Gov 2.0 in Principle and Practice

Bringing government into the tech age

The principles behind the worldwide movement towards Gov 2.0 of transparency, opening up public data and increasing public engagement closely mirror the Web 2.0 principles of information sharing, connectedness and community. If executed correctly, this natural fit offers incredible opportunities for substantial change and innovation within government.
The first challenge for practitioners of ‘Gov 2.0’ is coming to grips with what it is, and what it means for both government and the public.

From the government’s perspective Gov 2.0 means:

  1. Understanding precisely what resources and information the public requires from a particular government department or agency, and how and when they want them delivered

  2. Investigating user experience strategies to ensure that final Gov 2.0 resources meet the expectations of the public

  3. Embracing change and innovation as fundamental measures of success.

From the public’s perspective, the Gov 2.0 movement involves:

  1. Making important and relevant data more easily available

  2. Providing clearer, more transparent and user-friendly resources for their use

  3. Incorporating Web 2.0 methodologies and philosophies, so that the Gov 2.0 resources are in step with their everyday digital experiences and expectations.

What is the measure of a successful Gov 2.0 project?

While momentum for Gov 2.0 is building rapidly, to date the implementation of Gov 2.0 initiatives has been somewhat limited in terms of projects launched. The measurements of success of these projects across the three key Gov 2.0 indicators that we have identified – Awareness, Access and User Experience – are also areas for further development.

Our three measurements acknowledge that Gov 2.0 is not just a question of navigating the internal and external processes required to ‘get it done’ on time and within budget, but that Gov 2.0 projects must also be measured by the quality of the end-to-end experience from the user’s perspective.

Awareness describes the knowledge of the existence of a particular Gov 2.0 service out in the community, what the service offers and where to find it.

Access describes how the barriers to using a particular service have been dealt with, and whether the service is readily available to a broad cross-section of the community.

User Experience describes how individuals respond to using a service. Is using the service a positive experience? Are the processes required to access the information or service ordered in a logical manner?

The movement towards Gov 2.0 is a golden opportunity for the public sector to learn from the digital experience of private industry, and strive to enhance information and service delivery from a user experience perspective.

Awareness and Gov 2.0

A strategy to raise awareness of a Gov 2.0 initiative is as crucial to successful public uptake as a well-designed user experience. ‘Build it and they will come’ simply does not work, no matter how well ‘it’ may be built. A lack of awareness in the general community has been the downfall of many excellent Gov 2.0 initiatives, but with early planning and consideration the issue need not arise.

It’s fair to say that awareness of Gov 2.0 generally by the public is in the preliminary stages, and that only those initiatives that are well supported by marketing and communications planning are gaining significant traction out in the community. The urge to follow a good idea with a very quick execution and deployment can be difficult to resist, especially when the capabilities and budget are there to do so, however planning for awareness-raising via marketing and communications needs to run parallel with digital asset development.

At this point in Gov 2.0 development it is, generally speaking, government workers and those with an interest in Gov 2.0 that are aware of developments and are the regular active participants. These are the enthusiastic early adopters that every new movement needs, however they are not the intended market, so success for Gov 2.0 projects relies on awareness levels reaching far beyond this audience.

Example: Exploring Singapore’s Heritage via Gaming

Encouraging a child’s interest in history and heritage is becoming an increasingly difficult task in the World of Warcraft era. Singapore’s National Heritage Board is tackling the issue with a clever Gov 2.0 initiative – make learning and exploring Singapore’s history a World of Warcraft-like experience.

To be launched fully later this year, World of Temasek immerses players in 14th Century Singapore where they collect items and complete quests to gain points and proceed through different levels. This format is instantly recognisable and comfortable for young players.

The philosophy behind this project is that students who are impelled to learn rather than compelled will be more effective students. By putting the information in a context that speaks to the audience in a new way is an exciting development for educators and Gov 2.0 practitioners.

A clever initiative like this should be well supported by a marketing and communication plan to ensure that a critical mass of players are engaged. Given that the target demographic is secondary students, word of mouth will be important. Already we can see that both Facebook and Twitter are being used to promote the game. We will be watching to see how the game’s marketing develops and it will be an interesting case study that we will examine closely in the future.

Access and Gov 2.0

The issue of access goes to the very heart of the Gov 2.0 philosophy – opening up government via services that are readily available to those that will benefit most from them. Whether service and information portals that the general public can access, or forums for providing input on policy, the issue of access is critical to the value of Gov 2.0 projects.

Current Access Points

The majority of Gov 2.0 initiatives are housed on existing government websites. While this would suggest that access is freely available, by their very nature these websites tend to have many hundreds, if not thousands, of pages, so finding a particular Gov 2.0 service or access point may prove difficult to the casual visitor. This may be the case even if they have been SEO and SEM optimised. Additionally, if the service being offered is branded quite differently to the host site on which it sits, any unique positioning benefits may be lost as the Gov 2.0 project is surrounded by the larger host site.

Example: Share My Story/Here For Life

The Queensland government wanted to share information on safer driving in an attempt to reduce the road toll, an admirable objective and one that governments everywhere undertake.

Australians have been exposed to years of shock advertising around the effects of speeding, drink-driving and driving while fatigued, so simply making the information available would not have the necessary effect.

Instead, they used a Gov 2.0 approach to build a platform that allowed those affected by personal stories of loss and damage caused by unsafe driving to share their stories. The result is an incredibly moving experience for readers, as each story is a personal reminder of the consequences of bad driving and the responsibilities that every driver has.

In addition to this story section, the site has sections containing the pertinent safe driving information that the Queensland government wants to share, as well as social networking functionality. By combining all of these elements, the site becomes a very successful example of how Gov 2.0 can engage the general public in a very important issue without simply making information available online.

Accessing this important site has been made easier by building it as a separate entity to the Queensland government website. This means that the design and branding could take a fresh approach, with the resulting site more closely reflecting the message than the pre-ordained government style-guide may have allowed for. By moving the digital asset away from the government website allows for a simpler URL, thus allowing for easier access than the somewhat convoluted standard government URL would do. By establishing it as a site in its own right also adds weight to the stories being shared, as for users the stories are less of a government communication tool and more of a touching personal insight.

User Experience and Gov 2.0

Rightly or wrongly, government and good user experience have not always been linked in the minds of the general public. Perhaps it is the administrative nature of some of the tasks that need to be performed via government agencies that breeds this ambivalence in citizens, but it is the responsibility of Gov 2.0 practitioners to design exceptional user experiences across all possible platforms if they are to be successful.

Example: Davis Wiki

The town of Davis sits close to Sacramento, California and the local council was looking for a way to not only communicate with residents, but for residents to communicate with each other.

The simple, elegant solution to their Gov 2.0 initiative is Davis Wiki. Best known through Wikipedia, the wiki platform is ideal for dynamic, detailed and ever-changing content to be uploaded by anyone in a community. Davis Wiki covers everything from the history of the town to an event calendar and guide, to the town’s businesses and municipal services. It has become an important source of information serving the needs of the residents, as well as a place to share fun and interesting information about the town.

Davis Wiki works well because it is the right platform for the function it is intended to perform. The design is also relatively simple, which makes sense given the different demographics that use, and contribute to, the site.

Performing needs analysis during the project definition stage is critically important, as the findings will provide insights into the final deliverables that will drive the project forward. Equally importantly from an internal accountability perspective, a needs analysis gives stakeholders the evidence they need for sign-off and ongoing support.

Gov 2.0 is only just beginning to reach the point where ambition is being met with appropriate resources and planning, and there is certainly a long way to go before the philosophy becomes a cornerstone of government projects. Regardless of a project’s scale, it’s critical that current plans for Gov 2.0 projects are executed successfully so that the current momentum and focus is maintained. With every Victorian Government department committed to developing a Gov 2.0 project by June 11, 2011, now is the time to ensure that the skills required for successful implementation are sourced, briefed and available.

For the first time, the door has been opened to government to lead the conversation around user experience best practice. Taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Gov 2.0 philosophy requires expert input, to ensure the resulting digital assets reflect the very highest standards of accessibility, awareness and user experience.

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