Government 2.0 is not a social media strategery

What is Government 2.0?

Gov2.0 is Government run for Citizens. Each citizen must be able engage with the daily activity to government to satisfy their personal self-interest. It is about citizens getting what they want when and how they want it, and being able to converse with individual Government employees directly and with each other.

(I originally published this on my own blog 600days.com – and would enjoy feedback or correction)

What Gov 2.0 is NOT

I am fairly sure Gov2.0 is NOT a departmental twitter account, a Facebook page run by the PR Team, a LinkedIn ‘presence’, a Social Media ’strategy’ (You do however need a real strategy), SecondLife Avatar, or Anything-with-an-Approval-Step. Social media tools are great, and the social bit implies individual choice – not corporate guidelines or instructions. So stop trying to create policies and rules, and just let people choose, and remember the ability to choose to do something is the same as the ability to choose not to do something.


So we need some specifics to enact, something that we have to do . I guess saying “find your soul, and live honestly” doesn’t necessarily help. Some vaguely concrete things:

Clear goals

The organization must know what it is really about; the thing that makes you get up every day. Why does the organization exist and why does anybody care? If this identity is missing it doesn’t matter how much you engage with citizens, you still suck. If you have purpose and your team feels it then your customer has a chance of feeling it too. Share enjoyment, meaning and engagement.


Assuming that the team is engaged in the purpose of the organisation and is genuinely engaged in trying to help citizens, give them the tools and let them get on with it. Empowered individuals communicating directly on a personal level is pretty much the definition of anything 2.0


For meaningful human exchange to take place both parties need a robust identity that fits the transaction. Even for an online discussion I cannot understand the validity of what you say unless I know who you are. For transactions that require personalisation, fulfillment, or an ongoing relationship identity is important for both parties. I feel strongly that I own my identity – you just need to know who I am so that we can have a meaningful exchange over a period.


This is the bit about doing what you say. If you make a committment you need to be able to follow through, if you are unable to make a commitment your service is probably insufficient. This is very much a 1.0/1.5 (or earlier) concept – the ability to execute on your word.


Making something transparent is harder than keeping it private – so this is extra work, and part of modern. I have the right to expect this for specific enquiries (what is the current status of my FOIA request? when can i expect a response?), and to be engaged during policy formation.

Joined-up information

Where possible and relevant it should be possible to have a single view. This allows personalization which is a key part of human communication. If I said this on your forum and made this comment on your blog, you probably want to know that when you are talking to me. If I have an outstanding Service Request for this thing, you probably want to know that and it’s status when I talk to you.

Human scale community

Community is between actual people with personalities and opinions. If you lost yours somewhere you probably will not be having many conversations anyhow. The idea of departmental communications is married to the old need to control. There are good reasons for group accounts, but communication during a conversation is personal.

Community involves meeting people where they are, on their terms, not being judgemental and all that stuff – I cannot give you guidance on how to be more human, I am still working on that myself.

Effectiveness and efficiency

Hardly a 2.0 question and always pressing, as things go faster and more communication happens we need to have the tools and methods to be able to manage it. Strangely non-sexy, but really important to be able to get things done.

Is that all?

Probably not. Let me know if I missed something, or you agree, or especially if you disagree.

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Christopher Dorobek

VERY nice job. If I had to sum up all of it — it is a mind-set change. Yes, these are tools that can help government carry out its mission more effectively, but in the end, it is a real change in the way people think. It is one of the reasons why I keep urging people to read Jeff Jarvis’s book, What Would Google Do?, which does a really good job laying out that different way of thinking. (The book was the subject of the March Federal News Radio Book Club. Hear that — and find a link to the book — here: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/index.php?sid=1646317&nid=150 )

It is important to remember the government 2.0 is not a panacea — it is not going to solve every problem the world has ever encountered. But it seems that there are real possibilities to be transparent, to be open, to share information, and to involve people in governing. There has been a lot of work moving toward that — and there will be much more to come.

The fascinating part of this is the easiest way to understand the change in thinking is to use Facebook, to use Twitter, to write a blog…

To agencies not trying it yet — just do it!

Brett — nice job pulling this all together.

John Able

I agree with everything you say . . . in concept.

In practice, however, at least for many or most government employees, social media has pushed bureaucrats into an identity crisis. Until now, government workers had a “public” face and a private face. In public, they carefully espoused the policies of their agencies with radical impartiality, because if the public knew their real thoughts they fear (possibly accurately) that citizens would no longer trust them to be impartial enforcers of law and policy. If the traffic cop doesn’t believe in speeding laws, can she responsibly enforce them? Can she write citations during the day, then go home and blog against speeding laws at night?

On the other hand, like everyone else, we all know that bureaucrats have personal lives where they rant with confidants about how silly/ridiculous/wrong some policies really are. In the past, however, such conversations were essentially secret — mostly face to face conversations between friends. But social media changes that. Now we may rant online, where anyone can see our comments, which exposes our private personas like nothing ever has before. And while everyone will say that this type of openness and honesty is a good thing for society, the fact is it may still not be a good thing for the individual careers of bureaucrats expected to tow the party line and feed at the trough of agency policy.

So the question for every bureaucrat today is, “Can I carry out my official duties and still be open and honest online about my contrary personal views? Can I enforce Law A during the day in my official capacity, and then bark about it after hours on Twitter?

The answers to these and other similar questions are emerging. Eventually, the time may come when members of the public understand that government employees can have strong personal contrary views but still responsibly perform their duties in accordance with law and policy. But I’m not sure we’re there yet.

And I feel we’re not to the point where most government supervisors and leaders will trust employees whose Facebook (or GovLoop) profiles prove they have non-PC (Policy Correct) beliefs or attitudes.

I think government employees will eventually move toward greater personal authenticity. And they will eventually work out how a good bureaucrat can enforce laws in the specific but disagree with the same law in general. (In fact, in that process we might even find a great method of improving a worthwhile but poorly established law.) But it won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be without personal risk.

Still, if government is really to become more transparent, collaborative, and participatory, individual authenticity of every government worker is essential. And I’m convinced that the public will — eventually — welcome this honesty and empathize more with government employees because this will make bureaucrats appear and act more human. That transformation has begun, but is a long way from finished.

Mark Boelte

I think that any government employee should make a division between their work virtual life, and their personal virtual life. Just as you do now, what you may discuss privately with friends and family at home about work is not appropriate to the workplace in many instances. Mixing personal and professional views and opinions will only confuse and anger the general public.

Most people seem to view virtual environments as “not real” or “outside” of real life. Things done in that world have no meaning, and are not relevant to the real world. This is a bad concept, but one that is very common even amongst people who work in virtual environments.

The idea that you should behave differently in a more open, virtual work environment then you do in your current environment is just wrong. If you would not say it at work now, whether to a co-worker, vendor or customer, then you should not say it in a social network tied to your job.

Whether you disagree with policy or not, expressing that in a work related environment is not appropriate today, and is not going to be appropriate in the new virtual work environments of the future.

Adriel Hampton

Gov 2.0 is a cultural change. Digital natives will push it, some managers will resist it, change will happen. Nice post!

Bill Finnerty

I agree that Gov 2.0 is a mind set, not a technology or tool. The tools are a means to an end. However, I believe that your idealistic approach can be a hurdle that is too high to over come. The employees, because it is not just managers, that resist will see such idealism as an impossible goal to achieve and therefore a reason to do nothing. Government institutions, and we do want institutions as they are a foundation of our republic, will not be able to deliver all things at anytime a person wants it or to simply wipe away policies and procedures. Where possible, Gov 2.0 has the chance to improve processes, open communications between departments and between the government and its citizens, and solicit a wide base of ideas on which to formulate policy and laws. Have your ideals, they are important to provide stars to reach for, but also remember that people are planted on the ground, in reality. Small steps and building blocks are still progress.

jana gallatin

Citizens don’t trust “The Government” now. Their friends that work for “The Government” are the exception to the rule that all government employees are ignorant and lazy and looking for a free ride on the back of the taxpayers.

Anyone who has been in the military knows the old saw, “I disagree with your opinion, but I will fight to the death for your right to express it.” And most citizens trust that the young men and women that make up the bulk of our military will do just that. I think it is because they identify with those young people, they see them as their sons and daughters, grand children, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. They feel connected to them.

Somehow that gets lost when we talk about other govt agencies and older public servants. Anything we can do to connect with the citizens of this country both as fellow citizens and as people who will work hard on their behalf even if we don’t agree with their opinions or politics has to be good. We have to connect as human beings. We need to regain trust. (Both ways, as a government, we don’t trust our citizens very well…look at all the laws and rules we have. We have to take our shoes off to get on an airplane for cripes sake! Because of ONE bozo we are all potentially guilty?)

Gov 2.0 is reaching out to engender citizen-centered government. Government in which citizens participate as individuals as well as groups. If a medical student is pulling open data from NIH and comes across a data pattern that indicates a possible vaccine to prevent prostate cancer. She may have an NIH Facebook friend that is up at 2 am, maybe another friend from a pharmaceutical company that she direct messages from twitter. What should the NIH employee do?

Citizens should have some say in these discussions. What policies make sense to them? Do they want to filter through a bunch of family vacation photos to find contact information for submitting an application? Do they want the government workers they deal with to be emotionless, box checking bureaucrats? There is middle ground.

Many people want to use government as a hammer. “I don’t want to cope with this…YOU FIX IT.” Gov 2.0 is making them partially responsible for the fix. Gov 2.0 is open, so not participating is inexcusable. We get the government we deserve. I think we deserve better, but we are going to have to earn it.

Brett Husbands

Great stuff – thank you for the feedback.

John / Jean Paul / Mark – I hadn’t realized some of the nuances around public vs private face, lots of food for thought there – is there much already written about this elsewhere? I am eager to explore this further.

Christopher / Adriel – Thank you for the positive feedback – it is good to hear from such established figures

Bill – I hadn’t previously considered idealism as a barrier, and will adjust my view accordingly. As a side point I am directly working on tools to make things (even) easier.

Jana – thank you for the reminder about what matters most – “the government we deserve” is a fantastic concept – along with the practical steps.

Mark Boelte

Brett, there have been many studies done on the differential of behavior between in-person and virtual environments. Use Google Scholar to search databases of studies and papers published on the subject.