Thoughts web 2.0

Web 2.0 and the public sector

I often get asked to talk about the impacts of technology and user expectation change, the Web 2.0 effect, to conferences aimed at public sector audiences. The points I make are also illustrated in the excellent article by Eric Woods of Ovum at

For my old colleagues in various Government Departments around the world this is well worth the read.

Web 2.0 is not like CB-Radio, yes there is a massive amount of hype around the term which is not helpful, however the fact remains that technology change has democratised many of processes of production and communication which has lead to a whole different level of user expectations and demand for greater engagement from citizens.

This cannot be ignored !

Written and Submitted from the Google Office, London.

3 replies on “Web 2.0 and the public sector”

In my experience, public sector IT departments (at least in local government) are too busy providing business support to be throwing away effort on “low cost, easy-fail” projects that are outside of their core competencies and do not have clear business cases.

I agree that demand for online communication is increasing. Reacting to this demand (setting up blogs for politicians, etc) is relatively easy and safe. However, building complete Web 2.0 applications is far outside the core competencies of most goverment IT departments, and has a high risk of obsolescence or incorrect implementation.

My opinion is that public sector agencies are better served by publishing their core asset (information) in a way that is available to constituents directly, but can also be consumed by Web 2.0 applications. This strategy allows us to focus on our core competencies and, if Web 2.0 proves itself at a local level, leverage the efforts of others.

At the most basic level, this means leveraging formats such as RSS, GeoRSS, and KML as alternate representations of traditional web-based information streams. In my community, we are working on these for information streams as far-ranging as fire calls, building permits, bid opportunities and job postings. It also means looking at alternate delivery methods for information that is not natively web-enabled. For instance, if you are distributing CSV files or zipped shapefiles, you may want to consider providing access to this information in a RESTful manner.

This strategy may take public sector IT slightly outside of its comfort zone, but the basic tools and techniques for providing access to the information are no different than those used for traditional application development. It is low-risk, low-cost, high-reward.

Based on obvervance of Web 2.0 implementation — I for the most-part, feel that much of the hype is realistic, but that the actual methodologies produced have had major shortcomings.

As an example, or a case scenario. My Web site. I’m currently involved in discussing the nature of my ‘Shopping Cart’ system with the person who originally developed it. I’m arguing that I’m disatisfied with the system as it exists, because it attempts to create its own compartmentalized processes within the overall site installation.

The reason I have an ‘issue’ with is, is based on a purest mentality of the overall asset of the site itself. Meaning, that instead of compartmentalizing assets into allocated mind-spaces, and developing additional bloated systems to handle specifics — one should completely bypass specifics, and allow the entirety of the overall asset (the Web site) to become the application, leveraging its core assets — and pluging into use of those core assets with added, enhanced systems.

This is really the point to Web 2.0. I’ve noticed all too often that distribution design (especially in the GIS arena) has continued on with the same compartmentalization processes in thinking — which is detrimental to purist Web 2.0 philosophy and application. If you continue to build an application that does this — it will not cuddle-up nicely with the ideology — and mainly because it’s not expressing elegence of an enhancement to core assets (the overall application).

My comment here’s a bit convoluted — but hopefully someone kind of ‘gets’ me. I have a better way of visualizing this approach than I do explaining it. But it’s really rather simple once you get an idea of what I mean.

As I’ve said since an early age, “All the best ideas in the world will be those that digress elegantly.”

There is an increasingly wide gap between what is possible and government IT solutions. The problem I am afraid is structural and the inbuilt defence mechanisms in terms of accountability with regard to public sector managers.

They love committees and collective responsibilities because when things go wrong you cannot sack the entire department! As a result you get a few years deliberation before they get to the starting blocks and technology has moved on since then. It is interesting how HMG and local authorities will cope when they can’t buy XP professional anymore and migrate to Vista! XAML, WPF, C# what is that they ask? That lot will all be scratching their heads and flapping at ten thousand feet without a parachute! It will be most interesting and rather hilarious when the technological fox enters the chicken coup!

I am sure that all these ineffectual mangers will when the penny drops be applying to DEFRA to go and count tadpoles in the village pound free from stress of course, or taking early retirement on the grounds of stress etc on a very nice pension thank you very much paid by us the tax payer!

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