Government 2.0 or Social Government?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet – Shakespeare

 Okay. I’ll admit it. I have a problem with Government 2.0.

Not the movement. The term. It connotes technology. The second version or release of software. We had the web, then we had web 2.0. We had government, we now have Government 2.0.

But Government 2.0 is not technology, it’s people.

The term Open Government works. Open Government is a government that is more transparent, accountable and responsive to citizens. As a movement, it is well defined in the description of the Open Government Partnership:

The Open Government Partnership is a global effort to make governments better. We all want more transparent, effective and accountable governments — with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations.

Open Government is something I understand and can describe to others in a couple of sentences.

Government 2.0 doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for many people. Part of Government 2.0 is technology: using social media (Facebook, Twitter and the like) and open data to connect with citizens and put them at the center of government. But it is so much more than the technology. The technology facilitates and enables, but it is citizens that are at the center – not the technology.

I believe the term Social Government is more precise than Government 2.0. Social Government recognizes that it is the people, communities and culture, and not the technology, that are at the center of this movement.

People will disagree saying that Social Government has other connotations. It can easily be mistaken or affiliated with socialist government. Sure, I had this concern too, but you will never get a perfect term. There will always be objections, but I object less to Social Government than I do to Government 2.0. Besides, Social Government by its very nature is politically neutral and is a movement towards smaller, more efficient and responsive government. Furthermore, we use the term Social Business. We do not associate this with socialist business.

The term Social Government puts communities and the people that make up these communities at the center of the discussion. And that’s where they should be. The term Government 2.0 has always put the technology at the center of the discussion, and that is a mistake.

So how’s this for a definition of Social Government? Social Government is government of, for and by the people. It is communities of people coming together to do some of the business that was traditionally done by government. Citizens are providing services, developing policy, balancing budgets, and writing constitutions. This public engagement is facilitated and/or led by government and leverages technology, data and the read-write web.

Of course, the term Government 2.0 does not go away.  It’s still used in when we are focused on the technology, especially when we are talking about government as a platform or hackers writing an application programming interface (API) using open government data. But when we are talking about people coming together, in the streets and over the web, to make a difference in the world in which they live. That phenomenon is better described as Social Government.

Strategic Approach to Government 2.0

One of the challenges that continually surfaces in Government 2.0 initiatives is what I call the tool syndrome. People get stuck on the tools. Should we use Facebook or Twitter? Do we need a blog or a wiki? Come on, admit it. We’ve all been there. I know I have.

The tools question is one that needs to be addressed at some point in the process, but it is not the first thing that should be considered. The first thing that should be considered is the business need. What do you want to do? Why?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been working on a strategic framework that helps organizations articulate and communicate what they want to accomplish and how to go about it. The framework is based on Benefits Realization, articulated by John Thorpe in his book The Information Paradox. Benefits Realization provides the fundamental governance, necessary conditions, and tools and techniques to enable organizations to effectively and efficiently manage business value from IT investments.

The frameworks helps organizations:

  1. To understand and align their programs and investments with their strategy;
  2. To help them quantify and manage the achievement of their business outcomes;
  3. To translate those strategies into meaningful action; and
  4. To achieve results.

My example of the Gov 2.0 Strategic Framework is a draft based on the Province of BC’s Citizens @ the Centre:BC Government 2.0: A Transformation and Technology Strategy for the BC Public Service. It illustrates how the Province’s initiatives/programs lead to the business outcomes articulated in their strategy.

The business outcomes are the circles on the right-hand side of the diagram. The initiatives are the boxes on the left of the outcomes. Usually, a Results Chain will include contributions, assumptions (risks) and accountabilities. I have omitted these components in the interest of simplicity to clarify the pictorial narrative. A document supporting the Results Chain is the Benefits Register which tracks the measure of each business outcome, including baseline and target value. The circles on the bottom are business outcomes that I have not mapped yet. Like I say, this is a work in progress.

The framework (Results Chain) tells a story in a single image and is an excellent communication tool for government executive, public service employees and the general public in understanding government’s strategic approach to Government 2.0.

The Results Chain is used by executive to articulate organization goals and understand the traceability between initiatives and business outcomes. Drafting a Results Chain on a whiteboard will precipitate a discussion that includes investment management decisions, a prioritization of programs, and a high level understanding of each program’s contribution to organization objectives.

Open Government Risk Aversion one of Government’s Greatest Risks

As we look across the open government landscape, we see shining beacons of leadership and success. Certainly since the election of Obama and the subsequent appointment of the first U.S. Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, the U.S. Government has lead the world in the technology-enabled transparency.  The U.S. drives performance and opens data to engage citizens, businesses, and policymakers to create citizen-centered apps for a fraction of the cost of traditional development. The U.S. open government strategy has saved U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars in I.T. spending over the last two and a half years by engaging citizens to develop hundreds of innovative, lightweight and cost-effective apps based on open data.

The U.K. also embraces open data and open government to allow government to be more transparent, efficient and responsive to the needs of its citizens. Data.gov.uk allows citizens to easily search and consume data, share applications, find developers and request new data.

Closer to home, British Columbia was the first provincial government in Canada to launch an open data website (data.gov.bc.ca) with a progressive data license, over 2,500 data sets, and tools for non-developers to create applications. On the same day, BC launched a redesigned, citizen-centric website (www.gov.bc.ca) and a new, open information portal to proactively release information that is requested through the FOI process.

However, a quick environmental scan reveals that the majority of governments in Canada (federal, provincial, territorial and municipal), and indeed the world, are resisting the movement to open government. Although, according to Mr. Kundra, there are “21 nations, 29 states, 11 cities and several international organizations” that have initiated open data platforms, most have not yet implemented an open government policy.

Interesting, when you consider the following benefits of open government.

  1. Open government stimulates economic growth and saves government money, in a time of extreme economic and budgetary pressures. Open government:
    1. Enables government to do more with less by leveraging technology and engaging its greatest resource – citizens.
    2. Assists in the development of new products, services and businesses.
    3. Encourages research and development and educational and scientific communities
    4. Replaces many large, costly IT projects (which take years to develop and often underperform because business requirements and technology change in the time lag for implementation) with smaller, citizen-centric applications that deliver incremental, focused business value early in the project lifecycle.
    5. Reduces the requirement of what can be expensive FOI requests with a proactive FOI strategy.
    6. Stimulates the economy by providing jobs to small, start-up technology firms which leverage open data to create value for citizens and by providing more agile, responsive services to businesses to help them be more competitive in the global marketplace.
    7. Increases accountability and reduces expenditures that do not provide appropriate return on investment for citizens with public scrutiny of government spending.
  2. Open government makes government more transparent and accountable and drives. Open government:
    1. Engages citizens, NGO’s and businesses in the consultation, deliberation, decision-making and implementation of public policy, to drive more effective and responsive results based on supporting data.
    2. Reduces the risk of ‘hacktivism’ (politically-motivated hacking into computer systems) and political unrest because citizens and interest groups are engaged in the political decision-making process.
  3. Open government greatly improves services to citizens by becoming more citizen centric and collaborative.

Risk aversion and fear of the unknown thwarts public institutions from realizing the benefits of open government. I find this interesting because it is risk aversion in the area of open government that could be one of government’s greatest risks. Government’s risk aversion to open government leads to greater risk of:

  1. Real or perceived government corruption
  2. Poor investment management decisions
  3. Alienation of citizens, businesses and interest groups
  4. An underperforming economy
  5. Not getting re-elected