The world has become mobile, hyper-connected, interactive, immediate and fluid. Today’s world is one where everything and everyone’s connected; everyone expects immediate gratification and instant results, and where everyone must respond to continuous opportunities and requests. The government must do its part in helping to re-invent itself to become a Digital Government to enable a new model in how it interacts, responds, and reacts to enable greater productivity, efficiency, and collaboration. A Digital Government will fundamentally change how it functions internally and how its shares and collaborates in new meaningful ways with the public. The question is 'What would this ‘Digital Government’ look like?
Removing the Distance Barrier
I think that this would require embracing a strategy of ‘Open Data’ that would unlock information stores that would increase transparency and decrease ‘distance’ to provide a more direct insight into decision -making by those that are governing. Taking a lesson from the financial crisis, we all recognize that the further banks are from loan origination the greater the risk. This same paradigm exists in governing as well. Frequently the decisions and actions are too far removed from the people that are actually being governed and affected by these decisions. Too often people are able to ‘hide’ behind obscurity. An ‘understanding and information gap’ arises between ’we the governed’ and ‘those that govern’. By increasing the level of scrutiny and oversight, a permanently visible and active digital community would enable the bridging of this gap. Imagine if the next time my elected official was preparing to vote, if he was able to reach out and understand how his constituents felt on a particular topic. It would give new meaning to representative governments and accountability. Citizen engagement would increase as people would no longer feel drowned out by the cacophony of competing voices and swallowed up by the masses.
Conversely, I think that too often the people that are making the decisions are too far removed from the critical data they need to make good decisions. By making information transparent and accessible, we enable better analytics and thus allow better decision making by the governing body. Repeatedly, decisions are made with the ‘best information’ of the time. The ability to collect and store more digital data and the ability to enable nowcasting will increase real-time situational awareness. From the battlefield to Wall Street, nowcasting will enable better decision making, policy and regulation, and ultimately a government by the people, for the people.
The power of the constituency is just beginning to be recognized. How it will be employed and leveraged effectively in governance is just emerging. We have seen candidates effectively leverage it to disseminate their message, but this is just the beginning. Once the data has been opened up for access, a conversation will quickly ensue that will connect citizens with government and engage them in an active dialogue and providing an integrated feedback loop to the governing body to clearly understand the desires and wishes of the constituencies they represent. The resulting global social networks can be used to quickly and seamlessly disseminate information and lead to an enlightened and much more engaged participatory electorate. Everyone talks of increased transparency and accountability and these social tools could help to remake a stronger better government with an increased level of ‘checks and balances’.
The ability to unite people via these networks will also have many tangential benefits as many of the core activities could be crowd sourced. It’s been said that information is the most valuable commodity known to man. Using that value to unlock the bureaucracy and provide government-wide and constituent to government channels of communication would foster a highly interactive conversation with better information sharing and coordination across the nation - much in the same way that a global address list and unified email helped DOD to reach and locate people. Not only would we have an accessible directory to understand the target of the message, but also the channel to disseminate the message. The adoption of social media over traditional media channels demonstrates this clearly. The reformation of government will surely be part of this new emergent form of governance. An additional benefit is the ability to leverage the power of the masses to help solve some of the nation’s most pressing challenges by open/crowd sourcing. The crowd sourcing Wolfson prize - to develop a plan for nations to effectively leave the Euro - is but one example. The ability for the government to tap into the vast knowledge and leverage these networks to find the right people can help us solve these kinds of problems.
More Meaningful Interactions
Today, most of us dread having to deal with government institutions’ customer service– partially because of the nature of the task, but also because of the time required to perform this activity. eGov moved the needle, but often we have found only a limited number of transactions and most of us were left wanting. A 21st century government would enable governments and citizens to directly connect in more personalized and meaningful ways with greater speed and efficiency and perform the activities to better meet our needs - where, when, and how we want.
Much of our communication today is impersonal and retains little knowledge of previous contact and leaves us wanting for human contact (that is why we always escape to an operator when we call customer service.) Mobile devices’ ability to collect/share information will enable mass hyper-personalization interactions, and more of a custom fit. Interfaces are often created for the lowest common denominator, but interface and interactions will morph based on the needs and context of the user. A Digital Government will bring forth a people renaissance that would be devoted to designing software for people and optimizing that experience beyond merely a functional nature. It would enable unique experiences where people are connected with information to meet their specific and individual needs.