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Government 2.0 – a Product Manager’s Perspective

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David is currently Product Marketing Manager, and previously Product Manager, at Objective Corporation  (www.objective.com), a leading provider of Content, Collaboration and Process Management solutions for the Public Sector. He is a a Technology Evangelist, a Government 2.0 Pragmatist, a wannabe photographer and a half decent organic gardener. Follow David on Twitter (@DavidJEade) or through his blog (blog.davidjeade.com).” David has written an insightful guest blog post on the topic of Government 2.0

Openness. Engagement. Collaboration.

Just before Christmas last year, the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce – a collection of experts and entrepreneurs from government, academia, business and cultural institutions – delivered it’s final report on the potential benefits to Government and it’s Citizens of open public sector information and online engagement.

Despite not being the first Government to embark on such an initiative (the UK Government commissioned a similar report back in 2007), the work of the Australian taskforce has received many commendations from analysts and governments worldwide.

The report, it’s findings and recommendations and the examples from which it draws inspiration hold, I believe, a number of lessons for us as Product Managers in both the public sector but also in the wider commercial and not-for-profit worlds.

What is Government 2.0?

I have written a lengthy post on Government 2.0 on my personal blog, providing some extremely interesting examples on how Governments around the world are engaging their citizens, and how Citizens and the Private Sector are adding value to data being made available by Governments.

“There’s a whole new model emerging where we become part of the government. I call it Government 2.0 … This is a very profound change. I’m not talking about people lobbying outside parties influencing government … I’m talking about unbundling and reconstituting what is a government”. Don Tapscott

 The Three Pillars of Government 2.0

Firstly, Government 2.0 is about Transparency and Openness. It’s about government agencies making available information about their operations and decisions.

Proposed federal government legislation flips the default switch on the disclosure of government documents from ‘closed’ to ‘open’. But it’s more than simply making documents available online for the purposes of transparency. It’s about opening up datasets, both structured and unstructured, in order that groups outside of Government can innovate with and add value to that data.

Secondly, Government 2.0 is about Participation. It’s about providing citizens with increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and in return providing government to tap into the collective expertise of their constituents.

Thirdly, Government 2.0 is about Collaboration. It’s about Government agencies using innovative tools to collaborate amongst themselves across all levels of government, with the private sector, with not-for-profit organizations and with private individuals.

What Can we as Product Managers Learn?

There are a number of lessons we can learn from the drive towards Government 2.0 – both in terms of the experiences that the early adopters have had, and in terms of how we interact with our communities – both internal and external.

 1. Openness Drives Innovation

Over the past year, the arrival of government data stores like data.gov, data.gov.uk and data.australia.gov.au have generated a huge amount of innovation in the developer community. As I’ve highlighted in this post, useful applications have been built with government data that would never have seen the light of day had it not been for both the willingness of governments to share the data and the enthusiasm and creativity of the user community to consume and re-purpose that data.

Hopefully, this is not new news to most of you. There are many great examples of products built with an open architecture that have generated huge amounts of innovation within the associated developer community.

That’s functionality that benefits your customer community that you as a product manager don’t need to worry about scheduling and which your organization doesn’t need to resource. Of course, some user conceived innovations might eventually make it into your product – with the knowledge that they are already solving real and acknowledged problems in your customer base.

2. Motivated Users Will Build What They Need

In the landmark paper, Government Data and the Invisible Hand, highlighting the many benefits of the notion of ‘Government as a Platform’, the authors make the assertion that governments should stop investing in web applications that present any given data set in a given and preconceived way since these applications rarely meet the needs of the majority. They should instead focus on providing the raw data in an open and standards based way to enable user communities to use that data in any way they see fit.

A great example of this the Birmingham City Council website in the UK. The site cost GBP 2.8 million (AU$4.9 million) and took a number of years to produce. It was met with a backlash from the citizens due to both teething problems and usability issues. So much so, that a group of local web developers decided to implement their own version of the site, BCCDIY.com, scraping information from the original, and presenting it in a way that better served the needs of the community. The initial version was up and running in days and cost almost nothing.

It serves as a valuable lesson to us. Our customer communities are now much more able to self organise and, if your product allows (see 1), build the functionality that they want. Of course, market intimacy and regular customer contact should ensure that you as product managers know what those needs are well before they need to do that.

3. Social Media Tools Assists with Market Intimacy

Government is already using social media tools to not only communicate with, but also to listen to the needs of its citizens. There are many examples of tweets from frustrated constituents being received and acted upon by councils and the like. But Government can do more. The (free to download) movie UsNow provides some great examples of web communities that government could tap into to better understand the needs of its citizens’, provide valuable input to those citizens and co-design services with them.

Paul Gray’s recent post on Social Media Tools for Product Marketers together with the contributions from our own community at the recent Product Talk in Sydney, provide a great collection of tools and ideas for using social media tools to tap into the collective voices of your target communities. Great examples of ‘fishing where the fish are’.

In addition you might want to consider providing innovative tools to your customers, partners and internal staff to allow them to easily provide product suggestions that will make your product better. A recent guest post on this blog highlighted one such tool to enable this, Kindling, another is UserVoice.

Of course, suggestion popularity should only ever be one determining factor,  but, contrary to the views of one recent blogger, it’s an important one, especially for those organizations that pride themselves on customer retention and reference-ability.

In Conclusion

Government 2.0 will affect us all as citizens. It will affect the way we interact with and become part of our Government. It will likely increase accountability of Government and lead to a public service ‘far more focused on evidence based decision making’. It provides unparalleled opportunities for private sector innovation with public data, and, for us as Product Managers, it provides more than a few lessons in harnessing and satisfying ‘the crowd’.

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