Government 2.0

Michael O'Neil

I had an opportunity to attend an event held in Toronto that focused on "Web 2.0 in Government -- Possibilities and Implications." The session began with a speech titled "Government 2.0 -- How New Technologies can Enhance and Transform Government," by Paul Macmillan, National Public Sector Leader for Deloitte.

The speech seemed to primarily contain adaptations of U.S.-oriented comments -- which isn't to say that it didn't contain some useful ideas. In one slide, "Provinces in Transition," Mr. Macmillan listed seven key issues facing provincial governments:

  • Health care
  • Meeting service delivery standards
  • Replenishing the diminishing workforce
  • Maturing the finance function
  • Investing in higher education
  • Closing the widening infrastructure gap
  • Enhancing emergency response services

Responses to each of these issues involve IT, and that itself helps illustrate one of the central conundrums faced by government IT operations -- the need to prioritize amongst issues that are all legitimately of high importance.


The one potentially controversial point made by Mr. Macmillan concerned e-government. He stated that "traditional bureaucracy has not been transformed by e-government," observing that "people thought there was an opportunity to streamline operations" with e-government, but that instead, it amounts to putting on "a pretty face," bolting portals onto existing organization structures.


Mr. Macmillan ended by suggesting that government 2.0 offers the potential for more substantial change than e-government. However, it's hard to see how the outcomes associated with the two buzzwords will be very different. Advances in Web-based technology may well help drive incremental improvements in the seven key areas listed above, but it is unlikely to prompt a move towards a radically new approach to government operations.


I don't want to be unfair to Mr. Macmillan, or to the other evangelists telling us how technology will transform life as we know it. But - Web-based technology enables change -- it doesn't create the desire for change. Government operations, or operations in other areas, might evolve in lockstep with Web 2.0 technology. It's even possible that in some cases, these changes are only possible because of the technology. But -- with the possible exception of social media itself -- it's hard to see where the availability of technology prompts both the ability and the desire/need for change.


Those who look to the "transformative potential of technology" to be the cause of transformation are, I think, more likely to find a succession of incremental improvements than examples of radical re-invention of industries or social behaviours.


Initially posted by Michael O'Neil on IT in Canada. Reposted via agreement with IT in Canada.

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