Monthly Archives: September 2009

Government 2.0: The State of the Meme

Meme – An idea or pattern of thought that “replicates” like a virus by being passed along from one thinker to another

As an idea or pattern of thought government 2.0 (gov 2.0) is still being defined and debated. To some it is merely an extension of Web 2.0, to others it is the serious work of transparency and greater citizen involvement through open data.

Let’s dig into this meme…

Gov 2.0 Summit and Expo

Wow, what an event this was. Tim O’Reilly and his leadership team put on quite a show. I was in attendance on a press badge and was fortunate enough to view the events in the crowd and on the inside.

The event signaled a shock to the Washington DC government crowd. For a long time these beltway folks had been toiling away under the radar before an unsupportive administration. Now, they are in position to make some major moves in the federal sphere.

On the same level of shock, Silicon Valley and the O’Reilly team faced some hard facts about the beltway. Their can-do attitude and forceful energy stepped on one too many toes. And, I think it safe to say turned many off because of the government inefficiencies and roadblocks in the way of innovation and reform.

I saw a little east coast, west coast rivalry pop-up. Fortunately, the show went on and many from around the country attended the event, had a blast, and completely missed out on the kerfuffles.

For an interesting review on the event check out Amy Senger’s ‘The Gov 2.0 Showdown

Celebrity Status

Gov 2.0 has yet to make it big. A google news search shows that only 222 articles mention the term. Few large media outlets are talking about the movement. It has yet to penetrate the consciousness of the average person and more importantly the middle manager.

A google blog search reveals over 40,000 hits. Apparently there is some viral conversations taking place with many thinkers opining on the topic.

The Definition

Is it about personal brands, twitter, and facebook. Or, as Tim O’Reilly says its about government as a platform. Maybe, its about Enterprise 2.0 as Professor Andy McAfee and Andrea Baker have been talking about.

We have yet to come to a solid agreement about the definition. In fact, much of the discussion revolves around each blogger stating their own definition or throwing stones at another’s.

It does appear that gov 2.0 is infiltrating every level of government. With each office incorporating social media, cloud computing, and open API’s into their job buckets. Which leaves some remaining tough questions about openness, transparency, and the role of government in all of this.

Leadership

In an age of personal brands it appears that everyone is a leader in the space of government 2.0. Everyone has done everything and is an expert in all. Just a few years of experience and a blog post published on a prominent website, make you a star.

Sarcasm aside government 2.0 is hard work. It takes community building, relationships, coding, networking, promotion, and more. The most striking leaders in this space are those performing nearly all of those roles. Which means they are often hidden from popular view but deeply influential in their spheres of work.

This hidden work combined with the lack of celebrity status has left a clear opening for profiteers. Many are hoping to be the first to break the story and claim success. A challenge to ethical underpinnings of this new community.

Community

In my opinion the single largest effect of Tim O’Reilly’s move into the gov 2.0 world is to bring all of this hard work to a broader audience. Personally, I feel like I am now connected to every state government, city government, regional federal office, all in addition to the existing Washington DC offices, which are legion.

Beyond that are hundreds of NGO’s on both sides of the aisle and in the middle are pushing agendas, uncovering scandals, and playing with data.

The community encompasses so many folks that it is going to be tough to wrangle all of them together.

The Future

Is very bright. We appear to have at least three more years of enlightened tech policy coming out of the white house. Which filters down to every level of public and private work. Big contracts and big corporations are starting to take notice and follow the money.

The recession too is providing an opportunity for gov 2.0. The realization of improved efficiency and cost savings are helping to overcome transient cultural barriers. I’ve even seen stimulus dollars used for gov 2.0 work (blackberries for Baltimore PD).

Behind the scenes the back channels and ego battles are just as interesting. Players are being challenged, camps are forming, and feelings are being hurt. The traditional way of doing business is being challenged with women asserting their rights in tech. Average folks who normally have no voice are able to trumpet their issues across new communication mediums to make their voice heard and responded too.

I look forward to more rapid growth, another gov 2.0 event, and ever more kerfuffles. I hope the progress and reform continues. I hope the west coast can help break the stranglehold the major defense companies have on government work. I hope that our community overcomes its own ego and looks to the common good.

This piece comes as a follow on to Andrew McAfee’s, Enterprise 2.0: The State of the Meme, written over 3 years ago in June 2006

The Gov 2.0 Showdown

It was the event we had been waiting for. From the West: Silicon Valley. From the East: the Beltway Bandits. Dueling for a new frontier: Government 2.0. Here are my thoughts on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Gov 2.0 Showdown Expo Showcase & Summit.

The Good

If there’s one word that isn’t typically associated with government, it’s the word innovation. Which is unfortunate, because some of the best innovations we have today are the result of government pursuits and investments, such as GPS. While leaders like Vivek Kundra are changing this antiquated image of government, the problems that we face as a country are not ones that will be solved and addressed by a single person or organization, so when someone like Tim O’Reilly rolls into town and wants to get in the game, it’s good for us all. The fact is, government isn’t relegated to just those appointed to a position nor is it confined to district lines. At a time when our world economy is volatile and facing downward, making times tough for more and more folks, we need creative solutions to do more with less, and this is where technology presents a great opportunity. Relying on the same players and same molds of thinking can only ensure that government performs and delivers in a same ol’ same ol’ kind of way.

The Expo Showcase did a fantastic job highlighting some great innovations and efforts across the country, from the City of Santa Cruz’s feedback portal that’s using the power of citizen input to tackle the City’s fiscal problems to a collaborative effort by two Senior Fellows at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs to use Virtual Worlds to understand Islam to engender greater diplomacy. These are the types of initiatives that need to be promoted to provide greater awareness.

At the Summit, to hear from luminaries like Vint Cerf, who worked 7 years at DARPA, and Carl Malamud, who founded Public.Resource.Org, attendees were exposed to a wisdom that is gained from years of experience and dedication. We were also reminded that there are issues that are too ubiquitous not to have government participate. The need to have clean data will be as important as having clean air and water, and our digital identities will require the same level of protection and rights as our physical bodies. This is the future of government.

The Bad

First, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more time allotted for questions and answers, specifically during the Expo. I would’ve like to have seen less presentations and more conversations. The rapid-fire “Ignite-style” format of the Expo was fine but there was a need for in-depth conversation of the presentations. People want to hear the nuts and bolts – the challenges, the keys to success, the pitfalls to avoid, the nuggets of insight. Which brings me to my second point: the rapid-fire format might be more suited for the selection process, where the submissions are mandated to a 5-minute presentation that can then be voted for online before the Showcase. This would embody the essence of Gov 2.0, encouraging everyone to participate and have a voice.

Finally, the cost. There was lots of chatter about the cost of the event. While I won’t get into the nuances of pricing an event like this, I was told by an organizer that Tim O’Reilly feels so passionately about Gov 2.0, he would have done it for free. Sounds like a great idea to me. If the intent is to repeat the Showcase/Summit format next year, I would make the Expo Showcase a free, sponsor-subsidized, “first-to-register, first-to-attend” affair.

The Ugly

Last but not least, the diversity of presenters for the Summit left something to be desired. This was so much of a sticking point for me that I made the decision not to attend the Summit but after several conversations with some of the key organizers, including Tim himself, I was extended a complimentary pass to the Expo and Summit. To be fair to Tim and the O’Reilly and TechWeb staff, I have organized a conference (the 2008 WIRe/ICES Enterprise 2.0 conference) and I know first-hand how difficult and trying it is to orchestrate an event such as this, coordinating speakers with times and dates while achieving the desired content, discussion and outcome. However, I look at the Summit Program Committee and I see 8 white men and 1 white woman. The first day of the Summit featured 5 women out of 35 presenters (15%). Many have argued the benefits of heterogeneous ensembles, citing evidence of how homogeneous groups, like Wall Street and the American Automobile industry, can go astray. The fact is if government is the platform, the platform should represent its constituents and users. Diverse people offer diverse values. While I hear Tim’s argument that there are simply less women and minorities in leadership positions, we’ll be stuck in a perpetual chicken or the egg loop if a homogeneous group of decision-makers determines what constitutes a leader and who is qualified to be one. We can do better.

The final point I will make is that no matter what label it is given, government is undergoing an amazing transformation. I have spent my entire career in government and it’s truly an exciting time. Quibbling over the term Gov 2.0 doesn’t serve much of a purpose. I don’t see how vilifying or denigrating govies or contractors or technologists does anyone any good. There are people who work hard on all sides of the fence and openness and transparency does and will continue to show this.

The Weavers

No one saw the weavers
The makers of the golden shrouds
Designed for insularity
And woven for posterity

Theirs was a lovely secret
Kept in mirrors and the clouds
A culture based in couture
A foundation built of mortar

Their garments such a finery
And yet were worn by all
The crimson crest embroidered
In pockets no one saw

The fabric bore a fine sweet scent
The product of such sudor lent
A softness born of optic fears
Twice ripened over prudent years

No one saw the weavers
Toiling at their looms
No one saw the weavers
Not even in the tombs