The need for Government 2.0

Governments all across the world have turned to social media to be (or seem to be) closer to the citizens, although, as per usual, governments’ bureaucracy, red tape, procedures and endless evaluations means they have been slower on the up-take.

In many countries social media is the ally of the citizen, coordinating protests, sharing information and digital material and other ways of being anti-government. While I am writing this article, I am between a rock and a hard place, having always thought of the internet as the last place for freedom of speech and expression, our friends at NSA, Google, Facebook itself and others showed us it is anything but. Alas, I am writing about the shift in thought and the governments making protests themselves.

The Government should indeed organise the protests, not the real organisation per se, but giving the means to protest. How?

Unrest comes from the simple emotion of being unhappy with anything from the sun down. Taxes, children, animal welfare, injustice, legal systems, if you can think of it, it can make you unhappy. So how can the Government give you a way to not being unhappy? The solution is giving the means and full support for hearing, listening and helping people who are unhappy and not letting the small ailment that a citizen is feeling become an inundation of uncontrollable unrest. Give the people the tools needed to communicate with you as an opportunity to say “hey, you, I don’t like this, and this is why”.

Some governments, for example in the US and UK, already use social media, but in my opinion in a bit of Big Brother kind of way.

The UK government set up a special social media task force for the 2012 Olympics to monitor feeds from rebel-rousers and react in real life, nipping any problems in the bud.

Governments have to realise that they are now dealing with a digital citizen and there is no turning back. The Accenture Digital Citizen Pulse Survey of citizens in seven countries revealed that the majority would use digital services offered by government, especially for routine transactions. Moreover, 51 per cent of respondents believe that the ability to interact digitally with government would encourage them to be more engaged with government.

Both in business and in other worlds, when a member of a group feels engaged and feels like he ‘owns’ the process, the member will be much more adaptable and receptive of change. As usual, the business community is light years ahead of public and social ideology.

So what is the point? The point is that social media and social networks have not even started to see the real benefits of bringing citizens closer to government.

The digital citizens have changed the scope of time. They are no longer waiting for mail, feedback, purchases, and deliveries. Hence the expectations of time and the concept of a timely service expected from a government rises in conjunction with the digital expectations.

Public entrepreneurship is emerging as a key theme in government. Governments have already started to open their data, processes and delivery to enable new forms of citizen involvement and business development. The UK and Denmark, for example, have integrated a raft of public data at one place for citizens to participate in decision-making processes. The challenge here is the effective management of public engagement, and the linked issue of how to make best use of new technologies in government IT initiatives.

So the obvious solution on where to start is by the Government making tools available for increasing efficiency and opening up the Government. For example the US government has taken a proactive approach to social matters by opening the ‘We Are The People’ petition portal and enacting a law which states that if a social campaign on ‘We Are The People’ reaches a certain number of signatures, the White House must issue a public official statement in reaction.

Although this is a small start, in my opinion it is opening up the government by providing a channel of communication from the digital citizens to the government. It is also a proactive way to nip problems when they start instead of just boiling over.

E-Government in Malta is a success and Government 2.0 is an evolution on the e-government systems. However if we don’t start seriously thinking about the digital citizenship of Malta we will be making mistakes which we can’t remedy, and while the world goes on, we would be forgotten as another emerging country which simply did not make it.

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