Suddenly, we appear to be even further behind the times

The time to embrace Government 3.0 is now.  Social networks are becoming more ubiquitous and relevant every day.  It is necessary to incorporate this channel into your citizen experience planning, processes and open government toolkit. 

I hadn’t been intending to implement Government 3.0 any time soon, but perhaps I have been missing something important.  I am not convinced that we have completely finished Government 1.0, and I am pretty confident that we remain some way short of Government 2.0.

But the broader point is that this is an analogy beyond its breaking point.  That’s partly because it was always a bit shaky – a metaphor (government x.0) sitting on top of a metaphor (web x.0) loosely related to an underlying concept (software upgrades).  How far is the underlying concept a useful way of thinking about radical change in long established organisations?  I don’t know – it’s not the kind of question which has a right answer – but I am pretty sure that at least as much is being obscured as illuminated.

There are two reasons for that.  The first is that it often doesn’t work for software any more (and, delightfully, it works least for web 2.0+ software), the second is that it never really worked for government – or indeed for organisational change more generally.

Take Amazon as an example (chosen only because I wrote about their design change a couple of years ago in a way which illustrates the point). They recognisably stay the same and at the same time are constantly changing.  Is there a definable point when they moved from web 1.0 to web 2.0?  Will we be able to tell when they move to web 3.0?  I doubt it.  Even if we can, it will be because we are thinking about the technical capability of the site.  But from the perspective of the user’s experience of Amazon, different patterns of usage exist simultaneously and blur into each other over time.

And what about government in all this.  Did government become 2.0 when Downing Street opened up on twitter?  When the first government site accepted user comments? When the first minister did a webchat on Netmums?  Quite clearly, that’s the wrong kind of question.  Most people’s experience of most of government is resolutely 0.0; some people’s experience of some of government allows them to celebrate the Prime Minister’s use of the phrase ‘semantic web’ in a speech.

Governments are not websites or software releases.  They change in slow and sometimes mysterious ways.  Getting stuck on a model of change which doesn’t really work doesn’t help us see and understand the change which is happening – or the change we want to promote and accelerate.

I am making slightly heavy weather of all of this, and probably setting myself up for accusations of being a po-faced bureaucrat.  But if that’s what being reluctant to fall into the embrace of Government 3.0 makes me, so be it.

Comments

  1. Well, your points seem very valid to me, so maybe I am still a bureaucrat too. Don’t worry though, eventually someone will hit on a new metaphor, so in five to ten years time this one will no longer seem so annoying. Even before then, no one is surely going to seriously talk about Government 4.0 and Government 5.0?

  2. Well, I agree that it’s not hugely helpful, though I suppose it’s a shorthand trying to bundle together generations of features/approaches into more manageable concepts. Otherwise, the sense of one-thing-after-another can get a bit overwhelming.

    From where I stand, the most – perhaps only – worrying thing about the trend is the one you make in your opening paragraph: that version 2.0 means the book is closed on 1.0.

    Government 1.0 is still about publishing effective information. Government 2.0 is still about enabling discussion and interaction. Government 3.0 adds a layer of transparency and enables third party services through adopting open data standards. Government and its web teams could and should be working hard on all three.

  3. It is interesting to read your take on Gov 3.0 from your position within government. I have written about the prospect of this from the perspective of those waiting to have access to government data sets (http://innovationandenterprise.blogspot.com/2010/03/government-30-coming-to-browser-near.html)

    Although there is undoubtedly hype associated web 2.0/3.0, some of this driven by technology companies wishing to ship product, and a whiff of technological determinism, there is something more complex occurring. Socio-cultural changes are also driving some aspects of government innovation as is the desire to gain ‘competitive advantage’ as a nation.

    I would also suggest that the three stages of website and process ‘growth’ are not distinct from each other. At any time, some areas will have a gov 1.0 presence, whilst others have a gov 2.0 service.

    As a final comment, I would suggest that the development of gov 2.0 and 3.0 services doesn’t just rely on government officials to turn them into reality. Citizen participation will also have a substantial impact on the degree to which this takes place.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree that the three stages are not distinct – indeed, that’s one reason why I feel uncomfortable with the 1.0/2.0/3.0 labels which imply (to my ear at least) that they are. I also strongly agree that, whatever the label, participation beyond government itself will be increasingly important for the reasons you touch on in your own blog post. I don’t know – I don’t think any of us can know – what that will eventually mean for government, but I am pretty sure that, as Paul says in his comment above, we won’t be calling it Government 4.0 or 5.0.

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