When asked by Alan Silberberg to speak at this past weekend's Gov2.0LA unconference, Bill Grundfest, a television producer from Hollywood, asked an important question: What the hell is Government 2.0?
Government 2.0 serves as an umbrella term for the variety of projects and platforms coming from both the public and private sectors that have the goal of bringing government into the 21st century and getting citizens engaged. Yet, when you ask people in the space what it means, no one seems to have the same definition.
In a panel on Language Standards for Government 2.0, Grundfest, the former producer of TV sitcom Mad About You, spoke about the concept of Government 2.0 from an important perspective that is often forgotten in the space: people. Forthright in his admission that he knows nothing about technology and transparency, Grundfest pointed out that he did understand that the way that Government 2.0 evangelists are currently communicating their message to their target audience is clearly not engaging.
Congratulations. You are all in show business.
Grundfest began the discussion by recruiting the entire Gov 2.0LA audience into show business. Government 2.0 evangelists are self-promoting and advertising themselves to the world through social media like Twitter and Facebook. Those who are introducing Government 2.0 communications and projects to government entities and citizens are much like the writers that create a new pilot for a TV show: they are pitching new ideas, some of which will capture attention and others of which will fail. Just like you have to test a pilot to see if an audience likes it, Government 2.0 innovators must test their new platforms with their intended audience members, citizens. It is this testing that will help the space figure out how they can truly serve citizens and get them engaged. It's about finding out what people really want.
Lessons: Engage & Humanize
Government 2.0 needs a narrative that anyone can understand. The "schlub" with the pothole in front of his house wants to know how he can fix it. He realizes he can use a mobile application like CitySourced or SeeClickFix to report it to his local government. It gets fixed. Whenever explaining Government 2.0, it should be in terms as simple as that. When people realize that technology can help solve the government problems that affect their daily lives, they will become more engaged.
While it is almost second nature for people in the Government 2.0 space to use jargon (even by using "Government 2.0" as a term), the use of jargon, as Grundfest points out, is inherently an anti-democratic thing to do. Grundfest is right, because it creates an "in crowd" as well as just contributes to the existing echo chamber, drowning out the voice of the average citizen. Anyone who considers themselves to be a part of the Government 2.0 space should make it their responsibility to translate concepts like transparency and open government for the masses of people who do not run in these policy and technology circles.
Using Hearts to Change Minds
The most important lesson from Grundfest: those in "politech" need to use hearts to change minds, not "minds to change minds." A compelling story, an interactive video or a personal conversation can go a long way in recruiting citizens to the cause. Even if the government cannot fix all our problems, it still can provide space for citizens to be heard. That really is the half the battle. There are many people who simply feel like they do not count, whether at the local level when that same pothole does not get fixed or at the federal level with a national debate like the one surrounding health care. Government 2.0 has to be about conversations and connections, not just open source code and policies.