Government 1.0 is dead. Prepare for the Age of Government 2.0!

When you work in government, there are always lots of training and information sessions on this and that – from how to behave ethically to the procedure for booking a meeting room. There is a particular pattern to this kind of training in the public sector and when it comes to new IT systems, I’m sure public servant know the drill… try to stay awake through the 100 screenshots used to explain how to login, make a few complaints about the new software (in the interests of vendor management) and then back to your desk to wade through the 5 cm thick quick reference guide.

I’m sure with that past experience of change behind them, the excitement and interest in Government 2.0 probably just sounds like preparations for more of the same. Its one reason why I wanted to reference this comedy sketch about ‘Bronze Age Orientation’ in my Government 2.0 Public Sphere presentation on Monday:

I didn’t have time to play this during my presentation, but I did describe some of the key points (“Stone is dead. Prepare the Age of Bronze!”). Part of the comedy in this sketch for me is the point that of course there was no orientation day for the coming of the Bronze Age. Stone age societies that found themselves confronting the coming of the Bronze Age had a very simply choice: adopt that technology or be overwhelmed by their neighbours who had (“Don’t be afraid of bronze. Unless of course someone is attacking you with a bronze axe, in which case you should be afraid”).

All humour aside, there was a serious point to this – the innovation of Bronze actually moved slowly around these early human communities. But innovation today is moving at a rapid pace. We only have to compare the rate at which consumers adopted the telephone with the Internet to see just how fast this is happening. As a result, there will be no Government 2.0 orientation day – the best we can do is participate in this change (and learn as we go) and ensure we understand the broad patterns emerging with this change so we are better prepared for the future, rather then picking the tool or platform of the moment and proudly saying, “Now I’ve got it – this [insert tool here] thing must be what Government 2.0 is all about”.

This goes some way to explaining why I choose to talk about ‘New patterns of government’ in my presentation:

I highlighted four new patterns (and using pictures, four anti-patterns based on the old ways of doing things):

1. Mass participation;
2. Fix it ourself;
3. Networks of communication; and
4. Negotiated controls.

I should also point out that the Tank in slide 3 isn’t a metaphor for social media or Government 2.0! It was simply a device to talk about the different factors involved that determine if a new technology can be adopted successfully. One of those factors, using the odd shape of the First World War Tank I used on the slide as the example, is that based on the prevailing world view we may not recognise the shape or ‘pattern’ of the real potential a new technology offers.

Sticking with the military theme I got back to computing by talking about Alan Turing, who is best known as a Second World War code breaker. Even before that time, Turing had begun to understand the opportunity pattern that was coming with computing, but his notions of adaptable software-driven machines failed to get traction against the established world view of the people he worked for. Sound familiar?

I also suggested that these new patterns also require a new way of determining their value. Government 2.0 will require the involvement of both government and community in building platforms and infrastructure that allow emergent use and benefits to appear. A blog for a minister here and policy development by wiki there are simply the tip of the Government 2.0 iceberg. The value of these isolated experiments in social media simply won’t stand up against a why bother assessment by not just government, but the general public too.

My key points at the end were:

  • Government 2.0 changes the role of government, so the roles in government will change.
  • If Australia doesn’t take advantage of Government 2.0, other nations will.
  • Government institutions and politicians aren’t the only stakeholders that will get to make the decision about Government 2.0.

I won’t try to summarise the other 30 presentations and thousands of tweets from the day – but start with Sen. Kate Lundy’s blog (Public Sphere was coordinated through her office) to discover lots of related material.

This Public Sphere forum also marks the start of a series of Government 2.0 related events taking place in Sydney over the next few weeks:

If you’re based in NSW and involved in either the government or community sector, it would be great to see you at any of these events.