Government 2.0: The State of the Meme

Meme – An idea or pattern of thought that “replicates” like a virus by being passed along from one thinker to another

As an idea or pattern of thought government 2.0 (gov 2.0) is still being defined and debated. To some it is merely an extension of Web 2.0, to others it is the serious work of transparency and greater citizen involvement through open data.

Let’s dig into this meme…

Gov 2.0 Summit and Expo

Wow, what an event this was. Tim O’Reilly and his leadership team put on quite a show. I was in attendance on a press badge and was fortunate enough to view the events in the crowd and on the inside.

The event signaled a shock to the Washington DC government crowd. For a long time these beltway folks had been toiling away under the radar before an unsupportive administration. Now, they are in position to make some major moves in the federal sphere.

On the same level of shock, Silicon Valley and the O’Reilly team faced some hard facts about the beltway. Their can-do attitude and forceful energy stepped on one too many toes. And, I think it safe to say turned many off because of the government inefficiencies and roadblocks in the way of innovation and reform.

I saw a little east coast, west coast rivalry pop-up. Fortunately, the show went on and many from around the country attended the event, had a blast, and completely missed out on the kerfuffles.

For an interesting review on the event check out Amy Senger’s ‘The Gov 2.0 Showdown

Celebrity Status

Gov 2.0 has yet to make it big. A google news search shows that only 222 articles mention the term. Few large media outlets are talking about the movement. It has yet to penetrate the consciousness of the average person and more importantly the middle manager.

A google blog search reveals over 40,000 hits. Apparently there is some viral conversations taking place with many thinkers opining on the topic.

The Definition

Is it about personal brands, twitter, and facebook. Or, as Tim O’Reilly says its about government as a platform. Maybe, its about Enterprise 2.0 as Professor Andy McAfee and Andrea Baker have been talking about.

We have yet to come to a solid agreement about the definition. In fact, much of the discussion revolves around each blogger stating their own definition or throwing stones at another’s.

It does appear that gov 2.0 is infiltrating every level of government. With each office incorporating social media, cloud computing, and open API’s into their job buckets. Which leaves some remaining tough questions about openness, transparency, and the role of government in all of this.

Leadership

In an age of personal brands it appears that everyone is a leader in the space of government 2.0. Everyone has done everything and is an expert in all. Just a few years of experience and a blog post published on a prominent website, make you a star.

Sarcasm aside government 2.0 is hard work. It takes community building, relationships, coding, networking, promotion, and more. The most striking leaders in this space are those performing nearly all of those roles. Which means they are often hidden from popular view but deeply influential in their spheres of work.

This hidden work combined with the lack of celebrity status has left a clear opening for profiteers. Many are hoping to be the first to break the story and claim success. A challenge to ethical underpinnings of this new community.

Community

In my opinion the single largest effect of Tim O’Reilly’s move into the gov 2.0 world is to bring all of this hard work to a broader audience. Personally, I feel like I am now connected to every state government, city government, regional federal office, all in addition to the existing Washington DC offices, which are legion.

Beyond that are hundreds of NGO’s on both sides of the aisle and in the middle are pushing agendas, uncovering scandals, and playing with data.

The community encompasses so many folks that it is going to be tough to wrangle all of them together.

The Future

Is very bright. We appear to have at least three more years of enlightened tech policy coming out of the white house. Which filters down to every level of public and private work. Big contracts and big corporations are starting to take notice and follow the money.

The recession too is providing an opportunity for gov 2.0. The realization of improved efficiency and cost savings are helping to overcome transient cultural barriers. I’ve even seen stimulus dollars used for gov 2.0 work (blackberries for Baltimore PD).

Behind the scenes the back channels and ego battles are just as interesting. Players are being challenged, camps are forming, and feelings are being hurt. The traditional way of doing business is being challenged with women asserting their rights in tech. Average folks who normally have no voice are able to trumpet their issues across new communication mediums to make their voice heard and responded too.

I look forward to more rapid growth, another gov 2.0 event, and ever more kerfuffles. I hope the progress and reform continues. I hope the west coast can help break the stranglehold the major defense companies have on government work. I hope that our community overcomes its own ego and looks to the common good.

This piece comes as a follow on to Andrew McAfee’s, Enterprise 2.0: The State of the Meme, written over 3 years ago in June 2006

Documentation 2.0 – or how to fire your employees

A colleague and I recently had a chance to visit an amazing government office.

Among the many things we were shown, which included an office of the future, prediction markets, and collaborative strategy rooms, we were shown a simple little tool for documentation. Documentation is important in the government because employees are only let go for proper reasons. Most companies provide this documentation when they fire you to avoid lawsuits and the like. Governments require even more documentation, which is often so hard to acquire that many bad employees skip by for years.

How to solve this?

RSS Documentation. Put the data flowing out of our work into a personal file for each employee. Review that file during performance reviews. Whammo, you have an auto-documentation system for firing (and promoting) people.

The key here is that our work needs to be in programs that have RSS feeds. Some of the newer technology has this (like this blog) but many of our old programs don’t. There does seem to be a trend to move our daily business work into programs that can have RSS feeds.

Once you have these feeds that represent actions taken by employees. You will need a program that parses the data to recognize the name of the employee. It will then go into their file. If you want to get crazy you could also parse it by project, roles, or duties. Then you would have a running record of the actions taken for each project.

Gaming.

Ya, I know, the system can be gamed. Anything can. I really don’t know how to solve that problem. I can say that having tons of data documented is a huge step. Remember most are coming to the table with no data other than a bi-yearly review.

With tons of data you could start to perform trend analysis, comparison analysis, independent review. You could even establish milestones and deadlines and allow the employee to meet or not meet them. Imagine having that happen several times and auto-tracked in your personal file.

You could also do team analysis. This is something we viewed during our tour. The manager in charge would find a successful team and see what happened when those folks left the team. Did they also improve another team and did their current team see a drop. Imagine how powerful that is, you could find dead weight and determine powerful pairings.

Well, this seems so perfect for performance reviews and firing people. It has to be only a matter of time before this happens. Management is going to know what i am doing all day long, at specific times, and going to be able to call me on it 6 months later…

Scary.

Senate Hearing Discusses Web 2.0 to Improve our Democracy

Wow, I am really excited. Something amazing happened yesterday, Dec 11, 2007, for the American people, democracy, and my work. I will try to break it down for you in a simplified way. The story is pulled from several statements, 60 plus pages, and a Senate Hearing. Here it is:

A Congressional Hearing was called by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins to discuss the state of the web, our government, and web 2.0. They invited Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia), Google, the OMB, and the Center for Internet and Democracy.

The session was all about opening up our government websites to the people of America (and the world) by introducing collaboration and transparency into the process of democracy. Senator Susan Mullins, in her opening remarks, states that the internet has been around for 20 years, but the “federal commitment to the web…is only 5 years old” (see E-Gov, 2002). Meaning that they have a lot of catching up to do.

First on the agenda was search engines. A Pew study conducted in 2004 shows that 77% of Americans get information about their government via search engines [1, pdf]. Furthermore JL Needham, of Google, stated that, “we can assume that this already impressive number has risen farther” since 2004. I can easily imagine this number today being in the 90th percentile.

The speakers go on to demonstrate that a surprisingly large amount of publicly available government information is not searchable. They cite various reasons, one being that websites are using *robots.txt* files, which prohibit search engines from “crawling” the data. The conclusion and recommendations from all was that this needs to change. Senator Lieberman, even questioned whether this was an accident or just simply “not going the extra mile”.

Imagine what resources could be made available to anyone using a search engine once this issue is resolved. We are talking about science reports, emergency information, available grants, and much more.

The second recommendation was for the government to embrace collaboration and openness. Not only within the government but with the American people. In the words of Senator Lieberman,

“Today, we will also examine how new collaborative technologies can strengthen interaction among government agencies and the public. Jimmy Wales – the founder of Wikipedia, the most thrilling example of what collaborative technology can produce – will walk us through the concepts behind Wikipedia and how similar technologies can be applied to government for greater information sharing, collaboration, and communication both within government and with the public.”

That was his opening line! To his credit, Mr. Wales impressively laid out the business process and features of Wikipedia in a clear and simple way. Making sure to answer some of the more controversial aspects of the online encyclopedia, while also providing examples of how the process can be used for government agencies.

His prepared speech impressed me the most and I recommend reading it (pdf). In it he discusses how the First Amendment, freedom of speech, is being both protected and fulfilled in Wikipedia, and how this very same process can,

“…improve our government’s ability to gather and share information for increased security, for increased governmental responsiveness in our open society, and for the preservation of democratic values.”

His final recommendation was for the American government to use wiki’s, both internally and for the public. The public wiki angle excites me the most as this is something I have been asking for and speaking about for a while. Engaging the American people in a dialogue about our laws, amendments, problems, programs, and more using a wiki can have a tremendous impact on democracy in America. I can imagine our laws being drafted in a public wiki, and citizens can directly edit, discuss, and impact the laws of our federal, state, and local governments.

Forget, “get out the vote”, lets go with “wikify the government”.

I know things like this will definitely take time, but this is an important first step. Having the right people, saying the right things also helps too. What an exciting moment and an invigorating era to be alive in!

Reference Materials:

Further interesting observations:

Who knew lobbyists, or rather Google lobbysits, would be pushing for this?

Even more so, who knew that in 6 years a little known project called Wikipedia that called for “free access to the sum of all human knowledge” would be before Congress asking them to join in?

Senator Lieberman – Both the Legislative and Executive branches must “increase its transparency and expand its interactive relationship with the public “ [2, pdf]

JL Needham – “Making publicly available government information more accessible and useful to citizens…makes our democracy more transparent, accountable, and relevant to its citizens.”

Mr. Needham, again – “In the Web 2.0 world, where more and more citizens are using blogs, wikis, online mapping, video sharing services, and social networking sites to communicate and collaborate with each other, there will be even more demand for government to bring information to citizens where they are through these new platforms. This information will also help serve as a core component of the user-generated content that is driving the deeper engagement of Americans with each other, and with our democracy, through the Web.” [3, pdf]

President George HW Bush – “…expanding the use of the Internet and computer resources in order to deliver Government services, […] for a citizen-centered, results-oriented, and market-based Government.” [4]

Jimmy Wales – “it is important that governments use technology wisely to communicate with the public, and also to allow the public to communicate with the government.” [5, pdf]