Transparency. Efficiency. Accountability.
All are stated goals of federal, state and local government. All are embodied in the Economic Recovery Act. How will they be accomplished?
The Old World.
In the “old world”, government agencies approach each by building or modifying Web based portals. Government uses these portals as hubs to publish government documents and services. It also often uses them to launch Web based service delivery such as payment for state services. Old world technology models are built on assumptions that:
> Transparency is created through the act of publication.
> Centralization of information in portals is the best means of disseminating information to citizens.
> Dialogue between government and citizen is two way – government to citizen and citizen to government.
As in business, the old world is very linear. Information flows are predictable – a straight line from citizens to government and back. And it is also very mechanical. Government by definition is not very “social”. After all, being social may mean showing favor.
Also in the old world, technology systems that support communications are built internally, often with expenditures in the many millions of dollars, usually under specifications that are every changing, over long periods of time (sometimes beyond periods of functional obsolescence.) In other words in the old world, we procure and build technology systems in virtually the same way that we build systems designed to managed structured transactions to meet statutory requirements and adopted rules.
So both the design, and procurement and delivery of technology create linear, centralized experiences for users. These experiences are intended to serve the goals of transparency, efficiency and accountability.
But what if in fact, linear, centralized models fail to deliver on these stated goals? And how could we do it better? Is there a business logic that might help Gov 2.0 better achieve transparency, efficiency, and accountability? Yes.
The New World – Citizen Networks.
To achieve transparency, efficiency and accountability we may have to think differently about how communications models are designed, and how technology to support those models is procured. Government may consider what the “New World” looks like for business.
Many businesses are starting to understand how to use distributed communications models to create real business value. They are doing it by putting their customers to work. Customers help other customers with problems and solutions. Customers teach other how to use products. And customers often collaborate for purposes of product improvement.
Think about the example of Apple which extensively uses discussion boards where users answer technical questions on product problems and services. Hundreds if not thousands of customers help each other with everything from software questions to hardware recommendations. http://www.apple.com
Consider also the case of the Kodak Gift Center. In the Kodak Gift Center, customers teach other customers how to make gifts in a step by step approach. www.kodak.com
The point is that businesses are starting to embrace a “network perspective”. In other words, they view their customers as a network that can help their business by enabling customers to help each other. Businesses, in this case Apple and Kodak play pivotal roles as well by providing product information, organization of user interaction, and alignment between customers and needs. They reduce costs, increase customer experience and satisfaction. and better respond to customer needs, all by using the power of networks – than if they had to shoulder the burden of all communication on their own. They put customers to work for them – with limited expense.
Can government do the same? Can government enable citizen networks where citizens help other citizens in the delivery of services – thus creating greater transparency, efficiency and accountability? Can government agencies embrace “network perspectives” that lower the costs of service delivery? Why not?
In thinking about practical low cost strategies to implement Gov 2.0, agencies might well consider transformation that puts network principles to work. Instead of simply building more government portals, agencies might integrate their portals with networks of citizens who can communicate with each other to support the mission of government and objectives.
What would the organizing principles and assumptions look like? Maybe this:
> Transparency is created by government publication coupled with network transparency created by citizens talking with citizens – citizen exchange.
> Citizens organize in decentralized networks based on common problems and experience.
> Dialogue between government and citizen is continuous and includes other citizens and citizen exchange.
Citizen networks might enable citizens to help each other answer questions re the delivery of services based on common experience. Reference states that have had to build additional call center capabilities to answer unemployment claims questions. Could citizens help other citizens to do the same thing taking part of the burden off of agencies?
States might also use citizen networks to spot common questions or complaints about service delivery – and then to use analytics and structured response tools such as CRM to answer those questions. States could also aggregate citizen response on common policy questions – clearly establishing priorities through alternative analysis with social collaboration.
The point is that as in business, government agencies can do better than high cost portals. They can use citizens as an extended work force, a community that enables efficiencies and transparency in government.
New world technology
In the “new world” technologies that connect citizens in networks do not have to result from lengthy and costly system builds. Citizen networks can function in the “cloud” with a much lower cost of ownership and implemented at a much greater speed. (http://tinyurl.com/d3xjh) They adapt as the business needs of agencies and user needs of citizens change, given different business problems.
Could this be the future of Gov 2.0? Not more big portals and massive IT built to serve linear highly centralized communications drawn from massive data bases of government produced content; but small fast citizen networks primarily designed to enable citizen exchange?
There is power in networks. And citizens reside in networks with their government. Can government leverage those citizen networks to build transparency, reduce costs, and create accountability? Are citizen networks the next most powerful transformation in government?