Government 2.0: The Problems of Empowerment
Government 2.0 shares much with BI, including its premise that information empowers. It also shares some familiar problems.
The promise of the so-called Government 2.0 seems clear: well-presented government data made available online, along with a new culture of openness among officials and inspiration among the public, will let citizenship bloom — resulting in citizen-produced information, ideas and insight. It will all operate with the same fluid ease and popularity as today’s Wikipedia, blogs, and social-networking sites.
A small parade has formed to promote the idea. One bandleader is Don Tapscott, veteran visionary for things technical. He was onto the promise of the Internet early, and he is co-author of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (2008, Portfolio).
He believes in the wisdom of the swarm. He said during his conversation in May on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, “People will do the right thing if given a chance.”
So far, so good.
Upon closer examination, this idea looks like a new variety of business intelligence applied to government. Like BI, it’s about visibility, transparency, and empowerment. It may end up using many of the same tools for data visualization, data cleaning, harvesting unstructured data, and other needs. It may also have many of the same problems.
I looked hard for nuts-and-bolts thinking. I found examples of Government 2.0 projects, but not much on the practicalities of a large-scale push. Contacts with Tapscott’s nGenera organization resulted in just more theory and fanfare.
Within hours of Tapscott’s segment on Talk of the Nation, metrics maven Tom Davenport, author of Competing on Analytics (2007, Harvard Business School), expressed skepticism in his blog: “There may be a few hitches in this miraculous transformation.”
The hitches may sound familiar to those who’ve watched BI try to grow within an organization.
One hitch might be too much faith in technology. In most of what I’ve seen written about Government 2.0, technology seems to come first. Tapscott points to a Wall Street Journal column by L. Gordon Crovitz, who writes, “Democracy and governing are complex topics, but this makes it all the more important to apply technology as a solution.”