However a few recent incidents I've become aware of, and been involved with, indicate that there is still a long way to go before public servants are broadly aware of Gov 2.0, let alone skilled in its use.
One example was when a very highly skilled and professional colleague elsewhere in the public service called me up and asked whether they could now begin using 'that Gov 2.0 tool' that everyone was talking about. They had heard that the government had just introduced a Gov 2.0 tool that would make it easier to engage online with their stakeholders. After some questioning, I realised they were asking about GovDex - which has been around for quite some time.
Another example was when someone from outside the public sector railed to me at a social event against the rising tide of government secrecy, complaining that government was hiding more and more information behind impenetrable walls. When I commented about data.australia.gov.au and some of the open data and online consultation underway, they at first didn't believe I was telling the truth, then conceded that while these things might be happening, said approximately that "the government doesn't care what the public thinks anyway, it's all a snowjob to keep us from complaining too much."
These examples are no surprise to me.
In the first instance I am aware of many public servants busy doing their jobs exceptionally well, but simply not having the time, nor always the interest, to learn about every new innovation or initiative under the sun. They don't frequent the right conferences, social events, mailing lists or online forums to get exposed to Gov 2.0. Even if they've heard about it, they don't often know enough to understand the risks or meaningfully consider the ways it may be applied to make their jobs easier or improve their effectiveness and efficiency.
The second instance is a classic example of how people tend to form strong views then cling to them for quite a while rather than going back and test them regularly. If the search tool on your intranet performs poorly and you upgrade it to make it effective, in my experience it can take 6-12 months and quite a bit of communication and nudging before people stop talking about their bad search experiences and start trying the new search engine. People are simply too busy to repeat their actions or rethink their views on a highly regular basis.
So what can be done to increase the speed towards a Gov 2.0 world?
The key, for me, is threefold:
- Leadership through example - Government 2.0 practitioners need to get out there and recommend, champion and drive the initiatives that teach others how these techniques and technologies can deliver new benefits.
- Formal and informal education - We need to make courses available more broadly for public servants to gain the expertise they need to understand how new media and public engagement using Gov 2.0 techniques can benefit them, giving them the tools to assess risks, consider different approaches, decide on an optimum solution and to deliver.
- Create relevant community experiences - Finally we need government departments to look for opportunities to deliver Gov 2.0 initiatives that people will want to use. This doesn't just mean they look pretty, are accessible and have a wow! factor. It means that they deliver real benefits to the community, address community needs and wants (not all of community - one audience at a time). If we focus on releasing data in raw form with no easy-to-use analysis tools, or creating public engagement tools and then not promoting them so people are aware they exist (due to our strict advertising guidelines) it will take much longer for the community to notice something positive is going on.