it’s not about small or large government, gov2.0 is augmented government

I see many metaphors on government 2.0 around. It’s a good sign we’re doing an effort of self-awareness and shared understanding – very much in line with the Open Declaration. We need to structure our thinking and to communicate it better to government. We need to go from cool project to policy proposals, as we write on the eups20 workshop report.
Here are 4 different visions I came across:
– no government scenario: Andrea Di Maio argues that government should give up building interfaces, and concentrating on releasing public data and web services. Private sector will take care of interfaces and identity management. On the same line, Robinson argues that government “rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet end-user needs, it should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that «exposes» the underlying data”. Similarly, Sunlight Foundation argues that government should not visualize but only expose the data.
– government websites as public goods: Tom Steinberg argues that citizens should be able to use public websites to connect to each other
– Tao government: with my colleague Cristiano Codagnone we proposed the metaphor of the chinese symbol “Tao”. We recognize that private – community initiative is not a substitute of government: government has a subsidiary role to play to ensure that all citizens benefit from public services. On top of that, these are not alternative, it’s not a zero sum game. Just like the Yin and the Yang are necessary to each other, and permanently changing, government and civil society should both invest in providing services and continuously collaborating to innovate and provide better services and to address the complex societal challenges of our times. The idea has been taken up by the European Commission in its Orientation paper
– Government as a platform: the metaphor of Tim O’Reilly suggests that government should imitate what Facebook, Google Android, and the iPhone AppStore are doing: to become a platform for value-added initiatives by developers. This is a powerful metaphor: it is appealing to government as it refers to similar initiative in the private sector where a mutual gain is realized (for the platform and the developer). Secondly, it reminds me strongly to a classical theoretical notion that sees private/nonprofit initiative as the “extension ladder” of the public welfare state, which was first proposed in 1912 by the Webbs

In summary: just as social software is not about replacing human intelligence with software, but augmenting it, government 2.0 is not a matter of substituting government with bottom-up initiatives, but augmenting its innovativeness and its impact by letting third parties build on top of government data and services.

And this is the point I emphasize in my latest version of the Open Declaration, entitled “what we expect from public services 2.0“.


8 Responses

  1. What about government as workspace? Think The Hub, where you have your own office. It also fits very well the Wikicrats idea (bad name, good concept) and Kublai itself.

    I left a long comment on your declaration version. CIao!

  2. Great comments both here and in the declaration, thanks.
    I like the workspace idea, the concept of government as a host. It is somehow similar to the platform: government as an enabler.
    But I believe we need government as a full actor in its own right. I believe government should deliver services and guarantee minimum level – but also leave open space for innovative services. Just like the iPod touch provides me with software to listen music, check email etc but also leaves room for additional software.
    I enjoy the discussion!!!

  3. Sorry, you got that wrong, I must have been unclear. Workspace means you actually work out of it! Anybody who tries enabling (like in providing technology) and stepping back is going to experience VERY low-level engagement, and in many cases abject failure. I work with a Kublai window constantly open, and I am myself the most central member of the graph, by a long shot and by every centrality measure. I am “building the house I want to live in”. Beth Noveck’s NYU students are in every Peer-to-Patent group etc. etc.

    So, the government is an actor. And a strong, highly visible one. But it works out of a shared space.

  4. Ok I understand and agree with that. In fact you are right, the Hub does not only provide me with space, but with action and content.
    My background worry , and my polemical target, is the idea that web2 is about self-organised services SUBSTITUTING government provision.
    About hosting, it’s worth remembering the proposal of Tom Steinberg, “to let people using government websites connect to each other, in order to challenge the status quo, no one says anything.”
    So yes I fully agree: enabling collaboration by taking part in it.

  5. Yes. Not “here’s a space, use it”, but “I’ll make coffee, how about you toasting the bread?”

  6. Nice analogy. But actually, it’s always been like that. The relationship between government and society has always been a deal where you agree that one does this and the other does that. The change we’re seeing now is that suddenly a lot of tasks that only government could fulfill are being done by (groups in) society. Suddenly, we’ve got a toaster, too! So there’s a reshuffling going on in what we can do ourselfs as citizens and what is better done by specialists in government.

    Government has always been a platform, just not online. Government has always connected people, but in different ways. I don’t think the role of government is changing per se, it’s just that some roles are diminishing and others are growing. And the pace of this growth and bredth of it, that’s the big challenge for government. Because we have to adapt these models to the online world and to wider audiences. And we have to learn, as civil servants and as citizens, how this new paradigm works.

    So I think we can learn a lot from civil servants that are already performing tasks supporting the platform role, if we can teach them about how the internet and online communities work.

  7. Interested debate, and sorry to come in so late but just seen it.

    I agree with most of this discussion, including government as an actor in its own right and not simply a passive platform. (Government must of course be defined, which I haven’t seen, as the entity which is directly democratically accountable — a feature that distinguishes it from most if not all other actors, and thus makes it special whilst at the same time not necessarily dominant.)

    I tend to see this role, strongly enabled by ICT, as open-source or porous government, i.e. it is a framework, a platform, but also a pro-active shaper and sharer of governance which, crucially, draws upon all appropriate resources across society from whatever source to share and develop these. To do this well and equitably (living up to its democratic role) it must ultimately aim to maximise overall public value (balancing private value within this), and, in the European context, clearly embed this within the European value set.

    Thus, to the debate I would wish to see a clear enunciation of accessing and using all relevant resources within the context of maximising public value, embedding in European values and being directly democratically accountable. I see the government actor as deeply engaging with, in an pro-active way, the rest of society in order to promote good governance.

    These are the issues I see missing from the debate so far (but apologies if they have been there earlier).

  8. Thanks Davied and Jeremy. My argument is that it is not simply a sharing of responsabilities, but that the last 3 metaphors indicate a positive sum game where private involvement goes hand in hand with public involvement. And of course governmetn should ensure public value; but to be more concrete and direct, government should continue play a role but should first not hinder/facilitate/encourage private initiative.

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