5 necessary truths about Gov 2.0

Efforts to engage with the public might move to the back burner unless federal leaders can make them relevant to broader issues.

Andrea Di Maio is a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

The initiatives launched by the Obama administration, many states and other countries to use technology to increase transparency, participation and collaboration have created a positive buzz about open government and Government 2.0 worldwide. Open data, idea contests, government Facebook pages and the like are popping up everywhere in demonstration of the interest in reaching out to and engaging with citizens.

However, in spite of the enthusiasm of many evangelists, open government might be losing steam. In a series of Gartner symposiums attended by thousands of government IT and business leaders across the world, conversations clearly showed that many of them are unconvinced about the effectiveness of using Web 2.0 technologies and social media in particular. Even some who have been directly involved in open-government and Government 2.0 efforts talked about the issues involved in maintaining momentum and showing value from such initiatives.

Also, a recent Gartner survey of government clients’ priorities for 2011 indicated a drop in rank for Government 2.0. Many governments are struggling with fundamental sustainability issues because of the global financial crisis and sluggish recovery, and there is a concrete risk that Government 2.0 might be put on the back burner.

Here are five things federal leaders should consider if they want to reap the benefits of Government 2.0.

1. Government 2.0 and politics don’t mix. There is a disconnect between the main beneficiaries and key players in Government 2.0 efforts (citizens and federal employees) and today’s evangelists (elected officials, political appointees, vendors and consultants). Such initiatives will succeed when they stop trying to meet political requirements, such as increasing people’s trust in government, and start addressing service delivery and resource management challenges.

2. Government 2.0 is not about being the host but being a guest in a conversation. Most Government 2.0 initiatives are launched or controlled by government — for example, publishing data, launching idea contests and so forth. But the goal should be to look for where people are already discussing and gathering data about relevant topics and engage with them on their terms and in the collaboration spaces they choose.

3. Government 2.0 is not a platform; it is a toolkit. The key to success is viewing Government 2.0 approaches and technologies as a toolkit at employees’ disposal — similar to their Microsoft Office suite, their case management tool or the codified processes they are supposed to follow. Success materializes when government employees can make the right decision, engage the best resources and become agents of innovation without forgetting what they are accountable for.

4. Government 2.0 is about more than communication. All employees can use participation, collaboration and engagement as tools to be more effective and produce desired outcomes. Indeed, the best and often untold success stories are not high-profile initiatives but smart ways that employees — rarely Government 2.0 experts or superstars — solve problems. That happens in all domains, including tax compliance, public safety, procurement and human resources management.

5. Government 2.0 initiatives must align with business goals. Although it is difficult to make a formal business case for most Government 2.0 initiatives, it is important to ensure that they do not turn into compliance-oriented, nice-to-have activities but instead remain tightly linked with agencies’ strategic objectives. Therefore, assessing the initiatives’ benefits, costs and risks must become part of the normal course of business.

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