Gov 2.0 is not (just) Government as a Platform

Gov 2.0 is more about people than it is about technology, more about culture than about the internet.

Before a presentation this week on how I use twitter to advocate for Gov 2.0 someone asked me: What is Gov 2.0?

I explained that Gov 2.0 is the next generation of government. It is a public service renewal where government becomes more efficient, responsive, and open to citizens. It is a recognition that we (public servants and citizens) are all in it together.

I told him about the launch of British Columbia’s new open data portal Data BC and a citizen-focused internet site this week. Along with increasingly more governments around the world, the Province of BC is committed to becoming more open, transparent and citizen-centric.

Gov 2.0 is about working with citizens to solve the really big issues that government can’t handle alone like health care, climate change, jobs, the economy, drug addiction, crime and poverty. It is a paradigm shift and, with enough citizen engagement, it is a societal transformation that includes citizens in governmental deliberation and decision making.

I didn’t tell him about Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Government 2.0 as “government as a platform.” O’Reilly, a forward thinker and the founder of O’Reilly Media, explains: “Government 2.0, then, is the use of technology—especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0—to better solve collective problems at a city, state, national, and international level.”

I’m a big fan of Tim O’Reilly. He is talking about how Government 2.0 makes use of the Web 2.0 platform technologies (cloud computing, collective intelligence apps, social media, mobile devices) to provide services to citizens. At the same time, he says, government needs to move away from being a ‘vending machine government‘ (where taxpayers put in money and government delivers complete, finished services) to being a collaborative government that works with citizens to create value. What I like is Tim’s call to action: “As technologists … we can do our part to be bold, to be brave, and think fresh because that is what will make a platform for greatness.”

Vending Maching Government

But I think we risk losing people when we talk about government as a platform. Gov 2.0 is not just about technology. The revolution was sparked by technology, and technology enables it, but Gov 2.0 is more about people than it is about technology, more about culture than about the internet. Gov 2.0 is about people being passionate and making changes for the collective good. Its success is more dependent on trust and people being willing to authentically share and participate, than it is on the latest social media tool. Even the name ‘Gov 2.0’ connotes technology, the second major revision of software. Sometimes I use the term ‘open government’ because it is more accessible for non-techies.

Let’s face it, we collectively have some large issues to address, and the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough technology or communication media. The challenge is that people need to come together and contribute through the technology to address the big issues. The challenge for government is that we need to build trust. We need to be transparent, engage with the public, understand their concerns, listen to their needs, harness their diverse expertise, be inclusive, provide value, and follow through on promises (walk the talk). As citizens, we need to become more involved, stand for something, understand the issues, lead change, share authentically, and know what we are passionate about and make a difference.

In British Columbia, as in many parts of the world, we are in exciting times and moving in the right direction. Sure, we have big challenges and a long way to become more transparent and build trust, but we are taking big strides in the right direction.

With Open Gov slowdown in U.S. will UK become the next Gov 2.0 global leader?

Over the last week we’ve been hearing disturbing news about the open government movement in the U.S. On June 22nd, The Washington Post announced The Death of Open Government and yesterday asked the question: Is the door closing on open government? Meanwhile, the UK continues to make investments in open government initiatives, inspired in part by past successes demonstrated on the other side of the Atlantic.

The speculation of open government slowing in the U.S. comes on the heels of slashes to U.S. open government spending and the resignation of Vivek Kundra (US Federal CIO). Kundra was a highly effective CIO and Gov 2.0 evangelist. His two-year-old Data.gov opened almost 400,000 government data sets and has been the foundation of 236 citizen-developed apps . Kundra’s 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Information Technology Management has already saved U.S. taxpayers $3 billion in its first five months by turning around or terminating underperforming IT projects and shifting to a cloud first policy (reliance on private sector IT infrastructure).


The US data democratization programs have been cut from $35 to $8 million despite the demonstrated returns on investment and stimulus to the private sector. These cuts will either kill or severely hobble Data.gov, the IT Dashboard (tracks health of federal IT investments), and USASpending.gov (tracks federal contracts spending).

Meanwhile, the UK is steadily moving forward with the Gov 2.0 agenda. The UK launched Data.gov.uk in January, 2010 which boasted almost 3000 data sets (almost 3 times that of Data.gov, at that time) with ” information on everything from house prices to air quality.” In May the UK hired Beth Noveck, a former White House employee who was in charge of the Open Government Initiative, to take the open data movement in the UK to the next level.

Not surprisingly, at yesterday’s launch of DataCatalogs.org at the Open Knowledge Conference 2011, it was Noveck who commented she hopes it grows “into a vibrant place to articulate priorities, find and mash up data across jurisdictions and curate data-driven tools and initiatives that improve the effectiveness of government and the lives of citizens.” The goal of DataCatalogs.org is to become the most comprehensive list of open data catalogues in the world.

Two days ago, a British Cabinet Office minister told a business audience that David Cameron will soon announce the plan to publish potentially controversial criminal justice, health care, transport and schooling outcomes data. It is estimated that the benefits of opening this additional data will be worth €250bn a year.

Is the open government movement dead? No, there is no way to get that genie back in the bottle. Rather, the open government movement is spreading and growing. The U.S. has been set back with cuts to IT budget and the resignation of Kundra, but the future is bright for the UK who is setting the foundation to become the next open government global leader.