Monday, July 27, 2009

Government 2.0: what's in a name?

Today's blog post brought to you by the letters N and D, and by the number 2.

Last week, Nick Charney and Doug Bastien each wrote thought-provoking posts on their blogs. Nick wrote about the problem of public servants who would rather stake out territory than work together across silos and boundaries. Doug wrote on the issue of federal departments blocking employee access to Internet sites. (Twice.) Great discussions ensued in the comment threads, and for me, one theme loomed large across them all: communication being hindered by people with different viewpoints speaking different "languages". For Nick's, it was the territorialists vs. what he called the "synergists", while for Doug's, it was IT vs. "the business".

This notion of "we aren't even speaking the same language" prompted me to come up with three "language" dimensions that I see obstructing clear communication as we all try to move forward with Government 2.0. ("Whatever that means," he said, clumsily foreshadowing his point.)

The first dimension involves the metaphorical "languages" discussed above which are essentially points of view evolved through different experiences, biases, education, what have you.

The second dimension is official languages. Scheming virtuously requires diplomacy and negotiation. I take pride in my ability to craft a convincing argument. In English. I'm less capable in French, despite exemptions in reading comprehension and written expression. We all have differing levels of comfort with our official languages, and I think it's critical to remain aware of that while trying to push an agenda forward within a bilingual workplace.

The third is terminology.

In one of Doug's tweets this weekend, he defined Enterprise 2.0 as "Web 2.0 + KM". I thought it was an interesting take, but too specific. I tend to think of Enterprise 2.0 as simply the application of Web 2.0 tools and practices in an enterprise context and Government 2.0 as Enterprise 2.0 in a government context. I prefer to think of "Web 2.0" as a blanket term covering any area where social interaction, collaboration, content creation, and technology meet. Instant messaging is a Web 2.0 tool as far as I'm concerned - the applications and protocols involved just don't matter to me.

I think Government 2.0 means social, collaborative, internal business processes every bit as much as it does outreach on Twitter, and it does not mean a public-facing blog just delivering press releases with no feedback. To me, Government 2.0 is much more about practices and processes than it is tools.

Records management. Information management. Knowledge management. These terms mean the same thing to some people. They don't to me, but I have only a vague idea of my own distinctions among them. I know I consider software development to be an information management activity, as opposed to an information technology activity, but I think most people look at it the other way around.

Don't even get me started on "cloud computing". As with all too many of the buzzwords we throw around in 2009, there are as many different interpretations as there are people in the room.

None of these "language" obstacles are insurmountable in my opinion. We need to remain aware of them and how they can impact communication, from both sides of a discussion, argument, business case, negotiation, whatever. And when challenging the status quo, I think being prepared to meet people more than halfway can only help us make our case.

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