The Public Doesn’t Need to Know What Gov 2.0 is, But They Do Need to Experience It

“Dear U.S. Government,

There’s been a lot of media coverage about you becoming more open and transparent. There have been a multitude of new policies, conferences, guidelines, platforms, and even awards for things related to something called Government 2.0 and Open Government. You people in DC sure are talking a good game – trotting out your iPhone apps, Twitter feeds, blogs, and wikis – and I suppose I should care about those things, but in reality, I haven’t got the slightest clue why any of that matters to me. I, like 95% of America, don’t use Twitter, I don’t have any idea how to mash anything up, and I don’t care enough about your agency to read your blog.

I’m not sure why I should care about open government -sure these things are nice and all, but it hasn’t really changed anything.  You know what would change things? If my Congressman would actually explain what he does on the Hill – what is she/he doing on a daily basis to make my life better?  If someone at the IRS could explain the tax code to me. If someone at the metro could tell me when my train will be ten minutes late, and why they’re only running four car trains at rush hour. If I knew when my street was going to be plowed. But most of all, I want government to just work. I just want to stop dreading having to interact with the red tape and the bureaucracy, and I want to feel like my government is there to help me.”

– Sincerely,

John Q. Public

 

The Open Government Directive set the wheels in motion for thousands of government 2.0 intitiatives but means little to the average citizen

I’m not going to get into whether the general public needs to understand what “Gov 2.0” is  or not, but there is one thing that we in the Gov 2.0 community need to do a better job of and it’s not educating the public on what open government is or why they should care.  No, what we need to do is start calling more attention to things like the DC DMV’s real-time video feed of their lines, like NextBus to alert riders when their next bus is coming, like what Santa Cruz is doing to involve its citizens in the budget process.

While something like Data.gov may eventually become the backbone for hundreds, maybe thousands, of revolutionary open government initiatives down the road, it’s not impacting the average citizen’s life RIGHT NOW.  To the average citizen, it’s not revolutionary – it’s just another government website.

Building an open government is kind of like building a successful sports team. While team management may have a vision of where they want to be in five years and may be taking steps to build the infrastructure – drafting young players with potential, cutting older/overpaid veterans, and putting in a new strategy – so that they are successful in five years, they also realize that they can’t just concede the next five years and hope their fans will keep coming back. So they sign some veteran free agents to help the team compete in the short term. They may make a trade to help build some excitement among the fan base. They may lower ticket prices. They realize that even though a championship may realistically be years away, the team has to continue to show the public that they care about them and that they’re doing what they can to win, both in the short term and over the long term.

So, no, the public doesn’t need to understand what Gov 2.0 or open gov is – but they do need to understand that their government is actively trying to do more to communicate and collaborate with them. Let’s not get too caught up in what Open Government could mean in the future, and forget about the little things that we can do for the public right now. Implement customer service training for everyone who could interact with the public, fix the speakers on the metro so that people can understand what’s being said – it’s these little things that will go a long way in establishing the trust among the public (our fans) that we’re committed to building a truly open government, now and into the future.

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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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  • Steve,

    I’d really like to see a post from you that focuses on your last sentence, unless of course you have to charge readers your hourly rate for that. 😉

    Luke

  • Steve,

    I’d really like to see a post from you that focuses on your last sentence, unless of course you have to charge readers your hourly rate for that. 😉

    Luke

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  • I was thinking that as I was writing that last sentence :). I’ve always got my bosses in the back of my head telling me “not to give away the farm for free” but I think I could probably draft something up that discusses that last point without getting into too much trouble :).

  • I was thinking that as I was writing that last sentence :). I’ve always got my bosses in the back of my head telling me “not to give away the farm for free” but I think I could probably draft something up that discusses that last point without getting into too much trouble :).

  • Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I think the problem with “open government” is the name. We don’t really want to see the sausage making that goes on with the mechanics of government (just look at the congressional approval ratings as the health care debate has received a ton of exposure). Journalists and experts like open government and transparency, but most Americans really want “easy government”. Why are my taxes so hard? Why is there a form for everything? Why can’t the EPA see that paving the Chesapeake Bay is a bad idea? Change the focus from transparency to improving the user (taxpayer) experience. Give them more value for their tax dollar, don’t rub their face in how poorly the money is being spent by showing them the inefficiency in the system. Most people don’t need to know or care to know how hard it is to get things done, they just want to feel like they’re not being robbed blind. Call it #GovDo.0.

  • Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I think the problem with “open government” is the name. We don’t really want to see the sausage making that goes on with the mechanics of government (just look at the congressional approval ratings as the health care debate has received a ton of exposure). Journalists and experts like open government and transparency, but most Americans really want “easy government”. Why are my taxes so hard? Why is there a form for everything? Why can’t the EPA see that paving the Chesapeake Bay is a bad idea? Change the focus from transparency to improving the user (taxpayer) experience. Give them more value for their tax dollar, don’t rub their face in how poorly the money is being spent by showing them the inefficiency in the system. Most people don’t need to know or care to know how hard it is to get things done, they just want to feel like they’re not being robbed blind. Call it #GovDo.0.

  • Steve,

    Thanks for the post; it’s a thought provoking post – like good posts should be.

    You wrote: “The public doesn’t need to understand what Gov 2.0 or open gov is – but they do need to understand that their government is actively trying to do more to communicate and collaborate with them.”

    It’s more than “understanding” and “trying.” Open Government needs to result in meaningful outcomes and improvements to government services that are provided to the public. In addition to focusing on outcomes vs. the means (and Open Government with enhanced communication and collaboration is a means), government also needs to be able to tell this “results” story in a way that’s going to resonate with the public, especially now more than ever. Those are two significant challenges.

    While I’m inclined to agree that the public doesn’t need to understand what Gov 2.0 is, they do need to understand what Open Government is about. If they understand that, then they know how they can participate in Open Government across the many channels that are being developed to support Open Government.

    People did (do) understand what the “e-” in e-business, e-commerce, and yes, e-government was (is) about and its benefits. There was a very concentrated marketing and outreach effort by business and government to communicate this message. These are some of the reasons why people went out and purchased computers and signed up for Internet services in the mid-90s and early 2000s.

    If you were to ask people (outside of the Washington, D.C. area) on the street today what e-government is and how it benefits them, I believe a good percentage could answer those questions. If you were to ask the same people the same two questions about “Open Government” today, I think some might be challenged to answer.

    And there’s an idea for a survey….

    Again, thanks for your post and the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue.

  • Steve,

    Thanks for the post; it’s a thought provoking post – like good posts should be.

    You wrote: “The public doesn’t need to understand what Gov 2.0 or open gov is – but they do need to understand that their government is actively trying to do more to communicate and collaborate with them.”

    It’s more than “understanding” and “trying.” Open Government needs to result in meaningful outcomes and improvements to government services that are provided to the public. In addition to focusing on outcomes vs. the means (and Open Government with enhanced communication and collaboration is a means), government also needs to be able to tell this “results” story in a way that’s going to resonate with the public, especially now more than ever. Those are two significant challenges.

    While I’m inclined to agree that the public doesn’t need to understand what Gov 2.0 is, they do need to understand what Open Government is about. If they understand that, then they know how they can participate in Open Government across the many channels that are being developed to support Open Government.

    People did (do) understand what the “e-” in e-business, e-commerce, and yes, e-government was (is) about and its benefits. There was a very concentrated marketing and outreach effort by business and government to communicate this message. These are some of the reasons why people went out and purchased computers and signed up for Internet services in the mid-90s and early 2000s.

    If you were to ask people (outside of the Washington, D.C. area) on the street today what e-government is and how it benefits them, I believe a good percentage could answer those questions. If you were to ask the same people the same two questions about “Open Government” today, I think some might be challenged to answer.

    And there’s an idea for a survey….

    Again, thanks for your post and the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue.

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  • Joe – I agree with most of your points and think that’s where I was trying to go with this….the public doesn’t need to know or understand the terminology, but need to know/understand what it can do for them. Where I disagree with you is this notion of the public understanding what e-government is – they may be able to tell you that “it has something to do with the Internet” (due to the little e), but I doubt many would be able to give you a direct answer, especially outside of the DC area.

    Agree that a survey like this would be interesting…

  • Joe – I agree with most of your points and think that’s where I was trying to go with this….the public doesn’t need to know or understand the terminology, but need to know/understand what it can do for them. Where I disagree with you is this notion of the public understanding what e-government is – they may be able to tell you that “it has something to do with the Internet” (due to the little e), but I doubt many would be able to give you a direct answer, especially outside of the DC area.

    Agree that a survey like this would be interesting…

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  • A lot of this comes down to engagement, right? Government is so caught up in rules and regs, finding “high value datasets,” having contests, and so forth that they often forget to simply reach out to people in innovative, social ways, and engage them on a human level.

  • A lot of this comes down to engagement, right? Government is so caught up in rules and regs, finding “high value datasets,” having contests, and so forth that they often forget to simply reach out to people in innovative, social ways, and engage them on a human level.

  • Furiously hitting the imaginary “Like” button on this comment!

  • Furiously hitting the imaginary “Like” button on this comment!

  • Big up. Much more positive than when I tried to say something similar recently: http://www.600days.com/2010/03/gov2-0-is-a-buzzword/

    We need to talk about this stuff in terms of what it means for the customer.

  • Big up. Much more positive than when I tried to say something similar recently: http://www.600days.com/2010/03/gov2-0-is-a-buzzword/

    We need to talk about this stuff in terms of what it means for the customer.

  • Steve a great post – as usual.

    Recently we took part in an Open Government Directive Workshop in DC and one of the key takeaways for me and many others (I think) was to let people know about whatever it was that agencies were doing.

    This point was even more emphasized when we started talking about data – providing all these datasets for people to look at and use in billion different ways. Well, if the people don’t know about it or how to use it….no one will use those datasets.

    More important, still, is the idea of showing people what can be done with the data. For example, the city of San Francisco has a “Mom” map – with the locations of all the playgrounds around the city and it is GPS encoded. A great dataset and a great app…but how many Moms know about it?

    So, my overall point is that engagement and interaction with the public has to go a step further…not only “here is what we are doing” but also “hey look how you can use this information”.

    Great post…thanks.

  • Steve a great post – as usual.

    Recently we took part in an Open Government Directive Workshop in DC and one of the key takeaways for me and many others (I think) was to let people know about whatever it was that agencies were doing.

    This point was even more emphasized when we started talking about data – providing all these datasets for people to look at and use in billion different ways. Well, if the people don’t know about it or how to use it….no one will use those datasets.

    More important, still, is the idea of showing people what can be done with the data. For example, the city of San Francisco has a “Mom” map – with the locations of all the playgrounds around the city and it is GPS encoded. A great dataset and a great app…but how many Moms know about it?

    So, my overall point is that engagement and interaction with the public has to go a step further…not only “here is what we are doing” but also “hey look how you can use this information”.

    Great post…thanks.

  • “They do need to understand that their government is actively trying to do more to communicate and collaborate with them.” Agreed. Gov 2.0 is citizen-centric government.

    I was reminded of this during a client meeting yesterday. We were talking about improving a federal agency’s website. We suggested aggregating highly valuable content into a mobile app. The client thought this was a great idea, with one caveat. They don’t control most of the data people want–that’s managed by another office in the Department, and if they had to get those people to participate, forget it.

    A “Gov 2.0 Experience” in this situation would mean creating a mobile app that aggregates all the content citizens want into one place, regardless of who manages the data.

    Fortunately, the technology of Gov 2.0 and the drive to make datasets public may mean that we don’t need anyone’s cooperation to get the data. The culture shift of Gov 2.0 means that our client is willing to try projects that break down traditional silos.

    I don’t know that there will be anything simple, innovative, social, or human about this mobile app, should it get created. But it would address a real citizen need. And as you said, Steve, that is Gov 2.0.

  • “They do need to understand that their government is actively trying to do more to communicate and collaborate with them.” Agreed. Gov 2.0 is citizen-centric government.

    I was reminded of this during a client meeting yesterday. We were talking about improving a federal agency’s website. We suggested aggregating highly valuable content into a mobile app. The client thought this was a great idea, with one caveat. They don’t control most of the data people want–that’s managed by another office in the Department, and if they had to get those people to participate, forget it.

    A “Gov 2.0 Experience” in this situation would mean creating a mobile app that aggregates all the content citizens want into one place, regardless of who manages the data.

    Fortunately, the technology of Gov 2.0 and the drive to make datasets public may mean that we don’t need anyone’s cooperation to get the data. The culture shift of Gov 2.0 means that our client is willing to try projects that break down traditional silos.

    I don’t know that there will be anything simple, innovative, social, or human about this mobile app, should it get created. But it would address a real citizen need. And as you said, Steve, that is Gov 2.0.

  • I respectfully disagree.

    If Gov 2.0 were nothing more than a new collaboration tool (Google Wave, anyone?), I would have no quarrel with your assertion. But that’s simply not the case. Gov 2.0 isn’t a communications campaign, a mobile app, or way to share information solely for the sake of checking the “transparency” box in a government directive. It’s about ensuring that power is decentralized and all citizen have a share in their government.

    Shouldn’t everyone be involved in that dialogue? Even if they need to learn about Twitter or read government blogs?

  • I respectfully disagree.

    If Gov 2.0 were nothing more than a new collaboration tool (Google Wave, anyone?), I would have no quarrel with your assertion. But that’s simply not the case. Gov 2.0 isn’t a communications campaign, a mobile app, or way to share information solely for the sake of checking the “transparency” box in a government directive. It’s about ensuring that power is decentralized and all citizen have a share in their government.

    Shouldn’t everyone be involved in that dialogue? Even if they need to learn about Twitter or read government blogs?

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  • James myers

    SR was beaten by his English teacher as a child. Ideas must be stated so as to command their ascent. Democracy fails if it does not respect the intelligence of the voter.

  • SR was beaten by his English teacher as a child. Ideas must be stated so as to command their ascent. Democracy fails if it does not respect the intelligence of the voter.

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  • Gadi – I’m not sure I understand your disagreement. You said that,

    “Gov 2.0 isn’t a communications campaign, a mobile app, or way to share information solely for the sake of checking the “transparency” box in a government directive. It’s about ensuring that power is decentralized and all citizen have a share in their government.”

    Totally agree with you – it’s all of those things. And yes, when people are involved in the dialogue, that’s great, but I don’t think we should be spinning our wheels trying to get EVERYONE involved in the sausage-making process. For most people, they don’t care or want to know about how open government gets done, they just want open government.

    Sure, if everyone were involved in the dialogue, it’d be much more effective, just like if everyone voted, our government would be much more effective. The fact of the matter is that there are a LOT of people who care much more about what matters to them on a day-to-day basis and don’t care to get involved in the more strategic nature of Gov 2.0, and that’s ok.

  • Gadi – I’m not sure I understand your disagreement. You said that,

    “Gov 2.0 isn’t a communications campaign, a mobile app, or way to share information solely for the sake of checking the “transparency” box in a government directive. It’s about ensuring that power is decentralized and all citizen have a share in their government.”

    Totally agree with you – it’s all of those things. And yes, when people are involved in the dialogue, that’s great, but I don’t think we should be spinning our wheels trying to get EVERYONE involved in the sausage-making process. For most people, they don’t care or want to know about how open government gets done, they just want open government.

    Sure, if everyone were involved in the dialogue, it’d be much more effective, just like if everyone voted, our government would be much more effective. The fact of the matter is that there are a LOT of people who care much more about what matters to them on a day-to-day basis and don’t care to get involved in the more strategic nature of Gov 2.0, and that’s ok.

  • Edward – the datasets point is a great one. I think things like Data.gov are fantastic and the data that’s opened up with pay dividends for years, but in its current form, that data really only matters to a very small amount of people. It’s what those people then do with that raw data to turn it into useful tools/applications for citizens. Things like the “Mom” map you mentions is a great example. The data wasn’t useful until the app was created, and now the app isn’t useful until the people start using it/adding to it. Data for data’s sake doesn’t do anyone any good.

  • Edward – the datasets point is a great one. I think things like Data.gov are fantastic and the data that’s opened up with pay dividends for years, but in its current form, that data really only matters to a very small amount of people. It’s what those people then do with that raw data to turn it into useful tools/applications for citizens. Things like the “Mom” map you mentions is a great example. The data wasn’t useful until the app was created, and now the app isn’t useful until the people start using it/adding to it. Data for data’s sake doesn’t do anyone any good.

  • Hello, Steve.

    My disagreement is with your statement that “there is one thing that we in the Gov 2.0 community need to do a better job of and it’s not educating the public on what open government is or why they should care.”

    I think it’s critically important to communicate what open government is and why people should care (and how they should get involved). There are two reasons:

    1. It’s taxpayer money we’re using to build the tools and establish the rules; people should know how/why their money is spent

    2. People can’t have a meaningful relationship with a government they don’t understand. If government were like an elevator – single use, static, closed OS – we wouldn’t need to know how it worked. We would need only to use it. But government is more like a language with complex rules of grammar that are subject to change, neologisms, mannerisms, shortcuts and taboos. And if you don’t understand the rules, your concerns can be dismissed without being addressed, because you didn’t comply to the strictures of the discourse.

    You want to let people enjoy the fruits of government without even trying to understand the work of government.

    From the letter at top: “But most of all, I want government to just work. I just want to stop dreading having to interact with the red tape and the bureaucracy.”

    That’s kind of like saying “I just want to drive my car to work and not have to deal with all the traffic and all the rules of the road.”

    Government is a machine, like a car engine. I’m not saying everyone has to be an expert mechanic, but you seem to be saying that people shouldn’t even know that they need to change the oil. That’s what I disagree with.

  • Hello, Steve.

    My disagreement is with your statement that “there is one thing that we in the Gov 2.0 community need to do a better job of and it’s not educating the public on what open government is or why they should care.”

    I think it’s critically important to communicate what open government is and why people should care (and how they should get involved). There are two reasons:

    1. It’s taxpayer money we’re using to build the tools and establish the rules; people should know how/why their money is spent

    2. People can’t have a meaningful relationship with a government they don’t understand. If government were like an elevator – single use, static, closed OS – we wouldn’t need to know how it worked. We would need only to use it. But government is more like a language with complex rules of grammar that are subject to change, neologisms, mannerisms, shortcuts and taboos. And if you don’t understand the rules, your concerns can be dismissed without being addressed, because you didn’t comply to the strictures of the discourse.

    You want to let people enjoy the fruits of government without even trying to understand the work of government.

    From the letter at top: “But most of all, I want government to just work. I just want to stop dreading having to interact with the red tape and the bureaucracy.”

    That’s kind of like saying “I just want to drive my car to work and not have to deal with all the traffic and all the rules of the road.”

    Government is a machine, like a car engine. I’m not saying everyone has to be an expert mechanic, but you seem to be saying that people shouldn’t even know that they need to change the oil. That’s what I disagree with.

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  • Interesting. So why aren’t “moms” using the map? Is it on IPhone and they are all using blackberries? Or someone already built a cool app that does this? Or this is a web-based map and moms don’t surf the web on their phone? Or, would this application be better if you could simply text “playground” and zip code and get a return? Or the moms already know the playgrounds that they frequent. It’s the ones with the other moms from school.

    My point is that we often think it’s lack of marketing, but maybe it’s lack of need. I think, Steve, that you are getting to this issue. Hi value datasets may have no value to me if it doesn’t make a difference to ME.

  • Interesting. So why aren’t “moms” using the map? Is it on IPhone and they are all using blackberries? Or someone already built a cool app that does this? Or this is a web-based map and moms don’t surf the web on their phone? Or, would this application be better if you could simply text “playground” and zip code and get a return? Or the moms already know the playgrounds that they frequent. It’s the ones with the other moms from school.

    My point is that we often think it’s lack of marketing, but maybe it’s lack of need. I think, Steve, that you are getting to this issue. Hi value datasets may have no value to me if it doesn’t make a difference to ME.

  • Exactly – it’s not necessarily about marketing (If you created a product that doesn’t fit my needs or is a piece of crap, it doesn’t matter how much marketing you put into it). It’s more about government creating value for what its citizens want instead of creating high value datasets and apps that government THINKS citizens want. That’s why things like Twitter and blogs are great – they allow citizens to tell us what they want like never before. However, we have to be careful to not get too wrapped up in what the 5% of people on Twitter are saying that we forget about what the other 95% think/want.

    It’s not so much much a marketing issue, but a customer service one.

  • Exactly – it’s not necessarily about marketing (If you created a product that doesn’t fit my needs or is a piece of crap, it doesn’t matter how much marketing you put into it). It’s more about government creating value for what its citizens want instead of creating high value datasets and apps that government THINKS citizens want. That’s why things like Twitter and blogs are great – they allow citizens to tell us what they want like never before. However, we have to be careful to not get too wrapped up in what the 5% of people on Twitter are saying that we forget about what the other 95% think/want.

    It’s not so much much a marketing issue, but a customer service one.

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