This is definitely not a time for Gov 2.0 proponents to rest on their laurels as there are still many challenges to face before Government 2.0 is firmly embedded within the culture and practice of the public sector.
From discussions I continue to have across agencies and with the private sector there are still many people who aren't quite sure whether Gov 2.0 is simply the latest fad or a fundamental shift in the culture and operations of the public sector.
Last week I attended one external meeting where senior public sector managers were discussing how Web 2.0 worked perfectly well in the laissez-faire world of the internet, but was very difficult to implement successfully within a purposefully structured and highly governed organisation.
Some believed that public sector governance frameworks designed to increase public visibility could limit the use of Gov 2.0 in improving public visibility - making it a more expensive and slower option by requiring costly security and privacy hurdles.
From an ICT and security management perspective some considered Gov 2.0 a 'problem'. In many cases they felt that business teams were still treating Gov 2.0 as a shiny new toy. Experiments lasted only until the first big issue or the driving personality left the agency - at which point ICT had to 'clean up the mess'.
These are understandable viewpoints and reflect some of the issues that will need to be managed as we move to adopt Gov 2.0 approaches. Embedded knowledge and expertise for Gov 2.0 is still low in many agencies and may be confined to specific teams or individual 'experts', although enthusiasm for its use is often more widespread.
The level of buy-in at senior levels also varies. In many cases senior management simply has much bigger fish to fry in meeting the outlined policy goals of the government in an apolitical and diligent fashion with limited resources. Whether and how Gov 2.0 approaches may help them do their jobs more effectively isn't always clearly communicated.
While I know many of these executives would like to experiment with approaches that would improve the cost-effective delivery of their programs, they are limited in their tolerance for experimentation due to the potential social, financial and political consequences of failing to deliver key departmental services. They simply cannot afford the risk.
This discussion is also taking place elsewhere in the world. Federal Computer Week in the US recently wrote Is Gov 2.0 just another passing fad? ...Or do collaborative initiatives represent a true advance in the way government works?
This long and in-depth article considers the topic from a number of perspectives, asking the question,
But is Government 2.0 a true advance in the way government works, or it is just a passing fad? A year from now, will all these initiatives have matured to the point that a government agency could use them to generate useful ideas, streamline operations, improve accountability, deliver services and even save money? Or will agency leaders and their employees revert to the old ways of doing business, muttering the bureaucratic equivalent of, "Who was that masked man?"
The article draws the conclusion that Gov 2.0 may be more than a fad, but hedges its bet by suggesting that the change could be long and will require significant ongoing commitment from heads of state and other political and public sector leadership.
It also highlights the need to build the experience base and move from Gov 2.0 as a project tactic to 'how we do business around here' - a culture.
Whether Gov 2.0 is a fad or not, it is likely to be a bumpy journey. By its nature Gov 2.0 exposes more of the machinery and thinking processes of governance. For example, imagine stepping behind the beautiful vistas of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory where the Oompa Loompas sing as they work, to a 19th century sweatshop where the chocolates are really made.
While this is a deliberately strong contrast, the fact is that all organisations are 'messy' inside to some extent. Exposing how an organisation's actual processes work can shatter public myths and views. For the public sector this can mean damaging the public perceptions of government - previously (and currently) a hanging offense in some organisations.
Another way to consider managing the future adoption of Gov 2.0 in Australia is by using a modelling tool such as the hype cycle, originally developed by Gartner. This is is a technique used to attempt to outline and explain the adoption curve for new technologies, approaches and concepts.
While it is only a model, and there's no reason to assume it will apply for Government 2.0 in Australia, it is useful to reflect on where Gov 2.0 might be currently placed in order to avoid foreseeable pitfalls.
Drawing from the Wikipedia article,
A hype cycle in Gartner's interpretation comprises five phases:
- "Technology Trigger" — The first phase of a hype cycle is the "technology trigger" or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.
- "Peak of Inflated Expectations" — In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.
- "Trough of Disillusionment" — Technologies enter the "trough of disillusionment" because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.
- "Slope of Enlightenment" — Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the "slope of enlightenment" and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.
- "Plateau of Productivity" — A technology reaches the "plateau of productivity" as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.
Based on the hype cycle model, I believe Gov 2.0 is still on the initial incline, which means we do need to guard against overstating its importance until the capability is firmly in place across government.
Otherwise we run the risk of fulfilling the prophecies of those who believe it only a fad (whether it is or not), simply by building Gov 2.0 up too high and leaving ourselves open to a fall in confidence when it doesn't reach the stratospheric heights of cost-effectiveness expected.
So, in conclusion, I believe we're still in the very early stages for Gov 2.0 in Australia and it will take a number of years to embed it fully within government processes and build the experience required to manage its integration into agency cultures.
2010 will be a watershed year for Gov 2.0 where many of the first stumbling steps of the last few years will have to demonstrate their value and begin to integrate into normal business processes.
We will also see a great deal more experimentation and hype around Gov 2.0 - including criticism in the media when it doesn't fully live up to the espoused potential.
For everyone working in the Gov 2.0 area, use the holidays at the end of 2009 to regenerate your energy, rekindle your passion and growing a thicker skin.
Next year will require us to work twice as hard and communicate the benefits ten times as well in order to support the government in improving community engagement and agency effectiveness through Government 2.0.