Dissertation Proposal – Policy Analysis 2.0

Policy Tweets and Facebook.Gov: Assessing the Impact of Gov2.0 and Organizational Social Networks on Knowledge Sharing and Horizontal Collaboration in the Internal-to-Government Policy Formulation Process

Abstract: This research is aimed at describing the modern policy formulation environment and processes of knowledge sharing and collaboration amongst public sector policy workers, assessed in the context of several emerging factors: increasing adoption of Gov2.0 technology, evolving social network structures, evolving norms of practice amongst individual policy analysts and shifting organizational dynamics. Using mixed methods, the research will be undertaken across three perspectives: the individual policy analyst, the policy unit perspective and the horizontal, cross-governmental policy network perspective. The objective is the development of a theory of Gov2.0-supported policy formulation and a description of the “PolicyAnalyst2.0”.

Research Questions

  • How are contemporary policy analysts building on their organizational social networks, through traditional structures and pathways in addition to using new Web2.0 communication tools, in order to locate new knowledge sources, and finding colleagues across the organization and beyond to share knowledge and collaborate with in order to develop robust solutions to complex policy issues?
  • What conditions and factors explain and can predict successful collaboration and effective knowledge sharing in internal policy formulation processes?
  • What defines knowledge sharing and collaboration effectiveness in defined policy units?
  • What factors influence the ability of actors in different organization units to successfully collaborate with government policy network colleagues on horizontal governance challenges?

Gov2.0 has emerged in recent years as a sub-domain of the digital government / e-government literature and a development of note in both the practice of public sector governance (Eggers, 2005) and as a technological and cultural phenomenon (Gøtze and Pedersen, 2009). The use of Web2.0 technologies and methods by government and in governance settings is an issue of growing interest, and is a research area with multiple facets (Osimo, 2008). The interest is largely focused on the use of the Internet as a democratic enabling mechanism and citizen engagement platform (Chadwick, 2009). The impact of Web2.0 on e-service delivery is also an issue of emerging focus (Dutil et al., 2010) and the contribution of these tools to internal administrative functions has begun to receive some attention (e.g., Martin, Reddington and Kneafsey, 2009). These uses are certainly important features of Gov2.0. However, the focus of this present research is on internal–to–government knowledge sharing and collaboration as part of the policy formulation process and how the adoption of Web2.0 tools is affecting the policy analysis environment.

This research focuses on a part of this matrix of public sector governance activities that is labelled here as “policy formulation” (Howlett and Ramesh, 1995). This particular term is used purposefully here, with precision, to distinguish the activities of concern from the larger policy process. My approach follows from Anderson’s (1975) definition of policy formulation as involving “the development of pertinent and acceptable proposed courses of action for dealing with public problems” (p.53). And the term “formulation” is explicitly used here to distinguish it from the more-expansive “policy formation” process, which appears in the literature as synonymous with “the policy process”. Limiting the scope to policy formulation leads us to focus on the early stages of the policy process: from apprehension of the policy problem (“problem definition”), through to the consideration of alternatives (“solution analysis” and “option evaluation”) and terminating with a decision.

This research is focused on three groups of public servants in the B.C. Government, with a mix of methods used to draw insights from respondents. These questions will be addressed from three perspectives: the individual analyst, the policy unit and the horizontal policy network.

  • The individual policy analyst perspective: the research objective is the determination of the effectiveness of “policy analysts” in locating knowledge sources and building collaboration networks both within and outside their formal work structure, and assessing whether their use of Gov2.0 technology is instrumental in those activities.

  • From the policy unit perspective, the interest is in how formal workgroups – typically labeled “policy units” – effectively use organizational social networks and Gov2.0 technology to structure and accomplish the work assigned to them. Taking this approach, the objective of the research from this perspective will be to describe the conditions and workgroup characteristics that support the adoption of Gov2.0 technology in policy unit deployments, and develop criteria to guide its effective use in such settings.

  • In order to assess the horizontal policy network perspective, a case study of the Water Act Modernization (WAM) Process will focus on semi-structured interviews with key WAM Process individuals and seek to identify characteristics of effective knowledge sharing and collaborative Gov 2.0 organization.

Work in Progress

The research is focused on three groups of public servants in the B.C. Government, with a mix of methods used to draw insights from respondents. These questions will be addressed from three perspectives: the individual policy analyst, the policy unit perspective and with a horizontal policy network. The data collection phase of my research (the individual and policy unit perspectives) was undertaken during December 2011, and the WAM case study interviews are to be conducted in April 2012. From the bottom-up perspective (as between individual policy analysts), the research activity will involve a web-based questionnaire to be completed by “policy analysts” in the B.C. public service involved in policy formulation processes. From the mid-level perspective, qualitative data will be collected through semi-structured interviews with members of “policy units” that typically serve the corporate interests of individual ministries. From the horizontal policy network perspective, more loosely guided semi-structured interviews will be conducted with key WAM Process individuals. Interviews will be fully transcribed and analyzed based on code and retrieve techniques (codes based on descriptive concepts as revealed by respondents) including pattern analysis; conceptual mapping; and mixed quantitative / qualitative analysis.

Expected Contributions

A central interest of my research agenda is to describe how Gov2.0 is affecting the policy formulation process, and to investigate how collaborative technology in a corporate policy analysis environment might be put to more effective use. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for Gov2.0 – and it has emerged from a range of sources: from political actors who have used social networking services to connect with their constituencies (Westling, 2007) and engage in “social listening” (Slobin and Cherkasky, 2010), to the coalition of bureaucratic, political and non-government actors who are promoting the “open data” agenda (Longo, 2011). Part of the support for Gov2.0 – and, again, the focus of this research – reflects its potential as a knowledge management tool applied to the policy formulation process within public sector organizations (see Karacapilidis, Loukis and Dimopoulos, 2005 for a pre-Web2.0 perspective).

Popular books such as Wikinomics (Tapscott and Williams, 2006) and Enterprise 2.0 (MacAfee, 2009) hold out the promise that Web2.0 processes and technologies can fundamentally improve collaborative work environments. Governments are beginning to experiment with Gov2.0 in part as a way of improving policy analysis capacity and improving the policy formulation process. While adopting a Gov2.0 approach within government is relatively inexpensive, it is by no means free (even if the software may be) and carries with it its own risks. Those costs and risks largely relate to management of human resources within the public service, and the effective management of the policy process as a core function of government. In the absence of understanding how organizational networks currently collaborate to formulate policy, and how the introduction of Gov2.0 tools might affect that environment, investment in Gov2.0 could have unforeseen consequences or represent an inefficient allocation of resources.

This research views the horizontal collaboration challenge as a knowledge sharing and collaboration-seeking exercise, with a focus on the factors that predict effective whole-of-government collaboration efforts. Given the newness of the technology and the complexity of the horizontal governance environment, an assessment of the effect of Enterprise2.0 technology on collaboration exercises and identification of optimal deployment and use characteristics will rely on the qualitative observations of participants in such exercises where the use of Enterprise2.0 technologies exists in a tangential or peripheral sense, and where the discrete contribution of that technology to the overall collaboration exercise can be reasonably disentangled.

The purpose of this research is to provide contextual understanding of the policy formulation process and an assessment of the impact of new Gov2.0 approaches in order to provide guidance for future implementation of Gov2.0 in internal public sector policy formulation processes. The research responds to three contemporary challenges in public administration:

  1. As governments continually deal with budget constraints, innovative technologies will increasingly be presented as cost-effective ways to improve service delivery, engage citizens and make the business of government more efficient. Ensuring the effective use of these new technologies requires a robust understanding of the setting in which these tools are intended to be used.
  2. The Government of British Columbia, like other organizations and other settings, faces a looming demographic challenge with many long-time civil servants set to retire in the coming years. Gov2.0 (as described here) is an attempt to address the shortcomings of previous knowledge management (KM) systems and harness the power of Web2.0 platforms for capturing tacit knowledge and sharing knowledge across organizations.
  3. In an era of increasingly complex governance challenges, with organizational structures still rooted in public administration traditions over a century old, this proposal views collaborative policy formulation as an important response to policy complexity. The term collaboration represents an evolution of the literature that includes such terms as horizontal governance, holistic governance, joined-up government, cross-cutting policy issue management, coherent and cohesive policy responses, coordination and integration between government agencies, and knowledge management and knowledge sharing across and between governments (6, 2004).

References

[1] Chadwick, A. 2009. “Web 2.0: New Challenges for the Study of E-Democracy in an Era of Informational Exuberance”. I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, Vol. 5, no.1, pp. 9 – 41.

[2] Cook, Niall. 2008. Enterprise 2.0: How Social Software will Change the Future of Work. London: Ashgate.

[3] Dutil, Patrice, Cosmo Howard, John Langford, Jeffrey Roy. 2010. “Will Web 2.0 Change Everything.” Chapter 6 in The Service State: Rhetoric, Reality and Promise. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

[4] Eggers, William D. 2005. Government 2.0: Using Technology to Improve Education, Cut Red Tape, Reduce Gridlock, and Enhance Democracy. Rowman & Littlefield. http://www.manhattan-institute.org/government2.0/

[5] Gøtze, J. and C. B. Pedersen. 2009. State of the EUnion: Government 2.0 and Onwards. http://21gov.net/wp-content/uploads/e-book.pdf

[6] Karacapilidis, N., Loukis E., and Dimopoulos S. (2005). “Computer-supported G2G collaboration for public policy and decision making.” Journal of Enterprise Information Management, Vol. 18, No 5, 2005, pp. 602-624.

[7] Longo, Justin. 2011. “#OpenData: Digital-Era Governance Thoroughbred or New Public Management Trojan Horse? Public Policy and Governance Review. Vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 38-51. Spring 2011.

[8] Martin, Graeme, Martin Reddington and Mary Beth Kneafsey. 2009. Web 2.0 and Human Resource Management: ‘Groundswell’ or hype?. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. http://thetrainer.typepad.co.uk/files/cipd-march-09-report-on-web-2-for-hr.pdf

[9] McAfee, Andrew. “Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration.” MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2006, Vol.47, No.3.

[10] Osimo, David. 2008. “Web 2.0 in Government: Why and How?” Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

[11] Slobin, A. and Cherkasky, T. 2010. “Ethnography in the Age of Analytics.” Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, 2010: 188–198. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1559-8918.2010.00017.x/abstract

[12] Westling, M. 2007. Expanding the Public Sphere: The Impact of Facebook on Political Communication. Society 28, no. May: 835-860. http://www.thenewvernacular.com/projects/facebook_and_political_communication.pdf

[13] 6, Perri (2004). “Joined-Up Government in the Western World in Comparative Perspective: A Preliminary Literature Review and Exploration”. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: J-PART (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press) 14: pp103-138.

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