If You're a Government 2.0 Guru, You have no Business in Government 2.0

This past week, we witnessed history with the election of President Barack Obama. He is certainly America’s first black president, but unfortunately, that’s where the highlighted differences seem to end. Little coverage is given to the fact that he is also the first Gen-X president. He is the first tech savvy president. And of course, he is the first “internet president”, having used social media and the netroots effectively.

Even WhiteHouse.gov is seeping with Web 2.0 goodness (though admittedly, it is not quite as savvy as Change.gov, the official transition team site of the Obama administration).

Conventional wisdom says that the federal sector is about to change dramatically. That the adoption of a national Chief Technology Officer, and the pledge to open up the doors and windows of government to the public, will bring about new opportunities for an online world that thrives on transparency and open dialogue. There is no reason to believe that this will not be the case.

Along comes the newest buzzword of the day, Government 2.0. As with anything that includes a software-styled decimal iteration, this heralds a new and improved government. A better one that offers more functionality, usability and interactivity.

Geoff Livingston points out, accurately, that this new openness in government has apparently created a sector of carpetbaggers that have labeled themselves “experts” in the field. I think his cynicism is warranted. Capitalism at work. Anything to make a buck.

Here’s the stark reality of the Government 2.0 space: There are very few gurus and taking on that mantle will doom your ability to work in the sector.

Let me explain.

There are actual real experts that have been toiling for years trying to get government to adopt new and innovative technologies, communication channels and bringing a forward thinking mentality to those in service. These folks have had a degree of micro-success, but it’s been limited since the government, as a whole, is not very open. It’s changing – possibly a result of the hard work put in by these experts – but it’s still a very closed space. Those experts are experts because they’ve put in their time, toiling and pushing and fighting the system. They understand the system, as it is, not simply as they would like it to be. They recognize the need to work within the constraints that have governed the government for many years with a hope that they can change it over time. They are experts because they are not flash in the pan and know it will take a long time.

See, they understand that two governments exist. There is the elected government which changes every 4-8 years and sometimes longer (in the case of Congress and State legislatures). As well, there is an established government – career feds who are never fired, and rarely quit their jobs. They just move between agencies with established patterns and principles in tow. They are the foot soldiers who actually do the work. The established government is where the real change begins.

Very few of the so called experts can truly be experts by any reasonable standard. They have appeared on the scene in recent months, read the blogs and brushed up on their government-fu. They probably come from traditional, and sometimes social media communications backgrounds. They have been working with small companies in the web space or otherwise, and expect the principles which have governed their trade to transcend the halls of Commerce, Agriculture, State and Defense. Therefore, they believe, they are experts.

What they don’t realize is that their self-branding actually poses the risk of hurting their business – especially if, in a down economy, they expect to sustain their business in a new an growing sector. What they don’t realize is the government they wish to work with understands that Government 2.0 is new and that very few people are experts. The government, I believe, is looking to partner with people who have the chutzpah to become experts. Who have a firm grounding in communications principles and web savvy. They understand that the next year will make experts if the right candidates, firms and contractors are chosen. They are looking for people who have the savvy needed to guide and advise, with the understanding that it’s a completely new playing field. My instinct says that the government knows that they are getting prepared to experiment and want someone to experiment with.

Are they looking for complete rookies? Hardly. But they are looking for the chops to brave this new world with some degree of sanity.

If you’ve got those chops, you might become an expert. Chances are, though, if you lie to them and say you’re an expert now, they simply won’t hire you.

Senate Opens the Door for Web 2.0 Usage

Back in July, we covered the story about Congressional use of Twitter and social tools ad nauseum. Frankly, it was an epic story around here – defining in many ways – and has opened the door for other opportunities to be involved in the political and policy discussion around Washington, D.C.

I plan to have Congressman John Culberson, who was at the center of the House controversy, on the Aaron Brazell Show in weeks to come to discuss the changes and progress being made in the House, it’s important to note that the Senate actually has taken the first step to modernize and unshackle legislators hands.

Andrew Noyes writes Wednesday in Congress Daily about the changes (subscription only):

As part of the change, Rules Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and ranking member Robert Bennett included some exceptions. A member, committee or office may separately maintain Web sites or post material on third-party platforms as long as they abide by guidelines.

The Rules Committee plans to offer a “non exhaustive list” of approved third-party sites. Those sites must agree to disclose when content is maintained by a Senate office and is banned from adding commercial or political material or links to an office-maintained page.

The rules also go on to outline rules for the third party websites, prohibiting data collection of personally identifiable information about users.

All in all, common sense approaches to web/government crossover and it’s nice to see that the Senate rules never become a political football like the House rules did. The House is trying to mirror these rule changes on their side.

The Hidden Human Cost of Government Going Green

In the necessary push toward a greener nation, we are leaving some of our most valuable citizens behind. While I am all for “œgoing green” and the overall “œgreen technology” movement, I can’t help but notice that the way the government has chosen to go about doing it is disenfranchising huge segments of the population.

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with a number of people about the issue of the poverty gap and how it relates to technology, and the internet. Noticeably, the topic of green technology kept popping up in the discussion. Specifically, how the drive for forced compliance with new green tech standards like a paperless government is leaving our nation’s poor in the dust.

The problem arises when lack of knowledge and inability to access (or afford) the necessary technology now required to obtain benefits or jobs comes in contact with the immovable wall of government mandates. As our government makes its move to a paperless model it has begun requiring those applying for benefits, jobs, job training and other government services to apply via the web.

In many cases there is immediately an issue ““ either the applicant does not have access to a computer or the Internet or, if the government office provides access, there is a knowledge gap. The applicant often has no idea how to use the technology presented to them. According to people like Shireen Mitchell of Women Wired In this has been an ongoing issue reaching as far back as the misguided introduction of the ATM-style benefits cards several years ago.

When the three main technology issues facing the nation’s poor – lack of access to technology, inability to afford technology, and a lack of knowledge of how to use technology – meet the push by the government to go green and the enforced paperless standards, people are inevitably being left behind. On the surface it seems like an unsolvable problem, but I don’t think it has to be.

Granted, if we wait for the glacial process of government to a) realize there is a problem and b) do something about it, it may never get solved. We will continue to lag behind other nations in broadband access and slowly see our standing in the science and technology fields drop ever lower and less and less of our citizens find themselves able to compete in the global market, much less their local one.

To that end, I don’t believe that lobbying your representatives will do much in the short term. I think we should be lobbying for both equipment and access, but I don’t believe we should put all of our eggs in one basket. This is a problem that needs a proactive solution.

That being the case what can the technology community do to address the issue?

The answer lies in using the tools we few are so privileged to have to leverage our influence. Because we are influential. People do hear us outside of our bubble. Some of us are heard more than others, but everyone has a voice and, more importantly, a network.

We need to leverage that on and off line network, our social media contacts, our groups, web sites, and communities at the national and local level to exert pressure to fix this problem. Who do we exert pressure on? To a certain extent the government. To a greater extent the companies that control the access to the necessary equipment and pipelines that will get people online.

Now more than ever technology has become a basic human need. In order to compete locally and globally, people need access to a computer and to broadband Internet or they will be left behind, causing us to be left behind as a nation as well. We are the biggest users of this technology. If we organize, and speak with both our wallets and our voices, we will be heard.

Will it effect real change if we push companies to start donating computers and Internet access to the nation’s most needy? I would hope so, especially if we all make the effort to create one voice for change. Programs like One Laptop Per Child are a start, but they are not enough. We need more.

In addition to pressuring the big telecommunications companies and equipment makers to acknowledge and assist those who need it most, we need to pressure ourselves. Doctors and lawyers do pro bono work all of the time in their communities, and we should be doing the same. Go to your local centers and volunteer to train people how to use the tools of technology.

If you can’t volunteer, help find people who can. Use your network to touch and help people who need you, whether it is a church outreach program, an urban high school or a government training office. The first thing you have to do is be proactive, and you don’t even have to get off your ass to do it.