Government takes Web 2.0 with a Web 1.0 mindset

Agencies are moving forward with Web 2.0, but they are not harnessing its potential

For all the talk about Web 2.0 in government and business, most people still have a 1.0 mentality.

The buzz suggests that enterprise 2.0 — the application of social media in a professional environment — is poised to change how we work and govern. Soon, through the power of Twitter, Facebook and blogs, we will all be mashing unstructured and uncontrolled information into virtual working societies with no regard to time, space or distance.

But that is not happening yet. Instead, most experiments with enterprise 2.0 have been limited to the creation of additional communication channels to broadcast organizational messages to a defined customer set, albeit with good value in speed and targeting of delivery. Call it marketing 2.0.

The real promise lies in using social-networking technology to alter the fundamental command-and-control operating model that has dominated most organizations since the Industrial Revolution more than 100 years ago.

Social media has worked in a social context by connecting geographically, culturally and ideologically diverse groups, letting them create cohorts for their unique purposes at their own pace. Consider Internet music development. Offerings such as eJamming.com enable collaborative music composition that was previously impossible.

At eJamming, a musician can lay a track, a snippet, a full song or an instrumental. Other musicians take that initial music and build on it. New composers contribute in their own way, interpreting prior composers’ contributions. There is no advanced plan, no objectives, no vision of the outcome, only the collective contribution that becomes the final piece, where “final” simply represents the latest available iteration.

Now, imagine that same process in a marketing program, application development initiative or drug research at established companies. It is hard to picture achieving any usable outcomes in an organization that has specific objectives and a vision of how to serve its customers. Nonetheless, it is possible.

For example, one state government — I can't divulge which — is using enterprise 2.0 technology to quickly and efficiently sift through and prioritize the onslaught of spending requests coming from a diverse group of agencies, citizens, businesses and legislators.

State officials are now using a combination of technologies — including RSS feeds, e-mail-to-blog publishers, visual data representation, polling and voting, and collaborative project management technologies — to build capabilities to rapidly target spending opportunities, assess and match needs and likely outcomes, and track the value created through various spending initiatives. Though it is still early, this agency expects its approach to change the decades-old way the government has engaged with requestors, administrators and the public.

Until organizations recognize that achieving powerful outcomes will require a serious shift in how they connect with customers, employees, partners and stakeholders, enterprise social media might be relegated to that-thing-the-kids-do-but-we-don’t-do-here. Or worse: a message in your inbox with the subject line: “Your boss is now following you on Twitter.”

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Reader comments

Mon, Apr 27, 2009 Doug Smith Los Altos, CA

An interesting perspective. Rich, how do you see this evolving under the new federal administration? Much has been written about the Obama electoral campaign making use of Facebook, SMS, and myriad new communication techniques? Any bold predictions on how long it might take for that to filter down into the federal beuracracy?

Mon, Apr 20, 2009

The key term in the last paragraph is "employees". My agency is still paper-based, albeit using email. Its internal communications paradigm is still hierarchical and command-and-control. Fortunately, there is an increasing recognition that this paradigm doesn't work and that social media and true electronic applications will be necessary for efficient operations. A few are already working. Once an agency is able to use Web 2.0 technologies internally, it will be able to use them effectively externally.

Thu, Apr 16, 2009 LAB Chicago

While I agree with most what this article has to say, in reality, I can say that I will not be able to sell ANY project that has "no objectives," "no vision of the outcome," or "no advanced plan." Business value must be shown upfront or there will be no green light for my projects.

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