In 2009, governmental agencies I am working with are waking up to the power of collaborative public policy making. In Austria, the U.S., Mexico, and Colombia, officials are calling back and actually thinking about implementing specific projects. The sophistication of the debate about and its opinion aggregation mechanisms and self-censorship show that we are moving to the next stage. Political theory, however, is still underdeveloped. Cass Sunstein’s Infotopia is a good place to start. Or Jerry Mechling’s last email (he is the technology governance sage/Cassandra at the Kennedy School):

For years, the largely unspoken but hard part of IT success in government has been building an effective coalition between CEOs and CIOs.

In far too many settings, the CEO:CIO relationship has faced severe problems.

CEOs have typically been suspicious that IT was either not important or not important for them: projects took too long, were risky, and were largely invisible to the public. Governors, Mayors, and Department Heads shied away.

For their part, CIOs have been frustrated that CEOs have either ignored IT or thought it was a “silver bullet.” In both cases the CEOs failed to step up to their role in making change happen.

When success did emerge, it focused most often on Internet-delivered services. In this work the CIOs and vendors were comfortable extending the required network infrastructure. And CEOs found that “anytime, anywhere” service was something very nice to offer — relatively quick, easy, and visible. “Online, not in line” was a good battle cry.

But where do we go next? Economic conditions are awful. And online services are old hat.

True? but we also have powerful new tools and possibilities to explore. The key will be continuing to improve the relationship between government and citizens/clients — moving beyond service delivery to the more interactive and powerful challenges of civic engagement.

On this front the Obama campaign has raised the most visible exemplars and hopes. Where campaigns a few years ago used technology only as a device for mass communication and donor lists, today’s Web 2.0 tools have enabled massive peer-to-peer interactions. Blogs, wikis, social networking, and other tools have dramatically reduced the costs of engagement. Instead of requiring volunteers to devote 3 hours for an evening at headquarters, campaigns can now use networks to support a variety of useful “5 minute” activities to entice people in. With videos, blogs, and other applications serving up-to-the-minute information, campaigns can challenge potential supporters not just to donate funds, but to donate initially small amounts of creativity and energy to, as the Obama campaign has urged:

  • Create your own profile
  • Find supporters near you
  • Plan and attend events
  • Network with your friends
  • Become a fundraiser
  • Write your own blog

The results for the Obama campaign were miraculous.

Our challenge now will be seeing how the new organizational approaches can migrate from campaigns to governance. Can lower barriers to engagement produce dramatically better results? The Obama administration will clearly try to make such a strategy work. Others will be watching and trying to make it work for their own campaigns, political and otherwise.

As argued in a recent blog, the next phase in government may see the rise of the “Goverati” — i.e., those knowledgeable about government and skilled in the social networking needed for a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative politics.

The move to civic engagement won’t be as easy as “online, not in line,” but it could be very interesting indeed.

All the best,


P.S. We’ll be exploring civic engagement and other routes forward in our workshop April 14-16 in Cambridge. To join us click here.

About Philipp

Philipp Müller works in the IT industry and is academic dean of the SMBS. Author of "". Proud father of three amazing children. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

13. February 2009 by Philipp
Categories: Blog | Comments Off on Read-Write-Government