Government 2.0: Five Predictions for 2010-12

Under no pressure from anyone, I’ve forced this obligatory “end of year predictions” post upon myself. People always ask me where I think Government 2.0 is going anyway, I may as well get some writing mileage out of it, right? So, here are some non-exhaustive, somewhat creative, and entirely debatable trends and ideas that I foresee taking shape in the next three years or so. Why the next three years? Well, it’s hard to predict what will happen within a year – there are too many strange short-term factors, like natural disasters and Congressional behavior (but I repeat myself). Plus, the next three years is the remainder of Obama’s current term in office, so these are things we can expect to see either before his second term, or before the new President’s first term. So, that said, here are my five predictions for 2010-12:

Local governments as experiments – Increasingly some of the most innovative ideas are being independently developed in small communities. For example, the tiny city of Manor, TX has launched Manor Labs to improve services. Citizens sign up and suggest ideas for local services like law enforcement, and their ideas are ranked by the community. Good suggestions are rewarded with “Innobucks” that can be redeemed for prizes. Innovative thinking plus government-citizen interactions plus individual incentives can result in big wins for everyone involved. How can the Federal government best keep track of local innovation, and how can everyone best keep track of Government 2.0 news in general? Where’s the TechCrunch of Gov 2.0?

The rise of Citizen 2.0 – Just as governments are adopting new media communications, cloud computing mentalities, and social networking skills, so are the citizens they represent. The implication is that if citizens want a website that mashes up environmental and tourist data, or desire open chat and dating platforms for soldiers stationed overseas, or find out what their Member of Congress does every minute of the day, they might just find a way to do it themselves. Early examples like showed that it was possible, but with people flocking to smart phones, niche social networks, and unconferences, how long will it be before the citizens are beating the government at its own game? (I think that a lot of what we call Government 2.0 is in actuality Citizen 2.0…)

Mobile devices as primary devices – Most discussion I hear about everything from social media to cybersecurity concentrates on desktop computers plugged into a wall. Sure, those are important, and the average government-issued BlackBerry is a little out of date. But soon those mobile devices will be replaced and upgraded, and employees will increasingly demand advanced capabilities like access to social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, embedded cameras, and customized applications (“apps”) for news and other functions. What are the implications for government when an iPhone becomes more powerful than a Dell desktop running all the Microsoft that money can buy?

Ubiquitous crude video content – High production value for Internet-only video is overrated. Sometimes, if a video targets a highly specific niche audience, great content is good enough. A small company named Demand Media, valued at $1 billion, creates thousands of videos a day and posts them on YouTube and other places – more than many other “media companies” combined. Their business model involves a specific algorithm that predicts highly specific questions people are likely to ask – “What’s the best color to repaint a red Camaro?” – and then assigns freelancers to film crude videos as appropriate. People have a lot of questions about their government – could they in part be answered using Demand Media’s somewhat controversial techniques? I’ve written about this in a post about “proactive social media.”

Always on-the-record – When you combine the ideas above (local innovation + citizen 2.0 + mobile as primary + crude content) a fifth prediction emerges. I think that more and more, politicians and government officials will always be on-the-record. By this I mean that the multiplication of inquisitive citizens with mobile devices, wi-fi, and social networking know-how implies that everything from local government hearings to Senators’ travel habits can easily be documented, published, and shared. Imagine if you had a group of 20 “health care legislation enthusiasts” – what if each of them took one business day a month to follow (stalk?) members of (say) the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee around? In this episode of The Right Idea, I discuss this notion of always-on-the-record with some political experts. Think “George Allen’s macaca meets Code Pink.”

In the way of an open-ended conclusion, let me quote Clay Johnson, Director of Sunlight Labs in Washington, DC: “What if there was as much data about John Barrow (D-GA) as there was about Manny Ramirez (LF-Dodgers). There are 750 players in Major League Baseball, and only 535 Members of Congress. Most of the data [about government] exists and what doesn’t we need to demand. The answer to healthy democracy lies not in rhetoric, but in our data.” (from Seth Godin’s new e-book, What Matters Now, p. 35)

Government data doesn’t get me hot and bothered, but Clay’s writing made me ask: Why exactly do we collect, analyze, and share more data on baseball than on our own government? To some degree, it’s a combination of interest and ease. Bonus prediction, an easy one: It will be much easier to collect, analyze, and share government information in 2010-12 than it was in 2009. And we only need about one percent of citizens to be interested for something big to happen.

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