Government 2.0, meet Citizen 2.0

Change we can believe in may yet come from the outside

Little has changed in Washington during the first year of the Obama administration, despite many people’s high hopes. Lobbyists still lobby, contractors still contract, and bureaucracy still counteracts efficiency. Political appointees are largely unsurprising, and the surprising ones are largely political. Change one could believe in has become business as usual. There is nothing significantly more awesome about the federal government now than there was a year ago.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the area of Government 2.0, the notion of incorporating social, collaborative tools into government so that it works better with itself and with others. Some mavens like Tim O’Reilly have pushed the concept even further, into something called Government as a Platform: “How do we get beyond the idea that participation means ‘public input’ and over to the idea that it means government building frameworks that enable people to build new services of their own?”

But in light of human error concerning the recent underwear bomber, one is right to question the pace of the revolution of information sharing within the government. Government 2.0 in the sense of living knowledge might in fact be a pipe dream, and the goverati of lore reduced to sideline cheerleaders fighting a system that will not stand to be changed. Maybe that’s too extremely stated; the fact is, no one knows.

Yet, there might still be change we can believe in — what I have begun calling Citizen 2.0, the mirror of the Government 2.0 so often bandied about. Change might come from the outside. In my year-end post on FCW.com, I rolled Government 2.0 forward a few years: Local governments will conduct many successful experiments; mobile devices will evolve government information technology; and crude video content of government activities will be increasingly prevalent. Together, this might lead not to Government as a Platform — though I wish it would — but rather to a self-empowered Citizen 2.0 who uses new-media communications, cloud computing mentalities and mobile device power not only to do things for themselves but also — perhaps more profoundly — to put pressure on their government in various ways.

In this Government Always On-the-Record scenario, controversial issues and people could be documented macaca-style on a Web site not unlike those of Gawker Media. It is remarkably easy for someone to create an ambient stream of information about people or topics of interest, and individual citizens can have a huge impact by doing that. There are many potential implications of Government Always On-the-Record, not the least of which is a lack of privacy that might keep good people from entering politics or government. Nevertheless, it might be inevitable.

If just 1 percent of U.S. adults devoted one day a year each to Citizen 2.0-style government documentation, they would collectively generate thousands of blog posts and videos about the government every single day. That could be called Government Always On-the-Record, Forced Open Government, or any number of other descriptors. Regardless, information technology trends in the consumer sector suggest that government will become more transparent, one way or another.

About the Author

Mark Drapeau is director of public-sector social engagement at Microsoft. 

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