Dissertation Sketchings

My central interest in returning to my dissertation is in what happens in public policy settings when computers (formally, ICTs or information and communication technologies) are deployed in new ways, specifically whether the adoption of new technologies transforms the policy process itself. We have a long experience with the application of computer technology in government settings, but questions continue to arise. And the question itself has transformed: from an era of e-government a decade ago when the questions were principally managerial and technical, the issue is now framed in terms of new Web 2.0 technologies and whether they represent transformational technologies (Mergel, Schweik and Fountain, 2009).

My dissertation, entitled “Gov 2.0 – Inside and Out, Upside and Down” examines the effect on public policy settings, both within governments and in processes of civic engagement, from deploying information and communication technologies in new ways – specifically whether new Web 2.0 technologies represent transformational technologies in the context of policy development. We have a long experience with the application of computer technology in government settings, but questions continue to arise and the questions themselves have transformed: from an era of e-government a decade ago when the questions were principally managerial and technical, the issue is now framed in terms of new Web 2.0 technologies and whether the technology is now transforming the nature of policy work. Using a multiple case study approach, this study will assess the implications of deploying Web 2.0 in four policy settings as delineated in the following analytical framework:

dissertation - analytical framework

dissertation - analytical framework

Is Gov 2.0 a Transformative Technology?

For the past 15 years, the Internet has profoundly change our lives – and changed us. Now the Internet itself is undergoing its own transformation with the adoption of technologies collectively called Web 2.0. This second generation web is characterized by emergence of the Internet as a participatory platform, with the distinction between consumers and producers blurred. The shift from user-selected content to user-created content has significantly changed our on-line interactions – and has the potential to change our social interactions with it. If Gutenberg’s revolution was centred on the mass production of printed texts, then the innovation in Web 2.0 lies in its facility to allow anyone to become a virtual pamphleteer.

Gov 2.0
We use the term Web 2.0 to describe recent changes in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that facilitate enhanced creativity, communication, collaboration and function.1 Web 2.0 technologies – such as blogs and microblogs, wikis, mashups, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networking, content sharing and tagging – continue to grow in popularity and function. 

Principally used for social activities (e.g., Facebook and MySpace continue to be cited as principle examples of Web 2.0 applications), Web 2.0 has also been deployed in a number of corporate environments for marketing and operations management (McAfee, 2006). Under the name of Enterprise 2.0, tools such as wikis and blogs have seen widespread uptake. Organizations have years of experience with a range of communication media – email, telephony, intranets and document management systems. What Enterprise 2.0 seeks to accomplish is to reduce the traditional management function of coordination necessary in running large organizations and instead builds that coordination function into the infrastructure.

So what is Gov 2.0, then? Similar to how Web 2.0 is derived from cscw and cmc, Gov 2.0 is what was previously called e-government, but with a obvious nod to the implications of new Web 2.0 tools. Where governments have adopted Web 2.0 (referred to in some quarters as “Gov 2.0”), it has generally been in support of communication strategies – principally internal, but increasingly external (e.g., Wyld, 2007). More robustly, Web 2.0 technologies can be deployed to:
improve service delivery, In recent years, governments have embraced “citizen-centric” approaches to service delivery and. Governments that once supplied standard transactional services through a fragmented public bureaucracy are increasingly providing citizens and other stakeholders with a single window to public services.
broaden policy development, Web 2.0 can promote a shift in communications and computation that promotes collaboration and innovation in the public sector. New strategies for institutional transformation and investigate best practices for creating an innovation culture in public administration. Just as blogs, wikis, and social networking tools facilitate mass collaboration on the Web, there are opportunities to enable new forms of cross-organizational collaboration in government.
improve operations and management, improve bureaucratic efficiency emphasized inter-agency and stakeholder collaboration and
reinvigorate democracy. With globalization as the overarching backdrop, policy-makers are confronting an era of unprecedented volatility as the rules of engagement for citizens, business and government change. New models of “wiki politics” can enable greater innovation, collaboration, agility and citizen participation in policy-making and the broader political process.

The central question to be addressed through the case studies is whether Gov 2. 0 represents transformative technology (after Michael Heim’s theory)

Inside Out, Upside and Down

When I look at the policy process, I am considering both traditional “inside policy processes” of professional analysis, decision-making and administration, and alternative “outside policy processes” of civic engagement, public consultation and the effect of individual actors’ decisions taken in the context of a governance framework. “Inside processes” are those analysis and deliberative processes that happen within institutions – inside a particular policy shop, between departments, around the cabinet table. This is where the classically trained policy analyst is most comfortable – where the problem is perceive, the issue analyzed, the course of action set, implementation and evaluation undertaken. But we increasingly need to accommodate the “outside processes” and allow others into the policy analysis process, and other ways of knowing to emerge. We can meet our legal obligations by following the old rules about public consultation, but we will not be meeting the expectations of the citizenry, the evolving norms being set by true citizen-engagement trailblazers – nor will we be seizing the opportunity to improve policy analysis through enhanced citizen engagement.

Civic Engagement and Governance
Building on a characterization of the distinct but not separate worlds of “inside policy processes” and “outside policy processes” by our colleague Rod Dobell, we can identify how citizen engagement intersects with and informs the formal policy analysis process.

“Inside processes” are those analysis and deliberative processes that happen within institutions – inside a particular policy shop, between departments, around the cabinet table. This is where the classically trained policy analyst is most comfortable – where the problem is perceive, the issue analyzed, the course of action set, implementation and evaluation undertaken.

But we do need to contend with the “outside processes”, and allow others into the policy analysis process, and other ways of knowing to emerge. We can meet our legal obligations by following the old rules about public consultation, but we will not be meeting the expectations of the citizenry, the evolving norms being set by true citizen-engagement trailblazers – nor will we be seizing the opportunity to improve policy analysis through enhanced citizen engagement.

Civic Engagement 2.0
Molly Ivins: “The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion” (quoted in Lewis, 2007, n.p.). Matthew Taylor, who until recently had been British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief political strategist, believes that the web can be “fantastic” for democracy. However, he also believes that the often shrill political discourse found on the Internet could be problematic, perhaps even approaching a “crisis.” He observed: “At a time at which we need a richer relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had to confront the shared challenges we face, arguably we have a more impoverished relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had” (quoted in Wheeler, Brian (2006). Web “fuelling crisis in politics.”BBC News, November 17, 2006. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6155932.stm.). In addition, Tim Berners-Lee recently expressed concern that the web can be used today to “spread misinformation and undemocratic forces” (cited in Ghosh, Pallab (2006). Web inventor fears for the future. BBC News, November 2, 2006. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6108578.stm.).

Enabling a virtual dimension to participatory politics need not and should not replace traditional political forums and dialogues. Instead, civic engagement 2.0 should serve to broaden access to the widest possible spectrum of citizens and stakeholders and to embed these new forms of deliberation in a renewed and strengthened traditional democratic architecture.

How a renewed and more digitally enhanced legislature functions must be far different than how it has done so in previous eras. The e-government transition will follow three steps: automate existing processes; identity opportunities for efficiencies; transform.

Transformation demands collaboration and more openness to information sharing – and social learning and more participatory democratic mechanisms (that formally share power) are key precursors in this regard.

November 2008 – Canadian Parliamentary Crisis
All this unstructured cacophonous Web 2. 0 traffic on websites (newspaper comment functions, blogs, Facebook groups) around the recent constitutional confrontation illustrates quite clearly that Web 2.0 has a long way to go before it can approximate the criteria for effective public discussion. But to dismiss it as too open to ever contribute to meaningful public participation would parallel much earlier criticisms about real-time public participation and democracy. I wonder whether there’s an opportunity to put together a symposium to sketch out some of the issues, frame a research agenda and start to work towards some testable solutions? If so, I think we’re in a good place in the middle of the following four quadrants to bring together a multi-disciplinary group to consider Public Participation 2.0.

In Canada, the issue of Web 2.0 in the policy formation process (other than the token use of blogs to push information out – which therefore isn’t Web 2.0) is best characterized as fearful and confused. This is partly because it’s new, and everyone is still fumbling around in the dark. It is also due to our national conservatism, our desire not to stand out from the crowd too much. But it is also a function of the growth of public affairs bureaus in governments across the country.

I will, however, agree that wikis are not appropriate for the development of public sector policy analysis and briefing documents. A wiki should only be deployed in a secure environment as a collaborative work tool, not as a forum for public comment and input.

However, a tool that holds great promise for engaging citizens, harnessing the wisdom of crowds and the power of the long tail, and in-effect crowdsourcing policy analysis is the ability of citizens to post comments to a website in response to a theme, overarching questions or proposal, coupled with the ability of other participants to rank or vote on those responses. As side benefits to the enhancement of our policy capacity, Web 2.0 will also serve to engage younger citizens, contribute to social capital formation, and point us towards a deliberative democracy. The example set by the Obama administration is leading the way, with the discussion forums underway at Change.gov. If that example persists past the initial honeymoon of the inauguration, we will all be forced to transform how we use Web 2.0 for citizen engagement whether we want to or not.
Some of these issues were sketched in the “inside/outside processes” diagram (benefits to using Web 2.0 in public participation, and some challenges):

Problem:
1. We have good theory on public participation, but limited use of advanced CMC technology to facilitate public engagement.
2. Emerging Web 2.0 – the technology is on a steep growth curve, but is currently proving very unsatisfactory for public participation approaching anything like deliberation.
3. There are a number of potential, but as of yet unproven, benefits to using Web 2.0 in public engagement.
4. A number of challenges to using Web 2.0 in public participation are evident (and others surely exist).
5. Can public participation theory better accommodate Web 2.0, and can Web 2.0 contribute to the realization of public participation objectives?

Proposed Approach:
1. Bring together theorists and practitioners in public participation with experts in Web 2.0 implementation, advocates for citizen involvement and recipients of public input (public sector knowledge managers).
2. Thematic organization of the symposium following a number of key questions.
3. Paper presentations from each perspective with commentary/reactions from others.
4. Use Web 2.0 during the symposium (twitter stream, wiki docs, blogs and comments, etc.).
5. What Web 2.0 solutions can fit the ideals of public participation and facilitate public engagement and deliberation?

Outcomes
1. Proceedings from workshop + report to funders.
a. Possible Book Project
2. Recommendations / prototypes for application of Web 2.0 tools to public participation exercises
3. Research Agenda for future work

Logistical Details:
1. Two day gathering during UVic Reading Break (February 16 – 20)
2. Central location at UVic with Multiple nodes connected by video link

Financial Details:
1. Logistic Requirements – room rental, breaks and lunches
2. Video-conferencing technology, with multiple stations for live video chat linked to remote nodes
3. Travel for presenters and discussants (is any travel necessary? Can we do the whole thing with no travel? Ubiquitous video chat?)
Stipend for workshop proceedings and report (Longo and Elwood?)

Potential Funders:
1. Government of BC –
a. Office of the Premier
b. Office of the Chief Information Officer
c. Environmental Assessment Office
d. Office of the Auditor General
2. Government of Canada
a. Canada School for Public Service
b. Fisheries and Oceans Canada
c. Environment Canada
d. Office of the Information / Privacy Commissioner

Proposed Partners:
1. Centre for Global Studies
2. Centre for Public Sector Studies
3. Ian Clark group (UofT)
4. GOV 2.0 group (Tapscott, Premier’s Office)
5. POLIS Project on Ecological Governance
6. Peggy Storey’s lab in CS
7. POLI SCI (Kroker)
8. Whitehall (eBriefings.ca), Lime Kiln

References
McAfee, Andrew P. 2006. “Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration.” MIT Sloan Management Review. Spring 2006, Vol. 47, no. 3.

Mergel, Ines A., Schweik, Charles M. and Fountain, Jane E. 2009. The Transformational Effect of Web 2.0 Technologies on Government (June 1, 2009). Accessed at SSRN on September 15 2010: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1412796

Wyld, David C. 2007. “The Blogging Revolution: Government in the Age of Web 2.0.” IBM Center for the Business of Government.

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