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Government 2.0 — can Barack Obama and Gordon Brown pave the way?

Government is changing. Why? Because society is changing. More people are now on-line and social media is playing an increasing role in our daily life. So what can the British government do to make the most of social media?

Government is changing. Why? Because society is changing. More people are now on-line and social media is playing an increasing role in our daily life. So what can the British government do to make the most of social media?

A sign of a good government is one that meets the needs and the expectations of its citizens. British prime minister Gordon Brown has plans to improve public services with some eBay-style feedback options:

“People in England will get more online powers to rate GPs, police, childcare and councils, Gordon Brown has said.

He said it was wrong that consumer websites such as Amazon and eBay had ‘higher standards of transparency’ than those for public services.”

Back in late June 2007, I pulled together a few threads, speculating on what shape Society 2.0 might take:

“Imagine being able to meld your Workstream with Government 2.0 databases, pooling their data intermixed with the public reactions to the data over time.

In effect, we become strakeholders in a shared social enterprise charged with the task of managing and distributing our own data.”

Mr. Brown’s agenda for creating transparency and accountability of public services on the web has more than a passing resemblance of my ideas from nearly two years ago. Personally, I like the idea, and it looks as if they’re a manifestation of the plan to open up these vast stores of data to the public, offering developers and businesses at large the opportunity to create new, innovative and helpful tools to make deep data more visible and citizen-friendly.

Irrespective of your political persuasion, or whether people think these are old themes or not, these are valid ideas that need pursuing. The social web is gaining momentum and the British government has a chance to offer a level of accountability not seen before.

With websites like GetSatisfaction leading the way in business-customer issue resolution and mediation, this kind of transparency is much needed and could well head off, or even highlight potential lapses in consumer affairs, patient care or student support before they become a headline-grabbing political nightmare.

The shape of Government 2.0

However, rather than allow people the same kind of open-ended reviewing that Amazon offers, for public services, we would need to be asking specific questions with a rating option, or we really would be: “encouraging perverse behaviours and an emphasis on the superficial.” as Hamish Meldrum suggested.

Yes, this limits what people can say, but if you just offer everyone a text box to write what they like, then you’re opening yourself up to abuse. Instead, a few modest hurdles will discourage the random, mindless nonsense and encourage people to think a little more clearly about their complaint.

I don’t want to get into the fine grained details of a government web application, here. I normally charge for that kind of thing. But I’m sure you get the idea.

Any government that opens themselves up in such a way are breaking new ground. But if we’ve learned anything from the US presidential election and how Barack Obama employed social media, we get a glimpse of how social media can be a hugely beneficial means of furthering public participation and fostering a sense of ownership…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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