As evidenced by the National Dialogue, Recovery.gov, data.gov and the Open Dialogue, government is “ramping up” for a feverish pace of Gov 2.0 adoption. But as also evidenced by early experiences (and failures) with Gov 2.0, are we as government and as a country doing the right thing, making the best decisions – adopting the best strategies?
As we expand traditional methods of engagement, are we being comprehensive, thoughtful, and critical in the implementation of new means of engagement and with the appropriate and optimal technology construct? And of course, are we spending scarce budget dollars in methods and approaches that have a high probability of success – not just in driving successful technology projects, but also in achieving hypothesized results?
Perhaps we could all take a deep breath and reflect. Perhaps we could learn from common experience in a way that will reduce our chances of failure and increase our long-term opportunity for success – success in including more citizens in government processes, and success in enabling the process of government to work better.
We are going to get one chance to do this the right way – to deliver results that will build trust by a rightfully skeptical public audience. It is a historic moment.
The Gov 2.0 challenge
The evolution of Gov 2.0 is not unlike the evolution of Web 2.0. Web 2.0, spawned by social portals is the rage of the moment. Business organizations are just beginning to learn how to leverage Web 2.0 in a way that leads to meaningful business results. Yet, even in business, enterprise understanding and adoption are in an embryonic stage. The power of collective action is unarguable. But most businesses also recognize that collective action by customers, partners, and employees is disruptive to traditional business processes. Understanding and embracing that disruption is easier said than done.
The problems inherent in business use of Web 2.0 are magnified many times over in government. After all federal, state and local government is the largest enterprise in the US representing 1 out of 6.5 of all workers (22.16M employees out of 141M), an estimated 35% of 2010 GDP, and with 306M citizens as customers. Government networks are amongst the most numerous and complex in existence. They fulfill a diverse plethora of business needs. They support difficult decision and policy-making structures.
Big numbers mean more complexity and a greater opportunity for failure. In light of the challenge, how do we create an environment that will foster success?
The technology prism
Technology is a recognized enabler for Gov 2.0 strategies. It is not surprising then, that transformational leadership of Gov 2.0 has largely been a technology focused discussion. I would argue that we should view the business challenge from a very different perspective – one grounded in an understanding of citizen and organizational behavior and a keen view of the “public good” that we are trying to achieve.
Vivek Kundra (CIO) and Aneesh Chopra (CTO) have articulated a far-reaching vision of transformational change for the federal government that is long over due. It is a vision that seeks to leverage technology into meaningful engagement, and one which supports change in governmental processes to allow government agencies to easily acquire that technology without massive system builds – in the cloud – itself a seminal moment in government.
Yet we still have not changed the most fundamental impediment – the view that our technology infrastructure must primarily support highly centralized data aggregation and portalized outreach. We are building large government portals designed to aggregate data (under the banner of transparency). Similarly, we are mass importing early Web 2.0 commercial strategies designed to aggregate consumers in social portals.
Critically, will the portals prove to be relevant (and credentialed) to most citizens with a high probability of success? Similarly, will social portal and Web 2.0 strategies built on a highly centralized model lead to meaningful citizen dialogue – or just more online food fights and smart mobs that destroy public credibility and agency morale? Will both elements of strategy maximize the “public good” or are there alternatives that will drive higher probabilities for success?
The behavioral prism
Building solutions that promote unstructured or semi-structured communications is inherently a different challenge than building technology systems and solutions that support transactions and/or structured (and often secure) communications. The two have very different purposes and require different rules of communication and business logic to be successful.
This is where Gov 2.0 could borrow a page from social sciences now being used to transform design principles in our physical environment. Let me share three examples.
First, in environmental planning there is a design paradigm known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Wikipedia describes CPTED as follows:
“As established by Newman, defensible space must contain two components. First, defensible space should allow people to see and be seen continuously. Ultimately, this diminishes residents fear because they know that a potential offender can easily be observed, identified, and consequently, apprehended. Second, people must be willing to intervene or report crime when it occurs. By increasing the sense of security in settings where people live and work, it encourages people to take control of the areas and assume a role of ownership. When people feel safe in their neighborhood they are more likely to interact with one another and intervene when crime occurs. These remain central to most implementations of CPTED as of 2004.”
Said simply, rather than building walls to keep criminals out, open environments creating clear lines of sight make people feel more secure – a challenge to traditional norms.
“In contrast to long-standing practices in transportation design that place primary importance on moving traffic (vehicular throughput), the CSS process emphasizes that transportation facilities should fit their physical settings and preserve scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.” Wikipedia.
A third example is the new urbanism movement. Broadly stated, new urbanism recognizes that neighborhoods are increasingly vibrant when built to enable walkability, diversity, and low scale architectures. See Wikipedia.
In all 3 examples traditional notions of centralized human behavior are giving way to citizen focused, contextual design, more appropriate for the way that we as citizens actually live. Over the last 50 years we have spent billions if not trillions of dollars of our GDP building out our physical environment, to only now, upon reflection, understand that we can achieve safer residential areas, more efficient transportation systems, and more vibrant city-scapes by critically evaluating how contextual design and infrastructure best serves the public good.
The opportunity for Gov 2.0 is to similarly achieve that same level of creativity, thoughtfulness and understanding. In Gov 2.0, before we embrace large system builds and centralized portal structures, we should critically reflect on whether those paradigms will best meet our goals. In implementing Gov 2.0, do we fully understand how design influences citizen and agency behaviors?
A blank canvas
The point is that as we go forward in promoting Gov 2.0, we can and should be more thoughtful. Though well intended, we should recognize that the old (if relatively recent) ways of building communications structures in Web 2.0 may not in fact maximize the public good when it comes to Gov 2.0. Gov 2.0 is much more than a data exercise requiring massive data collection and portalized reporting. It is much more than a citizen outreach exercise that serves as an extension of political campaign processes where citizens often vent – not always constructively.
Gov 2.0 should first and foremost be centric to citizens, and for internal networks, agency officials. It should be designed to enable citizens and agencies to constructively exchange data, and points of view based on experience. It should enhance the business of government, to enable government to work more efficiently, and to enable policy makers and elected representatives to make better, more inclusive and sustainable decisions. Gov 2.0 should be built with design principles that maximize inclusion and that eliminate the social fear that citizens often feel. Gov 2.0 should enable distributed transparency that promotes decentralized citizen and agency exchange as well as centralized management.
That is the promise of Gov 2.0 – to be transformational, but thoughtful. We have a blank canvas. But if we break the promise, to citizens and to ourselves, Gov 2.0 could well be an opportunity lost.
We need Thoughtful 2.0 in our Gov 2.0.