commentary The Victorian State Government recently released a Government 2.0 Action Plan, further evidence of the growing momentum behind the use of Web 2.0 as an agent of public sector reform. However, this is starting to resemble the early years of the government online and e-government phases, with their useful, but fragmented, outcomes.
Effective leadership and coordination of Government 2.0 across agencies will, as always, be a critical ingredient of success.
Government 2.0's momentum is building
Helen Silver, secretary of Victoria's Department of Premier and Cabinet, presented an address to the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) last year, which positioned Web 2.0 as one of the key drivers shaping the future of the public service. Silver commented, "If the VPS [Victorian Public Service] is to remain relevant, we need to be smarter and more sophisticated in exploiting the potential of new technology to connect and engage with the community. We also need to be more transparent in making public sector information available outside of the VPS."
These aspirations have been put into action over the past year via initiatives such as the App My State competition, the launch of a VPS Hub wiki, and most recently the release of a Government 2.0 Action Plan.
The plan comprises initiatives in four areas:
- Driving adoption — with each department required to implement Government 2.0 projects by 30 June 2011, supported by a collaboration taskforce and the development of policies and training for the use of social media.
- Engaging communities and citizens — via a range of projects using social computing tools.
- Opening up government — through the release of public sector information on the www.data.gov.vic.au website and support of "VPS Hack" events where new mash-up applications can be created.
- Building capability — via the creation of resources and tools to support Government 2.0 initiatives, manage the risks associated with social media, and share ideas and best practice.
The Action Plan was endorsed by all department secretaries, providing some evidence that the Government 2.0 agenda is now taken seriously by the most senior executives — perhaps because the lightweight nature of Web 2.0 applications appears as a welcome change to the pain of more traditional ICT projects.
Passionate adventurers now have a licence to innovate
Victoria's plan is consistent with those of other Western democracies, most of which are now embracing some form of Government 2.0 thinking. Open government declarations; public sector data portals; mashup competitions; wikis and blogs to promote sharing and collaboration; and websites showcasing examples of Government 2.0 best practice are now the tip of a reform iceberg. Beneath the water level is a huge and growing body of bottom-up discussion, debate, sharing, problem solving and collaboration that is reinvigorating passions for the adventure of innovation.
Will this be government online all over again?
However, much of the hyper-enthusiasm around Government 2.0 is starting to resemble that which existed in the early years of the decade for "government online" and "e-government" (which we might now relabel as Government 1.5). The passion for the shiny new thing is admirable, and the resulting energy of modernisation undeniably worthwhile. However, as we learned last time around, the downside of phases of proliferative innovation is a legacy of fragmentation, duplication, dead-ends, and a muddle of confusing information and online channels.
The technologies of Web 2.0 are more powerful enablers of the effect of proliferative innovation than any we have seen before. We will need to go into this with our eyes open or else create another intractable ICT mess for long-suffering agency CIOs to unscramble — once it eventually lands on their desks.
In this regard, the "Building capability" element of Victoria's eGovernment Action Plan is the most critical for the long-term success of the state's Government 2.0 program. It is a mistake to think of this simply as existing to ignite innovative passions — it also needs to shape and nurture them with an eye for both the coherence of the government's online channels and for the longer-term operational consequences of the Government 2.0 initiatives.
Steve Hodgkinson is the director of Ovum's government practice in Australia and New Zealand. Before joining the analyst firm he was the deputy CIO for the Victorian State Government in Melbourne. Ovum issued this commentary to media this week.