Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What is Government 2.0 (Public Sphere Camp Series)

The term 'Web 2.0' entered popular language in 2004. It was an attempt to define the shift that was occurring online from the internet being a communications tool to a collaborative user-driven social medium.

While some Web 2.0 capable tools, such as blogs, wikis and forums, had existed for many years prior to the creation of the term, before 2004 the internet was more often seen as being a place for corporate-driven content - websites developed and controlled by organisations to communicate and sell to customers.

However most internet commentators were seeing a shift away from this corporate model as early as 2001. As the internet grew and evolved as a medium the barriers to individual participation and content creation fell.

By 2004 the trend was clear, the internet was becoming less like the other mass mediums, television, radio and print - which were dominated by a few large organisations that controlled the production and distribution of content - and more of a democratic platform that enabled individuals to create, communicate and collaborate at a near equal footing with media giants.

The change saw new organisations emerge.

Wikipedia became the world's most popular encyclopedia, driven entirely by user content.

YouTube became the world's most viewed video channel, with an audience larger than any television station, driven entirely by user content.

Facebook and Myspace grew to have as many members as some of the largest countries in the world, driven by user content.

By placing virtually free creation and distribution tools in the hands of the public, the internet had largely (but not completely) democratised content and removed much of the power held by the former communications gatekeepers.

Government 2.0
Government 2.0 grew out of Web 2.0 in an attempt to define a new approach to governing which provides governments and their citizens more direct and immediate ways to communicate, engage and collaborate enabled by Web 2.0 principles and tools.

Government 2.0 defines an approach to governing rather than a collection of technologies.

For example, Wikipedia defines the term as,
Government 2.0 is neologism for attempts to apply the social networking and integration advantages of Web 2.0 to the practice of government. Government 2.0 is an attempt to provide more effective processes for government service delivery to individuals and businesses. Integration of tools such as wikis, development of government-specific social networking sites and the use of blogs, RSS feeds and Google Maps are all helping governments provide information to people in a manner that is more immediately useful to the people concerned.

The Gov 2.0 Australia group defines Government 2.0 as
Government 2.0 is not about social networking or technology based approaches to anything. It is a fundamental shift in the implementation of government - toward an open, collaborative, cooperative arrangement where there is (wherever possible) open consultation, open data, shared knowledge, mutual acknowledgment of expertise, mutual respect for shared values and an understanding of how to agree to disagree. Technology and social tools are merely an enabler in this process.

What does Government 2.0 mean for governments around the world?
Some governments have seen Government 2.0 as a threat - providing the community with greater power to question the wisdom of the governing parties and public service, or forcing greater accountability and transparency on practices which communities may see as corrupt or dishonest. They act out of the fear of being personally exposed or having weaknesses in political processes uncovered.

A second group has approached Government 2.0 with caution, unclear of the potential consequences and afraid of taking risk. They see some of the benefits of adopting new approaches, however baulk at the gate due to the difficulty in quantifying the unknowns involved.

Finally, some governments have embraced the opportunity to use Government 2.0 to engage citizens and strengthen the democratic process, increasing the pool of ideas and effort available to create and manage government services.

These governments recognise that Government 2.0 approaches can increase the effective power of government to deliver positive community outcomes at low costs and are prepared to take risks in order to realise these opportunities.

Whichever approach a government takes, it is clear that communities around the world are increasingly adopting Web 2.0 approaches in their daily lives.

Where governments are not showing leadership the public is using the internet to discuss and debate the actions of governments and individual politicians and, in some cases, use these approaches to organise opposition to government controls.

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