Building a vision for Government 2.0

Building a vision for Government 2.0

Summary: Government 2.0 isn't waiting for a federal mandate.


Government 2.0 isn't waiting for a federal mandate. Earlier this week, the nation's first ever CIO, Vivek Kundra, urged the use of Web 2.0 approaches to address the needs of government and citizens at the Management of Change conference in Norfolk, Virginia. Kundra outlined several important areas where he believed Web 2.0 can help improve government: connecting with citizens and their ideas (social computing), routing around the horizontal and vertical silos surrounding government data (open APIs), and tapping into the potential savings of low-cost new software applications and processing capabilities (SaaS and cloud computing.)

Among the three areas, Kundra's perception that citizens were a true peer group in the process of governing seemed to come through clearest:

"We’ve got to recognize that we can’t treat the American people as subjects but as a co-creator of ideas. We need to tap into the vast amounts of knowledge… in communities across the country. The federal government doesn’t have a monopoly on the best ideas."

That the global, pervasive network known as the Internet can directly connect citizens with their government is obviously an idea well-aligned with Web 2.0 ideas. Not that the vision for something known as Government 2.0 is a new one. It goes back to the very beginning of the Web 2.0 discussion. But with a new administration in place in Washington and a passionate CIO that by all appearances is progressive and understands the modern IT era, the timing seems to be ripe for a remaking of government and perhaps even democracy itself.

Fixing what isn't broken?

Our democracy is not quite 250 years old and its mechanisms have largely served us very well over the years. That we currently have representative government is for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were that the vast distances in our large country used to make wide-scale direct democracy difficult and that considerable expertise and knowledge were perceived to be required to make important government decisions. The Internet, however, with its ability to make any distance equally close and to let us research virtually anything in real-time, has seemingly erased the need to impose such constraints on how we govern ourselves.

But of course there is more to the story. The state of government today is also still very much a "we the people" vs. them, the government. There is a distance between us and our government, at least for most of us, that is reminiscent of paternal days of old when getting involved, unless it was your local assembly, was something that few people had the ability to do. Government was for people who could join it and make a career of it, and many have indeed dedicated their lives to public service. Now, however, there is the means to enable many, many more to be involved and to potentially create a government that fits us and serves us, in our time, better than it can in its present form.

Government 2.0

We should also not forget the classic sayings that "bureaucracies exist to perpetuate themselves" and "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", which are old chestnuts for a reason. The roots of these concerns occasionally need tending to as well.

In short, events of the last couple of years and vast changes in our modern society seem to urge some essential improvements upon our government, if only we had the means:

Improving Government 1.0

  • More transparent and accountable. Too much government information is inaccessible from the citizens that paid to create it. Much more than just raw data or collated statistics, which is increasingly opening up already, its the very deliberations of the government machine; the decision making, who made them and why, as well as the actual actions taken, all of which are often far too closed to the governed, yet affect us so profoundly. Make no doubt about it, like Web 2.0 was to the rest of society, opening up daily activity to the daylight is a sea change and governments around the world, never very comfortable with scrutiny or criticism to begin with, will be seriously challenged in an era where their constituents have as much power as they do to communicate. It's also true that too often the information that is intentionally kept from coming to light that is the most significant. I'm not talking here about secure or classified information; there is information that simply must be kept highly circumscribed for security reasons (though that too is often overdone). For an example of a move in the right direction, is an excellent example of transparent and accountable government information, while is also a good start, but only a start. Globally visible, persistent government activity is the enabler here, and Enterprise 2.0, which will be used much more internally within government at first over the next few years, is part of the answer.
  • Less expensive, cumbersome, wasteful, and heavyweight. Our current government is largely a construct of the 20th century, when most of the growth and development of the federal government as well as our state and local governments took place. This is a traditional paperwork and hierarchy-driven system where, despite impressive adoption of Web 1.0 as well as numerous bright spots (some dramatically so), far too many of the cowpaths have merely been paved. The way we run our government must be reinvented for a world that has gone decidedly connected, digital, and is increasingly ready to be directly participatory. Not only can the way we interact with citizens and within government be made enormously better and more lightweight, it could cost dramatically less with the application of new technologies and social structures. And as we saw with the rise of nearly revolutionary open business models 10 years ago on the Web, engaging the greater world on the public network is often the best, easiest, and cheapest way to accomplish things, if only we have the freedom to fundamentally rethink the way we do things today. With the federal budget skyrocketing and no end in sight, dramatic means will be required to cut costs sooner rather than later, and some of the more powerful aspects of 2.0 will likely be the answer.
  • Not as impersonal and imprecise. Not many people have a regular, meaningful relationship with their government other than paying their taxes and obeying the law. Most of the time, we are a government statistic instead of what we really are: living, breathing citizens. And while the debate on large vs. small government will probably never be over, a new form of government that is far more direct and personal is coming. The very nature of how citizens can connect with, engage, and gain mutual value from our government is changing because of the Internet. With 2.0, the government's ability to provide a customized experience to each and every citizen so that the services that are provided, whatever they end up being over time, are exactly what we need, right when we need them, often powered by the rest of us. And mass customization is likely just the beginning; Facebook groups and political online communities began to help us self-organize but the legislation of the future as well as national decisions will increasingly be tailored by us and for us in a form of modern digital gerrymandering to fit us like a glove, potentially overcoming at long last the winner takes all tyranny of traditional democracy. E-mail gave us ability to reach our representatives instantly, but social tools, online community, government tools powered by collective intelligence, and participatory citizenship will change our civic lives a great deal more. In the very near future, for better or worse, our relationship with our government is almost certainly going to be closer, more personal, dynamic, and custom fit.
  • A quick glance at this list shows that it tends to parallel a good number of the predictions I made for Enterprise Web 2.0 in 2009: tight budgets will drive adoption of SaaS and cloud computing, online community will become a priority for better connection to customers and the marketplace, internal use of 2.0 will increase more than external use, the current severe macroeconomic conditions will drive alignment with technology and business like never before, and massive changes in current business conditions are creating openings that represent major opportunities for those that can spot them.

    The New York Times posted its interview the nation's CTO, Aneesh Chopra, today. Half of his priorities fall into the Government 2.0 category.

    So given the premise that we have new means to extend and improve our government in 2.0 ways, what might such a creation look like? What would the tenets be? While the notion of Government 2.0 is still just taking shape and it will take, by definition, the collective efforts of somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 million people to shape, the following general tenets seem to make sense:

    Defining Government 2.0

    1. Web as a Civic Platform. A direct riff from the first principle of Web 2.0, this simply means that the Internet will be the dominant channel for citizens to interact with their government and vice versa. It also means that it will be the foundation and delivery channel for powerful new applications, open data, and social computing related to government operation and by extension, Government 2.0. Thus, the Web is the most powerful tool for communication, delivery of services, and citizen engagement yet created, thereby enabling the following outcomes.
    2. Social Governance. The government of the near future will be much more social than before, internally more at first and then externally, particularly as new candidates take office off of social platforms (think Obama's Twitter account actually put to good use after the election.) The rise of global social networks and their displacement already of most forms of traditional communication online, including e-mail in many countries, has shown how we prefer to communicate. Human beings (and therefore citizens) are social creatures and tools which inherently leverage our nature will work better than tools that don't. Governments are social systems and it only makes sense that a social tools will make government work better internally (collaboration amongst government employees with things like Enterprise 2.0) as well as with its citizens and other stakeholders. Certainly election campaigns have caught this bug (until they have political power, they have to use the most powerful tools available). Increased transparency and accountability will come about because of social governance, even if outstanding questions include how to create a government in which the default is to be so (though one would assume that network effects by default would create rewards enough for government participants doing the right thing).
    3. Participatory Citizenship. One of the most powerful aspects of the Internet is the ability to be connected directly to everyone on the network, whenever both sides want that. With mobile phones, everyone can be connected to their government all the time (in fact, they are in many ways already, because of emergency response laws and other reasons.) But social governance will lead to participatory citizenship. Going far beyond today's online mainstays such as instantly polling your constituency, participatory citizenship is about using the network to build a better, stronger government with both data and services as well as policy and decision mutually made together. It's a remaking of how closely involved citizens are in government, how much power they have, and the walls between government and the people. Think about the rise of social media vs. traditional media and participatory citizenship makes government undergo the same shift. Again, those with political power today may not want this in true 2.0 form, but as we increasingly see with candidates, newcomers can offer this to their potential electorates in order to reach office, and so increasingly the walls will be torn down.
    4. Electorate Intelligence. The most valuable resource the government has are its citizens. Combined, they have more knowledge and capability than any other capacity available. Tapping into it that knowledge, eliciting it, and leveraging it towards shared goals and mutual benefit will be one of the most powerful activities that the government will engage in. The analogue with Web 2.0 is the principle of "harnessing collective intelligence" and this aspect may ultimately generate the most long-term value of Government 2.0.

    And there's sure to be more as the ideas of Government 2.0 evolve. We are entering an era of uncertain times and it's clear that some things need to change if we can agree on what they are. The current condition of our country is a mandate writ large to do something, and for the first time since our government was created, we now easily have the power within our grasp to do something that is both momentous, new, and valuable, (as well as, hopefully, wise) that wasn't possible before for both technical and social reasons. Done right, improving the way we run our government will make us all economically, socially, culturally, and yes, civilly, better than we are today. Fortunately, like Web 2.0, the grassroots, bottom-up aspect will ensure that much of this will be done by the folks in government on the ground, or by you and I. Government 2.0 isn't waiting for a federal mandate, though that certainly won't hurt.

    I am based out of Washington, DC and I can attest that there is enormous amounts of activity in the Government 2.0 space at the moment that was ushered in with the Obama administration. Vivek Kundra's recent pronouncements are just the tip of the iceberg. For their part, O'Reilly, the organization that identified Web 2.0 to the world, are hard at work bringing Gov 2.0 Expo and Gov 2.0 Summit to light this year. There are many local conferences and events that are talking about the next-generation of Government as well. I'll post more here as the story unfolds this year.

    Are you ready for reinvention of the way we run the government? Why or why not?

Topics: Browser, Government, Government US

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  • need for binding elections

    If Democracy 2.0 is only about more discussion then nothing is really going to change. We need binding elections on issues, that is, we need national ballot initiatives. In 24 states, we have ballot initiatives. Ballot initiatives permit public policy to catch up with public opinion (as measured by polls) more quickly than in a purely representative system of government. Moreover, ballot initiatives have indirect effects of bringing accountability to representative legislatures, educating citizens about public policy issues, and fostering more creative solutions to the problems we face. The National Initiative for Democracy ( is a proposal to add ballot initiatives at the federal level and in all jurisdictions.

    NI4D is modeled on direct initiative as practiced in many states, but also introduces three key reforms: (a) NI4D outlaws corporate contributions to campaigns for or against an initiative, reversing the Supreme Court decision in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978). (b) In existing direct initiative procedures, initiative language is finalized prior to signature collection. There is no informed deliberation, no consensus-building, and no compromise. To address this procedural weakness, NI4D incorporates a public hearing and deliberative committee (a.k.a. citizen jury). The committee has the power to rewrite the initiative, incorporating feedback from all stakeholders. (c) NI4D includes an option to qualify initiative proposals by polling. In large jurisdictions, polling is less expensive and more accurate than signature collection.
    • Binding citizen participation via Government 2.0

      Great insight on the issue of binding participation, though certainly free speech and online debate over the issues and upcoming candidates are quite binding in their own way, particularly as they results in garnering campaign contributions and swaying votes.

      I would also observe that voting and your ballot initiatives (including the polling mechanism you mention in point c) need to be able to take place online as well. It's not until citizens can use the Web as an equally valid and even preferred channel for their participation will Government 2.0 really take place.


      Dion Hinchcliffe
      • online vs offline

        There is nothing in the NI4D proposal which would preclude the use of technology. The specifics are not spelled out (e.g., "online voting"), because technology is always a moving target. Instead, the importance of "contemporary technology" is acknowledged in a number of places. For example, from Section 4:
        "The Electoral Trust shall take advantage of contemporary technology in carrying out its mission."
  • The National Initiative

    A first step to doing what you talk about necessitates the people having the power to create laws.

    About half the states already let people create laws through a process called "initiatives" or "propositions". However, each state process is different and most if not all of them are flawed. Furthermore, there is no way at the federal level for anything similar.

    However, there is a proposal on the table called The National Initiative (see which would add a federal ballot initiative process to the constitution and would put in place the most basic infrastructure that is needed for any government by the people: a way for the people to effect change by being able to enact laws. With that basic underlying ability, everything you talk about can be built on top of it.

    If this isn't clear, let me try to give you some examples.

    With NI4D, people would become a true peer group of the elected representatives. The people as a whole would be able to propose and make laws just like the elected representatives (think of the people as one large congress).

    Once you give people the power to make laws, their involvement in government increases, they become more responsible. The people in fact don't make worse laws than the representatives.

    Initiatives are a sort of "bolt-on" to existing government, it does not fix what isn't broken. Initiatives don't take away anything from representatives, however, they do keep them in check. If the representatives make a law that the people don't like, the people just overturn it.

    Please check out, it's very much in line with what you have posted.

    Michael Grant
  • RE: Building a vision for Government 2.0

    Excellent piece!

    Freedom of Speech & Association are Essentials! When "civilization's scale" requires technology for their exercise... then that technology is also essential in its design, implementation and broad availability.

    Humanity's evolutionary development shapes both our natures and capabilities in social interaction and group decision.

    This has significant implication for design of group-decision systems (e.g. government).

    That's enough on that here. But I hope you'll take a look at the following links which deal with the vital role of the political micro-transaction (under $1) especially in networked situations and Electoral/Geographic Networking facilitation (including systems of "scaled-anonymity).

    And perhaps even more importantly, to begin consideration of essential characteristics of any platform hosting such capabilities (e.g. neutral & transparant with certain needed safeguards).

    I'm slowly laying out underlying theory on my blog:

    Additional links:
    Chagora Proposal
    Prototype & FAQ
    twitter id

    Additional thought must be given as well to monetization and ownership. For various reasons I believe (surprisingly) a for-profit structure under a unique design owned by its universal donor-base as individuals (not government)may be best. And I can't deny I hope it can draw some interest so I can continue my work independently.

    I would love to be able to attend more of these conferences and join this conversation if I can ever get a bit of sponsorship or investment and will be attending the Personal Democracy Forum in NYC June 29 & 30 thanks to their gracious generosity.

    I look forward to the chance to speak to any interested in hearing more!

    Tom Crowl
    • Technology becoming essential to govern

      Great point in your opening paragraph and I believe that sums it up well in terms of technology becoming a vital infrastructure component of modern government and by natural extension Government 2.0.

      Interesting as well on the "political micro-transaction", I will check that out as well though I would point out that micropayments have failed numerous times online; information (and free speech) strongly wishes to be set free by all indications.


      Dion Hinchcliffe
      • The Political MicroTransaction as Catalyst!

        Yeah, the microtransaction's been a real problem but is essential for scaling social structures.

        And nobody seems to have realized that it just may be that the political microtransaction is the key to the whole commercial end of the game they're looking for as well!

        I believe the <i>political</i> microtransaction can actually be the key to catalyzing the user's voluntary decision to fund and maintain an even <i>minimally</i> pre-funded account expressly dedicated for ALL charitable and political functions which can <i>then</i> be expanded for other uses.

        And I think bootstrapping may not be as difficult as one might think! See my brief blog piece on the LiveDebate function! (BTW, there are possibilities here for issue debates unconnected from a particular election).

        The political microtransaction is vital by itself... but it has even farther reaching repercussions because of the network it creates!

        And, if you want public financing of elections... this is the way to go! Direct funding to the <i>user/registered voter's</i> dedicated account for political contribution (for the race specified, which is, of course, reported.

        I'll be at the Personal Democracy Forum in NYC at the end of June hoping to make some connections since I'm an outsider and would love a chance to meet while I'm on the East Coast!
  • RE: Building a vision for Government 2.0

    Great (high quality) discussion here I don't have to much to
    add other than I wonder if achieving the goals of
    Government 2.0 (web as civic platform, social governance,
    participatory citizenship and electorate intelligence)
    requires the ability to discover like minded individuals to
    create communities of interest.

    Discovery can currently be a difficult process, so I'm
    wondering what role you see for analytics in enabling
    (including search) in enabling Government 2.0. One of the
    benefits of organizing around "communities" will also be to
    create a community effect which might be even greater
    than the network effect in creating accountability and
    • I'd like to see a national online community for citizens

      I think that's spot on; we don't have a place to go online to properly engage in a civic and social way with the government and other citizens.

      It's not clear that such a creation (a national community as I outlined in my Government 2.0 visual) would be workable if created by the federal government. But I think it needs to be tried.

      It's the same criticism that I make towards companies that refuse to provide communities to their customers (which go off and form their own) -- -- applies here.

      But in the end, we may very well have to go off and form our own national citizen community.


      Dion Hinchcliffe
      • Community building

        I'd like to get your thoughts on what if any role you think the media might play either as a community builder or intermediary or maybe both.
      • The Commons-Dedicated Account!

        I believe it's the Chagora structure characterized most concisely perhaps as a distributed network with each node as an <i>individually-controlled/commons-dedicated account</i> facilitating, especially the micro-transaction (and therefore other legal & larger transactions, if desired by the User) that naturally creates this aggregation by being desirable for both Donors and Recipients. And best for the Commonweal in general.
      • Designing the Platform as Teacher!

        There are also possibilities for such a unified platform in developing an understanding of the needs and nature of a democratic process in populations which may not have that familiarity or experience by the nature of how its standards and practices may be adapted for particular nations and circumstances.

        No more on that here but if you run into Mr. Kundra I think I could show him a couple of good ways for President Obama to "show his money's where his mouth is" as far as some follow-up action for the Middle East by providing technology for empowering moderate forces for healthy change! (while drawing strength away from violent elements by providing <i>safe</i> alternatives for secure interaction.

        And pass it on to Tim O'Reilly! I'd like to be at some of these conferences.
  • RE: Building a vision for Government 2.0

    Had to snicker. My comment is a minor one, but seems oh-so-critical to me (in reducing the 'muddiness' of our conversations). In your diagram there's one component labeled "Data, Information, & Content" and it's represented by the infamous disk drive, associated to storage. There is no such thing as 'information' in storage. To 'inform' it must be in recipient-relevant context. Or -- the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    It's actually somewhat akin to the misguided term, "Knowledge Management" -- you can't manage knowledge, any more than you can store information. They only achieve the label when they're successful at the point of 'use'.

    Just to allay arguments that might be set aside by my oft repeated example -- you're in the Mojave desert and you're lost. You come upon an abandoned gas station and on the counter is a map of the desert. Many would consider a map (using the definition of 'data in context') information. But you have no idea where you are -- you have no relevant context that grounds the gas station to the map. It fails to INFORM. It's just useless data.
    • It is possible to distinguish between stored information and data though.

      If it comes with the context that you describe, I warrant that some of what we have in our IT systems is indeed information and not just data, even though we are swamped with much more, largely context free data.

      Interestingly, Web content tends to build deep context (with links, add-on analytics, tags, etc.) which accumulates around it the longer the "data" exists, turning it into ever improved information the longer it exists on the network. Yet another arguement for Web-based models of collective intelligence and knowledge management.

      But your point is absolutely correct and should be underscored; there is a dramatic difference between information and raw data.


  • RE: Building a vision for Government 2.0

    I think it's fantastic and really glad to see the
    Obama administration embracing social software. Also,
    just to point out that it's not only about connecting
    our government better with its constituents - it's
    being used to better connect people within various
    government agencies as well.

    Here's an article relating to the NSA using social
    software and how it's helping agents share info within
    and across places like the CIA and FBI - Love to hear that social
    software is being utilized to provide better security
    for our nation.
    adam mertz
    • Right, it's not just connecting government with the people...

      But government workers with other government workers using Web 2.0 tools as well.

      It's not terribly obvious but I did put Enterprise 2.0 clearly in the Workers box in the Government 2.0 visual in the post with a arced arrow showing how they interact with each other as well.

      Thanks for making sure that was clarified!


      Dion Hinchcliffe
  • RE: Building a vision for Government 2.0

    One of the biggest challenges, managing all of this. UCLA is looking into this, ?participatory sensing? as mobility is very much a part of the picture too.
  • We need less government, less use of force, not more efficient use of force

    When human beings collaborate peacefully, many good things result.

    But when people insist that they know better and that basic rights to life and property are unimportant and force can be used against those that have done nothing to anyone, we all lose. This is the essence of government.

    Force is only appropriate when someone is threatening your life and property with force, fraud or pollution.

    It doesn't matter if you're one person on an island of 20 people or 19 on the same island.

    The majority doesn't magically obtain a pass on morality just because its the majority.
  • Governance & Sustainability

    I sent a friend who's heading a great sustainable technology project in India (but with ideas applicable everywhere) a message which covers some ground I wanted to bring up on Government 2.0 so copy a bit of it here:

    "Hi Hariharan,

    Thanks for links!
    I'm in the same position but maybe today can finish a new piece I'm working on as well.
    I'm leaving for East Coast to meet a friend and then head to NYC for Personal Democracy Forum at the end of June...

    In a strange way, maybe good. Because now I am taking the time to flesh out the ideas which brought Chagora into being. And I'm a complete newcomer to this field with only such credibility as I can build on the merits of what I can offer.

    Our projects are each part of the solution to finding better ways. [Current] models are actually not efficient or sustainable.
    Here is an interesting article: Can America Be Fixed?

    It's really talking about the American business model as its being practiced now... and more particularly I think what I'm talking about in relation to Dunbar's Number, problems scaling biological altruism, and the nature of the relationship between an impossibly large number of inter-connected networks of all sorts on my Blog (please subscribe or follow or whatever people do... I'm so naive I just figured out to use Technorati the other day to try to spread out a bit.)

    The world is far too complex/chaotic of a "system of systems" to ever be finally fixed ... but there are some very fundamental, simple and peaceful things that can be done. Its very frustrating to see so much stubborn foolishness persist... really for little reason.

    <i>I've concluded that the rapid expansion of ICT and the nature of the Ultimatum Game makes the following no longer just a nice ideal but a survival necessity...</i>

    <b>Only when the gap between the rich and the poor approaches that level which would be considered fair within a "Dunbar's Number" <i>social network</i> in daily contact... only then can we consider the possibility of a harmonious social organism*.</b>
    <i>*A self-recognized and internally governed economic/political grouping organized for basic survival decisions and actions.</i>

    I was part of a phone call yesterday with a charity that did a fundraiser and wanted to have a minimum contribution of $5 but was told by PayPal that they'd do better making it $10! And this in a worldwide, Internet-centered, Twitter-oriented situation.

    This is a mentality that may work in some situations but is foolish and, more importantly bad for civilization. I'm going to have to lay out the importance of this in some detail on my blog. The idiots at PayPal don't seem to understand even from their own long-term profit perspective that even if the microtransaction were only useful once for a given user... it then anchors him/her and advantages both sides for future transactions... and moreover, even if a person never used the microtransaction... enough <b>will</b> to catalyze the gravitational pull to bring in that guy too!

    Moreover, the political transaction is essential to scaling representation which will become quickly obvious (though the <i>customs of the microphone</i> which will inevitiably develop has effect on whether we get crowd wisdom or information cascades which is why its vital that attention be paid to design...
  • RE: Building a vision for Government 2.0

    Government integration is a recipe for tyranny. The Founding Fathers understood that a pure democracy is a recipe for rule of the mob, example, the French. We have a Representative Republic to keep the passions of the mob from destroying us. Mr. Jefferson said that "Government is best which governs least". Sic Semper Tyrannis.