Government 2.0 – About Communication and Power [Future Forward]

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I don’t know how many of us here follow Government 2.0, a change in the offing worldwide. Once the fabric of modern technologies is overlay on centers of power today, our generation being witness to the tipping point of changing Governance is going to see a major shift in how we relate and communicate to other silos called countries.

The numerous smaller blogs out there, sporting #Gov20 or #OpenData buzzword these days are igniting interesting conversations around what people believe Government 2.0 platform is probably gonna be like tomorrow. Some assume it to be a Facebook clone, some say it should be Twitter et al and some go even as far as challenging the norms of openness & transparency by bringing in a kind of fright with concern over data-security & privacy issues. Well, Government Version 2.0 is anything but these stand-alone silos of online infrastructure out there and the least a security no-no at all.

From an uber point of view, changes in model of governance coming out under Gov 2.0 initiatives today, can very easily be likened to disruptive changes that one often sees in the world of wild wild entrepreneurship. We don’t know what to expect in Government 2.0 ten years down the line when probably everything would be touch-screen or even gesture based and communication would be ever more seamless and direct than now. The connect between the undying spirit of Startups and the discreetly supporting blogger network – i.e of TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, pluGGd.in etc. – gives a great hint at what Gov 2.0 is more likely to be tomorrow. And lastly, how much it is going to cost.

Man is a Social Animal?

Web 2.0 is a term loosely associated with nature of communication that happens between people over the internet. For a more technical definition of this term one may refer Wikipedia. See the Venn Diagram below, that would help us bring a relevant question that centers around Gov 2.0.

The question is: What is the relationship between a phrase “Man is a Social Animal” and “web 2.0”?

IMHO, the answer to this question is relevant for Government 2.0, Industry 2.0 and pretty much everything else that comes under ‘social media’ and its application to business. From initial hat tips around #gov20, the focus of Government 2.0 is almost certainly about the “Quality of Communication” and perhaps about seamless communication at different social levels which includes all the stakeholders like  the antagonizing fundamentalists too, who in the long run can seek solace & shelter under peace.

Considering Humanness

With 6.8 billion strong and growing, the super-set (H) of humans (Or all things living on earth) can be totaled as sum of people who are there on the internet and who are not. This super-set is then divided into countries (“citizenship(s)”) and subsets of humans are associated with such citizenship (C). (Understanding Citizenship?). Some Citizens belong_to Government (G), some belong_to Business (B), and the remaining are ordinary citizens i.e. employed, unemployed, housewives, children etc. Also remember that a human can also belong_to several citizenship, like in case of European Union!

So typically a country (citizenship) can be represented by the following diagram:

Country Overview [Gov 2.0]
Country Overview

Government 2.0 & its Cost:

Government is the guiding agency that represents a country and from the Venn Diagram above, one can see it is composed of Citizens & Aliens (A pretty social format already!). Although the process of selection of a Government in a country varies (it could be democratic, autocratic, communist or even a fantasy tribal dance) but largely all Govs do the same job: Collect taxes, distribute services and regulate.

And the efficiency of such a model of Governance is almost completely dependent on the infrastructure of communication available within a country. For example, state of lawlessness in Somalia is directly proportional to the limited reach of the Somalian Government into its body of citizens which is directly proportional to “trust” that citizens have on the Somalian Government, and therefore, one often sees pirates near the Somalian coast.

As compared to Somalia, the quality of communication between US, Korean or UK Government & its Citizens is far better. And thus more trust, and more effectiveness. India too is good at broadcast level of communication, but listen-ability needs improvement. Check out what people have to say about trust when it comes to Government & Government websites.

When we talk about Gov 2.0 and social nature of web what we essentially do is throw light on the communication part between people, entities and Government; i.e. the “broadcast-listening” part together. While broadcasting is definitely on a rise under the Gov 2.0 initiatives recently (Opening YouTube Channels, White House on Twitter etc.), but the listen-ability part seems to be unfortunately taking a back-seat. There is a chance of fumbling, therefore.

Listening Skills:

Check out what Alan W. Silberber, CEO of You2Gov have to say about importance of listening on Huffington Post. Leadership without proper listening infrastructure is indeed bound to become a communication-junkyard, leading to unwanted scathe & frustration amongst people. That’s what happens between leading industries & their customers too if listening quality goes bad.

For example, there is Ed.gov a portal meant to collect ideas for American education. But the biggest stakeholder of education – i.e. Children are almost completely left out of the forum in a way that easily misses the eye of most social media soothsayers. Is a ten year old kid expected to understand the Terms of Participation on a Government forum like that? This is an instant case of communication gap, compounded by an equally under-marinated user interface as per target group. Of course when one goes out with internet in the open, evolution is the only way for existence and probably Ed.gov will see the light of the day.

Now that we refer Man as social being, it is definitely imperative for our Government or leaders to become all ears too! A line more easily said than done. The intent to make Governance more efficient and transparent is fraught with changing the mindset. Several Gov 2.0 enthusiasts have discussed this at various levels and the need to join hands up and convince the incumbents cannot be emphasized more. If we look at recent publishing of citizen data under the program “data.gov”, at UK, United States, Germany one can make out that the leads positive, the deeds are yet to be.

The Naysayers

Too long have some of our leaders belonged to a life where broadcasting was the only consideration of pro-active leadership. Hearing skills, understanding needs of the people was only a back-ground process largely depending on model of lobbying or on very expensive black-box researching or consulting methods and sometimes even media-covered backlash from the public. Will this mindset not be a major impediment in adoption of social media in Governance? Well the truth is out there.

I believe that the “mindset” would impede us more than the costs of the changeover. And it would increase the cost of change over too w.r.t time. Before we arrive at the new generation a close look at great implementations would show us that web 2.0 is not at all costly. Refer to Prof. Vivek Wadhwa’s post on BusinessWeek on how traditional think-tanks can cause severe losses to the tax-payers while great tools can be built at a fraction of the traditionally projected cost. Other impediments could well be the confidence level of a leadership or the integrity of the individuals in question.

Paradigm of Communication:

Communication relevant to Government 2.0 can be divided into following functional relationships:

One – to – One relationship (Human2human):

* A citizen talking to another citizen.
* A citizen talking to a Gov officer
* A Gov officer talking to another Gov officer and so on…

Fortunately, there are several tools to enable one-on-one conversations:

1. IM/Chatting tools like Skype, YM, Gtalk etc.
2. Email services (All web 1.0 services)
3. Mobile phones for example
4. Face to face meetings etc.
5. Dinner at a restaurant etc.

One-to-many relationship (human2Group, human2LargeGroup):

This is where broadcasting chips in. The challenge of broadcasting increases with the size of group. So if we are talking to a small group of friends, it’s easy. But to talk to hundred or more people at the same time, we need a microphone, or Twitter or a blog. You get the picture, do you?

Here are some situations where one-to-many broadcasting applies.

* A citizen broadcasting into his friends
* A Gov Officer broadcasts to his online readers through a blog
* News piece is broadcast on a TV channel
* Newsprint based broadcast
* Sharing on Viral Social Graphs like Facebook
* Twitter based broadcast to followers
* Even a Rock band playing to the crowd at Woodstock
* Dr Manmohan Singh speaking to Americans etc.

All fit various different situations where an individual (leader/celebrity) reaches out to many listeners in a thoroughly choreographed manner. From a higher level, the one-to-many broadcast situation is a very well addressed problem with hundreds of expert & cost effective solutions available in industry already. Some tools are listed below:

1. Twitter, Microblogs etc.
2. Conference calls on mobile phones
3. A group chat, web conferencing tools like Webex, DimDim etc.
4. Facebook/Orkut or other Social Graphs based on friend circle etc.
5. Blogs, Wikis, Opensource Forums etc.
6. YouTube, Vimeo, Ustream other livestreaming apps
7. Radio, Television, Newsprint
8. Board rooms, Madison Square Garden, Stadiums etc. etc. etc.

Well, I am compiling a big-list of online tools useful for #Gov20 or #Industry20. So if you wanna your product to featured on it drop an email to me: arvind [at] pluggd [dot] in

Many-to-one relationship: (group2human, LargeGroup2human)

This is one area which is difficult to crack and yet to see the growth in industry and even Government. Even though there are a couple of kick-ass conversational tools out there to help leaders listen to the “voice-of-the-people” but cutting the noise has never been easy. With large scale adoption, which is yet to come by, there is a positive inkling of listening tools becoming more sensitive and semantic.

BubbleIdeas – My own startup is one of them which is meant to figure out signal from mesh of conversations, thereby assisting leaders in decision-making. Then there is ‘Ideas’ from SaleForce, which powers IdeaStorm of Dell and MyStarbucksIdeas of Starbucks. Another good tool is Ideascale by Survey Analytics which powers some Gov 2.0 communities already. There are a couple of other tools too which were initially meant for consumer feedback but are now slowly moving into the Gov20 vertical.

But the space for competitive technology is open, and we have to bring about better products to supplement the reverse-broadcasting domain a lot.

The many-to-many relationship (Group2Group)

Finally coming back to the Venn Diagram of country above, let’s imagine several countries in future who have adopted Gov 2.0. A future where a very large group of humans is able to help another large group of humans elsewhere on an event of an earthquake or other natural calamity. Using the power of APIs, it would so happen that applications in English would be able to communicate with applications in other regional languages. This thought is, however, not new as many great thinkers have already imagined internet to be one great resource of parse-able XML/RFD (or APIs) where applications talk to other applications seamlessly. Do you know of any such write ups?

Was it too long and stretched to imagine the early future? 🙂

Written & reproduced from company blog of BubbleIdeas by Arvind Nigam

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