Adobe Public Sector Blog

February 11, 2010 /Government initiatives /

The Beneficiaries of Gov 2.0

I’ve been following some of the commentary coming from the recent Gov2.0LA unconference and one topic in particular caught my attention. Specifically, the possibility that there is a divide between the goverati and the general public interested me. In one post, Christina Gagnier wrote about Bill Grundfest’s thoughts on Government 2.0 and his insights were quite compelling. Boiling it down, Mr. Grundfest is suggesting to the Government 2.0 evangelists that they should reconsider how they are presenting themselves and the ideas of open government to the general public, that the language and jargon being used is clearly not engaging the very people who are to benefit from open government efforts.

In a thoughtful response to this post, Dr. Mark Drapeau asks the question: “Does the Public Currently Need to Know What “Government 2.0″ Is?” In this post, Dr. Drapeau points out that the American people are not the current audience for Government 2.0 conversations, the tech and government elite are. He goes on to explain that any complicated field of study has it’s own vocabulary and set of jargon. Ultimately, his conclusion is, no, the general public does NOT need to understand what Government 2.0 is, that so long as they get the services and information they want, they don’t care too much about how it all works.

And thus does the divide start to become apparent. On one side, we have the general public who does not understand government 2.0 or the possible implications it could have on their daily lives and on the other side, there is the “goverati” working hard to define and drive Government 2.0. Now I’ll be the first one to admit there’s no way I can be aware of every activity going on in this space, however, I’ve found very little evidence of either side attempting to bridge the gap. So, if behaviors can be used to illustrate my point, I suspect most average citizens don’t realize they can or should make an effort (or, if they are interested, how) and at least some segment of the tech and government elite seem to believe they shouldn’t have to.

At this point, my software development experience kicks in and I start my system development analogies, if the designers and developers (in the case the goverati) are not talking directly to the end users (the average citizen), how can there be much hope of a successful implementation? Who’s in charge of gathering the real requirements? Who’s in charge of defining the desired outcomes? (Yes, this list of questions could go on for quite awhile!) In my 25 years in technology and government, how many times have I seen efforts fail at the very end when the system is rolled out and the end users, who have never seen it before, revolt and refuse to use it?

So, after giving this some thought, I agree with Dr. Drapeau that the goverati must keep on with the hard work of defining the vocabulary, jargon, policies, however, I also agree with Mr. Grundfest that more must be done to pull the average citizen into the process.

My conclusion: The average citizen DOES need to understand Government 2.0, albeit at a layman’s level, and everyone needs to understand and agree on the desired outcomes!

Government initiatives

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  • By Tracey P. Lauriault - 1:35 PM on February 12, 2010  

    I wrote this for the list and thought you might like to know what your post inspired!
    I liked that you think about the citizen/end user of open government / government data be considered in the equation and not just the goverati calling the shots to meet their particularist needs. Just like the sale of radarsat meant nothing to most Canadians when it was framed in technolpolitical or scientific parlance but got traction when it got framed as a sovereighty issue. That also told me something about how we do not really know how to think or talk about science and technology, but that is another matter. I am also appreciating the critical reflections on the open data cases to date. It helps us/me think them through and to temper / question rhetoric and utopias.

    Open data / open government, if framed in the language of deliberative / participatory democracry and/or information equalization could result in the discourse being about information/data the government creates as being a public good which should be in the public domain. Particularly since we have already invested in it as citizens. It means stating that when citizens have access to those data / information they can participate / act in the process and not just be the recipients of policy. It can become a dialogical process. As Darin Barney states it, it is about doing citizenship. But this takes time.

    A conversation about what we believe our democracy is about, what our roles and responsibilities are, and how access to public data / information fit into that equation is a good place to start.

    At the moment the debate is mired in crown copyright, budgets, licenses, business cases, formats, open source, transparency, cost recovery, the information officer, cool applications, statistics canada, etc. These are operational, implementation and technological issues. These are often tautological arguments and are not tied into why we are doing this in the first place. They are not even considered as part of the higher order principle open government / open data as being a key part of the democratic process. That is where we/I should start. We each know something about a or some tree/s but we/I do not see the splendour of the forest let alone the magnificience of the global ecosystem.

    I just read a paper by Mueller, Mathiason and Klein (2007). The Internet and Global Governance: Principles and Norms for a New Regime. I read it right after attenting 2 Digital Economy Round Tables on Parliament Hill yesterday. One on The Modern Digital Infrastructure and Foreign Ownership and the other Copyright, Intellectual Property Protection and the Future of Broadcasting in the Internet Age moderated by Modérateurs: Marc Garneau & Pablo Rodriguez. Partisan tones, all panelists were men, overepresentation of cultural industries and no sciece & engineering representation and very much ‘a society du spectacle’ type of event, but nonetheless it was a good discussion between and among a select group of key big players that have opposing views.

    The paper described the elements of what a regime is: “implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules and decision making procedures around which actors ‘expectations converge in a given area of international relations.” How does one go about that:

    1. Principles are agreed upon – Open Government is ….. the principles of open data are…
    2. Agreement about norms, which tie into principles – what are the standards and obligations of the parties involed in open government…
    3. Then come rules, prescriptions and proscriptions for action – legislation, acts, directives, regulation, Treasury Board of Canada rules
    4. Finally decision making procedures and the organizations through which the rules are implemented, established and institutionalized – finances, budgets, who, mechanisms, formats, etc.

    The last two are developed in alignement with the principles and the norms.

    When I think of the round table discussions which were mostly particularists desires and not what is good for Canadians; whininig about the mechanics of the current process; proscriptions without principles, tangled in the technicalities of implementation or operations. I also learned that Bill C-61 included specifics about technologies, which surprised me, as I would expect a bill on copyright to not be discussing video tapes but reproduction. Apparently, Bill C-60 did not. Also, reflecting upon a conversatation I had with Michael Lenczner about higher order thinking in relation to open data combined with my general observations about our political process, the conversations I have had with public officials in the past few months and, yikes, thoughts about our society in general, I thik we all seem to be muddled in the bits, rules, problems, issues, fiscal constraints, fears, operations and so and we have no frame of reference about how this fits into Canadian society, economy and culture.

    Our open government / open data discussions are about applications, catalogues, user licenses, formats, code, data types, and while we are doing that, and unthinkingly self referencing ourselves (e.g. just copying Vancouver Open Data terms of use or catalogue) we are not providing our governers in both the bureacracy and government with a principled frame of reference for them to implement this work. We are also not really talking to the public, but just talking to ourselves.

    I really want to start thinking about the big picture, the principles & norms and then hashing out the parts. Work has been done in the US, but it has not really been done here yet.