Using social media to shape a government of the people for the people

New white paper explores Web 2.0's potential to reshape government policies, programs and structure.

Ever since I found out that the government had more than doubled the number of data centers it was supporting between 1998 and last year, I have puzzled over how such inefficiency happens in the first place. The short answer is that these decisions are made in selfish little silos or fiefdoms of self-interest. The reality is that many of those decisions were probably well-meaning. I mean, no one plans to be inefficient, do they?

In any case, I got to thinking about this again a couple of hours ago when I received an e-mail about a new white paper on how Web 2.0 technology can enable "Government 2.0." I should say upfront that the paper is co-authored by a director at technology consulting firm Grant Thornton and a vice president of products at FreeBalance, which sells software for supporting government resource planning. So, the authors have a vested interest in the tie between technology and more efficient government. That doesn't make their insight any less valuable, though.

Here's a comment from one of the co-authors, Martha Batorski of Grant Thornton:

"Traditional change management frameworks work for a mandated, roll-out of change—where change is pushed to a target audience. Change management in the Web 2.0 era (Change 2.0) is more peer-to-peer, viral—change is pulled by participants, constituents, employees, customers. One key difference for leaders is in the need to engage with others, to convert value from the network into meaningful products and services and knowledge, and to quickly identify practical solutions to challenges."

The white paper identifies several ways in which social media and social collaboration can change government processes through public outreach and inter-agency collaboration. Probably pretty much what you expected. What I found even more useful, however, was the co-authors' suggestions as to leadership skills required for putting the technology in place to support Government 2.0. They are:

  1. The ability to apply design thinking. This one, frankly, was a little hard for me to grasp, especially since I'm operating on about five hours of sleep today. BUT, some of the related principles here include the willingness to encourage collaborative experimentation of Web 2.0 on pilots that can later be applied more broadly. (The paper cites an internal application developed at NASA called Spacebook that was used to figure out relevant applications of social networking.)
  2. Willingness to leverage viral change, which is more peer-to-peer or bottoms-up than the typical decision-making process in most organizations.
  3. Web 2.0 should be aligned closely to core strategy agendas. That way, they will have the most chance of succeeding, even if it's in ways we haven't anticipated.

My blogging partner Joe McKendrick wrote more deeply on the e-government topic last fall in this blog entry, in case you want to read more.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com