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Four Scenarios of the Future of Gov 2.0

“Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.”
(From the opening of Plan Nine from Outer Space)

The idea for this posting came from a remark by a participant at the OpenGov Summit at NASA. It was a great event with some wonderful ideas for OpenGov and Gov 2.0. I was in a session where we discussed applying social network analysis to knowledge management when one person stated that agencies have to implement Gov 2.0 or it will be forced on them.

A rather provocative statement! I thought about this as I took the afternoon off to wander around the Air and Space Museum. Being a student of scenario planning, I thought of four scenarios where the government takes the lead in Gov 2.0 or misses the Gov 2.0 change. Now the idea behind scenario planning is not to predict the future but to use the scenarios to understand the potentials and challenges of current trends. A good example of this is Business 2.0’s 2006 scenarios concerning the future of Google.

I offer the following to set the stage for a discussion on Gov 2.0’s future. Please feel free to agree, disagree, or come up with your own scenario. We have some amazing thinkers in the GovLoop community and I am eager to hear your ideas so, please do respond!

First Scenario – SteamGov
Borrowing from the steampunk genre, this scenario describes a future where government attempts to implement Gov 2.0 but the rest of the world has already moved on to Web 3.0 or even Web 4.0. Government IT is still a generation behind the current technology available to citizens thus limiting the amount of engagement offered by the agencies. Large, centralized IT architectures dominate the agencies and employees are continually frustrated by the underpowered workstations they have to deal with especially when their own personal technology is much more powerful. There are small pockets of innovation and pilot projects but organizational cultures prevent scaling up these innovations to the agency as a whole.

Second Scenario – Google.Gov
Following a Supreme Court ruling that greatly narrows the definition of inherently governmental, almost all government functions are outsourced to the private and nonprofit sectors. A Google-like company consolidates most of the outsourcing contractors into one large contracting firm that applies the latest technology and business practices to delivering a diverse range of government services. The Executive Branch now consists of the White House staff and a larger GAO. The new GAO administers the megacontract that governs the quality and accountability of government services provided by the large contracting firm.

Third Scenario – LabGov
Still suffering under crushing budget constraints and frustrated by the continuing number of programs forced onto the states by the Federal government, state governments see Gov 2.0 as the way out of their fiscal mess. Fully living up to Justice Brandeis’ metaphor as “laboratories of democracy,” the various state governments experiment with the latest open-source technologies, agile project management, and any other IT or management innovations that promise greater efficiency at lower costs and higher citizen satisfaction. Citizens respond with enthusiasm and petition to have more federal programs (and funds) transferred to the states because they can manage services better, faster, and cheaper than the federal government. States form into regional and programmatic associations that shift the federal-state balance-of-power from the national government to regional governmental organizations (As an example, see Utah’s Laboratory of Democracy Act of 2010).

Fourth Scenario – InnoGov
In 2011 the civilian equivalent of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration is established. Its mandate is to be the project management office for Gov 2.0 and the office seeks out innovative Gov 2.0 projects, funds the development of these projects, and helps other agencies to copy the innovations. New radical management techniques are introduced and organizational cultures become more collaborative and innovative as a result. By 2014 the federal government is the leading innovator in IT and management practices and helps to revitalize the private and non-profit sectors with its technology/best practices transfer programs. Citizen engagement and trust in government begins to rise while the cost-savings and greater efficiencies bring about an era of budget surpluses.

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Adriel Hampton

Bill, what a fantastic post. Isn’t #1 what we have now? 😉 Two may be most likely, and a combination of 3 and 4 is what I’d most like to see.

Peter Sperry

#3 sounds most desirable. #2 would be an unsustainable nightmare. #1 is most probable for the short term (3-8 years) but sooner or later it will break down. #4 is currently the least likely.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Adriel – Thank you! Yes, #1 is a linear trend from today to the immediate future. Two seems rather unlikely now but it can change depending on the midterms. I agree with a combo of #3 and #4.

@Peter – Three, Four, or a combo of both would be most desirable to me. I agree with your assessments of #1 and #2.