Web 2.0 is here and it’s only going to get bigger. If anyone was still nursing the notion that Internet culture would somehow remain compartmentalized within society – a personal playground, social convenience or simple communications tool, depending on your individual wants or needs – surely that notion has been dispelled. The Web is tightly wrapped around our society and woven through our culture. Despite this reality, some organizations have yet to maximize the tremendous potential represented by this global network of data and information.
Understandably, governments have been apprehensive when it comes to making large amounts of collected – possibly unvetted – data available to the public. On the one hand, the information has been difficult to access, stored across various agency websites, sometimes only in hardcopy. On the other hand, governments have not always kept pace with technological advances in information technology or current social media applications like Twitter and Facebook. As a result, the full potential for information exchange provided by Web 2.0 communications remains, for many departments and agencies, largely dormant.
The recent Deloitte report, Unlocking government: how data transforms democracy, explores the many advantages governments can realize by more fully understanding and embracing this digital data complex and offers several valuable lessons for individuals whose jobs involve the collection, management or dissemination of information.
Embrace accessible government
There is a great deal to be gained by providing citizens with broad access to the stores of raw data currently warehoused in various government systems and infrastructures. Information should not only be easy to access; it should be presented in formats and platforms from which it can be easily extracted. Allowing data to flow freely between the government, public and corporate spheres not only puts it in the hands of creative individuals, external to government, who can manipulate it in valuable and unforeseen ways, it also positions governments to achieve greater transparency and accountability.
Let users drive innovation
While governments will, of course, continue to develop and manage internal information channels, many are also beginning to share information through social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Myspace and Wikipedia. This allows governments to:
- tap the creativity of citizens;
- break down government silos that make it hard for agencies to collaborate;
- generate healthy competition among citizens to analyze and produce value from raw data; and
- change the data culture within government by increasing opportunities to collaborate with citizen developers.
There are a number of steps government agencies and departments can take to transition from conceptualizing a free-flowing stream of information to actively helping users access and manipulate data to create usable Webware, services and mashups. Citizen-derived applications are often the most valuable and adaptable, so it is important to create and maintain formal channels for commentary and data transfer. To develop an environment where creative data exchange is actively occurring, governments should:
- encourage users to create applications;
- incorporate user-designed applications into publicly hosted sites, looking for seemingly-limited applications that can be adapted for a wider audience; and
- seek and maintain a dialogue with apps developers, if possible by creating advisory groups to assist with unlocking data stores.
Listen, respond and make it all easier
Social media sites represent a vast repository of public opinion that can allow governments to fine-tune their policies and services in response to what citizens actually think and say. To this end, managers can:
- systematically monitor what citizens are saying about their programs in social networks, collecting any available analytical data;
- participate in social networks like Facebook and Twitter, joining in discussions and encouraging public input; and
- refine their strategy by adopting leading practices in social media marketing, so they can more effectively attract target audiences and acquire valuable data on how programs and services are working.
Open the road
There is no more information highway. It’s a superhighway, a nexus of cloverleafs, on- and off-ramps and hairpin turns. Too often, it becomes a series of hidden trails where it’s all too easy to get lost. Web 2.0 applications, particularly social media, have assumed a lead role in shaping, clarifying and optimizing this environment. And if it’s part of your job to facilitate the exchange of data and information between government and citizenry, understanding the resulting implications – and seizing the increasing opportunities – is a must.
Paul Macmillan is Deloitte Canada’s National Public Sector Industry Leader and a member of the firm’s Global Public Sector leadership team (firstname.lastname@example.org).