• The Blind Men And Next Gen Government

    by  • May 21, 2010 • eGovernment

    I have been at a number of technology vendor conferences and taking a number of inquiry calls lately speaking with vendors and their government customers about what is happening in the government market.  Almost all of these discussions have been around what does the continued evolution of technology mean for the continued evolution of government.

    What I have noticed during these conversations is the number of different definitions terms being used about what government is trying to do when it comes to technology and where it is going. What I thought was more interesting was that in these discussions, it was obvious that they were speaking about the same things but describing it very differently. It reminded me of tale about the blind men and the elephant.

    The Blind Men And The Elephant

    I am sure that you have heard the child’s tale about the blind men and the elephant. Depending on which tradition’s story you have heard, it goes something like this: A number of blind men are asked to describe something (in this case an elephant) by just feeling it.  They each describe it very differently depending which part of the elephant they are touching.

    One blind man who is feeling the trunk describes it as a plough Another blind man who is feeling the elephant’s ear describes it as a wicker basket. And another who is feeling the elephant’s leg describes it as a pillar. In the end of the tale, none of the blind men can accurately describe what it is and to the amusement of the king get into an argument or even a fight.

    Describing The Government Elephant

    This tale isn’t that far off what is happening in technology and government right now. There is no clear idea of what the next generation of government will look like and those involved are using very different terms to describe the similar things but are unaware of the overlap.

    In these discussions I found that most of the terms and descriptions fell into three not surprising buckets – open government, Gov 2.0, and eGovernment. There was even some general consistency across who used those terms and how. Here is how the discussions broke out among those three buckets:

    • Open Government. The discussions with vendors and customers from the Federal level inevitably center on open government. But within the context of what open government is, definitions vary broadly. Some are focused on bringing data sets into the light, some about making missions clearer to the public, others even on making the procurement and contracting process more transparent.
    • Gov 2.0. State and local government agencies and the vendors that support them focus more on Tim O’Reilly’s concept of Gov 2.0 – using social media and other platforms to engage with citizens.  It is really much more towards the engagement of citizens by government that is enables by social media.
    • eGovernment. Some discussions, believe it or not, still focus on eGovernment. They don’t usually use the term, but instead start talking about using technology to improve the level of efficiency and effectiveness within government. Interestingly, the vendors and government managers that tended towards this perspective were more focused on internal processes such as accounting, procurement and HR.

    The interesting aspect is that instead of being separate concepts, there is really a Venn diagram with significant overlap between the different concepts. For example, there is significant overlap between eGovernment and Gov 2.0 – both are interested in improving the interaction between government and citizens, are enabled by technology, and focused from the inside out.

    What do you think?  Do you think that there is significant overlap between these?  What do you think they are?  What do you think the significant differences are?