Gov 2.0: A Meme Moves Mainstream

Re-posted from FogCityJournal (check there for links) – Re-imagining government got a little easier with the election of President Barack Obama last year. But thirst for civic revival is certainly not new, and neither is the concept of “Government 2.0,” the subject of an inaugural bureaucrat and Web geek-fest this week over in D.C.

However, “Gov 2.0″ – as this reform flavor of the day’s shorthand goes – is hardly a man-on-the-street term. So what is it?

Spurred on by Web 2.0 maven and conference producer, Tim O’Reilly, and local entrepreneur Luke Fretwell, creator of the government new media aggregation site GovFresh, I joined many others to put a few thoughts on the subject to video to coincide with O’Reilly’s Government 2.0 Summit.

Now, I write that the concept is not new because long ago in Internet time, back in 2005, government reform expert William D. Eggers wrote the book on Government 2.0, subtitled “Using Technology to Improve Education, Cut Red Tape, Reduce Gridlock, and Enhance Democracy.” (As an aside for lovers of political trivia, Eggers in 1998 was the Republican nominee in the race to replace Debra Bowen, our tech-embracing Secretary of State, in the Assembly).

Fast forward to 2009. O’Reilly, who appeared on my Web radio show back in March to talk about Gov 2.0 and his D.C. conference, is embracing a definition of “government as platform.” In this schema, which of course has its quibbling critics, government becomes a Twitter or an iPhone, providing core functions that allow pioneering citizens to build (and profit) off of them. O’Reilly points out arenas where the government has already served as platform, such as creation of the highway system and the Internet. I would add the National Institutes of Health’s contributions to commercial medical science, and the evolution of GPS.

Recent examples of government as platform in action include Apps for Democracy, the D.C. App Store, and our own fledgling DataSF.

Others have written of Gov 2.0 as simply continuation of the democratic tradition, or as the newest version of the transparency movement.

Which brings us back to my opinion, which, in the frenetic world of tech-enabled reform, is perhaps as valid as any.

I see Gov 2.0 as a convergence of three vast certain or potential trends: the 21st century version of the commons – government information meant to be free and shared; the rise of zero-cost communications and universal broadband (for a concise and powerful treatise on the subject, check out Thomas Malone’s 2004 “The Future of Work“); and the massive turnover in government employment as Baby Boomers retire and digital natives – a generation that has grown up alongside the Internet – join the public workforce in droves. In the best of worlds, these trends combine to create a vibrant populist democracy.

Certainly it’s worth thinking about.

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