Peer-to-Patent initiative)

    It's a great example of government collaborating with 'others'.