The collaboration gurus
The Collaboration Project, led by the National Academy of Public Administration, looks to be a center of excellence focused on the Web 2.0 world and how these tools can help government
- By Florence Olsen
- Feb 29, 2008
The District of Columbia’s 33-year-old chief technology officer, Vivek Kundra, wants to bring government procurement into the world of wikis and YouTube videos.
The test case is fairly straightforward. The city needs a vendor to build a 100,000- square-foot evidence warehouse for the police department, so as always, it issued a request for bids. But then it gets more interesting.
The city also created a wiki to host the solicitation documents. Along with the request for bids, the wiki has an interactive question-and-answer section and a link to complete video coverage of a presolicitation conference for potential bidders. The video link takes bidders to social-networking Web site YouTube.
The city has never handled a major procurement in such a manner. But Mayor Adrian Fenty and the city’s CTO aren’t afraid to try new approaches to the most basic government processes.
“The value that these Web 2.0 technologies demonstrate surpasses the old command- and-control model of application development,” Kundra said. “It’s basically like a movie being played in front of the world.
It allows every potential bidder to have equal footing when it comes to competition.”
Kundra belongs to an emerging generation of government leaders who want to make government more transparent and are comfortable with a collaborative management style. Policy experts say that solutions to major national and global challenges cannot be found without collaboration among federal, state, local, nonprofit and private organizations.
Should other CTOs and chief information officers worry about Web 2.0 and the increasing irrelevance of traditional government bureaucracies? The answer depends on how leaders respond to those trends, said Frank DiGiammarino, vice president of strategic initiatives at the National Academy of Public Administration.
“I cannot conceive of a single traditional government function that won’t be affected,” said Lena Trudeau,NAPA’s program area director for strategic initiatives.
NAPA has a congressional charter to study challenges facing government. It recently organized a new research effort, which it has branded the Collaboration Project, with the goal of helping government leaders respond to new technology and governance trends. NAPA’s leaders see a convergence between the challenges facing government and existing and emerging Web capabilities, which offer innovative ways for government to tackle those challenges.
NAPA’s initiative will create a community of government leaders at all levels to share new collaborative approaches to governing.
The Environmental Protection Agency is a founding member; the Office of Management and Budget and CIO Council are also involved.
Be not afraid NAPA is not alone in thinking about new approaches to governing. Government Futures, a Web 2.0 consulting company founded by Bruce McConnell, former chief of information technology policy at OMB, specializes in technology-enabled collaboration.
“The problems we are facing today that the government needs to be part of the solution — global warming, immigration, terrorism — are multiorganizational problems,” said McConnell, president of Government Futures.
Public policy experts at NAPA and Government Futures view Web 2.0 technologies as necessary, though not sufficient, for solving some of those national and international problems. And they agree that CIOs should not be afraid of the interactive Web, which includes technologies such as wikis, blogs and social-networking sites such as YouTube.
“There’s no controlling it, and if you’re spending all your time and energy trying to control it and centralize it, you’ve already lost,” Trudeau said.
NAPA officials want the Collaboration Project to be a proving ground for using the interactive W eb for innovative approaches to governing. The project will try to answer questions that government leaders should be asking, DiGiammarino said.
“What problems is it solving, what are the approaches, what are the results and what are the lessons being learned?” In the first year of the project, which NAPA launched Feb. 19, project members will meet about 20 times. Half of their meetings will be in Washington. The other half will be virtual meetings in a collaboration workspace on the Internet. The group will publish six case studies and four white papers. Some of NAPA’s 600 fellows will also do research and analysis and make recommendations.
By bringing together leaders who are experimenting with the interactive Web, NAPA can accelerate its adoption among other government leaders, DiGiammarino said. “We think that leaders who aren’t looking at this are missing out and are not leading.”
Converging trends Leaders of NAPA’s Collaboration Project forged ties with a similar project organized by New Paradigm, a Toronto think tank. New Paradigm’s Government 2.0 Project, which its leaders will launch March 15, is international in scope. OMB and the CIO Council are members of that research project.
New Paradigm’s leaders see four converging trends with the potential to transform government as we know it.
- The availability of Web 2.0 technologies as a platform for institutional collaboration.
- The coming of age of the Net generation, the first generation to grow up using digital technology.
- The nearly universal use of social-networking sites by college-age students.
- An organizational revolution based on collaboration that extends beyond traditional organization boundaries.
That revolution is described in the popular business book “Wikinomics,” written by two New Paradigm executives, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams.
The convergence of those trends opens new opportunities “for governments to be more innovative and more agile — to engage citizens more deeply in policy making and service delivery and basically to rethink a lot of the assumptions about how government is organized and how it should operate in the future,” said Williams, vice president and executive editor at New Paradigm.
The Government 2.0 Project will build on five years of research during which New Paradigm spent $10 million studying IT-enabled collaboration and innovation. The Government 2.0 Project is global because its leaders wanted to tap the considerable innovation in mobile government and e-democracy occurring in Asia and Europe, respectively.
“One of the benefits of all this new connectivity is that you can learn from what people are doing around the world,” Williams said.
New governance models The innovations in government that the Government 2.0 Project and the Collaboration Project will study are similar to some of the economic innovations that the private sector has produced during the past decade, said John Kamensky, senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government and associate partner at IBM Global Business Services.
“They’re trying to find ways of collaborating inside their organization as well as with external players and with their customers,” Kamensky said. “This is beginning to be the same in government.”
The way the U.S. government works today is a poor match for the problems it must try to solve, Kamensky said, adding that “there’s got to be a better way of doing it, and lot of things are pointing toward the use of collaborative approaches.”
Kamensky said he thinks that change won’t be easy for hierarchical organizations and their CIOs. “CIOs are afraid of this trend,” he said, “and what I’m seeing in state and local governments is that CIOs are trying to block employee access to Facebook and other social-networking sites.”
Kamensky added that some traditional organizations will fight “to preserve the privileges of power of the bureaucratic class” and resist the changing management paradigm. “There’s a generational conflict building, and it hasn’t really hit the federal government yet because the average age of a fed is 48 years old.”
But Kamensky sees interesting changes happening, for example, in California, where the Department of Motor Vehicles no longer spends money on servers to host training videos about how to pass a driver’s test. “They post the stuff on YouTube,” he said. “And you know what? It’s free.”
Leadership needed Change is clearly afoot in the District of Columbia, Kamensky said, where new leaders are looking at government IT infrastructure and application development with different expectations than their predecessors.
There, “the CTO has given up on building technologies and told all the employees, ‘Go to Google, sign up and use their stuff,’ ” such as word processor, spreadsheet and e-mail applications, which are free to anyone who registers with Google, he said. “That’s how they’re getting their work done.”
Policy experts recognize the chicken-and-egg problem inherent in such radical change. “The interactive Web can enable transformational change, but using it requires government to make transformational changes in the way it thinks about itself and its relationship to its constituents,” McConnell said.
Although solving public problems increasingly involves situations in which no single organization is in charge, leadership is required, McConnell said. “O e of the things the federal government has to get better at is leading without controlling, and that gets back to a deeper cultural change” in leadership styles.
Washington’s chief technology officer said CTOs and CIOs should play a leading role in the transformation of government. “Part of a leader’s job is to find an innovative path,” Kundra said.
Traditional CIOs will think they must establish a new security policy and a new governance body to oversee their agency’s use of interactive Web technologies. “We did the opposite,” Kundra said. “We asked, ‘Which policies need to be changed to enable this?’” Christopher J. Dorobek contributed to this article.