Social Media 101 Gov 2.0 – a virtual reality

I had an interesting conversation with Doug Elniski, MLA, Edmonton Calder. We spoke about his experiences using social media and reactions he’s witnessed from some of his colleagues within government on the subject. Elniski, in his own straightforward way, suggests that the there’s definitely still resistance within the Government of Alberta. Resistance he describes as mostly coming from what he calls the “bubble in the middle”—those people in government currently not utilizing social media—“essentially waiting to see what happens. The bureaucracy watches and measures the reaction, because people don’t want to subject themselves to criticism or some form of abuse.”
As a place to start and looking to find ways to shift this reality, we expanded on how folks within the “bubble” might not want to be put in a position of testing their values daily and publicly within social media. Elniski added that in government (values) “is probably the thing you get attacked on.” He’s quite at peace with where he stands on the issues and none of this bothers him. I was interviewing him for my upcoming book, due out this spring, on Government 2.0 (Gov 2.0)—a term designed to describe the “open government movement” happening around the world. Our discussion covered opinions regarding the cultural impact of Gov 2.0 inside the Government of Alberta. What has been evident to me for some time is that it will not happen without evangelists on the inside. Even then, our premier will have to see value in doing something in this regard.
What does Gov 2.0 look like and how does it change things? In a personal e-mail exchange for my book, Tim O’Reilly—who coined the term “Web 2.0”—stated that it’s “government as an open and transparent platform, a mechanism for collaborative action.” Not exactly the way many citizens would currently describe their government (at any level) I suspect, and therein lies the opportunity.
Locally, we’re witnessing a move toward “open government” at the City of Edmonton. I spoke with Chris Moore, CIO for the City and head of the I.T. Branch. Moore and his team have gone through a positive transformation and are leading the charge with respect to another core aspect of Gov 2.0: Open Data. On January 13th, the City released a “data catalogue” which provides various types of data in machine-readable format (rather than PDF), so that developers can build interesting solutions for citizens. Also, as part of this initiative, its geographic information systems data (GIS) will soon be released for free to those who need it or would like to develop software applications with it.
I’m aware of new websites and applications already in production with local developers that will impact our quality of life for the better. For example, (shameless plug) fusedlogic’s Route 411 transit application for the iPhone, was launched on January 8th. This application allows for public transit users to identify routes, bus stops and times much more easily than traditional methods. It works with data released from Edmonton, Toronto and, just in time for the Olympics, Vancouver.
Now, here’s why taxpayers will care: The City of Edmonton didn’t spend a dime of taxpayer money to improve the ETS experience by developing Route 411—fusedlogic made the investment. Tax savings is a key benefit to the Open Data concept and why, in part, Councillor Don Iveson has been a strong advocate for Gov 2.0.
Iveson submitted initial questions regarding Open Data to Council last October. I asked him why he put these questions forward to Council. He said, “Fundamentally, it’s about transparency, empowerment and collaboration, and those are superb democratic values. Much of this data we have but we don’t do a good job of sharing it or providing access. There is an imbalance of power between government and citizens, the ‘we-know-better-because-we-have-all-the-facts’ attitude. It can be difficult for citizens to get the facts (data). Also, I think there’s been fear in government about the loss of power when data gets in the hands of people and they won’t know what to do with it.” Iveson concluded, “Let people have the info and make an argument… and, if the argument is wrong, let the process take over…”
There is simply no doubt that Government 2.0 and, by extension Open Data, is the right way to go for all levels of government in terms of direct and indirect benefits to citizens. This being the case, I believe Albertans need to call upon Premier Ed Stelmach and the Government of Alberta to hire a CIO for the province. We need to move government from a “need-to-know” mentality to one of a “need-to-share.” That CIO would coordinate with municipal level officials like Moore, as well as the feds, to bring the Gov 2.0 aspect into policy discussions enterprise-wide.
The result for Albertans would be tax savings, efficiencies for government and citizens alike. Frankly, this isn’t a question of “if” Gov 2.0 is coming. It’s already here. √

Explore posts in the same categories: Edmonton Tech Community, Social Networking, Walter Schwabe

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One Comment on “Social Media 101 Gov 2.0 – a virtual reality”

  1. John Moore Says:

    Chris Moore has done some really good work, I was impressed at the transformation he has achieved, and his committment to common sense business/government enablement via technology. If interested, check out my chat with him here:

    Great job Chris.


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