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Man is a Social Animal. Why not the Government then? [Government 2.0]

Numerous blogs out there sport #Gov20 or #OpenData buzzword these days igniting interesting conversations around what they believe Government 2.0 platform is probably gonna be like tomorrow. Some assume it to be a Facebook clone, some say it should be Twitter et al and some go even as far as challenging the norms of openness & transparency by bringing in a kind of fright with concern over data-security & privacy issues. Well, Government Version 2.0 is anything but these stand-alone silos of online infrastructure out there and the least a security no-no at all.

From an uber point of view, changes in model of governance coming out under Gov 2.0 initiatives today, can very easily be likened to disruptive changes that one often sees in the world of wild wild entrepreneurship. The connect between the undying spirit of Startups and the discreetly supporting blogger network – i.e of TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, PluGGd.in etc. – gives a great hint at what Gov 2.0 is more likely to be tomorrow. And lastly, how much it is going to cost.

Overtly, some (readers) may not agree with everything that is written below, but within their hearts they might just 🙂

Man is a Social Animal?

Web 2.0 is a term loosely associated with nature of communication that happens between people over the internet. For a more technical definition of this term one may refer Wikipedia. See the Venn Diagram below, that would help us bring a relevant question that centers around Gov 2.0.

The question is: What is the relationship between a phrase “Man is a Social Animal” and “web 2.0”?

IMHO, the answer to this question is relevant for Government 2.0 too and everything else that we talk about is simply bells & whistles of what we aspire our future to be. Not that aspiring is wrong in anyway, but the approach has to be holistic & methodical. From initial hat tips around #gov20, the focus of Gov 2.0 is almost certainly about the “Quality of Communication” and it is about seamless social communication at different levels which shall help us reach our goal of Governance 2.0.

Considering Humanness
With 6.8 billion strong and growing, the super-set (H) of humans (Or all things living on earth) can be totaled as sum of people who are there on the internet and who are not. This super-set is then divided into countries (“citizenship(s)”) and subsets of humans are associated with such citizenship (C). (Understanding Citizenship?). Some Citizens belong_to Government (G), some belong_to Business (B), and the remaining are ordinary citizens i.e. employed, unemployed, housewives, children etc. Also remember that a human can also belong_to several citizenship, like in case of European Union!

So typically a country (citizenship) can be represented by the following diagram:

Government 2.0 & its Cost:

Government is the guiding agency that represents a country and from the Venn Diagram above, one can see it is composed of Citizens & Aliens (A pretty social format already!). Although the process of selection of a Government in a country varies (it could be democratic, autocratic, communist or even a fantasy tribal dance) but largely all Govs do the same job: Collect taxes, distribute services and regulate.

And the efficiency of such a model of Governance is almost completely dependent on the infrastructure of communication available within a country. For example, state of lawlessness in Somalia is directly proportional to the limited reach of the Somalian Government into its body of citizens which is directly proportional to “trust” that citizens have on the Somalian Government, and therefore, one often sees pirates near the Somalian coast.

As compared to Somalia, the quality of communication between US, Korean or UK Government & its Citizens is far better. And thus more trust, and more effectiveness. Check out what people have to say about trust when it comes to Government & Government websites.

When we talk about Gov 2.0 and social nature of web what we essentially do is bring focus on the communication part between people, entities and Government; i.e. the “broadcast-listening” part together. While broadcasting is definitely on a rise under the Gov 2.0 initiatives recently (Opening YouTube Channels, White House on Twitter etc.), but the listen-ability part seems to be unfortunately taking a back-seat. There is a chance of fumbling, therefore.

Listening Skills:

Check out what Alan W. Silberber, CEO of You2Gov have to say about importance of listening on Huffington Post. Leadership without proper listening infrastructure is indeed bound to become a communication-junkyard, leading to unwanted scathe & frustration amongst people. That’s what happens between leading industries & their customers too if listening quality goes bad.

For example, there is Ed.gov a portal meant to collect ideas for American education. But the biggest stakeholder of education – i.e. Children are almost completely left out of the forum in a way that easily misses the eye of most soothsayers. Is a ten year old kid expected to understand the Terms of Participation on a Government forum like the way you have put, dear US Government? This is an instant case of communication gap, compounded by an equally under-marinated user interface as per target group.

Now that we refer Man as social being, it is definitely imperative for our Government or leaders to become all ears too! A line more easily said than done. The intent to make Governance more efficient and transparent is fraught with changing the mindset. Likes of Alan W. Silberberg and other Gov 2.0 enthusiasts have discussed this at various levels and the need to peer up cannot be emphasized more. The lead is positive, even though the deed is not.

The Naysayers
Too long have some of our leaders belonged to a life where broadcasting was the only consideration of pro-active leadership. Hearing skills, understanding needs of the people was only a back-ground process largely depending on model of lobbying or on very expensive black-box researching or consulting methods and sometimes even media-covered backlash from the public. Will this mindset not be a major impediment in adoption of social media in Governance? Well the truth is out there.

I believe that the “mindset” would impede us more than the costs of the changeover. And it would increase the cost of change over too w.r.t time. Before we arrive at the new generation a close look at great implementations would show us that web 2.0 is not at all costly. Refer to Prof. Vivek Wadhwa’s post on BusinessWeek on how traditional think-tanks can cause severe losses to the tax-payers while great tools can be built at a fraction of the traditionally projected cost. Other impediments could well be the confidence level of a leadership or the integrity of the individuals in question.

Paradigm of Communication:

Communication relevant to Government 2.0 can be divided into following functional relationships:

One – to – One relationship (Human2human):

* A citizen talking to another citizen.
* A citizen talking to a Gov officer
* A Gov officer talking to another Gov officer and so on…

Fortunately, there are several tools to enable one-on-one conversations:

1. IM/Chatting tools like Skype, YM, Gtalk etc.
2. Email services (All web 1.0 services)
3. Mobile phones for example
4. Face to face meetings etc.
5. Dinner at a restaurant etc.

One-to-many relationship (human2Group, human2LargeGroup):

This is where broadcasting chips in. The challenge of broadcasting increases with the size of group. So if we are talking to a small group of friends, it’s easy. But to talk to hundred or more people at the same time, we need a microphone, or Twitter or a blog. You get the picture, do you?

Here are some situations where one-to-many broadcasting applies.

* A citizen broadcasting into his friends
* A Gov Officer broadcasts to his online readers through a blog
* News piece is broadcast on a TV channel
* Newsprint based broadcast
* Sharing on Viral Social Graphs like Facebook
* Twitter based broadcast to followers
* Even a Rock band playing to the crowd in Woodstock
* Or President Obama speaking to Americans etc.

All fit various different situations where an individual (leader/celebrity) reaches out to many listeners in a thoroughly choreographed manner. From a higher level, the one-to-many broadcast situation is a very well addressed problem with hundreds of expert & cost effective solutions available in industry already. Some tools are listed below:

1. Twitter, Microblogs etc.
2. Conference calls on mobile phones
3. A group chat, web conferencing tools like Webex, DimDim etc.
4. Facebook/Orkut or other Social Graphs based on friend circle etc.
5. Blogs, Wikis, Opensource Forums etc.
6. YouTube, Vimeo, Ustream other livestreaming apps
7. Radio, Television, Newsprint
8. Board rooms, Madison Square Garden, Stadiums etc. etc. etc.

Well, I am compiling a big-list of online tools useful for #Gov20 or #Industry20. So if you wanna your product to featured on it drop an email to me: arvind [at] pluggd [dot] in

Many-to-one relationship: (group2human, LargeGroup2human)

This is one area which is difficult to crack and yet to see the growth in industry and even Government. Even though there are a couple of kick-ass conversational tools out there to help leaders listen to the “voice-of-the-people” but cutting the noise has never been easy. With large scale adoption, which is yet to come by, there is a positive inkling of listening tools becoming more sensitive and semantic.

BubbleIdeas – My own startup is one of them which is meant to figure out signal from mesh of conversations, thereby assisting leaders in decision-making. We launched a couple of weeks back and are now powering TalkToHT, a community of one of the largest English daily in Asia. Then there is ‘Ideas’ from SaleForce, which powers IdeaStorm of Dell and MyStarbucksIdeas of Starbucks. Another good tool is Ideascale by Survey Analytics which powers some Gov 2.0 communities already. There are a couple of other tools too which were initially meant for consumer feedback but are now slowly moving into the Gov20 vertical.

But the space for competitive technology is open, and we have to bring about better products to supplement the reverse-broadcasting domain a lot.

The many-to-many relationship (Group2Group)

Coming back to the Venn Diagram of country above, let’s imagine several countries in future who have adopted Gov 2.0. A future where a very large group of humans is able to help another large group of humans elsewhere on an event of an earthquake or other natural calamity. Using the power of APIs, it would so happen that applications in English would be able to communicate with applications in other regional languages. This thought is, however, not new as many great thinkers have already imagined internet to be one great resource of parse-able XML/RFD (or APIs) where applications talk to other applications seamlessly. Do you know of any such write ups?

For BubbleIdeas too I have imagined such an infrastructure of APIs where every single community is able to talk to another community in a seamless manner. The public API’s would not only let developers demonstrate the strength of their community in their community, but also generate really useful tools and visualizers for citizens of other countries too where applications get worldwide exposure and banking. Living my dreams now, with a cheers to everyone!


Reproduced from http://blog.bubbleideas.com
By Arvind Nigam, CEO of BubbleIdeas, a Technology blogger at http://pluggd.in – the largest tech blog in Asia and a systematic Futurist.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Crowd-sourcing is a great way to gather the intelligence of people beyond an agency’s walls…and where I’d like to see more discussion is how an organization can take the many comments and suggestions from a crowd-sourcing effort, prioritize and make them meaningful. The top vote-getting idea may be worth following for an agency…or maybe the individual/organization who submitted the idea was able to most effectively leverage their stakeholders to push it to the top…or maybe they were just the most ambitious.

So that’s a long way of saying: so we get a lot of feedback from people…but then what? The harder and more time-consuming task is sifting out the gold from the extraneous material. How can we make that process more efficient?

Srinidhi Boray

Government is formed by humans and run by humans; and so Government certainly is a vibrant social platform. Look at all the legislative proceedings and other international summits. All run by humans under the glare of the media. It is intrinsically social.

With the social-networking platforms, especially one touted for Government related, it is not about pro-actively bringing people together and motivating them, but rather allowing them to exercise free will, find motivations and use social-networking for advancing their efforts for self governance. It is about creating self sustaining systems at the grass-root level that help them achieve governance by syndication and have much improved results. This in turn creates better open governance and accountability.

Social-networking must be sought in completely new paradigm that is not top-down, but rather bottom-up, and also where pluralism thrives invigorating the grass-root.

Manufacturing consent by Noam Chomsky speaks about it


Also, clash of the civilization is a real thing, but is drastically undergoing metamorphosis owing to changing values

Arvind Nigam

Awesome @Srinidhi & @Andrews : Indeed layering Governance with web 2.0 technologies is a must-do. As @Andrews pointed out earlier, there is a need to filter out Gold from extraneous stuff which would help Government & leaders to listen to the needs of people too and not just broadcast.

That’s where comes the premise of sensible many-to-one tools. I agree pretty much that the concern is definitely not that of crowd-sourcing, but of figuring out signal from noise only. And at the same time its about ensuring that softer signals/conversations too are not lost under the weight of loud-mouths.

I have attempted to make that prioritization happen using some complicated sorting and evaluation algorithms in http://bubbleideas.com, but I am waiting for larger data-set situations to see the performance of the app and possibly hone it further.

Let’s see how it goes forward.

From a technical point of view however, it is definitely possible to sift Gold and figure out worthwhile stuff. And I hope one day the Gov 2.0 will the daylight of meaningful conversations between crowd/soft-spoken individuals and the leaders. Even industry.


Patrick Quinn

Inspiring, indeed. Posts like this are the reason I keep coming back to GovLoop.

Once we start down this road, we inevitably encounter the meta-question raised by the likelihood that all adult Americans will be connected to the network in 10 years: Is [INSTITUTION NAME HERE] necessary at all? Should it look and act the way it does today, or does the existence of the network demand that it undergo radical transformation? Will parts of government wither away? Will long-established agencies and offices become redundant? Is Congress, as it is currently operated and maintained, likely to survive this transformation? The Supreme Court? The White House? The Water Department?

What’s happening now has never happened before. What results cannot be predicted. In 10 years we may be building the starship Enterprise, or we may be groaning under a dictatorship, or everything may look pretty much like it does right now. I think all outcomes are equally likely.

Arvind Nigam

Hey Patrick! Nice point raised there by you. With even @2% change per year a guy in 1920s could not have guessed what 2010 is all about. We are undergoing changes at a much higher rate now.

I wrote piece on Brain – the only object aware of itself a month back >> http://bit.ly/byU3xT
I think you will like reading it, as it hints at what “least” the future is gonna be about. And, yeah I wrote it after raising myself on some “Black Russian” & “Tequila” 🙂


Gary Berg-Cross

Humans are Social Animals especially as we are raised, indeed it seems our intelligence needs it and in turn our intellect is used for social ends.
So why not the Government then? [Well it is already very social and there are plusses and minuses to that since some may misuse our social intelligence for their own gain rather than the public good.

But in general one would like to leverage new connections and social activities for the good of Government operation. There a potential for eGovernment 2.0 to deepen shared understanding and produce wide, long-term societal benefits, but we need to be wise in our use and not produce such an explosion of interaction that there is a distraction from the goals and the strategy to get us there.

Patrick Quinn


I just read the PluggdIn piece, and you raise a valuable point. Machine intelligence further complicates government’s digital environment–it will probably have a much greater disruptive effect behind government firewalls than it will in the social media space.

This is yet another reason for citizens to rapidly adopt new tech and stake out the next-generation political commons. If we wait much longer, government and its machines will gobble up all the nice real estate. More and more I think that the laggards in this race are the People. The conversations that happen on GovLoop need to spread to the population at large.