Innovative Gov 2.0 – Turning it Upside Down

Think differently.

It turns out that even creative, out-of-the-box thinking follows certain laws and principles. This is a good thing. In government, we are challenged not to pave the cow path. What does the future of Gov 2.0 look like? How do we think differently about providing valuable services to citizens?

Genrikh Altshuller noticed a pattern to creative thinking. As a clerk in a Russian patent office processing 40,000 patents between 1946 and 1969, he realized that inventions and patentable ideas follow predictable laws of evolution. Altshuller postulated TRIZ (the Russian acronym for the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) as a model that describes how technical systems evolve towards their increased ideality by overcoming contradictions.

My intention here is to apply the principles of TRIZ to think creatively about the possible advancements of Gov 2.0 and the next stage in its evolution.

According to TRIZ, technology evolves by overcoming contradictions. In order to predict the evolution of Gov 2.0, let’s consider a contradiction that must be solved. Data is a good example. Worldwide data is growing exponentially. Even as the technology to store and access data is becoming more efficient and cheaper, data growth remains IT’s biggest challenge (according to Gartner). As part of the open data movement, government data is increasingly more available to citizens. Data is a good. Data is the foundation of information, and information provides value to citizens. The contradiction arises when you begin to think of citizen’s valuable time. The more data (and information) that is available, more often than not, the more time it takes to find, and the more costly it is to distribute.

How do we improve the productivity of citizens looking for information and services via Gov 2.0 and, at the same time, ensure they have access to the growing stores of data they need to find that information?

With contradiction in hand, we use the TRIZ Contradiction Matrix to determine which TRIZ principle may be considered to trigger innovation for Gov 2.0. Using ‘productivity’ as an improving feature and ‘loss of information’ as the worsening feature of the contradiction, one output of the Contradiction Matrix is the invention principle turn the process upside down.

We tend to think of Gov 2.0 as government informing (or creating services for) the public. If we turn this upside down and look at it from this new perspective, we can consider the public informing (or producing services) for government. Hmm … interesting view. We already do this by exposing data for citizens to write code for as part of the open government data movement. But to turn the whole process upside down? Can we crowdsource government? Data, information, applications, and even policy would be managed by citizens. The implication would be government light or, taken to the furthest point on the spectrum, no government at all.

Realistically, government is here to stay. In Canada’s federal election earlier this month, we had only a 61.4% of all eligible voters turn out for a 15 minute commitment may only occur once every four years. Lincoln’s ideal of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” assumes an engaged citizenry. But voter apathy is partly a result of antiquated government practices. Perhaps turning it upside down is the answer. We need to organize government so that citizens can participate. Gov 2.0 and the open government data movement is a start in the right direction. To take it a step further, government data should be open by default. Furthermore, decision makers and the decision making process need to be transparent. We need to leverage Gov 2.0 to lower transaction costs so that citizens engage in policy and decision making.

When it comes down to it, the purpose of government is to serve citizens. Turning it upside down suggests the best way to do is to listen, facilitate, enable, and then, in some cases, get out of the way. Democratization and decentralization of government through Gov 2.0 can reduce the overhead and cost of government services and enable citizens to participate in their democratic right, not once every four years but on a much more regular basis. Only then will “government of the people, by the people, for the people” ring true.


5 Objections to Social Media in Government … and their Responses

How do we address the typical objections that we hear at government decision-making tables about the use of social media in government? Let’s face it, in any government organization there will be a mix of decision-makers who recognize the value of social media tools in government, and those who don’t. Here is a table of typical objections to social media in government and some suggested responses.



 1. Employees will waste their time on Facebook and other social networks. This is a question of trust. The same objection was raised for the telephone. If you don’t trust your employees, you are micromanaging them. Trust them, give them autonomy, and watch productivity and engagement metrics soar.
 2. What is the business value of social media? I’ve blogged about this before. From a high level, improved:

  1. Citizen engagement
  2. Employee engagement
  3. Communication and collaboration

Social media is a powerful platform that helps government expand service delivery channels, improve online customer services, and communicate directly with constituents on the web.

The best way to introduce the value of Gov 2.0 to decision-makers is to start small with one social media channel to address a single business problem. Put your energy into the initiative and make it work, preferable with performance measures. Then go back to the excutive table with your success.


 3. What about privacy concerns? Go to where the public already is: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, for example. Citizens have already shared their personal information with these social media sites. You are only engaging in conversations whey they are. Obviously, do not share entrusted personal information over the internet. In a public social network (like Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter) facilitated by federal, provincial or local government, encourage participants to provide feedback, and upload pictures and video. Be sure of your privacy laws before uploading citizen personal information, including videos, photos and opinions. Check out British Columbia’s Social Media Guidelines as a starting point, understanding that every jurisdiction will have different privacy laws.
 4. How do I control  official government communications?  You still can. Think of social media as just another communication channel, like the telephone, front counter, and website.
 5. What about the ROI? A lot has been written about this. Google “ROI” and “Gov 2.0” or check out this article on Gov 2.0 metrics. The most important point here is that you don’t use social media for the sake of social media. You need a business problem you want to address with social media. For example, employee engagement, improved collaboration, or citizen engagement. You need a specific purpose like updating citizens on the progress of a natural disaster such as forest fires or floods, or perhaps the outbreak of a dangerous virus. There is a new Microsoft Excel-based tool that can be used by government agencies to quickly assess the public value of their Gov 2.0 initiative.

Microsoft’s purchase of Skype a good move?

Microsoft has got it right: Videoconferencing is the future. High definition (HD) endpoints are virtually ubiquitous (excuse the pun) and bandwidth is cheap (but apparently not in Canada/North America yet, probably in part because of geographic expanse, see image at end of post).

Videoconferencing has a bad rap. It is one of those technologies that was slow to take off in the marketplace because of glitchy transmission, poor sound quality, dropped calls, transmission delays, grainy image, and difficultly to use. But videoconferencing is the future. Try one of Cisco’s immersive telepresence meetings and you will be sold. People are life-size in front of you, and it is the next best thing to meeting in person. A study at UCLA indicated that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Let’s be conservative and say that you only get half of that 93% in a telepresence meeting; then you get 46.5% plus your 7% verbal, which is 53.5% of the message or 764% better communication than a phone call that has only verbal cues.

Take that same telepresence capability and put it in every home and office with broadband internet and a high definition TV screen or high definition monitor, and you have a communication revolution. Gradually, video will replace audio as the leader in the communication market.

Why Skype?

170 million loyal users are why. Skype is the world’s most popular videoconferencing service, and Microsoft has just bought the market. And Skype is arguably in its infancy. What Microsoft, and millions in R&D, can bring to Skype is reliable transmission, improved audio and video quality and compression, fully-integrated cloud and collaboration services, and ultimately a much better product. Skype is years away from telepresence quality, but Microsoft is more than capable of making the change.

This brings me to my last point. I wonder about the business model for Microsoft. After spending $8.5 billion, how does Microsoft plan to make money with Skype. As it sits now, Skype does not make a profit. Microsoft cannot charge for Skype or users will flee to another, free one. Microsoft will have to add value, providing telepresence-like quality, additional cloud services (such as collaboration, translation and/or videoconferencing recording) and then charge for that additional service. For Microsoft, it is a bold move, but standing still is not an option in this ever-changing technology landscape.

Social Media Improves Communication and Collaboration in Government

Continuing on the theme of my last posts, namely the value proposition of social media for government, today I will discuss the how social media improves communication and collaboration.

Social media is a powerful communication channel that enables government to communicate and collaborate more effectively externally and internally. Social media greatly reduces the transaction costs of communication and cuts through traditional organizational and communication barriers.

Social media reduces the government’s transaction costs of producing results by:

  1. Reducing the requirement for email
  2. Reducing the requirement for meetings
  3. Finding expertise/passion from within and outside of government to crowdsource initiatives

Social media also reduces the requirement for top-down management because social media channels are often moderated and directed by the community.

Public service renewal and transformation will only happen when we can harness the expertise and passion of public servants. Social media allows for the focusing and the collaboration of public servants and citizens without the high traditional costs of directing them in that effort.

Government must learn to be lighter and more effective. We must harness the passion of public servants to serve citizens. We must learn to break down walls and cut through traditional communication boundaries and bureaucracy.

The private sector is often held up as a model in government when considering how to better serve customers (citizens) and reduce costs. While the private sector certainly has efficiencies that government could benefit from, government has something the private sector does not have. We have public servants whose mission is to serve citizens. We are driven by making the world a better place. Given the opportunity and the means to make a difference, we do.

Social media allows for the voices of public servants and citizens to be heard. It enables passion and expertise of the many to be directed into results.