The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

From entire conferences to unconferences to new government appointees to full-scale social networks, there’s no doubt that “Government 2.0” has become the latest and greatest buzzword.  Agencies and departments from across the government are jumping on board, starting their own blogs, creating YouTube channels, and tweeting their days away.  It’s also been grabbing all the headlines – in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired,  and myriad others. But is all this talk about the next generation of government really all that new?  I found these headlines from the ’90s in doing a brief Google search this evening:

“Talking to Clinton, Via Computer”

The Bergen County Record, July 29, 1993

“White House Correspondence is Shifting to Electronic Mail”

The Dallas Morning News, April 18, 1993

“Government Expands its Claim on the Web”

Washington Post, March 18, 1997

“Servicing Citizens with the Internet”

Washington Post, April 21, 1997

“Understanding the IT Revolution”

Washington Technology, May 7, 1997

In reading through these and other articles from the deep archives of the media, I was immediately reminded that the challenges the government is facing in implementing social media are the same challenges they’ve faced before in implementing email, in using the Internet, and I would guess even in integrating the use of the telephone.  While the tools and the technology can and always will change, the fundamental challenges of changing the culture of the government remain eerily similar.

Government 2.0 (circa 1995)

Government 2.0 (present day)

People will spend all day on email not doing any work People will spend all day on Facebook not doing any work
We have to block Internet access because viruses will infect our system We have to block access to social media because they’re filled with viruses and spyware
People can’t program a VCR, but we expect them to know how to log into Compuserve? This social media stuff is kid stuff – we can’t expect Baby Boomers to log into Twitter
The public can now send us electronic mail to let us know what they think The public can now comment directly on our blog and Facebook page
Government agencies are creating websites but blocking employee access to the Internet Government agencies are creating YouTube channels but blocking employee access to them
Government sites are organized by agencies’ names rather than the services they perform We want your content, not your agency seal
The National Science Foundation promotes Internet development and hosts “webmaster workshops.” Members of GovLoop organize tweetups and attend Social Media Club events
Government agencies hires web programmers by the truckload to create websites Government agencies are creating entire teams dedicated to social media

It’s easy to get so caught up in the world of President Obama’s Government 2.0 that we forget the mistakes (and successes) of the past.  It would do all of us #gov20 practitioners some good to look back every once in a while at the experiences of our innovation predecessors and try to avoid the same pitfalls, take advantage of opportunities they may have missed, and set some realistic expectations for ourselves.

I say this not to discourage the people doing Government 2.0 nor scare away those who haven’t yet started down that road, but to make sure that everyone realizes that Government 2.0 isn’t a sprint, but a marathon.  It will take time, just as government adoption of email and the Internet took time.

Keep this mind the next time your boss shoots down a social media proposal of yours and the next time you make a major breakthrough with your organization.  We’ve all still got a long way to go.

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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