The gov 2.0 conversation is stalled

I am in Austin for SXSW and listening to a conversation about the future of government in a connected society.  The natural topics have come up — how to use data, what transparency means, the role of media, what technology standards are used, and similar. It is an interesting conversation, full of smart and experienced people, but few new insights are being shared.  The overwhelming feeling I get is that we aren’t actually moving forward, making any real progress.  I have come to the conclusion that the conversation about the future of government has stalled.

Why?  Because government isn’t changing fast enough.

The websites for the federal government (and some state and local governments) have absolutely improved – better design and usability for starters, more information and access to elected officials coming every day. More and more data is filtering out – and everyone from think tanks to media to individual citizens are mashing things up in creative and compelling ways.  Perhaps most importantly, the public now has someone who is on the inside listening (though what they are doing with what they hear is still a big question to me). This is progress.

But lots of things aren’t changing.  There are still too many layers of bureaucracy – technology is supposed to make things more efficient, but we aren’t seeing that in government yet.  Most/all of the legislation that is passed/signed into law doesn’t do enough to address the core issues they are designed to address – and there is little evidence that better legislation is going to suddenly be the goal.  The implementation of policies remains, largely, out of the reach of average people. And don’t get me started on how the election process is flawed, and how the fact that officials are endlessly running for re-election makes it challenging for them to govern effectively.

It is absolutely necessary that we talk about the future of government in a connected society — but we have to do it in order of priority.  First, we must clearly define what we want from our government… how they will support the citizenry, what kinds of services they will provide.  Second, we need to look at what is working in government, and what fails to live up to our expectations.  Third, we have to ask ourselves about how to improve or change those issues.  And then, only then, should we be talking about what technology to use, what data standards to create, and the like.

The conversation about the future of government is stalled until we can have a real conversation about how to change what government does.  If we can get that conversation started the rest will flow (more) easily from there.

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