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December 09, 2008

Government 2.0 vs. Democracy 2.0: Blogging from the Nobel Week Public Sector Innovation Summit

For more than a decade, governments around the world have been engaged in making city halls, state/provincial legislatures, and other public services more accessible to its citizens. E-citizenship and e-government has come to be understood as a commitment to transparency by inviting citizens to discover the workings and services of their elected officials online. Welcome to the world of e-Gov 1.0.

While some governments are still struggling to frame their e-gov strategy as outlined above, a new wave of global leaders is emerging and taking the dialog on e-citizenship to a whole different level. In addition to being more savvy consumers of public information, leading governments are now engaged in new efforts to enable citizens to be co-producers of their own public policies. The technology tools engaged in projects like "Show Us A Better Way" not only provides access to public information. These new initiatives are provocatively re-inventing the nature of democracy and the relationship of citizens to their 19th century government forms by asking citizens how they would use the public information to provide services to themselves and their neighbors. Welcome to the dialog on government 2.0 and/vs democracy 2.0. Here are just two examples of such provocative developments.

UK Government 2.0 lead William Perrin outlines the logic of the British government's approach to disrupting legacy 19th century democratic institutions. At its core, web 2.0 tools democratize the ability to communicate which challenges a lot of received wisdom and institutional interests. At the same time Web 2.0 tools can and do circumvent the authority and power of the state. Having mothers and fathers use web 2.0 tools to talk about health care for kids (see http://www.netmoms.com) is a terrific and rich resource. Sometimes this kind of wisdom of the crowds can and does run up against the wisdom of experts engaged in important areas like public health. One of the most provocative opportunities enabled by web 2.0 tools is the ability of neighborhoods and individuals to take some measure of control over their own relationship to government by educating government on conditions like new potholes, broken street lights, and other neighborhood priorities through web 2.0 tools. This form of hyper-localism not only helps to refine the role of government it can also empower citizens and helping to facilitate the democratic process.

Peter Shergold, Former Permanent Secretary of the Australian Dept of the PM and Cabinet also framed his experience as the emergence of new public management moving from a fully hierarchical and centralized management system that is now tending towards decentralization and a devolution of traditional roles. The old public service model was clearly prescriptive. There is now an opportunity for those in government to use these new web 2.0 tools to enable a more active listening and responsive approach to their vocation and calling. Specifically:

(1) The whole of the governments approach allows for real-time internal civil service sharing across otherwise deeply embedded organizational silos. This is in effect the creation of platform technologies for re-inventing the nature of work within government and the layered decision making that traditionally throttles innovation and agility within government.
(2) The opportunity the third sector (non-profits, community organizations) to actively become involved in the making the public policy. This is not only a case of the third sector being able to access the halls of decision making. Forward thinking and action-oriented Government is now proactively contracting with the third sector to deliver public policy.
(3) Like the British view, there is an emergent condition in which citizens are now poised to directly influence and get involved in the making of public policy (networked governance).

There is a line of reasoning that challenges the inherent value of government and the civil service as intermediaries between the citizenship and the distribution of resources. When Democracy 2.0 take off with the pervasive availability of web 2.0 technologies and a growing awareness and capabilities of well educated populations, the new debate will be on the relevance and sustainability of those 19th century institutional artifacts of democratic forms of governance. There is a real possibility that within the next 25 years civil service reform and the re-invention of the State will once again be on the radar screen. Unlike the Reagan/Thatcher era the challenge will not come from some ideological view of how best to organize the dynamic of state, industry, and society relations but rather because increasing forms of disintermediationoccasioned by technology and a more autonomous population render the traditional 19th century forms of democratic governance less relevant.

Lev Gonick
December 9, 2008
Stockholm, Sweden

Posted by admin at December 9, 2008 12:12 PM

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