One of the key fears inhibiting government adoption of Gov 2.0 strategies is simple: What if it works? We have to answer this question honestly. Otherwise Gov 2.0 will fail because it will be neither credible nor trusted by citizens or the agencies asked to implement Gov 2.0 practices.
What does a Gov 2.0 World look like for both agencies and citizens assuming pervasive public participation and/or inter and intra-government collaboration? What does it mean over time: 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years? Maybe something like this:
1. A Meaningful Public Comment Process. A first step to effective Gov 2.0 is to ensure that existing public comment processes work better. Traditional public comment processes have been stuck in a time warp. They are contentious, complex, emotional, and costly. But as a paradigm, they have advantages.
As a convention, public comment is 200-years old, a “standard” that is designed to discover the best ideas. It has characteristics designed to minimize citizens’ social fear of participation— identity, attribution, required relevance, and referential information.
As a first step to future Gov 2.0, we would provide the means to enable citizens to more easily participate, and agencies to more easily manage and accurately analyze and report public comment. Governments could easily and without fear be confident that they can manage hundreds, thousands, or even millions of comments that take the form of text, audio, video, or other data elements or any combination that makes up a “new” form of public comment.
We also should recognize that the role of public comment is not to enable continuous voting but to discover unique ideas. In other words public comment should influence outcomes with better data based on a broad, range of citizen experiences.
To make the process work better agencies would clearly describe how they act on individual comments. This would provide citizens with an understanding that they can make a difference, and at a minimum that they were heard.
2. Gov 2.0 Enables Citizen Exchange through Distributed Transparency. In a Gov 2.0 paradigm, government moves beyond mere data aggregation in portal based environments like data.gov and recovery.gov and evolves to facilitate constructive citizen exchange in what are sometimes project centric and decentralized Web based networks. In Gov 2.0 the notion of “transparency” evolves from simple availability of data to contribution and citizen exchange of data that creates understanding and trust.
Citizen exchange recognizes the importance of “community access nodes” as described by Valdis Krebs (@valdiskrebs). In other words it becomes less “portal-centric” and more “citizen centric in” decentralized networks for those parts of federal, state and local government responsible for implementation of policy.
3. Gov 2.0 Leverages Many Types of Networks and Network Behaviors to Solve Big Problems. The whole point of Gov 2.0, is to enable government to leverage many types of networks to solve a variety of business problems. To be successful, government will differentiate between problems and solutions across a wide array of possibilities.
Some problems are best resolved with social collaboration served with episodic networks — for defined periods of time and levels of participation. Transportation planning, environmental and land use issues all fall into this category. Other problems may require sustained internal participation in closed networks – such as best practice sharing and continuous business improvement for service delivery to citizens.
In Gov 2.0 citizens and government employees will move freely between government sponsored network behaviors and citizen audiences that may be found in social network portals and media audiences. The ability to publish to Facebook, Twitter and You Tube and their progeny, will provide outlets for citizen exchange and information sharing.
The key to Gov 2.0 adoption is to make it easy for government employees to achieve results ⎯ to make their jobs easier through network participation, not harder.
4. Gov 2.0 Technology is Invisible to Citizens and Government Employees. Future Gov 2.0 is characterized by a commitment to achieving results. Gov 2.0 technologies are so simple to use and implement that the most non-technical members of networks use the technologies naturally because it makes their work life easier, and their relationships with government stronger.
5. Government and Citizens Define New Relationships. In Gov 2.0, government and citizens define their relationship in new ways. Government serves as the trusted leader of many citizen networks by providing content and facilitating discussions. Government also listens and communicates results to citizen members.
Citizens also have a responsibility. They have to engage responsibly and with sensitivity to being constructive and achieving results. It is not appropriate or allowed for citizens to engage in “smart mobs” or electronic “food fights”. Government 2.0 is a place of civility for all involved.
As a result of having a low cost high benefit way of communicating with their government, citizens become more involved and government makes decisions faster, more efficiently, and with less cost than ever before possible. In Gov 2.0, government becomes a part of the social profile of each citizen.
Though Gov 2.0 challenges are often defined by new technology, the most compelling barriers to Gov 2.0 adoption are behavioral. If we are committed to a Gov 2.0 vision, what does it take to realize that vision? Do we have the will to do those things necessary to make Gov 2.0 more than a dream? We have to address important questions.
First, are we truly ready and able to listen?
Listening is hard. And our government structures are often not designed to enable listening. Why? because government is built with clear lines of authority, chains of command, and clearly defined roles. As so aptly described by a host of commentators, from James Surowoecki (Wisdom of Crowds) to Seth Godin (Tribes), traditional roles change in a 2.0 world. Value creation is not linear but distributed. In Gov 2.0 relevant information is produced by networks (in this case of citizens, colleagues and peers). See Yochai Benkler. Wealth of Networks. This challenges historically created organizational charts, and conventions.
There is also a motivational element. Are politicians willing to listen? Are government employees willing to consider new ideas advanced by informed citizens and industry? If Gov 2.0 truly works, agencies will enable others to contribute – to be the collective experts. In fact they will seek involvement because it will make their jobs better and more productive.
This means that to be effective, government will have to experience organizational re-engineering. It will have to promote listening skills and be willing to accept alternative viewpoints often in horizontal communication layers.
Second, will agencies be able to manage large volumes of public comment and social collaboration?
What if a local city receives thousands of comments? What if a federal agency receives millions? And it isn’t just comments. What if agencies promote citizen exchange in electronic conversations – blogs, wikis, videos, and ideation? Who owns the responsibility to analyze and report on mountains of new data — many more times anything before experienced? When we invite citizens to the table, can we serve them?
Third, is government prepared to recruit a newly skilled work force?
It is often said that the skills necessary to win the last battle are not necessarily the skills necessary to win the next battle. So it is with Gov 2.0. Generations X, Y, and the Millennials have developed digital skills and an expectation of open communications. Are these skills prevalent in government or do we need to create special positions that elevate these new methods, much as private industry has promoted digital communications officers?
Finally, is the government prepared for the unexpected?
Networks often generate the unexpected — emergent properties. On its face, this would seem to contradict the very essence of government – the ability to predict and plan outcomes. But emergent properties, the unexpected, are often valuable.
Since they are unexpected, it is difficult to plan for emergent outcomes. But could government have a plan? For instance, in the Open Dialogue, when tens of thousands of citizens promoted an agenda challenging the legitimacy of President Obama’s US birth, what was the plan? Surely, there will be many similar events in a networked world. Is government ready?
New visions, change, always have elephants running around — transformation attracts them. But when they are in the room, better to answer the tough questions.
The point is that we need to ask hard questions. We have to do our best to understand what is possible with Gov 2.0, and what we will have to do realize its promise. What if it works?