This past week, we witnessed history with the election of President Barack Obama. He is certainly America’s first black president, but unfortunately, that’s where the highlighted differences seem to end. Little coverage is given to the fact that he is also the first Gen-X president. He is the first tech savvy president. And of course, he is the first “internet president”, having used social media and the netroots effectively.
Even WhiteHouse.gov is seeping with Web 2.0 goodness (though admittedly, it is not quite as savvy as Change.gov, the official transition team site of the Obama administration).
Conventional wisdom says that the federal sector is about to change dramatically. That the adoption of a national Chief Technology Officer, and the pledge to open up the doors and windows of government to the public, will bring about new opportunities for an online world that thrives on transparency and open dialogue. There is no reason to believe that this will not be the case.
Along comes the newest buzzword of the day, Government 2.0. As with anything that includes a software-styled decimal iteration, this heralds a new and improved government. A better one that offers more functionality, usability and interactivity.
Geoff Livingston points out, accurately, that this new openness in government has apparently created a sector of carpetbaggers that have labeled themselves “experts” in the field. I think his cynicism is warranted. Capitalism at work. Anything to make a buck.
Here’s the stark reality of the Government 2.0 space: There are very few gurus and taking on that mantle will doom your ability to work in the sector.
Let me explain.
There are actual real experts that have been toiling for years trying to get government to adopt new and innovative technologies, communication channels and bringing a forward thinking mentality to those in service. These folks have had a degree of micro-success, but it’s been limited since the government, as a whole, is not very open. It’s changing – possibly a result of the hard work put in by these experts – but it’s still a very closed space. Those experts are experts because they’ve put in their time, toiling and pushing and fighting the system. They understand the system, as it is, not simply as they would like it to be. They recognize the need to work within the constraints that have governed the government for many years with a hope that they can change it over time. They are experts because they are not flash in the pan and know it will take a long time.
See, they understand that two governments exist. There is the elected government which changes every 4-8 years and sometimes longer (in the case of Congress and State legislatures). As well, there is an established government – career feds who are never fired, and rarely quit their jobs. They just move between agencies with established patterns and principles in tow. They are the foot soldiers who actually do the work. The established government is where the real change begins.
Very few of the so called experts can truly be experts by any reasonable standard. They have appeared on the scene in recent months, read the blogs and brushed up on their government-fu. They probably come from traditional, and sometimes social media communications backgrounds. They have been working with small companies in the web space or otherwise, and expect the principles which have governed their trade to transcend the halls of Commerce, Agriculture, State and Defense. Therefore, they believe, they are experts.
What they don’t realize is that their self-branding actually poses the risk of hurting their business – especially if, in a down economy, they expect to sustain their business in a new an growing sector. What they don’t realize is the government they wish to work with understands that Government 2.0 is new and that very few people are experts. The government, I believe, is looking to partner with people who have the chutzpah to become experts. Who have a firm grounding in communications principles and web savvy. They understand that the next year will make experts if the right candidates, firms and contractors are chosen. They are looking for people who have the savvy needed to guide and advise, with the understanding that it’s a completely new playing field. My instinct says that the government knows that they are getting prepared to experiment and want someone to experiment with.
Are they looking for complete rookies? Hardly. But they are looking for the chops to brave this new world with some degree of sanity.
If you’ve got those chops, you might become an expert. Chances are, though, if you lie to them and say you’re an expert now, they simply won’t hire you.