Building the narrative of Gov 2.0, one story at a time

What does Gov 2.0 look like?

[Image credit: “What does Gov 2.0 look like?“-Mark Drapeau]

Earlier this week, FutureGov Asia published a story arguing that there is no coherent narrative for Gov 2.0. To its authors, it must be said that, respectfully, there is a narrative out there, for those who are willing to search it out and reference it.

Readers can find the narrative of collaboratively reported in real-time on Twitter, described by the town criers of the digital landscape, and in the feeds of the O’Reily Radar, Govfresh, NextGov, OhMyGov, Govloop, techPresident, Federal News Radio’s Dorobek Insider, the pages of the “Next American City,” InformationWeek Government and FastCompany, Gov 2.0 Radio and the PBS NewsHour.

Perhaps the reason that the writer has heard what’s happening globally called both Gov 2.0 and open government is that there is a distinction between the two. That’s why defining Gov 2.0 and open government still has utility for some readers in 2011, despite the need to focus on outcomes, applicability to missions, economic relevance or citizen utility.

Gov 2.0 can be found in the bottom-up upswell in citizens communicating, sharing information, mapping, organizing, building autonomous Internet and demanding more accountable, participatory government, often through the use of disruptive technologies. Micah Sifry has thoughtfully characterized that upswell as “We government,” although he and Andrew Rasiej have noted structural differences between Gov 2.0 and “We government.”

Open government has traditionally been defined from the top down, where government acts a convenor, asking citizens to co-create government regulations, standards or even, someday, laws. It is a concept grounded in decades of philosophy and political theory, going back to the 18the Century Enlightenment and beyond. Open government is not technology dependent, although in the 21st Century, it’s clear that technology is a critical enabler for those conversations. For those who wish to follow the narrative from DC and track the progress of open government, White House officials like federal CIO Vivek Kundra, US CTO Chopra, or recently departed deputy CTO Beth Noveck have been working towards at the highest levels in the United States. Samantha Power has spoken eloquently about the relationship of open government, transparency and national security.

Open data is not, however, as the author of the Future Gov article suggests, a “branch movement” for either Gov 2.0 or open government at all: it’s a core component of building powerful government platforms for innovation, on the order of weather data, GPS or the Internet itself. Watch for how health data provisions new businesses in that evolution.

In many cases, news, technologies, advances or human stories won’t be called Gov 2.0, although people within the movement recognize it as such. These stories will matter to average citizens in ways that go to many of the core issues of our time, including food safety, product recalls, disaster response, healthcare costs and financial fraud. The innovation of GPS or weather data, after all, isn’t the launch of satellites or balloons. It’s that drivers find their way home and farmers can plan their crops. If healthcare apps continue to evolve, they’ll be able to make better decisions. New data-driven approaches like healthcare hotspotting might help to reduce costs, if replicated.

Look to the recent traceability rule from the new food safety law, which will lead to uses of data that will provide consumers with more information. Consider the launch of the new public complaint database at SaferProducts.gov. Watch how technology is used to stand up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

These narratives aren’t just about what’s happening in the United States. At all. There’s also a Gov 2.0 story in Australia, or in many parts of Europe. E-democracy in Brazil is a key trend for 2011. Open government in India is certain to be a fascinating story in 2011. The story at the states and cities is in some ways even more compelling, as Gov 2.0 goes local, given that that’s the level where citizens interact with government the most.

There is a sea change ongoing, akin to a deep tidal surge, borne upon new technology platforms and fueled by the passion of citizens, public servants civic developers who want to see better outcomes. This correspondent met many of its leaders, whether they’re CTOs, entrepreneurs, elected officials, developers or communicators. If Gov 2.0 is missing a coherent narrative, it won’t be for the lack of persistence by the many people who deeply care about building the smarter, leaner, more agile government that citizens both want and deserve.

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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