Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Online Collaboration, Making the 1st Move

There is a clear and demonstrated interest in adopting Web 2.0 within the government, but what is the first step?

In the paper
Change Your World or the World Will Change You, Deloitte described the value that online collaboration could bring to governments and their citizens. The paper provided an overview of how Web 2.0 technologies can be leveraged to enable governments to engage in a highly collaborative, network based, communications model. The paper also described some of the top benefits of this fundamentally new culture of cooperation, referred to as Government 2.0. Some of the benefits listed were improving policy outcomes, streamlining internal operations, increasing effectiveness of government information, and attracting the next generation of tech savvy top talent.

In the course of presenting our paper, we have had a chance to have numerous conversations with various levels of government concerning Web 2.0 and how it applies to governments. It is clear that there is a lot of interest in adopting the technologies and culture represented by the Web 2.0 phenomenon within the public sector. A common thread that is often raised in these discussions revolve around how to get started. How does one apply a paradigm as revolutionary as Web 2.0 to an organization as large and complex as the government? A range of obstacles have been presented to us, ranging from issues of culture, restrictive web policies, to limitations of government IT.

Adopting an online collaborative approach supported by Web 2.0 will have an unprecedented impact on the way governments do their work, the scope of these changes threaten to stall any large-scale adoption

There is a significant amount of inertia to overcome when introducing any large-scale change within the government. Traditionally government work has taken place in a monolithic, highly structured, top-down environment. Adopting Web 2.0 technologies implies a significant change in working culture. Collaboration becomes much more important than control, workers are subjected to an unprecedented level of transparency, and the lines between different levels of government, supporting organizations, and citizens become much blurrier. IT will also need to rethink many of the ways that it has traditionally supported its stakeholders. IT will have the added responsibility of providing government and citizen end users with a constantly evolving "collaborative ecosystem". In order to properly fulfill this role, IT will have to adopt more lightweight, collaborative development approaches, becoming an enabler of change.

The scope of these changes can seem overwhelming and intimidating, to say the least. An enormous amount of analysis would be necessary before all of the possible issues and risks were covered to the extent necessary to satisfy all involved. Imposing a large upfront Web 2.0 analysis effort as a requirement prior to any government Web 2.0 adoption could effectively paralyze any meaningful progress within the space for many months and potentially even years. This would result in a significant loss of potential opportunity for the government, as it churns through the potential outcomes of any possible missteps relating to Web 2.0.

Successful Government 2.0 depends on demonstrating value immediately, starting with carefully chosen, tightly scoped 'incubation ' pilots -emphasizing innovation, trial and error, and learning by doing. Pilots will evolve over time to a more 'stabilized 'state, becoming more sustainable solutions-better integrating into existing infrastructure, considering usage policies and other standards, and becoming ingrained into the overall vision of government. Eventually solutions and platforms will be 'mainstreamed '-and considered an everyday part of government life

Complement Long-Term Strategy and Visioning with Incubation Pilots

Instead of dedicating initial Web 2.0 activity on a large, enterprise scale strategy, government organizations should also run a carefully selected set of Web 2.0 'incubation" pilots . Incubation pilots should be targeted at a set of internal and/or citizen end users that would most likely identify with the Web 2.0 approach. It is important to carefully limit the scope to a very specific set of objectives. This has the dual advantage of limiting the risks and exposure should things go wrong, while simultaneously allowing the piloting team the freedom to profit from the creativity, innovation, and trial and error learning necessary to determining the proper fit of Web 2.0 within a particular government environment.

Continue to Pilot, Stabilizing and Integrating with the Enterprise

As each incubation pilot comes to a close, experiences gained and lessons learned will be re-factored into the larger, enterprise-level Web 2.0 adoption strategy. As the strategy is refined, future initiatives will become more deeply integrated with existing government assets, examples include organizational standards, policies, and IT technology and procedures.

Once the value of Web 2.0 approaches have been clearly demonstrated through some of the initial "incubation" successes, the piloting effort shifts to realizing a fully integrated, controlled environment that is dedicated to developing and testing replicable Web 2.0 strategies. Pilots can now be used to determine how existing government assets need to evolve to support a Web 2.0 approach, including administration, policy, and other support structures that are essential to full government adoption.

Mainstream adoption is largely a self-fulfilling prophecy, providing the right components are in place

It will not be immediately obvious when a particular government or government organization has graduated from piloting to actual mainstreaming. One of the many appeals of the Web 2.0 approach is the viral pattern of adoption. The important point to take from this is that a Web 2.0 approach should be pursued in small increments, consistently revisiting the platform, policies, and any other components in an iterative fashion. As on the consumer Web, much of the work relating to mainstreaming the "Web 2.0" approach within the government will not be the result of any particular top-down decision.

That being said, leadership has a lot of power to make Web 2.0 a more effective force within the government. One of the most valuable things they can do first is give their members license to experiment, innovate, and try out these new technologies to better enhance collaboration. It is important that leadership foster a collaborative, transparent culture that rewards experimentation and places an equal value on lessons learned through failure as on a particular Web 2.0 success.

Further posts will further elaborates on how to execute this "trial and error" adoption approach.


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  2. It's great to know government is starting to adopt Web 2.0 technologies. It's the next big step. Government 2.0 might be a true reflection of democracy. Just like Enterprise 2.0 democratizes companies and corporations Government 2.0 will democratize our state administration.

  3. Certainly Web 2.0 promises to fundamentally shift the way governments organize.

    What's interesting to note that my current take on the situation is that while there is a lot of playing around with tools and technologies inside of the "government organizational firewall", public forays are still relatively limited at least in the Canadian government space.

    I get the feeling that this is going to start changing soon...