Gov 2.0: Governments must also be 'followers'

Authorities should not just lead in Gov 2.0 world, they must also listen to what their citizens are saying and facilitate idea-sharing within the community, says social media advocate.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

In government 2.0, the terms "followment" and "followship" will be favored over "government" and "leadership", says a social media businessman and advocate who reasons that authorities cannot avoid the tide of social connections and information sharing that is occurring among its citizens.

According to Barry Libert, chairman and CEO of social media solutions provider Mzinga, governments and leaders--and even the words "govern" and "lead"--have pigeonholed their jobs to that of only governing and leading.

However, when it comes to Gov 2.0, the word "follow" takes precedence, he told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview last week. Libert addressed--via Web cam--representatives from the public, private and people sectors at Singapore GovCamp, a forum centered on discussing how Gov 2.0 can improve citizen engagement and services.

Libert noted that there are three principles underlying the interaction between governments and citizens in Gov 2.0, which are engagement, participation and transparency.

The government has always made it a point to engage citizens, but the engagement has been disproportionately toward the government, he said, explaining how Gov 1.0 Web sites tend to be "80 [percent] telling and 20 [percent] asking".

Touching specifically on the Singapore government's site, Libert said: "[You see things like] parliament sitting, Chingay Parade, check weather information, and apply for passport...It doesn't say 'join the community', 'meet your fellow citizens', 'share your ideas on how to improve our economy, welfare, education'.

"There is no conversation, discussion forum, interaction, or participation and [you] are not sure how much transparency [there is]. It's like broadcasting a TV show."

The businessman noted that rather than pushing information to people, government leaders should be asking them what they think and letting them connect with their friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.

"Think of it like a Facebook for Singaporeans, where every citizen is connected to another through Web 2.0 technologies that allows them to participate with each other and share ideas," said Libert. "The government is then a facilitator body which harnesses the many ideas of the millions of people in Singapore and uses those ideas to engage the hearts and minds of the [people]."

Pendulum swing toward citizens
While governments have always had more control than their citizens, Libert observed that social media and Web 2.0 technologies will empower the people to have as much voice and influence as their leaders.

The phenomenon, he pointed out, is already happening and leaders are going to have to pay attention to what their citizens are thinking and saying.

He attributed it to the two dimensions of Web 2.0 becoming increasingly dominant--"who you know", which are an individual's online connections through Facebook and other social networking sites, and "what you know", which refers to the information people are sharing with each another via sites such as Wikipedia and WikiLeaks.

The likes of Facebook and WikiLeaks have "become so powerful that organizations are being forced to follow these large groups of people", because in today's connected world, it now costs nothing to communicate and interact with others, Libert noted.

That is also why "social media and open [Web] are so hard for governments", as they fear people will take advantage of Web 2.0 and act in ways that are inappropriate, he added.

But the reason why people behave "badly", he argued, is because their voices have not been heard.

"Since the Industrial Revolution, governments, the military, religion and companies have censured or quietened the voice of the individual.," noted Libert. "Most people want to do good things for other people, most people want to help each other. If you take that right away from them and don't acknowledge it, after a while, they get frustrated."

That said, Web 2.0 has the potential to help governments return to "government by the people, for the people", said Libert. The shift has just begun with "governments opening up their information" and interacting with the citizens--within the next five to 10 years, Gov 2.0 will become more evident, he concluded.

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