Principles that Enable Open Economies to Thrive

In the video below, Prime Minister Cameron talks about the principles that enable open economies and open societies to thrive, including the rule of law, the absence of conflict and corruption, the presence of property rights and strong institutions. He says that the innovative use of web and mobile technologies by government are absolutely vital in developing the transparency and accountability, putting power in the hands of people and enabling them to hold their governments to account.  PM Cameron states: “By opening up government, millions have the opportunity to change their lives for the better.”

I like the way that Prime Minister Cameron characterizes this, and his principles to enable open economies and societies to thrive. The current global economic condition was precipitated by corruption which created a failure in the free enterprise, capitalist system. The corruption evident in WorldCom, Enron, Tyco, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac are chains of events that lead to the economic crisis we are still trying to pull out of. How can an open economy thrive when the leaders of our major companies are being convicted of crimes from insider trading to concealing debt to fraud and grand larceny? Many people who understand that the odds are weighted in favor of investors with inside knowledge do not want to invest in our markets. Millions of people have been swindled out of their life savings and jobs.

There are plenty of ethical leaders, companies and governments out there. I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture. But to me transparency, accountability, and governance are the subjects that must be addressed to steward a sustainable global economy in balance with respect for our environment and ensuring segments of our population are not left behind.

Canada’s Open Government? What about the F-35?

Let’s face it. We’ve got to get this right. Our economy and the future of children depend on it. It’s called an open and transparent government.

Canada has taken some steps forward in the last year. We are members of the Open Government Partnership. As such we have a commitment and action plan for becoming open and transparent. But we have a long way to go.

Kudos to the fifth estate for their excellent investigative broadcast on the F-35 controversy. It’s a shame that our government procurement system is so broken. It seems like the larger the price tag, the more room for corruption and cronyism. I mean if this was a procurement for a $1 M there would be more transparency and accountability for the decisions being made. At least, a government official would be available for interview. In this case (for a $25 B, and rising, procurement), the Royal Canadian Air Force presented the F-35 as the best option with key missing information from the competing aircraft.

Then, according to the fifth estate, when Canada decided to sole-source the F-35, the government based its decision on subsequent information obtained from the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter’s office who will benefit the most from the Canadian sale.

Photo credit: Defense Industry Daily

In his interview with the fifth estate, Pierre Spring, an ivy league “systems genius” who was a designer of the F-16 (the most successful U.S. fighter) is convinced that the F-35 is “inherently a terrible airplane” based on a “terrible idea.” It will not be successful as a combat plane or as a bomber. “The point is to spend money. That is the real mission of this airplane … to send money to Lockheed Martin,” says Spring.

A procurement process like this needs to be transparent, otherwise we do not know whether the government is acting in the interest of taxpayers.

We need to ask why the following people refused to be interviewed by the fifth estate for their investigation: Defense Minister Peter MacKay, Deputy Defence Minister Robert Fonberg, Associate Defence Minister Bernard Valcourt, Assistant Deputy Defence Minister (Materiel) Dan Ross, Chief Financial Officer, National Defence, Kevin Lindsey, Tony Clement, Industry Minister from 2008 to 2011,Lieutenant General Andre Deschamps, Chief of the Air Staff … the list goes on.

Canadians need to demand this transparency. We need to hold our government accountable. Otherwise, we are not taking responsibility for ourselves and for future generations of Canadians.

So what can we do? I suggest we unite online. Join a Facebook page. Demand transparency for the F-35 initiative from our elected government officials. Stop the bleeding, if that is what is required.

A Short Definition of Social Government

Social Government is government for and by citizens. It is a new paradigm in government service delivery promoting self-service, efficiency, transparency, and responsiveness. Examples include crowdsourced constitutions, participatory budgeting, citizen-driven policy, community building around civic and/or global issues (for example, global warming, health care and homelessness), citizen-centric design, public engagement (including policy consultation, deliberation and decision making), social media-accelerated political campaigns, and public outreach. Government may participate in, facilitate or lead these initiatives/conversations.

When Social Government leverages technology such as open data and the read-write web, we also call it Government 2.0.

See also: Government 2.0 or Social Government?

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.

The Rise of Municipalities

I’ve recently been thinking about the success and proliferation of government 2.0 and open data within municipalities. It seems to me that local government is best positioned to provide government 2.0 services and open data to citizens. The state and federal level also have many opportunities, but a lion’s share belongs to municipalities.

At the local level services are more immediate, if only for their geographic proximity. We want to know when our garbage and recycling will be picked up, when the road, sidewalks and fire hydrants will be cleared of snow, what are the best days to water our lawns, when the pothole outside of our house or on the way to school will be fixed, where are the best restaurants, where is the closest park, what is the best bus route or less congested traffic route to get us to work in the morning, and where are the parking spots.

New York City is leading the world with municipal open data and government apps. One example is Work +, which helps people working from home get out into the community by finding places nearby that are good for working. Or how about the Funday Genie, an app for planning a free day with a unique algorithm for a smart, personalized itinerary of fun things to do with your day? Embark NYC provides an elegant and simple app for citizens who want to get around on the New York subway, and it even works with underground with no cell signal. 596 Acres helps the citizens of Brooklyn become aware of vacant public land in their neighborhoods and provides tools to support communities organizing to get access for growing food and providing educational programs. These examples, and many more can be found at the BigApps3.0 site.

But you don’t have to go to the Big City to find great examples of #localgov20. The City of Edmonton has the mobile trash app, iPhone events calendar, Volunteering “Not for Profit” organizations iPhone app, and iFish Alberta, just to name a few. Vancouver has apps that let citizens know when there garbage will be picked up and where to find parking spots.

It will be interesting to see the evolution of municipalities in the next decade. I believe municipalities are well positioned to leverage the changes in government 2.0 and open data. As municipalities provide more locally relevant data and services, we may see a shift of focus and funding from the provincial/state/federal levels of government to the local level. We also may see a consolidation of municipalities into larger super cities such as we see in New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. In Canada, we’ve seen the consolidation of Toronto with its 5 neighboring municipalities in 1998, and a similar consolidation of Ottawa, Hamilton, and Greater Sudbury in 2001.

The other thing that cities tend to do well is collaborate with each other. With tight budgets and important services to provide, local governments are motivated to innovate, share and synergize with other municipalities with the goal of doing more with less. A recent example of this is the U.S. Conference of Mayors task force chaired by San Francisco Mayor, Edwin M. Lee, that wants “to help build an ecosystem that will help cities advance and prioritize innovation to improve government.”

Cities are smaller than state/provincial/federal government, and therefore usually more agile, responsive and closer to citizens and their needs. As we move from a vending machine model of government (where citizens put tax dollars in and receive services) to a more collaborative, citizen-centric approach, I believe we may also see a corresponding shift of some services from the provincial/federal level of government to the local one.

PS. I’m experimenting with a new format for these blog posts. Rather than spending too much time with an idea and ending up with a draft I don’t publish. I’m committing to throwing half-formed, more spontaneous, less self-censored ideas into the blogosphere. In other words, I’m taking some risks and invite collaboration and feedback. Please excuse typos.

Back to you …

Government 2.0: Breaking Down the Walls

On the weekend, I had the good fortune of watching Roger Water’s The Wall at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. The show was absolutely amazing with the largest projection surface (500 feet wide) ever toured in live entertainment. The images of oppression, war, and the building (and destruction) of the wall accompanied by Pink Floyd’s hauntingly powerful music and lyrics was a feast for the eyes and ears.

After the show, I began to think about the power of Web 2.0, Government 2.0 and Open Government in breaking down the walls that society has built over the millennia. We struggle in our organizations and other societal institutions (such as education and health care) with the rigid structures and hierarchies that constrain creativity, responsiveness, communication, autonomy, purpose, individuality and community. These institutions have evolved to mold us human beings into human automatons and cogs in a machine so that we fit in the industrialized processes, hierarchies and confines of order.They are products of the human mind. Scientific management was an approach to management that analyzed and synthesized workflows to improve economic efficiency. In our attempts to become more efficient and effective, we risk losing touch with our humanity and what Daniel Pink  characterizes as the key ingredients of human motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

The social, inter-active web provides a platform to break down the barriers of traditional organizational silos and open up new possibilities for human organization, interaction and commerce. In government, it enables us to communicate and collaborate across traditional boundaries. It breaks down the walls of silos, hierarchy and compartmentalization. The diagram below is an oversimplification. Of course, there are walls within the ministries themselves, between divisions, between branches and between organizational hierarchical layers within the organizations. These walls are not only found in government; they are also prevalent in private organizations.

Government 2.0 can break down these walls. But they will not break without a fight. We all have a vested interest in protecting our traditional silos. We hoard information, because information is power. We fight tooth and nail to keep our data, protect our organizational boundaries and maintain the status quo. We must learn to be more open, sharing, and accepting of new ideas, of ourselves and of each other. It is a struggle, but the benefits will be enormous. “All and all its just another brick in the wall.”

Roger Waters says the following on his website: “I believe we have at least a chance to aspire to something better than the dog eat dog ritual slaughter that is our current response to our institutionalized fear of each other.” What do you think?