Government 20 – Truly new for government?
In the late 1990s everything connected to the Internet got an „e“–say eGovernment or eCommerce. With the evolution of mobile technology we saw the „m“ appear by 2002–say mGovernment. Eventually we also saw the rise of „i“ a little later. Now its a „2.0“ frenzy every time ideas and principles of Web 2.0 are applied to a subject matter. To name a few: War 2.0, Politics 2.0 or Cyberlaw 2.0. Of course there is also Government 2.0. A little research reveals that O’Reilly who coined the term Web 2.0 had briefly addressed this topic in May 2006. Though David Pogue stated in May 2007 that we have only picked the „low hanging fruit“ of Web 2.0 ideas. Among his suggestions of what had been missed were applying Web 2.0 to government. Further research gave me the impression that with a few exceptions, the discussion of Government 2.0 has not been truly connected to work in eGovernment, political or administrative science. While I am still working on a paper to address this issue, I would already like to put one of my arguments out for discussion, that is the philosophy of Web 2.0 was more revolutionary for the business world than for government.
A fundamental aspect of Web 2.0 is user empowerment. In Web 2.0 this is done in different ways. Information that was formerly rated as proprietary, is now openly available. Users may rate or comment on products or firms in general, whether facilitated through an enterprise or by using their blogs. Moreover, firms make various resources available to the users so that they can satisfy their individual needs or create something new. In the early 90s, enterprises recognized the need to build closer relationships with their customers because it is much easier and less costly to maintain relationships than getting new ones. While many companies have not lost control, they have significantly opened up. They have also followed public expectations and are active in government domains (e.g. Multi-nationals lobbying against child-labor and the like > Corporate Social Responsibility). We could, therefore, say that there has been a democratization of the consumer. The individual and collective power of the voice option increased.
Shouldn’t governments do the same? Well, yes you might say. However, let me ask you the following question: Haven’t they done so in the past? For centuries political philosophers have discussed the obligations of government and citizens and the relationship of the two sides. For hundreds of years it has been a common practice to offer citizens (offline) alternatives of participation/ empowerment. For hundreds of years we have also seen many ways of disempowerment. Today, there are citizen consultation groups, commentary sections on websites, virtual/real town hall meetings and many more ways of participation. Of course there is a lot of information government does not want to share with the public for other reasons than national security. Government could also do better by including Web 2.0 ideas into their eGovernment offerings. In particular, in the field of public participation which is still rated at a low maturity stage in the latest eGovernment survey be the UN.
In conclusion, a government’s experience in integrating the „Citizen 2.0“ should not be forgotten when talking about Government 2.0.