It is fun to watch the conversation around Web 2.0 in government right now. Thousands of voices inside and outside of government are talking about government agencies and employees twittering, writing blogs, putting videos up on You Tube, making agency walls in Facebook, etc. GSA has gone so far as to start its own You Tube channel, the US Government Channel. Government has gone geek.
My prediction though is that this new obsession between government and Web 2.0 will last about another year to three, and then die a slow quiet death. If the Obama administration steps in and puts it on life support near the end of its first term, it might make four years but I think the dire end is fairly foreseeable.
There will still be government blogs, but the number of postings will drop. Some employees will continue to microblog on twitter and other platforms, but most others will slip away or stop. Government agencies will continue to post videos to YouTube, but the number of people who watch them will fall to close to the number that watch the daily action in Congress on CSPAN.
When I explained my preliminary obituary to a colleague of mine, he asked given the current adoption rates, why the dire prediction? Simple – most government agencies have yet to get Web 1.0 and basic constituent engagement right. Which means that there is little chance of them getting Web 2.0 right. Please note, before you send me an angry comment pointing out different agencies and local governments that are getting some aspects of Web 2.0 right, that I said most government agencies. There are exceptions, but I think they are truly exceptions and few and far between.
If you break down these Web 2.0 efforts into three categories – Communications and Collaboration, Transparency, and Empowerment like the clear thinking that Oliver Bell at Microsoft has done – it becomes fairly easy to see which efforts will stand and which will fall.
- Communications and Collaboration – Oliver defines category as essentially the communication between agency or ministry and their constituents. My difficulty with government efforts here is that most of these remain a one-way dialogue – government speaking to citizen and I don’t see this changing except in limited circumstances. Where Web 2.0 efforts in government survive, these efforts will primarily be one-way communications channel.
- Transparency – This is letting us into the inner sanctum to essentially understand the inner working and thinking of government officials and what they are doing. I think some efforts here will definitely work and survive – especially efforts around how government spends tax dollars. What won’t survive is any real understanding on how they make the decisions on what to spend those taxes dollars on or what taxpayers get in return.
- Empowerment – Oliver defines this as empowering constituents – both internal and external – to form a community to solve their own issues. As Oliver points out, he hasn’t seen any examples of success here and I don’t expect to. Though empowerment is the promised land of Gov 2.0, I don’t see us getting there. For external constituents, these communities will be created and managed outside of government by interest groups as they should be. For internal constituencies, I have looked at more than enough government intranets and portals to know conclude that only a few efforts get the backing or support they need to succeed.
The Bottom Line: So what should government agencies do to improve the health of their Gov 2.0 efforts? Focus first on transparency initiatives that give constituents more then a peek behind the current. help them understand the processes. Second, back communications and collaboration initiatives with the necessary organizational change efforts and resources to make it a dialogue. If it isn’t going to be a dialogue, be upfront about that. Lastly, leave the empowerment efforts to external citizen and interest groups.