Web 2.0 for government: a unique opportunity?

At a govie staff meeting yesterday, the interesting point was made that there’s potentially a huge advantage to innovating via social media in government because government is more willing to share with government. In other words, there are not the inherent barriers to sharing best practices that crop up in the private sector, where Company A is reluctant to share with Company B their latest outreach/productivity/communication innovations that leverage Web 2.0.

Granted, the government has it’s own unique set of challenges around security, firewalls and cultures that are slow to embrace change. But might the focus on mission override – or at least soften – these barriers?

What do you think: is government uniquely well-positioned to share and accelerate adoption because of an absence of market competition? How might we leverage this advantage for government?

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Andre Goodfriend

Government is positioned differently than commercial enterprises, that’s true — but there are similar competition models. Offices still compete with each other for budgets, and there is a competition to develop a constituency (which may be seen as similar to market share). By the same token, there are organizations in the private sector that compete differently — look at the open source software movement.

Private coorporations form partnerships all the time. In fact, they seem to have a natural tendency to team up and share information among themselves, requiring trust-busting laws and safeguards and insider dealing.

It’s not necessarily whether an organization is commercial or government which provides the opportunities to use Web 2.0, it’s whether the organization can see the benefit of transparent (or at least translucent) collaboration among independent actors, versus bringing everyone together under one roof in a hierarchical, coordinated system.

The US may have an advantage over other more centralized governments in that we’re accustomed to decentralized systems and the interplay between district, city, county, state, nation, etc., but I don’t think that government structures per se are able to take better advantate of Web 2.0 than are corporate ones.

That’s just a rough, quickly thought out view though and is open to reconsideration.

Ari Herzog

When you consider approximately 25% of the U.S. Congress is twittering, few are sending messages to each other or referencing the other. By contrast, when the US Airways jet water ditched in the Hudson River, other airlines on Twitter were sending messages about the competition.

Government still has a while to go.

Darren Buck

I’ll just restate something that Ari and Andre alluded to — It seems to me that even those government nodes that get all 2.0ish still have trouble with the ‘social’ part of social media. Interaction and collaboration is lacking, blogs/twitter/youtube et al are just channels to push content for government by and large.

Regards to Andre’s point on central v decentralized authority, note that so many of those government leaders in truly embracing web 2.0 and the interactivity are those with the unfettered authority to do so (political appointees, members of congress, small independent offices).

To your original idea about the absence of market forces removing the barriers to free interaction, I would suggest the flipside, that the same absence of market forces can also take away the incentives to interact.

Kelly O'Brien

Sigh. Yes, I’m with you all on points well made. The forces of self-interest and turf wars are alive and well, with social media being another powerful weapon in that arsenal. I cling to the hope, perhaps, that Web 2.0 will eventually be the great equalizer…that those without unfettered authority (or revolutionary spirit) will prevail. Sea changes don’t happen overnight, right? But will it take a generation of new leaders for this idealistic vision to manifest or are we closer than that?

AJ Malik

The battle is essentially one between horizontal networks and vertical institutions. Social networking is antithetical to traditional hierarchical power structures and there is an inevitable conflict between the two. But power is shifting. The world is changing. Web 2.0 is creating new innovation models, enterprise organizations, and democracy.

Dave Hebert

As most of our “products” in government are data and info made expressly for the public and decision makers to use free of charge (or mostly), it seems we have a huge reason and advantage to use social media tech. There should be a big, two-way pipeline of info amongst government agencies and between gov’t and the public.

Kelly O'Brien

AN, framing this as horizontal networks confronting vertical institutions is helpful. Thanks for that perspective.