I wasn’t at last week’s Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., but I’ve spoken with a few people that were, read many a blog post, and watched a few talks on YouTube which have sparked a few thoughts.
By the way…as is becoming typical of Gov 2.0 conferences and events, Alex Howard has put together the best summary.
How tech companies can figure out ways to work with government
One of things I’ve noticed about technology companies big and small is that figuring out how to get involved in the Gov 2.0 movement is a challenge. There’s a reason massive enterprise companies like Microsoft have dedicated government services divisions within their companies. And I’ve started to notice that even smaller, boutique service providers are creating dedicated teams to focus on opportunities with government. Why is this? Because figuring out how government operates is ridiculously difficult. I work within a federal government agency. Have done so for close to 8 years now. Eight years in and I can tell you that I’m still not quite sure how government functions. Every day I learn something new (and for me that’s part of the appeal of working in government), but if you were to corner me and ask me point blank “How does government function?”1 , I’d probably take a deep breath then start spouting off stuff about the Constitution just so that I don’t start ranting about how bureaucracy and paper processes tend to ruin my day.
But a discussion with Emma Antunes shined some new light on what the O’Reilly Gov 2.0 events are really about. And that is connecting industry with govenment in manner so that industry can figure out how to actually participate effectively. But to do just that, government needs to do more to explain how exactly it gets stuff done. And explaining that isn’t easy. But a presentation by Beth Noveck (video embed is below) is the best explanation of what government does that I’ve seen since Schoolhouse Rock.
The culture challenge of Gov 2.0 is getting more attention
When I talk to people at Gov 2.0 concepts, I make it clear that achieving progress in increasing government transparency and using technology to create change within government has little do to with software engineering, designing data dashboards, and building web applications. The biggest issue is the culture of government. And that issue is starting to see more sunlight.
Managing change in the government is HARD, much harder than in the private sector. Leadership and, consequently, leadership priorities are constantly changing as administrations change. Because of this, employees suffer from change fatigue (if you don’t like how your department was reorganized, wait a year and it’ll change again), middle managers don’t invest in the change themselves, and leaders all too often push forward with their own agendas and goals, current organizational culture be damned. It’s no wonder we’re still talking about how the best way to create Government 2.0 – we’ve been way too focused on the easy part of this, the technology.
There now exists a fantastic set of digital tools to make government data and services available, and to make the work of the state more open, transparent, and participative. The idea of ‘government as platform‘ that Tim has been so eloquent about is not a pipe dream; it’s feasible right now, and is only going to get easier to realize thanks to relentless technology improvement and innovation.
There are people out there, both inside and outside the federal workforce, who have both the will and the chops needed to do battle with bureaucracy. I got to listen to a bunch of them at the Summit, and came away deeply grateful for them. There are some true public servants out there, and we’re lucky to have them.
But wow, are they fighting an uphill battle.
Yes, it is an uphill battle. But it’s a battle that must be played out.