Web extra: Tapscott: Governance by participation

Think-tank founder envisions a technology-enabled democracy

Don Tapscott, a best-selling author and founder of New Paradigm, expects large-scale collaboration enabled by technology to change everything, including the federal government.

Best known for his book "Wikinomics," Tapscott said the government's use of Web-based collaboration technologies could reduce its operational costs and engage a younger generation in ways that traditional government cannot.

Federal leaders see a similar potential. The Office of Management and Budget and the CIO Council have signed on as participants in New Paradigm's multimillion-dollar research project to study the effects of emerging technologies on public governance. About 25 governments worldwide will participate, along with industry and academic leaders. The project will generate case studies, conferences, consulting services and surveys, including survey studies of young people and their attitudes toward government.

The challenge is to engage a new generation of people who are more collaborative, wired and Internet-savvy than older generations are, Tapscott said. As the 2008 presidential primary process has shown, it makes little sense for government to try to reach young people using traditional means such as broadcasting, he said.

Younger voters "want to do more than just raise money and get somebody elected," Tapscott said. "They want to be involved in policy, they want to be involved in catalyzing initiatives that actually result in change. They want to be collaborators and innovators in terms of the public sector."

New Paradigm's Government 2.0: Wikinomics, Government and Democracy project may be unprecedented. "It will probably be the most comprehensive investigation into new models of government and governance ever conducted," Tapscott said. Several converging trends "are causing governments around the world really to wake up and to see the potential that exists."

The Government 2.0 project will perform research on how government can engage a younger generation -- the Net Generation -- whose members are younger than 30 years old and who grew up using digital technologies.

Tapscott's group will investigate the appropriate role of government in a world of increasing collaboration among public, private and nonprofit institutions. It will also study the effect of demographic trends on government and the Net Generation's expectations of government.

Federal agencies pay $150,000 a year to participate in Government 2.0. OMB was one of the first to sign up.

Karen Evans, administrator of e-government and information technology at OMB, said Internet-enabled mass-collaboration tools, such as wikis and blogs, are a few of the ways the federal government can engage and communicate with the public. "You hear from the citizens one way or another," Evans said.

Collaboration technologies, collectively named Web 2.0, could enable "a 24/7 town hall meeting," Evans said, "a virtual town square."

The government lags behind the private sector in using new collaboration technologies, but it has done more in the past year, said Bruce McConnell, former chief of IT policy at OMB and now president of Government Futures, a consulting firm.

However, even the most prolific users of collaboration technologies have not made use of their potential, Tapscott said. "They are just the tip of the iceberg. I don't really think of them as tools, or just as tools. We are talking about a new global collaboration infrastructure."

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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