I just attended a very interesting seminar, organised by The Lisbon Council, a nonprofit association based in Brussels.
I really liked the approach and attitude of the people running the project, Ann Mettler and Paul Hofheinz. Passionate, concrete, ambitious and approachable. I suggest to follow their activities.
This time, they invited Anthony Williams, co-author with Don Tapscott of the book Wikinomics, to talk about “government 2.0”. He gave an interesting presentation, and the audience was composed by key people in the European Commission. We also had a lunch which I cannot comment in detail as it was under “Chatham House rule“.
The vision proposed in the presentation was systematic, quite compelling, and very well put. I recommend you to look at the example mentioned, probably the most interesting projects around. As usual, when talking about web2, it did not capture all the important aspect (this is mission impossible, I know it very well).
What I missed was:
– more details on the cases: we need to go beyond the cool experiences and anecdotes if we want to convince senior people
– too much emphasis on “mass collaboration”. Web2 is not only about involving large amount of people, but ensuring the most relevant people are involved.
– weaker forms of involvement beyond co-production were overlooked. I am a big fan of collaborative filtering and recommendation systems, and I think the role of users in commenting/rating content and in providing attention/taste data is crucial because it allows us to “exploit” tacit knowledge and weaker forms of involvement.
– the dilemma individuals vs organizations was not elaborated on. I think this is key to understand web2 (think of consumerization of IT, and of the main recommendation by Don Hinchcliff to companies about implementing web2 in business: do nothing, get out of the way).
Also, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the examples were the same we provided, which shows there is not much more going on. Beyond Intellipedia and Peertopatent, it seems there is no strong. important experience of web2 in government.
A lot of the discussion afterwards focussed on two key questions:
1- how do we ensure equal representation if we open up government processes, so that not only the voices of the elite are heard?
My view is that these tools are not for full representation of the society, but to add value, to leverage unique knowledge, to help government do a better job. It is not about making everybody collaborate on everything. As Lee Bryant often says, it’s about “intimate context”. Also, there are different levels of user engagement. And the process is made transparent for all to watch.
2- this is very time demanding, and we are already swamped with work, information, e-mail.
My answer is that this is true, web2 applications are not making you saving time. In some cases yes, they help reduce e-mail: like in the Allen and Overy case described in our report, RSS feeds are used instead of newsletters, and group blogs instead than e-mail to project members. In the PeerToPatent case, there is some evidence that time-to-patent is reduced. But the greatest impact is not on EFFICIENCY, but on EFFECTIVENESS. You have better, more relevant and more complete information to support decisions and to innovate. In the Allen and Overy case, there is better knowledge of who is doing what inside the company. In the PeerToPatent case, there is better information on the novelty of the patent application. Not to mention the impact on innovation capacity of firms by involving users in the design process.
So the initial cost can be high, but the benefits are higher. Web2 has a different philosophy about technology, it’s not about process reingeneering and top-down planning. As Pang (2005) puts it, “the brilliance of social-software applications like Flickr, Delicious, and Technorati is that they recognize that computers are really good at doing certain things, like working with gigantic quantities of data, and really bad at, for example, understanding the different meanings of certain words, like ‘depression.’ They devote computing resources in ways that basically enhance communication, collaboration, and thinking rather than trying to substitute for them” (link). They AUGMENT human capacity, they don’t substitute human work with computer work.
On this, I will later blog an anecdote that happened at the FP7 consultation workshop.
My final take: still so much work to do to transmit the value and importance of web2. Presentations are probably not effective enough, we need hands-on work on the daily activities of government.
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