Report - Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

From Government 2.0 to Society 2.0: Pathways to Engagement, Collaboration and Transformation

| October 2011

In June 2010, 25 leaders of government and industry convened to Harvard University to assess the move to "Government 2.0" to date; to share insight to its limits and possibilities, as well as its enablers and obstacles; and to assess the road ahead. This is a report of that meeting, made possible by a grant from Microsoft.


Around the world, public services have undergone significant changes over the past 25 years, often based on the introduction of management approaches from business and evolving along the waves of revolution in information and computing technologies, from main frame to PCs to web to networks.

Today, the global recession — coupled with changes such as the retirement of the post-World War II generation, the emergence of millennials, new waves of interactive communications technology and low-cost collaboration platforms — is sparking a next wave of citizen engagement, reform of government and the transformation of service. There is great interest, globally, in the power of ideas like collaboration, transparency and participation. Where there is action, it taps the power of networks spanning the boundaries of government, citizens and the private sector to engage all.

These collaborations reflect a profound realization that neither government, service providers, nor citizens can often accomplish their purposes without collaboration. In a networked world, the speed of change, the pace of risk and the breadth of opportunity means no one institution, organization or individual can go it alone. Especially now, with governments around the world facing financial crises, joining up and co-producing services with citizens, industry and non-governmental organizations seems essential.

Even in flush times, such cross-boundary collaboration is difficult. Old-school legacy arrangements can stop innovation cold. Funding is stovepiped. Information is highly compartmentalized. Computer systems cannot easily operate together. Hierarchies are slow to change. Information assurance and privacy clash with calls for transparency and openness. Shared missions have no one uniquely accountable for outcomes. Even with all the obvious failures of recent years, from 9/11 to Katrina to the global financial crisis, agencies, organizations and units persist in "going it alone."

Especially in difficult times, when the "pie" is shrinking, individuals, institutions and societies tend to hunker down to assure their "slice" stays the same. At the level of government, for example, some agencies retreat to statutory core mission. Many managers are more risk-averse than ever. Oversight intensifies, shared mission-vision takes a back seat and investment in innovation dries up. Collaboration is a last resort — to be trotted out only when you’re backed into a corner.

Yet evidence suggests, also, that in such times governments around the world may be more prone to reducing barriers to change, and experimenting more. Switching costs have lowered. Digitally enabled collaborations and innovation have blossomed. The technologies of smartphones and tablet, cloud and open platforms make adoptions light, fast and agile. All these moves provide clear evidence that the potentials for gains from new network-enabled collaborations are high.

Certainly corporate networks and citizen networks are not waiting — they proliferate. The emergence of a generation of digital natives now makes connectedness a fact of life, and with it, a host of emergent new arrangements and solutions. Government, nongovernment organizations, industry and citizens now can, in theory, tap the power of all to produce wellness, safety, prosperity as never before. There is awareness, eagerness and readiness.

JetBlue is among many firms that now monitor Twitter and jump all over negative tweets to fix what's wrong as quickly as possible — even while passengers are still standing in line! Senior executives in industry and government have internal company blogs where they communicate new directions to employees and take comments — right over the heads of managers. The Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (a Marine Corps 4-star General) is famous for his blog. Other corporate and government leaders maintain Twitter feeds where they communicate with all — Secretary Costin in Brazil. for example, has 6,000 of her teachers following her. Many cities and towns are now opening discussions directly with constituents around budget priorities and letting them vote on capital budgets — how should $X be spent?

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For Academic Citation: Tumin, Zachary and Archon Fung. “From Government 2.0 to Society 2.0: Pathways to Engagement, Collaboration and Transformation.” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, October 2011.

The Authors