Over on the Facebook Gov 2.0 Club Group, there’s a discussion going on about the biggest barriers to Gov 2.0. I thought I’d post my ideas here.
It’s a great question. Ultimately, I think the greatest barrier to Gov 2.0 is the fear of loss of control.
This can affect Gov 2.0 efforts within the organization (things like Intellipedia, Diplopedia and GCpedia). Enterprise-wide collaborative efforts that are aimed at breaking down silos can run into real cultural and policy barriers. But ultimately, I think a lot of it boils down to people who are used to thinking of content as “our information, under our control”.
This can affect public-facing Gov 2.0 efforts, either consultations or open data. There is the same fear of losing control: of the message, the framing and the context.
It’s a truism that the technical part is the easy part in Gov 2.0. But there can be barriers to the technology, too. For many IT departments, this is a very different way of doing things than what they are used to and the big applications they are used to building and supporting. It may be that the people coming and asking for the blog/wiki/etc. seem to (or do) know more about these new technologies than the IT people do. The IT departments, too can fear loss of control.
I say that like it’s a bad thing. And, as a barrier, to a great extent it is. But it’s very understandable. It’s not just just greedy, power-mad hunger for control. (In fact, I think it is rarely that.) It’s that, where people are being held accountable for results, they want to have as much control as possible over what produces those results.
Part of the whole Gov 2.0 movement is a push to greater and greater transparency. With this greater transparency comes greater accountability. Ultimately, I fear, the more successful we are in our push for greater transparency and accountability (good things!) the harder it may be to get people to give up control.
Because all of this transparency and accountability is scary. We want them – we know they are good. But nothing is certain. As we try out new things, there is the real possibility of failure. We know that’s not necessarily so bad. There will be lessons learned. That may be what it’s all about with some new things we try. Or there may be extenuating circumstances, factors beyond our control or prediction. But public failures are definitely more challenging than private ones. And the people looking at the failures may not be looking at the full context.
In scary times and scary circumstances, we want to control as much as possible. It’s well known that our fear of things isn’t just a factor of their likelihood and affect; it is a factor of how much control we have over the situation. That is why people are more afraid of terrorism than road accidents. They feel more in control of the outcome on the road. Given that, asking people to give up control and at the same time open themselves to a lot of scrutiny may be asking a lot.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it. It just means we have to take that into account as we try and persuade people to do the right thing. And it is the right thing. Greater participation means better outcomes. And greater transparency/accountability means a better democracy.
So how do we overcome the barrier? I certainly don’t have all of the answers! If you have tried and true techniques, please add them in the comments! I have a few ideas:
– We can frame the Gov 2.0 activity as increasing, rather than decreasing the control. I’m starting to see more and more of this, in particular with regard to participation in social media. The situation is presented as “These conversations are going on whether we are there or not. It is already out of control. By participating, we can at least communicate our point of view/correct errors of fact/etc.”
– Related, we can make the alternative scarier than the loss of control. I’m sure the FBI and the CIA felt it was important to keep control of their information and risky to share it across organizational boundaries. There might be leaks or moles or what have you in the sister organization. After 9/11, it was a lot less scary than the alternative and Intellipedia was born.
– We can start with Gov 2.0 in areas that face seemingly insurmountable problems, and use that as the wedge to establish credibility and a track record. Take crowd-sourcing, for example. Giving the work to a huge crowd of outsiders is a very scary loss of control. A great place to start is the patent process, where the growing backlogs are insurmountable by inside staff – especially as economic times get tougher! (Peer to Patent Project)
– We can take baby steps. Start with limited pilots, to get people used to it and make it less scary. Let people have more control at the beginning, moderating the discussion, gardening the comments. I know one new enterprise-wide wiki where articles have “owners”. The owners can leave the articles wide open to editing, or lock them and have contributions only on the discussion page, which they can choose to incorporate or not. Definitely less scary. But it is the thin edge of the wedge. And people soon see that greater control also means a greater workload exercising that control.
Philosophically, I think the long term solution is to share accountability. I don’t think people should be held accountable for something they had no control over. As control is shared around, so is accountability. The trick will be to share accountability, rather than make it disappear. Can accountability be shared? I’ve seen a lot of models that say “no”. Responsibility can be shared, but not accountability. But I think that as we all get together to build things, to participate in government, we all have to take accountability for our contributions. How to make this work? Here, I have no answers. What do you think?
[Obligatory note: These are my opinions, not necessarily those of my employers. Observations about “the public sector” or “the government” contained herein don’t necessarily apply to the government I work for and may have been informed by a number of other government organizations I’ve come into contact with or whose employees I’ve talked to.]