Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Is it time to abandon the term 'Government 2.0'?

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare 
The term 'Government 2.0' was coined a number of years ago now, as a way of describing a set of new opportunities and activities for governments and citizens enabled by digital technologies and the internet.

While many definitions for Government 2.0 are out there, the basic premise is that new technologies can improve the effective governance of nations.

This can occur both through governments reforming their activities, processes and transparency to be more 'citizen-centric', focused on the outcomes for communities than on ticking procedural boxes, and through citizens having greater involvement and influence over how they are governed.

However beyond this basis premise, Government 2.0 is a catchall for a range of very different activities - the release of data in reusable forms, the development of improved citizen engagement approaches and platforms, more direct political involvement by citizens via websites and social networks, the innovative use of digital technologies to redevelop government services, the breakdown of silos within agencies and more.

Many of these activities also have their own names, open data, connected government, digital democracy, crowdsourcing, open government, egovernment, digital innovation and so on - and these terms are often confused with or used instead of the term Government 2.0.

In my experience many public servants, media commentators and the majority of the public are unaware of or have different understandings of what Government 2.0 actually means. The term is not in any dictionaries I'm aware of and is used very differently by different governments and agencies.

If a term, such as Government 2.0, doesn't have a common meaning within government or with citizens, can it communicate what we want to say effectively?

I'm still undecided over whether Government 2.0 remains a useful term. It certainly helps bring together a disparate group of people working in closely related fields - citizen advocacy, open government, community engagement and egovernment, finding points of similarity and synergy that support all their work.

The term has a basis in reality - we can see the changes occurring in society, from the increasing influence of epetitions and online advocacy to influence policies, the move towards open data and copyrights across government, changes in both how government agencies and politicians engage, communicate with and influence their constituents and, more critically, changes in how citizens engage, communicate with and influence politicians, political parties and government agencies in turn.

Social media has helped citizens to form groups and movements and has allowed governments to win (or lose) hearts and minds. Increasingly agencies and politicians are bypassing mainstream media to communicate directly with citizens, cutting out an unreliable middleman.

So we need some kind of term or terms to describe how our society, government and politics is changing - and will continue to change.

But should that term be Government 2.0?

If not, what should it be?

Below is a great webcast from Tim O'Reilly, widely credited with creating the term 'Government 2.0', speaking about what Gov 2.0 means to him and why he created it.

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