Missional Government 2.0

It’s only a matter of time before Tim O’Reilly tells the world that Web 2.0 Expo is going to be hosted in Washington, D.C. I mean, I don’t know anything for a fact, but all the sex appeal of Web 2.0 is descending on Washington. I certainly appreciate the fact that the Silicon Valley bubble is seeing that there are real things happening here in Washington, but I continue to ask the questions about motive and clarity of thought. Are they (we) missing the forest through the trees?

Tangentially, but still related, the web technology space has clearly been usurped by marketing and communications. When folks refer to a “tech community”, what they really are referring to is the social web community which is now dominated less by actual technology folks and increasingly, and somewhat disturbingly, by marcom folks.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s just not “tech”. It’s community. It’s marketing. It’s public affairs. It’s public relations. It’s brand. It’s reputation management. It’s rarely tech.

And so, the conundrum. What Washington outsiders suggest is “Government 2.0” is really a marketing campaign. Is that really beneficial? Or even new?

Peter Corbett wrote a great post here the other day suggesting that governmental change and “Web 2.0” adoption, to paraphrase, can be delivered by building appropriate technology and applications to meet the needs of the government.

Think about this… How can we have Government 2.0, when the government consists of so many divergent niches, industries and missions? On the federal level, there is Congress, Labor, Commerce, Defense, Intelligence, Health, International Development, and the list goes on. On the state and local level, there are Motor Vehicles, taxation agencies, police departments, fire departments, schools. That only constitutes government proper and says nothing for government related organizations like political action committees, lobby groups, NGOs and grassroots political organizations. Again, that’s only in the federal sector.

You can’t apply one solution to the entire government. Understanding of the missional nature of sectors of the government is critical. We should be talking about Commerce 2.0 or Intelligence 2.0, not Government 2.0. And we should certainly not be applying a one size fits all solution that works effectively in the private sector to the public sector without understanding that mission.

Our taxpayer dollars are the sole funding sources for most of these government groups. In a time when taxpayer money is being printed to fund things that can only be funded by taxpayer dollars, the last thing we want is those dollars going to ineffective solutions that don’t extend the mission of the agency, simply to say, for instance, that the Department of Labor is on Twitter.


Does it fit their mission? Is it effective in protecting the taxpayer interests and extending the mission of Labor?

The Department of Labor fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.

This is an example, of course. I don’t mean to single out the fine public servants over at Labor and, in fact, I cannot speak to anything they are doing with the social web.

Folks, listen up. People have to take a step back and stop trying to apply the same stuff that works out here to what is going on in there. It might work. But then, it might not. Understanding those core missional requirements can help the real experts bring real solutions to the table.

In fact, in many cases, building technology that doesn’t already exist to meet the misssional requirements of agencies that we may never see is not sexy in an era of web celebrity and achievement. In fact, people may never see some of the technology that comes to bear because they simply think that common social networks or blogs are the solution.

If you want to be in this space, you need to protect taxpayer dollars by bringing appropriate solutions to the table, whether public, well known services (if they meet the need) or building apps that make sense to the mission and may never be used outside of that organization.

These are the keys.

Added: Geoff Livingston spoke to the National Park Service and made my point for me. Clearly, he understands the mission and scope of the NPS and is encouraging the proper modes of social media that are compatible to their mission.

14 Replies to “Missional Government 2.0”

  1. I actually agree with you 100%. Which rarely occurs. But the lack of fundamental understanding on HOW government works needs to be taught before this… community or movement or whatever the hell it is…goes any further.

    Thinking in sectors is a start.

  2. Where are the government research papers, white papers, think tank reports, etc. that advocate one catch-all solution for all “government 2.0” issues? Government 2.0 is just a popular term. So is Goverati. They are useful for summarizing a complex ecosystem. But how these terms are used in popular writing is not indicative of the actual tactics of incorporating social technologies into government.

    Anyone working on this knows that uses of these technologies in the education department is different than over at the FBI. But “Intelligence, Defense, Diplomacy, Crime, Labor, Education, Health, Environment, Energy, Security, Infrastructure, … , State Government, Local Government, Tribal Issues, Immigration, Taxes, Economics, Finance…etc. 2.0” just got too long to put into tweets.

  3. I nodded my head in agreement with you all the way–until you advocated for Commerce 2.0 and Intelligence 2.0 instead of Government 2.0.

    I won’t rehash my objections here which have been written in enough places, but suffice to say, can we agree to stop versioning the web? You admit Government 2.0 is a popular term; and Mark comments it’s merely the popular term today. Who knows what someone’s going to coin tomorrow.

    Point is, if X 2.0 is the buzzword, it would only be used by a percentage of the global population. Mostly the tech-savvy folks. Until the street teams and conference table teams agree on the same term, might as well use what everyone knows best: the web, the government, commerce, and intelligence. Stop using versions, which get outdated quickly and need to be upgraded.

  4. Ari- I disagree with the versioning of just about everything, including the government. However, I’m speaking the language for the sake of the post.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. As a government employee who is a bit behind the curve on Web 2.0, Government 2.0, or whatever else we call it, I greatly appreciate this type of commentary. I’m a bit surprised by how many government agencies at all levels are experimenting with Government 2.0 solutions. But, you’re right to point out that this may be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Government should facilitate communication with its constituents, but agencies should be aware of if and how Gov 2.0 solutions will promote their missions. Are constituents really looking to Twitter, Facebook, etc. for information about their government? In the area of promoting citizen participation and effective government programs, Gov 2.0 solutions may prove useful, but they should only be a piece of a larger communication strategy.

  6. Mark: Clearly the people who are close to the matter understand this (sometimes), but most of the chit chat comes from people who are not close to it.

  7. Absolutely agree with the comment that there is both a desire on the part of some to “just do the web 2.0 thing”, and that the same solution doesn’t work for everyone. That said, I think those really working these issues aren’t focused on Web 2.0, they are focused on enabling transparency, participation and collaboration. The challenges are many, some of which involve barriers to implementing social software type things – hence a good bit of discussions on the topic. . Just to list a few:

    – Policy barriers prevent deliberative, but non-authoritative conversations between govt and public groups (be it govt to citizen, govt to supplier base, etc.). We have these conversations all the time on the phone, email and F2F, but can’t have them online.
    – The Paperwork Reduction Act was written in 1980 (updated in 1995 by Newt, which included the really edgy dewey decimal system called GILS), and creates a 4-6 month delay at best for doing the simplest participatory approach on the web.
    – Nobody agrees upon what to do about records management policies for wikis, blogs, etc. How do you determine your disposal schedule for a wiki page or blog post? A wiki page is never final, for instance (my contention is that these are both work products, and thus should not be considered “essential transactions of the agency” and thus, not records).
    – privacy concerns are magnified in looking at a participatory web. For the agency, this means they potentially need to conduct a privacy impact assessment for each site, adhere to higher level information assurance certs for the server, etc. Bottom line, the barrier to entry currently blocks many potentially valuable efforts.
    – Information Assurance policies (which are often valuable and necessary) have significantly impacted options for operational performance when looking at interactions with the public. Waivers are often necessary, but hard to get granted.

    I could go on with the barriers, but suffice to say that even if an agency finds a very valuable need that could be addressed with a social software solution, currently they most often are unable to implement it. But regarding the goals set forth in the transparency and open govt memo, we can debate the merits of this, but I think a very strong case can be made that these type things are necessary. As a for instance, citizen involvement in the policy making process is currently both codified and not very well understood or implemented. Clearly some changes are required here.

    Bottom line, while I absolutely agree that there’s lots of noise, the goal should be to craft a directive that removes the barriers, sets the vision and responsibilities, and allows for agencies to take advantage of the tools that most help them while opening up the process of governing to allow mass collaboration-style imput.

  8. Right on, right on. Any organization, government or not needs to look at their mission and whether or not they are doing this for the right reason. Or because everyone of their executive pals says they should, so an iPhone app is built… for no good reason. Great post.

  9. I think we will see one of those conferences soon enough.

    In all, I think that the Intelligence Community is one of the leaders in Government in embracing open source technologies and Enterprise 2.0 as a best practice, but this was the first I had heard the term Intelligence 2.0 in the last 4 years in which wikis and blogs have been introduced as a better way to collaborate. Thank goodness no one suggested it or I am sure it would have stuck.

    Its more like replacing existing processes and not improving on the old throwing good money after bad. A core value that we are still learning, but since most of the community is shielded from the “Web 2.0 world”, we can focus on the mission and not the buzz words.

  10. The government should be engaging the general public online the same way any company would. After all, we pay for them and they are our employees.

    I recently met an Austin City Councilman who is running for mayor about this very issue. His staffers wanted to build a 2.0 community for people to submit ideas for the city. Hi, that’s called the internet. I told him that the best way to BUILD a community is to start by SUPPORTING it.

    Marketing, including social media marketing, isn’t always blathering on to customers. It’s LISTENING. It’s knowing what to anticipate based on what you hear. I would love if the government stopped listening to Exxon and Monsanto lobbyists and started listening to the people. We cannot afford to have our government hijacked by corporate interests that hurt the general welfare of our nation. If it costs them a little money in the form of salaries to actually have people listen to the general public for once by engaging with people online, I’ll help pay it.

  11. Much of this is way over my head at this point. I simply have a hard time understanding why the corporation that was the godfather of the internet, the developer of ARPAnet, our US cheese, isn’t still the forerunner of the technology to begin with. As a matter of fact, I have a hard time understanding much of anything about what happens anymore, life seems to have disappeared into a cloud of money and politics. Politicians care more about money than politics, and corporations seem to be adopting political positions of power.

    Web 2.0, or government 2.0… The sad truth is that democracy has become a gold plated strawberry that has rotted out from under its shiny shell and they will never listen to the people, unless the people have billions to leverage against them. The current climate assures the people have less than ever, to use as leverage. Government 2.0, however seems like a great way for politicians to spend taxpayer dollars, at corporations that fuel their campaigns and line their pockets.

  12. James: One of the reasons why the US strawberry is not leading in the fruit bowl is because of a lack of broadband access that other countries found the willpower to surpass years ago. Until every American household can access the internet at better-than-dialup speeds, the United States will never be a leader in the technology you and I wish it could do.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but everything I read that compares the U.S. to other countries says I’m right.

  13. As a Web contractor for the Army, I’ve gotten tummy aches over this very problem. I see contracting companies (including my own) trying to profit off of the shiny buzz words, instead of putting mission of our ever-important democracy first.

    (Fine, fine, you’re a contracting company. The “bottom line” is money for you. I get it. At least TRY to ACT sincere. You’ll get more clients that way. But this my own naive personal problem.)

    The real, professional problem is what you touched on in the beginning: the Tech community adopts first. The MarCom community (which I am a member of) adopts next. The same thing happened with Web “1.0,” and some of us, especially in the government, are still in that battle. Who owns the Web site – the infrastructure dudes, or the guys with lots of stuff to say?

    Right now about half of us MarCom-ers are obsessed with the “2.0.” But the real interesting thing about these “new” tools is that they can be used anywhere! They’re for everyone! These tools can improve almost anyone’s job, I believe/hope.

    I propose that instead of us Web/Tech/MarCom people trying to “own” “2.0” (and/or sell it to others who are slower to buy-in), we slowly educate everyone (especially non-Tech/MarCom professionals) about being open to trying new, more efficient tools. People in my offices still look at me wide-eyed and jaw-dropped when I mention RSS feeds for goodnessake. Make your lives easier people!

    Let’s evangelize like the good obsessed MarCom-ers we are. But we have to communicate with strategy: how can we help our audience help themselves? What are they trying to accomplish? And let’s not box ourselves into a narrow world of Tech and MarCom. Let’s open our conferences up. Let’s all be friends!

  14. Great video, it’s incredible reviewing the statistics regarding how much the internet has affected so many industries. It has opened amazing doors to innovators and shut doors on procrastinators!

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