It is emblematic of the times that nascent Gov 2.0 is without adequate descriptors readily accepted and simply described. This has less to do with the availability of labels than the fact that Gov 2.0 is a ship without a rudder— it still lacks a unifying theme and clearly articulated purpose behind the Gov 2.0 transformation. Gov 2.0 still means many things to many people—often different.
Social media, Gov 2.0 —going, going ……….?
It was bound to happen. “Social Media” an often-used term for all things Gov 2.0 is about to get the RIP. The influential Chris Dorobek started the mudslide last week with his Dorobek Insider column at Federal New Radio. Echoing his comments from the Sweet and Tweets Event from the night before, Chris challenged the term “social media” as the most appropriate representation of the Gov 2.0 movement. In his event commentary Chris asked: “Isn’t social media simply collaboration but in a different form? “
Dr. Mark Drapeau’s view was that “social media” might not be descriptive but that Gov 2.0 is about much more than simple “collaboration”. Jeff Levy weighed in on twitter questioning whether it all makes a difference at the moment while Andrew Krzmarzick authored on his govloop blog to suggest that the flagship term should be “knowledge media”. No More Social Media: It’s Knowledge Media. Then Nahon Gershon opined that more appropriately the rally moniker should be “new media” to connote neutrality. See, Social Media, What is in a Name?
Viewed through today’s prism all of the commentators are correct. Chris Dorobek is critically prodding the community to mature. “Social media” is trite and derives from a largely failed “Web 2.0” label. It seems grossly lacking strength to describe what many are characterizing as the most transformative trend in the recent history of government.
Mark Drapeau is equally correct. The time worn term “collaboration” fails to capture either the energy or imagination of what government could be with large scale transformation envisioned in Gov2.0.
Jeff Levy is probably correct in saying that until someone comes up with something better, “social media” at least has an acquired meaning that many in government understand – if experimental. Krzmarzick’s emphasis on knowledge rings true. And Gershon is clearly on the right trail in promoting neutrality.
Right questions? Right time?
The fact is that the terms “Gov 2.0” and “social media” are being used to describe many things:
(a) Government’s desire to “involve” citizens in policy-making processes.
(b) Government’s willingness to listen and respond to citizens.
(c) Government’s professed “transparency” built through data aggregation and publication.
(d) Government ‘s willingness to foster internal inter and intra agency collaboration between and amongst agencies and their employees.
(e) Government’s desire to accomplish (a) through (d) simultaneously, on scale, and as and when appropriate?
These goals beget many “how to” questions: Is the form of engagement enduring or episodic? Is it social or discrete? Is it the product of a specific technology or many technologies working together? Do engagements form institutional memory? And do subsequent engagements build on that memory whether from agencies, citizens or politicians? What are the information taxonomies and ontology’s that will enable government to be effective?
The point is that Gov 2.0 in the broadest sense encompasses all of these outcomes and more. So Gov 2.0 needs not a “term”, but an entire lexicon that adequately describes not only the media exchanged, but also the goals and behavior that represent success. So where should we look and why?
What is next? The thematic of Network Science
We might start by looking to authors who are leading in the emerging field of network science. Though few are going to curl up with Yochai Benkler’s 490 page treatise the Wealth of Networks, or Manuel Castell’s 597 page tome: The Rise of the Networked Society, we can nonetheless glean guidance from their simple themes.
First, both Benkler and Castell describe global transformations to a new world dominated by the Networked Information Economy. As described, the transformation forever changes the way that all organizations build value – including systems of governance. Second, Benkler further posits that in networked information economies, government will succeed by turning “social production” into business outcomes. “Social production” in this sense means that people of all types and roles will engage in networks to enable organizations to achieve mission outcomes outside of traditional linear market systems.
The price of engagement is often non-economic – receiving attention, recognition, meaning, and making a difference. Network technologies simply enable the non-economic production to occur and to be meaningful.
But this varies with traditional role of government. Networks are about building new communications systems – not simply transactional collaboration. That is the challenge. In government we cannot achieve transformation just by aggregating more data. Likewise we cannot achieve transformation by simply building more data portals to create an idealized transparency. Transformation requires more. Gov 2.0 means that we desire to change the way that people communicate. We are asking citizens and government employees to communicate more with the predicate and promise that more communication will drive better mission outcomes.
Clear language requires clear vision.
So how did Dorobek, Drapeau, Levy, Krzmarzick, and Gershon’s simple discussion of Gov 2.0 language evolve into a discussion about vision? Lacking vision, what is it that we are we trying to describe?
Simply, the point of Gov 2.0 is how government can best leverage a vast array of experiences and develop a body of knowledge from its citizens, employees and stakeholders to solve big problems and build a better government. How can government make better decisions and deliver services more efficiently?
As Steven Covey concludes in The Speed of Trust, results build trust. If we want to build citizen and employee trust, let’s achieve tangible results. An idealistic vision of achieving “the greater good” standing alone is probably not going to carry the day. Nor is a rationale of competitive Web 2.0
I don’t have the answer to the language question today. Like others, I am working on it. My sense is that every process in government – internal and external – could benefit from more valuable networks, more inputs from citizens and employees, listened to, fairly considered, and meaningfully acted upon.
My sense is also that other countries in the world are getting it figured out much faster than the U.S. and that as in private industry we are exposed to falling further behind in an increasingly competitive world built on a foundation of rapid exchange of ideas and network transformation—albeit one that sometimes lacks appropriate labels.
Forced labels, especially without a more developed vision, might be limiting rather than enabling to achieve the promise of this complex new world of Gov 2.0. So let’s add clarity to our vision.