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.

This Week in Gov 2.0

This week in Gov 2.0 activists in Syria continue to upload video documenting the incoming artillery on Homs, circumventing the restricted access to international media imposed by the Syrian authorities. The government offensive has killed at least 300 people in the last week. http://ow.ly/90Mg0 Danny Abdul Dayem pleads for international intervention. http://ow.ly/90Mve

This week in Gov 2.0 the Obama campaign released a video celebrating the President’s win in the last election and some of the successes in office, through the lens of social media.

Also this week, the U.S. Government plans to leverage citizen participation with social media and online games to help catch criminals. The winner will be awarded $5,000. The game will test how social media can be used for law enforcement. ow.ly/90JW7

Steve Jobs Tribute

We will look back at Steve Jobs in the same way as we look back at Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo and Mozart.

Steve Jobs not only revolutionized technology, he revolutionized the world. His innovative user-centric interface design will forever change the way we design everything in the future.

Imagine a car designed by Apple. That is our future thanks to Steve Jobs.

I like the way this bagpiper avoids the attention of the media in the following video. His intention is only to pay respect to a great man.

Steve Jobs, RIP.

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

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.

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.