Simple steps for adoption of Gov 2.0 at your agency

Tuesday - 5/25/2010, 4:06pm EDT

Nicholas Gruen, chair, Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce.

Click to hear the interview

Download mp3

The Gov 2.0 Expo kicks off today at the Washington Convention Center.

In honor of what promises to be an exciting 2.0 event, we went across the ocean and Down Under to get a different perspective about Gov 2.0.

Nicholas Gruen is chair of the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce and CEO of Lateral Economics.

He took part in developing and launching the taskforce, and brings us details of their final report that's full of recommendations as to how governments across the planet can go 2.0.

But why is Gov 2.0 so important in the first place?

Gruen says, above all else, it's changing the way people think.

"Governments are almost, by definition, and will remain by definition, hierarchical. That is, in America, a law isn't a law unless it's passed by the two houses of Congress and received Presidential consent. There's something analagous in every country. That's hierarchical and government departments will always be hierarchical in some kind of sense. Almost all private companies are hierarchical, but the smart ones find all kinds of ways to put that hierarchy very much in the background and engage people as competent and positive individuals who want to be part of a mission. That's the sort of thing which I think Gov 2.0 will accelerate."

Basically, you can be the lowest on the totem poll -- a new hire or a new graduate, even, and still contribute if your agency or organization has really embraced the 2.0 mindset.

Gruen explains that it's all about creating not just a collaborative workforce, but a world in which people are more willing to work together to solve problems.

In his report, he suggests agencies and companies move away from the term 'gov 2.0' or 'social networking' and instead embrace a less buzz-wordy term, such as the 'collaborative web'. Changing the terminology could get technophobes and hold-outs to look at Gov 2.0 differently, which might contribute to more openness and transparency.

And speaking of openness . . . you might have to change the way you think about that word, too.

"In terms of getting information out there, there are two arms to Gov 2.0: engagement and opening information. . . . People out there, not people in government, but people that the government wants to engage, are not interested in engaging with non-people. I know lots of government agencies that think they're blogging by putting up posts saying, "dear public, we're consulting with you. Answer this question, that question, this question.' Well, that's nice . . . but that's not a conversation and it's not engaging . . . and it's also not open."

The best part about Gov 2.0, it could be argued, is that deploying it doesn't cost a lot of money. Many of the tools are cheap, if not free, which leaves much for room for experimentation -- a tactic Gruen encourages.

"I often compare IT with 2.0, and they're sort of polar opposites. IT, at a large agency, is going to cost you in the tens of millions, or maybe, hundreds of millions [of dollars]. . . . Web 2.0 is much different. So much is off the shelf. It's actually an extension of human social behavior."

Above all, to thine own self be true.

Gruen says just because you're moving engagement online, doesn't mean you have to actually do things differently. Trust in your employees, because, chances are, they already have 2.0 experience, even if they don't know it yet.

"Public servants should be unafraid to be themselves. They do this anyway. They go to to conferences and they give papers and people ask them questions. . . . They're familiar with this stuff. I contribute to a group blog, which is quite a popular political and cultural blog in Australia, and I think it's true to say that, while I know for a fact that there are lots of locals on that blog who are public servants, we have one who comments anonymously and that's about it."

Read about how the Austrailian government responded to the Task Force report.