Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Discussing government 2.0 with policy analysts

I just came back from presenting on the topic of Web 2.0 and government with a group of transportation policy analysts, of course the exact province shall remain nameless to protect the innocent as usual :-).
Paul Macmillan and myself were expecting a half an hour meeting with 4 or 5 folk, it ended up being a 1 1/2 hour meeting with around 40 people. I think my ability to improvise in getting a lot better, and of course Paul is a master.
This is about the sixth presentation that I have given within the last year on Web 2.0 and government and there are two things that I consistently come across.
1) excitement: I can say that with out almost any exception, members of government are incredibly eager to trying new Web 2.0 approaches to more effectively collaborate with citizens, concerned organizations, and each other. There is a palpable frustration around the churn involved using today's methods of providing information and getting feedback on matters of policy.
2) frustration: right now existing procedures and policies are making it very difficult for various members of government to engage using online forums, with user blogs. Facebook is banned for provincial employees within Ontario. So are many other social networking communities. Any time a group of government employees try to set up their own externally facing network they get hit with various roadblocks like the official languages act.
The issue here is that exchange is made on these types of forms and blogs, and message boards are much more like conversations than publicly broadcasted material. In fact the whole differentiation between a private conversation and a public conversation become a a lot murkier when using these kinds of tools. Clearly laws need to be updated, and policies need to be rewritten. It's a bit like the wild West out there currently. I find it difficult to advise on these issues except to say that being a risk taker by nature, I would recommend starting a social networking site anyway even if it violates a couple of policies. In this case it seems clearly easier to beg for forgiveness and ask for permission...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Government 2.0 And Municipal Government

Paul Macmillan and myself just had a great meeting with a municipal CIO, whom in order to protect the innocent will remain anonymous for the purpose of this post. :-)

We had a chance to briefly discuss Deloitte's view on the value of government 2.0, as well as some considerations around government 2.0 adoption. Our CIO had some great comments around some of the challenges in embracing of a Web 2.0 philosophy within the context of a municipal government. I thought that I would share these challenges with interested readers out there.

  • Traditionally, municipal governments have a lot less IT budget than there provincial counterparts. When compared to provincial or federal, most municipal governments actually have an order of magnitude less IT staff per IT user. This is especially true for larger municipalities.
  • This has required most municipal IT organizations to place greater emphasis on consistency, stability, and operations. This approach allows for better operational efficiency, and allows the municipal IT organization to stretch their dollar.
  • Unfortunately, this also means a historical underinvestment in strategy, architecture, and it makes it much more difficult to innovate. There is very little money to support a heterogeneous environment.
  • There are serious concerns around simple basic infrastructure which makes the idea of accessible Web 2.0 collaborative service challenging. As an example, many recreational centers in major cities do not have any Internet access whatsoever.
  • Another concern has been raised around the need for cities that are multicultural and multilingual to support communities, collaborative environments, and other services in a fashion that is consumable by all of these varied citizens. Accessibility for all income levels and cultures is a priority.
  • Finally, because of the emphasis on operations within the municipal government there is a fear that "opening up the floodgates" using Web 2.0 technologies to collaboration with citizens could make it very difficult for council members and other government employees to effectively sort through all the comments and feedback that could be provided by concerned citizens.

These are all valid concerns, and while I do have answers to almost all of them, I thought I would leave that for another post. If anybody out there has their own answers, or have some more challenges to add to a docking Web 2.0 tools and culture within municipal government and would welcome any feedback.