It’s really an old chestnut this one others in the field like Laurel Papworth, Stephen Collins and Matthew Hodgson have all commented at length. However the other day I ran smack bang into the adoption of Web 2.0 (much how I hate the term) by government. It seems to be at least on the table still with various levels of Government within Australia.
Now I have some ties to government but not a great deal. I wouldn’t say that I’m infused in the Government culture, but I still feel that I can comment on a few issues relating to Government and its adoption of web 2.0 and its social networking aspects.
What it really comes down to in many cases is really what do people think Web 2.0 really is? People working for Government are no different they are confused as we are.
Some see it only as the link farming to sites such as NewsVine, Digg, StumbleUpon or Delicious ignoring the fact that these sites take the social networking aspect away from the originating site.
Where as others see it as the full blown social networking and community interaction facilities. I’m not even going to consider a Open Data or Open Access model or web as service and mashable APIs, these are the horror stories for government IT managers.
Get on Board or Get out of the Way
The question of whether Government should create web services that are based around online social networking creates an entire minefield of issues such as:
- Who own the comments?
- Should an publication be sanitised?
- Should comments be moderated and edited?
- Who are the comments directed to, the community, the agency or the topic at hand?
- Should the agency respond officially in writing to every comment?
These types of issues frankly put the fear up the executive in many agencies.
As Ben Winter-Giles points out most Government agencies are just coming to grips with user centric considerations, let alone taking onboard another aspect like social networking. We have to remember it’s softly softly in the halls of the public servant.
You know I really do laugh at this. A user centric approach has been a consideration as the core in the private sector for a long time, and only now does government realise, like it’s a new concept, that the people, its audience, are important.
This final realisation that the community around them is important maybe their only saving grace that Government has. It really has to overcome their old school attitude, it is a massive cultural shift from the public as the enemy to the public as your friend.
Control is King
There is a need with the information silos of government to control information. Information is power, information is job security. It maybe an old way of thinking and not very user centric, but I see it as still very much still evident in government.
This need to control in the highly complex hierarchical structures means that in the longer term there is less likelihood that they are going to consider letting the information be controlled by the community. You see the community is unchecked, unknown. and the unknown is not to be trusted.
I have discussed this mentality a little in the past with the post Why Social Networking is Evil. Government needs to get over this centralised control hierarchical structure to have any hope of embracing any aspect of community collaboration online in a meaningful way.
Conservative breeds Conservative
One of the roadblocks, I have observed, is that government has always been behind the wave, usually way back in the safe waters with the lawyers and accountants. Okay that’s fine it is our money, it is the public purse.
However, one does have to wonder when the people advising government are quoting from others in the field that are just coming to terms with Web 1.0 or the mainstream IT media. Then they hold anything from the Garner group up as a holy gospel. Okay these sources all have there place, but it needs to be tempered with some real world viewpoints.
This type of conservative approach, is ignoring the leading lights of social networking in Australia for a group of misinformed consultants that in most cases have only been exposed to online social networking from the reports they have read. It comes as a bit of a shock that Facebook and Myspace are seen as the new boys on the block, and the social aspects of the mobile web is ignored as a passing fad.
It’s even more amusing when some over priced conferences for web 2.0 are tout themselves as the leading ideas festivals for web 2.0 . When in reality the speakers (except a few) are usually just coming to terms with the web itself. One does wonder maybe that these conferences need to consider allowing a few real people from industry as speakers and not usual conservative managerial list that have no concept of what is really happening.
Yes its a question of education. Maybe it’s also time for the accountants and management consultants to step aside in this area and admit they are really lost.
The question remains
So should government move into the social networking space, or is that just too dangerous. Should it remain in the conservative one way information feed, with a occasional public comment call that has the feedback hidden behind closed doors?