Web 2.0 panel: Don't get stuck thinking about 'machinery'

Web 2.0 experts

Frank DiGiammarino, vice president of strategic initiatives and business development, and Lena Trudeau, program area director of strategic initiatives, at the National Academy of Public Administration.

Anthony Williams, vice president at nGenera Insight, a think tank that investigates new business models. He is co-author of the book “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything” and is currently leading a multimillion-dollar investigation named “Government 2.0: Wikinomics, Government and Democracy.”

Molly O’Neill, assistant administrator and chief information officer of the Office of Environmental Information at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bev Godwin, director of USA.gov and Web best practices at the General Services Administration.

Federal Computer Week recently assembled a panel of Web 2.0 experts to discuss concerns and questions readers had about social-networking technology (read the story here). One common question was about the technology itself and which applications made sense for use in federal agencies.

Here is what our panel of experts said:

What should government agencies consider as they employ Web 2.0 technologies?

Williams: Designing a service or services that draw on the strengths of different agencies and/or governments and wrapping them effectively around a citizen raises important questions about accountability and issues of organizational structure.

If a number of agencies are working together to deliver a service, who is ultimately accountable for the quality of that service? Is it enough for each agency to be accountable for their part? Or must there be an overseer department that is accountable for the whole service? Which political leader gets to claim success, or be responsible for failure? Who is on the hook for costs? Who gets the savings?

There is an important lesson in many of the nascent Web 2.0 initiatives I have seen: strategic information management seems to matter more than rearranging government machinery when trying to create citizen-centric services. Once agencies share information about who they are working to serve, they can see where and when their services are needed. Roles and responsibilities are made clearer. And so ‘machinery’ concerns about overlapping jurisdictions or departmental mandates are lessened because governments see where they are needed, and can act together as appropriate.

DiGiammarino/Trudeau: It sometimes seems like the only thing easier than finding a reason to deploy collaborative technology is finding a reason not to. In an era that demands massive change we consistently call on our “inner lawyer” which slows innovation and empowers the status quo. We need to borrow from the athlete’s slogan and “Just do it.”

Web 2.0 technologies represent a set of tools. Like any new technology these tools should be approached with careful planning and forethought but when an organization has a problem that can be solved with a Web 2.0 program – use it. Government has to jettison the “can we do this” mentality in favor of a “how can we do this” approach.

Williams: To cite just one example, look at the role that wikis and Web 2.0 tools have played in enabling 16 disparate national intelligence agencies to break down information silos that contributed to the intelligences failures in advance of 9/11.

Intellipedia – the wiki established by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- currently has 50,000 users who use the system to develop shared knowledge bases on a vast array of intelligence issues. The wiki is helping the intelligence community as a whole migrate away from the old model where information moves vertically up the 16 organizational “stove pipes” to a new model where intelligence flows horizontally across agencies via topical and functional communities of practice.

Godwin: I highly recommend people check out NAPA’s Collaboration Project (http://www.collaborationproject.org) to see many additional government examples of Web 2.0 and to add their case studies if they too are using Web 2.0 in government. Let’s better share best practices, success stories, and solutions to issues that arise as we move forward with Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and beyond.

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