Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Does Gov 2.0 require government leadership or participation?

This post is in reflection to a post by Nicholas Gruen over at Club Troppo entitled, What Coalition Politicians ‘get’ Government 2.0?

For me the post triggered a broader question - does Gov 2.0 require government leadership or participation?

I think examples from both Australia and overseas demonstrate that the mass enablement of societies via the internet can - and does - proceed without government leadership, encouragement, involvement and even in face of significant political and public sector resistance.

The Government 2.0 movement did not begin as a government policy or program. The concept was not created by politicians or public servants. Instead it arose from the application of Web 2.0 techniques and technologies to the process of governance.

Long before any 'Gov 2.0' websites or applications existed, the public in many countries had already begun using the internet's capability to give every citizen a town hall platform, printing press and television station to discuss matters related to government.

Online content was generated, followed by robust discussions, on areas related to national and state governance - party political policies, the interpretation of laws and the conduct of politicians, government agencies and public servants.

This rise of citizen content creation, participation and online discourse around the world has prompted greater public awareness and engagement with governments of all persuasions, from robust democracies to totalitarian dictatorships.

Examples of this in action already abound - the role of Twitter in Iranian Presidential election, the political impact of blogging across the Middle-East, the use of mobile phones to expose election fraud in Nigeria, the backlash against a Chinese government proposal to force online forum participants to use their real identities, the rise of independent tools to monitor parliamentary discussions in the UK and Australia and the role of social media in the 2008 US Presidential election.

This Gov 2.0 activity has begun forcing governments to (willingly or not) adapt their own processes to cater for more educated, publicly visible and active citizenry.

Australia, with a robust democracy and high average incomes, is if anything in less need of Government 2.0 than many other nations.  We already have strong and stable institutions, the rule of law, low levels of corruption, an independent media and citizens who, for the most part, lead comfortable 'middle-class' lifestyles.

Even so we have seen Gov 2.0 sites outside of government agencies flourish in the last two years. I personally count at least 50 independent websites involved with aspects of Gov 2.0 engagement (for example OpenAustralia, Open Forum, OurSay, Australia2, Planning Alerts, BuzzElection, TweetMP, The National Forum, Club Troppo and this list (in comments) of Australian political blogs - most of which allow community comment).

It has also become accepted internationally that freeing up access to a range of public sector information provides a massive boost to the bottom line economy of nations, with New Zealand being the latest nation to begin making its data more usable online.

Therefore, in my view, Gov 2.0 does not need government leadership - or even a level of support or participation - to continue growing, in Australia or around the world.

Instead we need to ask a few more specific questions related to the cost and risks where governments do not actively encourage, support or actually oppose Gov 2.0 adoption.
  • What will be the economic cost of inactivity on the Gov 2.0 front?
  • What will be the political and reputational costs of failing to upskill either or both public services and political arms of governments in the effective application of Gov 2.0 techniques?
  • How will Gov 2.0 inactivity impact on international competitiveness, where other nations embed Gov 2.0 in their governance systems?

These questions have, as yet, not been explored extensively in Australia - or really elsewhere in the world. As the Gov 2.0 movement is still young it is difficult to find evidence of long-term value - increased public engagement in democratic institutions, public value or cost savings.

However the growth in Gov 2.0 around the world demonstrates, at least to me, that there has been significant public value created, even if governments currently lack the tools and techniques to accurately measure it.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Craig, thank you.
    The cost of inaction is high, but what the Government need to understand is that an initial investment is required internally to ensure they are harnessing the opportunities available.
    The digital space offers the most cost effective way of communicating with consumers and the electorate alike, and to ignore the opportunities Gov2.0 provides is to risk becoming increasingly out of touch with the population as a whole, as well as maintaining cumbersome and inefficient processes.