It’s time for a new version of government

October 1, 2010, 5:53 PM UTC

The government 2.0 movement is about change, real change, and how to use the power of tech to empower the public. Here’s how it will work, and who’s already behind it.

By John Moore, contributor

Flag of the United States in the Moon Light 月光...
Image by Yang and Yun's Album via Flickr

There is a movement underway, called Government 2.0, a movement is crucial to our future as a society and one that’s I’m a part of — an inside man, if you will. Let me tell you about it.

Government 2.0 is a citizen-centric philosophy and strategy that believes the best results are usually driven by partnerships between citizens and government, at all levels.  It is focused entirely on achieving goals through increased efficiency, better management, information transparency, and citizen engagement and most often leverages newer technologies to achieve the desired outcomes. Government 2.0 is bringing business approaches, business technologies, to government.

This movement has great leaders like software pioneer Tim O’Reilly, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, and a long list of others.  However, this movement is still far from main-stream. Success mostly occurs organically, the result of the work of passionate individuals rather than top-down strategic change.  That’s because policies, processes, and people are not yet fully prepared to handle this change.  In speaking with people around the country at all levels I see the following problems far too often:

  • Individuals having to take risks with their careers to experiment with social media, open government data, and other technologies despite the lack of support from peers and supervisors.
  • Individuals investing their own money to buy products, services, and training to drive innovation.

The change created by these passionate individuals is great but, their efforts are not sustainable.  The change will be undone when these passionate individuals move to their next position.  Sounds bleak, doesn’t it?

Quite the opposite.

In reality we are nearing a fork in the road.  In one direction lay true, sustainable, change where government operates more transparently, more efficiently, and in deeper cooperation with citizens.  In the other direction we have business as usual with great promises and poor results.

How do we continue this change in a manner that ensures real value, demonstrable cost savings and increased citizen engagement, is achieved?

Here’s the one sentence answer:

Create a management framework that accepts and rewards internal entrepreneurs.

Government employees are traditionally risk-averse, a good thing when the pace of change is relatively slow.  However, in today’s fast-paced world the pace of government change, the pace of government execution is often too slow. We see this every day as regulators struggle to adapt laws passed for yesterday’s problems to today’s challenges. Change management practices that were once sufficient are no longer keeping up.

To change we must overhaul how goals are set, how employees are trained, and how employees are measured against their goals.  Results delivered, not seniority, must become the yardstick against which employees are measured. Here are four things that are crucial:

1) Focus on success at the local level.

There are more than 80,000 local governments in the United States.  Very few of these cities, probably less than 0.1% of them, are yet able to point to any positive change as a result of government 2.0 initiatives.  In the majority of cases the changes are occurring in large cities like Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, not in the small and mid-sized towns/cities where the majority of our citizens live.  In many cases education, the cost of technology and the lack of awareness are the problems holding back change.

2) Force competitive solutions for non-core services.

Clearly our military, our diplomats, and other core services are all sacrosanct.  However, non-core services like communications (PR/Marketing), IT, and training services (as a few examples) should be considered as possibly best delivered by the private sector.  The key word, of course, is “might”.  When results are not being delivered by contractors, government needs to retain the flexibility to look for alternative solutions, something missing in today’s contractor-government relationships.

3) Engage citizens in creating value and saving money.

True results are being delivered in the private and public sector when customers/citizens are engaged in the process.  Platforms like BubbleIdeas, UserVoice, IdeaScale, and others, are being used to give citizens a voice in the daily execution of government. Ideation platforms need to be more broadly explored and deployed to work with citizens.

4) Become agile, delivering on 100 day plans.

While politicians often make promises for their first 100 days in office we rarely see clearly defined goals combined with execution plans and measurable outcomes publicly displayed.  Rhetoric, not results, is often the only outcome.

Government entities should select an easy to define project to complete every 100 days.  The projects goals, plans, and metrics for success should be published and updated weekly.  The ability to achieve results should then be rewarded.  Failures should be accepted and used as opportunities to learn and improve.  Teams and individuals that consistently succeed should be rewarded.  Those that consistently fail should be replaced.

In future articles I will explore these potential solutions in far more detail.  For now I will leave you with this one question: Can sustainable change in government be achieved from a mostly self-funded volunteer workforce?  Let me know what you think.

–John Moore is the Founder and CEO of The Lab, a consultancy and analyst firm focused on local government as well  as small and medium business.