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Web 2.0 and Government – Helping us to Just Do It!

“With the adoption of social computing and social media by citizens under the age of 25 already exceeding 75 percent, government organizations now need to plan and implement initiatives to engage and service the citizens of today and tomorrow.” This is a statement taken from “Leveraging Web 2.0 in Government,” a recently released paper published by the IBM Center for The Business of Government that summarizes the results of a study undertaken by Ai-Mei Chang and P.K. Kannan. The study, which focused on understanding social computing, developing the framework, understanding citizen perceptions, and figuring out how to measure engagement and effectiveness, came up with the following findings:

• Government needs to meet citizens where they are online.
• Citizens are willing to interact with government agencies online. (enhance trust, increase transparency, increase citizen influence)
• The role of intermediaries will increase. (feels they must employ and leverage intermediaries but this decreases control)
• Government will need to rethink content and service design.
• Government will have to find ways to embed authority in its web-based services.
• Some citizens are concerned about equal access.
• Citizens trust the government with personal data but not for service efficiency.
• Government will need to measure the effectiveness of its Web 2.0 initiatives.

These findings led the researchers to develop the following recommendations:

• Just do it
• Develop a government-wide inventory of common Web 2.0 issues.
• Strategically rethink how to deliver on your mission.
• Reconfigure your Internet information and services to be more component based.
• Ensure authenticity of government information and services.
• Learn and keep an open mind.

As a government worker myself, I agree with most of the findings except for the idea that government requires an intermediary to pull off successful implementation of social media. I find it a paradox that people still spread this myth that somehow private management is better than public while all these major, private businesses continue to fail due to poor management and possibly questionable practices. How many states, counties, or cities with the same monetary value have failed and then showed up on the steps of Congress hoping for a bailout?

Another issue is that intermediaries usually have never had any experience in government and do not understand the policies, procedures, and laws under which government works. They also do not understand that the purpose of government is to serve the people in the most effective and efficient manner possible. I realize that some agencies are better at achieving this than others, but if they are ineffective or inefficient, people have an opportunity at the next election to try to remedy that. Also, unless serving as a volunteer, an intermediary is in business and therefore must be driven by profit and not the best interests of the public.

The other issue with an intermediary is the loss of trust. As pointed out by the study, people do trust government with personal information, and this trust would probably not extend to a non-government entity running the show.

Additionally, the use of an intermediary could cause people to feel someone has more control than they do. The concern expressed by people in this study about ensuring equal access reflects this. Everyone in a community wants to be considered equal. They can accept someone in government moderating because in the end they have control over that person’s participation, but once a private citizen steps into that role, they want to know “how come that person is so special?” This risks losing buy-in and participation.

Overall, the report provided important information and guidance for governments as we transition to these new methods of communicating with our constituents. I like the “Just do it” recommendation, but after talking with some other government workers, I find that is easier said than done. Even if someone in government is ready to go forward, there is a learning curve with and possibly resistance from others in their agency. We are at the threshold of drastically changing the way we do business, and not only within government. What we need now is some good promotional materials we can use to take back to others in our agencies to get everyone on board. And then we need good guidance documents with some best practices and ideas for implementation that fit within the rules, policies, procedures, and laws under which we work.

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Profile Photo Scott Horvath

“And then we need good guidance documents with some best practices and ideas for implementation that fit within the rules, policies, procedures, and laws under which we work.”

While this is a valid point, I would add that we should also be working on ways to enhance the policies that we have to work within to accommodate a technological environment that has changed, dramatically, since most of those policies were written. If we continue to act within the older policies then we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Policies aren’t meant to dictate what we do for now and into the future…forever. They’re meant to compliment the current climate and status of society knowing that they need to be flexible and change as the climate shifts. The problem is that many policies haven’t shifted quite yet while others are shifting too slowly.

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

Scott,
That is exactly right. Along with revising policies, lawmakers also need to look at the laws because many of the existing ones do not apply well to all of this. Not sure how to take it to this level, but as you say, this is something we should also pursue.

Profile Photo Gray Craig

I think the solution to the problem of Just Doing It is taking the time to create those “good guidance documents with some best practices and ideas for implementation that fit within the rules, policies, procedures, and laws under which we work” that will help convince the resistant leadership. Best practices and implementations abound, but the soul-numbing part is researching the Web 2.0 vendor Terms of Service and seeign how you can integrate with new (or adaptive) policies, laws, etc.

Profile Photo Dennis McKenna

In the spirit of Just Do It and an innovative example of government’s use of Web 2.0 – don’t know if any of you have followed the State of Missouri’s experiments with using Second Life to recruit IT staff. About a year ago they launched a presence within Second Life and have held job fairs within that environment. The State’s CIO Dan Ross recently announced the Department of Natural Resources hired their first recruit as a result of these efforts. You can find more about what they are doing here and there’s an earlier video report about here .

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

Dennis
I have watched the state of Missouri and what they have been doing in Second Life – it is really cool and innovative. Second Life has so much potential for government and can enhance work-related tasks like planning, design, networking, meetings, and research. Bill Greeves and I even set up a municipal Web 2.0 group in there and are setting up a virtual space where local government can meet and further explore the uses of Second Life.

Profile Photo Tom Vannoy

We are starting to look at bring Web 2.0 into our internal IT presence, according to Burton Group this type of utilization is called Enterprise 2.0, before we expand to use it externally. The trick for us seems to be ensuring the requirements are defined up front so that we implement something that will be a quick win so we can build on it. Many people are in love with the idea of implementing a WIKI for internal use – however some of us are not 100% sold that it’s the magic app we want to try first. The other issue we are trying to get our hands around is how do you set up governance around Enterprise 2.0 applications? For something designed to be flexible, grow ‘organically’, and typically mushrooms into something you did not even consider – how do you put governance steps around it – or do you?

Profile Photo Christopher Parente

Pam — great post. A couple of thoughts on these points:

As a government worker myself, I agree with most of the findings except for the idea that government requires an intermediary to pull off successful implementation of social media. I find it a paradox that people still spread this myth that somehow private management is better than public while all these major, private businesses continue to fail due to poor management and possibly questionable practices. How many states, counties, or cities with the same monetary value have failed and then showed up on the steps of Congress hoping for a bailout?

Another issue is that intermediaries usually have never had any experience in government and do not understand the policies, procedures, and laws under which government works. They also do not understand that the purpose of government is to serve the people in the most effective and efficient manner possible. I realize that some agencies are better at achieving this than others, but if they are ineffective or inefficient, people have an opportunity at the next election to try to remedy that. Also, unless serving as a volunteer, an intermediary is in business and therefore must be driven by profit and not the best interests of the public.

One thing I’ve seen by working with (not for) agencies is that the culture of cross-agency trust and info sharing needs to be developed. Social media blurs boundaries and releases data in new ways — many in government need to get more comfortable with this fact.

Re intermediaries, its all how they help facilitate. You’re right that if they don’t understand government, they can’t be effective. A good example might be GovDelivery. They know that communication in the private and public spaces is very different. That’s why they only do public. And their unified SaaS platform makes it much easier for agencies to implement better communication strategies, but it’s still the agency “doing it,” with better tools.

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

Christopher,
If companies work only with public entities and have done so for many years, I could see how they might be able to have a better perspective than companies that try to juggle both public and private. And particularly if in the end it is the agency delivering the communication with the company helping in the background to facilitate that service.

You also mention the need to encourage sharing and trust between agencies – I have also seen a lack of sharing and trust between different levels of government which usually ends up leading to problems and impedes progress. As a local government worker, I find that this is one of the biggest challenges I have to face each day. I always think that all of us who work in a certain area or region are basically working for the same people. So if each level would only approach the other in a cooperative and nonadversarial manner, we could deliver a better job to the public.

Profile Photo Mark Danielson

Pam,

Most interesting to me is the idea in the “leveraging” article that we need to meet citizens where they are now: online.

Trust issues above will always exist. How can 2.0 make more love? Happy vet’s day – Peace

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

Mark,
I see that “need to meet citizens…” comment everywhere and do believe we should be trying to provide as many government services online as possible. Sometimes though I am so into achieving this that I forget that not everyone is online yet.

Yesterday a resident with a problem called to request that the city send her a letter to address the issue and guide her in its resolution. She seemed to be in a hurry to receive the letter so I told her I would type it up right away and could e-mail it if she gave me her e-mail address. She said no, she didn’t have a computer and to just mail it.

So although I am definitely pushing to get as many services and information online, I have to keep reminding myself that not everyone is there yet and maybe won’t be for some time. And then I wonder, as we start setting up online Web 2.0 policies and guidelines, should we also address how we will handle getting the same info to those who are not online? and are we obligated to do so?

Peace, love and thanks to all vets and their families!