Saturday, June 12, 2010

Government as a platform - hype or real?

The Gov 2.0 Expo last month provided a wealth of knowledge about how governments can actually be transformed to serve as platforms. What I found interesting about the Expo -- I was not present, just following from a distance - was this sense of a huge social experiment under way. An experiment that has global implications. A lot of the themes presented were very inspiring, like Think Tank from the Expert Labs. Palantir is an interesting "information infrastructure" technology demonstrating the power of open data ( and similar national data infrastructures).

These infrastructures and the apps that they are driving ought to get us rethinking how our societies function. O'Reilly says the Web 2.0 is not the redesign of the web, but stripping down the web to its essential core, similarly so for Government 2.0. Read and comment Tim O'Reilly's book Government as a platform. My comments hovered around Society 2.0 -- not a redesign of society, but getting back to basics for a more engaging and participative society.

From Expo, I found Tim's conversation with Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra very interesting. It's not that the views or ideas are so very radical or innovative. It's the fact that they are executing to a vision. A vision built on the potential of mass collaboration, tranparency and participation. The core of this vision in driven by something called the Open Government Directive. Simple stuff, not rocket science -- what impresses me is the execution -- and potentially world changing. Ten years from now we will be wondering how we functioned as a society without transparency, collaboration and participation.

See this very rich review of Expo.

Monday, May 10, 2010

From consumer-citizen to participant

Just as the global economy is making its recovery from the global financial crisis, we have the Euro-crisis on our hands. And adding to the excitement, the volcanic ash continues making business difficult for many industries on the continent. One can argue that the volcanic activity is unpredictable -- not so the financial crises. They are symptoms of society going into group-think and freely swallowing what is dished out by politicians and spin doctors. The Euro-crisis - PIIGS crisis is probably more appropriate -- was caused by the nations disregarding established guidelines set by the EU for managing debt and public spending.

If the US-led financial meltdown was attributed to "capitalism gone crazy", then the PIIGS crisis must be "socialism gone crazy". On the face of it, the answer in both cases seems to be stricter enforcement of the law for all including politicians! It is only reasonable to expect that players who have agreed on the ground rules stick to them. Or risk being expelled from the game. Yeah? by who? Maybe we should learn to govern overselves better - by participating. See my previous posts (here and here) where I commented the excellent film "Us Now".

I am not an economics expert, but these events are a cue for citizens to get more involved in how their lives are affected. Is there another option? Admittedly, getting involved is easier said than done - the time crunch, information-overload and complexity is challenging (my reflections here). We must ask for more participation and we need to start participating whereever possible.

The PIIGS crisis is driving austerity measures that threaten the stability of the welfare state. A welfare state reaching newer heights with expenses needed to serve a demanding population that is also living longer. Raising taxes is not going to help! We as citizens need to take more responsibility; we need to participate .... we need learn how to co-produce services. Government agencies regarding citizens as "customers" is misleading and hollow and sets false expectations - there is no 1:1 equivalence between the tax one pays and services received. We are better off if we get rid of the notion of "customer" in public services and focus on including the citizen in the design and delivery of services. Savvy commercial businesses are already advocating customer participation - and are going beyond self-service. Hopefully, the public sector agencies will create their own brand of participation.

But first, politicians and bureaucrats need to truly understand this fundamental shift of citizen participation. They must provide for the trust-infrastructure that encourages participation and drives transparency. Yep, more participatory democracy and less representative democracy.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Welfare 2.0?

Living in a welfare state, I am being increasingly convinced that the next level of welfare must embrace corporate social responsibility (CSR) – in a radically different way. Not very unlike the way that the Indian conglomerate Tata has demonstrated CSR over the years (see this recent article if you are not familiar with Tata).

This radically different way of societal welfare is not just for the developing world. In fact, social media is also empowering grassroot movements, increasing social engagement and making an impact in the developed world. I believe that the best reason to embrace embrace CSR is to alleviate the costs associated with providing quality care while simulatenously strengthening the network in the local community. The "state" - federated or centralized - can only provide care up to a certain point after which it becomes prohibitively expensive. And communities cannot outsource all aspects of care-giving without losing a bit of the feeling of community. (Aside: Robots for care-giving seem to be set to play a dominant role in care-giving in Japan but Sweden approaches the same issue differently. There is room for a combination - depending on demographics and societal practices - though my personal preference is for the Swedish model. I believe it can scale better in the developing world.)

I believe that for CSR to scale up and out, it requires a trusted societal digital infrastructure. An infrastructure that encourages the creation of businesses to provide for eg. care-based services or education services while also enforcing transparency. Transparency generates trust, and trust can be used to provide deeply experiential services for consumers and citizens - while also being of value for service providers. See this article for an analysis on the economic value of trust.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Are public services different from other services?

There must be other people who also react to the notion of services from the public sector. What exactly are services from the public sector? How do these services compare to commercially provided services? Admittedly, the term "services" is overloaded, but to me - these "services" are just the provisioning of citizen rights. Are the public sector services actually a platform for service production? Something that allows commercial service providers to develop deeply engaging and experiential -- and mainly trust-based services

NHIN Direct is one such platform effort for the health sector. I am posting this here and not on my health and wellness blog because NHIN Direct appears to take the form of the Societal Digital Infrastructure that I have talked about for a long time. This platform can be duplicated for the education sector and other government-driven industries.

Tim O'Reilly provides excellent commentary on NHIN in the context of a wider topic of Government as a platform. In fact, he refers to Dr Halamka's excellent post that goes into more detail. I believe that as platforms emerge, entire sectors have the potential to innovate. The role of such public sector services are also catalytic.

Service innovation could become mainstream activity for commercial and public sector enterprises - project portfolio management is the (somewhat dull) practice most likely to absorb service innovation practices. But, how should enterprises open their practices to include external partners? The answer is far from obvious. Lot of work to be done there. And how can this spread to the masses where the seeds of innovation originate and germinate?

Consumer/citizen-centered design will eventually get there ... I'm even more convinced than before.

Note: This post was started on the 28.2 but completed on 15.3