Is it time to abandon the term ‘Government 2.0’?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare

The term ‘Government 2.0’ was coined a number of years ago now, as a way of describing a set of new opportunities and activities for governments and citizens enabled by digital technologies and the internet.

While many definitions for Government 2.0 are out there, the basic premise is that new technologies can improve the effective governance of nations.

This can occur both through governments reforming their activities, processes and transparency to be more ‘citizen-centric’, focused on the outcomes for communities than on ticking procedural boxes, and through citizens having greater involvement and influence over how they are governed.

However beyond this basis premise, Government 2.0 is a catchall for a range of very different activities – the release of data in reusable forms, the development of improved citizen engagement approaches and platforms, more direct political involvement by citizens via websites and social networks, the innovative use of digital technologies to redevelop government services, the breakdown of silos within agencies and more.

Many of these activities also have their own names, open data, connected government, digital democracy, crowdsourcing, open government, egovernment, digital innovation and so on – and these terms are often confused with or used instead of the term Government 2.0.

In my experience many public servants, media commentators and the majority of the public are unaware of or have different understandings of what Government 2.0 actually means. The term is not in any dictionaries I’m aware of and is used very differently by different governments and agencies.

If a term, such as Government 2.0, doesn’t have a common meaning within government or with citizens, can it communicate what we want to say effectively?

I’m still undecided over whether Government 2.0 remains a useful term. It certainly helps bring together a disparate group of people working in closely related fields – citizen advocacy, open government, community engagement and egovernment, finding points of similarity and synergy that support all their work.

The term has a basis in reality – we can see the changes occurring in society, from the increasing influence of epetitions and online advocacy to influence policies, the move towards open data and copyrights across government, changes in both how government agencies and politicians engage, communicate with and influence their constituents and, more critically, changes in how citizens engage, communicate with and influence politicians, political parties and government agencies in turn.

Social media has helped citizens to form groups and movements and has allowed governments to win (or lose) hearts and minds. Increasingly agencies and politicians are bypassing mainstream media to communicate directly with citizens, cutting out an unreliable middleman.

So we need some kind of term or terms to describe how our society, government and politics is changing – and will continue to change.

But should that term be Government 2.0?

If not, what should it be?

Below is a great webcast from Tim O’Reilly, widely credited with creating the term ‘Government 2.0’, speaking about what Gov 2.0 means to him and why he created it.

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Mark Hammer

If Tim was the only person batting around the “2.0” moniker, that would be one thing. But these days, everybody and their cousin is using “2.0” the way that toothpaste and laundry detergent have traditionally used “new and improved”. It readily elicits skepticism.

My own organization (in a different jurisdiction) is about to experience “Workplace 2.0” (its official name) in a few months; a new set of federally-issued standards for work/office-space allotment that will give us less room, much less storage space, less acoustic isolation from our work-colleagues, and is largely directed by the goal of reducing federal real-estate costs. Trust me, the “2.0” suffix is not generating that much excitement and eager anticipation.

Daniel Bevarly

In December 2011, I posted a blog that presented an alternative to the term Gov 2.0 for advancing the discussion you write about. Time for the public sector to develop its own electronic management, or “M” model to replace Gov 2.0. Public Communication Management or PCM was the tag I came up with and the need for the public sector to develop its own unique model instead of borrowing from other private sector “Ms” –square pegs in round holes. Food for thought.


Terrence (Terry) Hill

I’ve heard it referred to as Government 3.0. I prefer the new “Mobile Workplace” or “Workplace Transformation” because we are actually transforming how, when, and where work is performed.

Joe Flood

Gov 2.0 seems a little dated these days, like Web 2.0 (remember that?). And just calling something 2.0 is kind of meaningless. You’ve got a Gov 2.0 when I have an iPhone 5? It sounds like you’re really slow in your iterations. A better term would be something that’s more descriptive like Responsive Government or Social Government or User-oriented Government. Or just BetterGov.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Definitely dated at this point. Most agencies are using a lot of this technology as a way of doing business now. The need for talking about it as an iteration / movement is over and it’s time to focus on real results and continuous improvement / innovation.