The knives are out for me and especially for my BlackBerry. A recent poll and a string of internal seminars on the meeting culture within my organisation ranked checking emails during meetings using a smartphone as the top ‘faux behaviour’.

I must say that at first I was annoyed with this conclusion, and even briefly felt ridiculed. But mainly I was surprised that simply the act of checking emails during meetings is considered by the great majority of my co-workers as a no-way-sir. The whole day I kept wondering why, and I couldn’t figure it out. Argument one: it’s not because I’m checking my emails that I’m not actively participating in the meeting (after all only one person at the time can speak). Argument two: my typing is not disturbing anyone, it’s silent and takes place in the palms of my hands. Are people perhaps envying my machine (and its data plan)? I grew too old to leave it this way. Time for a little research.

First some Google. A search learned me that a spirited debate about smartphone etiquette has broken out. To simplify things, traditionalists say the use of BlackBerries and iPhones in meetings is as gauche as ordering out for pizza. Techno-evangelists insist that to ignore real-time text messages in a need-it-yesterday world is to invite peril.
My guess is that the main debate is not about the technology but about the quality of the meetings.

Next some personal observations. One. As web-enabled smartphones have become standard on the belts and in the totes of executives, people in meetings around me are increasingly caving in to temptation to check e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, even (shhh) fifa.com. I’m one of them, but certainly not the only one.
Two. It almost is routine for EU officials and EU project managers to bow heads silently around a conference table — not praying — while others are speaking. I’ve been at conferences where half of the participants were BlackBerrying each other as a submeeting, with a running commentary on the primary meeting, BlackBerries have become like cartoon thought bubbles.

And some more Google. Despite resistance, the etiquette debate on the web seems to be tilting in the favor of smartphone use. I read many executives saying it. Managing directors writing they do it. Summer trainees enjoying it and still produce great work. The baseline is that a few years ago only “the investment banker types” would use BlackBerries in meetings. Now the technology is widely owned, everybody can. It spans gender and generation, private and public sectors. It’s called progress, Madam.

So, is my organisation then wrong to ban its use? It also is a fact that opposition to smartphones in meetings is fierce. The Web is full of stories like as the one about Tom Golisano, a US billionaire and power broker in New York State politics, who pushed to remove Malcolm A. Smith as the State Senate majority leader after the senator met with him on budget matters in April 2009 and spent the time reading e-mail on his BlackBerry. But was Blackberry here the real reason?

I personally had one negative experience using a BlackBerry which took place some months ago. In an effort to be efficient I took notes on BlackBerry instead of paper during a client meeting. After the meeting I got a nasty remark from the client that I spent an hour on my BlackBerry rather than listening. To soothe the client, I read aloud the notes I had taken. It worked.

There are even statistics to be found. For example, a third of more than 5,300 workers polled in May 2009 by Yahoo HotJobs, a career research and job listings Web site, said they frequently checked e-mail in meetings. Nearly 20 percent said they had been castigated for poor manners regarding wireless devices. A remarkable survey of 600 BBGeeks.com readers in May 2008 showed that 48 percent want a ban on BlackBerry devices in meetings. Half of those want the PDAs to be checked right at the door. The remainder want no rules.

Let’s study the arguments pro and contra and that apply to my personal professional situation. First the arguments in favour of using my BlackBerry in meetings.

  1. Projects and business can be won or lost, depending on how responsive you are to an e-mail message. Clients and sponsors assume they can get you anytime, anywhere. Consultants who aren’t readily available 24/7 tend to languish.
  2. Playful electronic bantering can stimulate creativity in meetings. In pitch meetings, I often traded messages on his my smartphone — jokes, ideas, questions — with colleagues, “things that you might not say out loud”.
  3. When conferences go on, chattering on the keynote speakers just seems to add to the productive energy. And it is a great opener during the coffee breaks.
  4. There is also the issue of image. In many professional circles, where connections are power, making a show of reaching out to those connections even as co-workers are presenting a spreadsheet presentation seems to have become a kind of workplace boast.
  5. I use my BlackBerry during meetings for legitimate reasons: responding to deadline requests, plumbing the Web for data to illuminate an issue under discussion or simply taking notes. A BlackBerry here objectively contributes to the purpose or goals of a meeting.

And now the arguments opposing the use of BlackBerry:

  1. I learned today that constant checking of these devices is considered rude. It’s considered stopping paying attention to someone when they are talking. This is the reason that banning BlackBerry use is considered a social rule. It is an objective fact that driving 160 kilometers an hour will decrease your travel time, but it hardly is acceptable socially.
  2. Until today I mistakenly thought that tapping is not as distracting as talking. In fact co-workers consider it to be every bit as much if not more distracting.
  3. I guess, 95% of the time what people claim to be urgent status is stuff that can wait. Unless they’re heart surgeons, or front line web people, the world can wait 20 or 30 minutes for the meeting to end for them to get to whatever it is. The web will wait. Facebook will wait. It can all wait for you if you have your things together.
  4. And above all: checking your emails is dividing attention. And partial attention generally leads to partial results. Any real meeting, where decisions are being made (e.g. not a status meeting) should require people’s full attention.

I think that this fourth argument really cuts wood. If people are voluntarily comfortable half reading e-mail and half-listening, to me it’s an indicator to me that:

  • There are too many people in the room.
  • Few decisions are being made.
  • I’m failing to facilitate the discussion to keep it on target.
  • The information being conveyed is low priority.
  • I’m wasting face-to-face time with information I could deliver in other ways.
  • If I allow this to go on, I encourage passive attention in meetings, further allowing stupid people to prattle on about low priority things, which further encourages more people to tune out.

This fourth argument is convincing if the meeting is mission critical. However, meetings are often bland and uninformative. They’re not helping you getting your work done any better, while your BlackBerry does just that. So why should you have to sit through a non-critical meeting while other, more important tasks are waiting for action?

And now we come to the core of the issue. I guess the BlackBerry use is a symptom of bad meetings, not the cause. The person running the meeting is the one to point the finger at not the person using his fingers to type emails.

I once had a diner conversation with an experienced project manager who told me that he sometimes looked forward to bland meetings because it allowed him to think through professional problems, make sketches of garden projects and plan his week just using a piece of paper. The boring atmosphere managed to get him in a zen status that relaxed his mind and it opened up. The boring meeting as a fertilizer for efficiency.

In some circles it is now getting customary for professionals to lay BlackBerries or iPhones on a conference table before a meeting — like gunfighters placing their Colt revolvers on the card tables in a saloon. It’s a not-so-subtle way of signaling ‘I’m connected. I’m busy. I’m important. And if this meeting doesn’t hold my interest, I’ve got 10 other things I can do instead.’ Now, that’s a statement.

So again, is a company policy the proper thing to do? If you consider it a social rule, I guess some formal pomp and circumstance is relevant. However, very few companies have policies on smartphone use in meetings, which leaves it up to employees to feel their way across uncertain terrain. Well let’s map the terrain for them.

  1. I agree that the rule should be that meetings should be topless. Yes, I thought otherwise this morning, but I am shifting. That’s also called progress.
  2. I think that different rules apply for in-house in-department meetings (where checking BlackBerries seems an expression of informal collegiality) and those with clients and co-workers from other departments, where the habit is likely to offend.
  3. I also guess there is safety in numbers. The acceptability of checking devices is proportional to the number of people attending the meeting. The more people there are, the less noticeable your typing will be.
  4. More and more I believe in making attendance at meetings binary. Either you are in, or you are out. If the meeting is too boring to keep your attention, then it’s a good sign to both of us that you do not need to be in the room – so get up and leave. Most meetings should be optional anyway: you don’t have to come, but don’t cry if we decide something you wanted to have input on.
  5. No rules without reasons. I think it is wrong to just ban laptops and handhelds with no explanation. Make sure to point out how important it is that the group focus on the task at hand. It’s very hard to argue with that.
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I started working on a strategy for the information society in my region – partly to sharpen the focus of my team. This is interesting because it is like a “god-simulator” game. It even is very stimulating but at the same time so wide you can easily get lost.

While working on this I already understood that there is a switch going on in information society policy. In the years 2000-2006 (the previous “programming period” of EU regional policy) the emphasis was on widening the approach from a narrow infrastructural policy to a service-centred policy.

Today I see a second change, from a supply driven policy (on both infrastructure and services) to a demand driven policy. Hence the discussions on mobile applications based on government data or understanding customer profiling for government services.

This swing is going further. Whether you talk about business, citizens or government, more and more the emphasis is on applying ICT to solve real-life problems.
In the not too distant past I regularly attended meetings where a co-worker came up with a great new idea which turned out to be a new platform or tool or functionality. And off he was specifying, building or procuring it. And nobody could or wanted to stop him, because everybody admired the ‘innovative power’ of that co-worker.
Nowaydays (and to my satisfaction) I attend meetings where that same co-worker still brings new ideas to the floor but now is challenged by a new breed of co-workers who ask “But what and whoes problem are you trying to solve?”.  And the next question usually is “How real-live is that problem?”.

I guess this corresponds to a wider socio-technical change of paradigm: in Carlota Perez’s theory of installation and deployment of technology, the age of installation is led by supply, while deployment is led by demand. The idea could be visualised as follows:

E-skills are becoming a much more important policy topic. You can easily see how people who can code are now in a stronger position to influence public policy. You’re fed up with crime you create everyblock.com. You hate people who park on the bike lane, you create mybikelane. You care about urban planning you create planningalerts. You finally want the train timetable in a handy mobile format, you write a smartphone application. You don’t need money, just coding skills, and your influencing power increases dramatically.

My organisation now has to fill in two public sector knowledge worker-related vacancies. Just imagine it was me defining the profile of the person (I’m not) what would I add to the job description and required profile? Well, I might add Web2.0 skills. But what kind of skills are these? A little fun.

Old IT competences: European Computer Driving License. Windows, Office and Explorer.

New competences (at increasing level of sophistication):

  1. Digital literacy: capacity to read and understand text and audiovisual content. This is fundamental for citizens to take full advantage of the web, as it becomes more and more important to distinguish between trustable and not trustable content. These are mostly non-technological skills.
  2. Media literacy: capacity to produce content and services based on freely available applications, such as blog, wiki, social network, and all free software which does NOT require installation. Here you take full advantage of free ad-supported software. You can publish content and create services using flickr, youtube, wordpress.com, surveymonkey, ning, uservoice;
  3. “Running a server” skills: capacity to install software on a server and customize it. Here you take full advantage of open source software. You can manage and install wordpress and ideatorrent. Most importantly, once you run these services, you free yourself from the “generosity” of ad-sponsored platforms. You own the data and are free to re-use it, while this is not the case with web-based software such as ning, facebook etc.
  4. Coding skills: you can write code, and conceive and develop cool applications (“stuff that matters”). You can create change just using your skills, with very little investment. You can reuse public data to show misbehaviours you care about. Jose Alonso of W3C put it on his blog following a European workshop on public services 2.0: “It took me 15 minutes and 20 lines of code to get the info of Spanish congress representatives from 15 HTML pages into XML, and I’m not a good programmer”.

I am level 2 with ambition to become a level 3. For example, I need an idea-storm software, but can only use uservoice.com as I have no server and would be unable to install ideatorrent on it, even if I had it. I depend on freely available software, and have no control on my data. I cannot create cool applications to mobilize and reach out. The bad news is, I don’t even know how and if I could learn some basic installing and coding skills. I do have easy access to developers around me with whom to exchange views but sometimes I simply want to check out the validity of some ideas without having to fill in Project Initiation Documents or have a string of briefing meetings.

Strangely, I see many level 4 people around me, but who took programming classes and degrees and jumped from 0 to 4 without 1 and 2. Hence my idea of these requirements as stepping stone needs. A level 4 without a level 2 is not what we are looking for.

I’m increasingly convinced that any public body should have these competences in-house (or have access to them). ICT is back as a strategic tool, not a commodity. And with free web-based and open source software available, the added value of having internal competence is huge. A department with no IT budget and one developer can easily outstrip another with 1mio IT budget outsourced and no in-house developers.

Or maybe, should every individual have this competences? Should we teach basic programming skills to everyone, at least at the level identified by Jose Alonso? Finally a vision on raising my children (pun intended). Perhaps an as valid alternative approach is the social innovation camp, which brings together developers with ideas, so that you can build “cool and useful” solutions even if you can’t develop.

In any case, the lack of adequate skills is becoming an increasing problem and the impact of the divide is widening. Does this call for policy action? Joint projects? Or is it the responsibility of the individual (like being able to perform at least two ballroom dancing techniques).

Afterthought: Someone once pointed me at the need to disseminate computational thinking, which is yet another perspective: the capacity to understand how computer works and what you can do with them. It’s like understanding how white bread messes up your sugar levels in your blood and eventually lets you eat more. Didn’t I tell you post was fun to write?

In my government organisation we slowly and prudently are working to open up governmental data to other organisations, companies and the public. We do this for four reasons:

  1. First, a lot of energy, time and money is lost of governmental organisations hiding ‘their’ information forcing others to build similar databases.
  2. Two, a lot of opportunities are to be gained if data is entered, made available, processed and consulted using shared services.
  3. Three, the openness to iterative and collaborative experimentation and improvement that is characteristic of many Web 2.0 initiatives is one of the web’s deep lessons and, potentially, contains the means to transform our understanding and experience of governance.
  4. Four, government workers (how smart, well-educated and open-minded they can be) never will come up with the ‘killer application’ that will collectively be embraced by citizens. I’ve seen it so many times: civil servants sitting together in brainstorm sessions, knowing they have all means and technology available, fully understanding the data they have and then looking at the white board for inspiration. Some look at it as rabbits at night look at a light. Others see great solutions that sounded great, are great but greatly miss their target audience. Strange, I’ve been part of such meetings several times in my career. It is like a dark cloud that suddenly appears in front of our eyes and blurs the view.

Fortunately, there is good news. For the first time in modern industrial society, thanks to current Web2.0 technology, governments have the chance to realise the potential embodied in Bill Joy‘s observation that there will always be more smart people outside government than within it. And perhaps, in view of the scale and complexity of the challenges faced in the early 21st century, perhaps there has never been a more urgent time to realise this latent, distributed potential.

As said in the introduction: in this domain my organisation moves slowly, carefully and (that is the good news) also patiently. And (that’s the best news) determined.

But some are not that prudent. And that is a good thing. I am personally intrigued and inspired by the 2009 citizen’s initiative prior to the November 2009 EU ministerial declaration of e-Government. This Open Declaration deserves our attention and already earned my support. I try to summarise their statement:

VISION:

“We believe that the European Union has a tremendous opportunity to rebuild the relationship between citizens and the state by opening up public institutions and by empowering citizens to take a more active role in public services and in public decision-making.”

Thought: Perhaps the regions around the North Sea (including the Scandination countries) might take a lead here (not to lead but to inspire).

GOAL:

“We want to be able to give input on and monitor government activities as they being designed, deliberated upon, implemented, and reviewed; for all types of activity, from legislation, where law proposals should be published at an early stage, to government spending where each spending decision should be published with clear and open rationale.”

Thought: As I said, the full monty. Working in a public organisation myself with politicians taking key decisions, this is like swearing in church. As a citizen it makes sense.

APPROACH:

“Public institutions should seek out the contribution of citizens not only to provide feedback and accountability, but to assist in deliberating, delivering, monitoring and accessing policy, because harnessing the salient knowledge and experience of individuals dispersed through the community will strengthen policy outcomes.”

Thought: Keyword one is “seek out” which is active rather than passive. Keyword two is “citizens assist in”. Not so sure about the second however.

CONCRETE: The document invites Member States and the Commission to adopt, the principles of Transparency, Openness, Collaborativness, Pivacy and Responsability:

  1. Transparency Principle: all public sector organisations should provide the public with a live stream of information on all aspects of their operations and decision-making processes.
  2. Openness Principle: The whole spectrum of government information, from draft legislation to budget data, should be made simple for citizens to discover, access, understand, reuse, and remix; releasing data swiftly, in open standard- and machine-readable format, thereby allowing third parties to monitor government and provide services more in line with users needs, and ensuring that the data is continuously available and continuously up to date.
  3. Collaborative Principle: Citizens should be able to share feedback and insight on public services publicly with other fellow citizens, civil servants, and governors in fluid peer-to-peer conversations, and to help each other in making the most of these services.
  4. Privacy Principle: Although Privacy and Openness superficially seem to be in contrast with each other the authors recognise that the honesty of feedback is sometimes only possible if the citizen are sure their input cannot be tracked back. For that reason they want government to ensure that the minimum amount of personal information is used and retained in providing those services to citizens.
  5. Responsability Principle: Every person should have the tools to trackback every decision taken by members of the government.

APPLYING TO: The document expects those principles to be applied to the following data:

  1. Government data: All information created by public institutions, must be public and easily accessible by citizenship. All information released by public sector organisations should be released in machine searchable ways to ensure maximum public value is gained from it.
  2. Government legislation: All legislation and all planned legislation should be released electronically in web-accessible formats that make it easy for citizens to refer to, comment on, and link to particular paragraphs within proposals.
  3. Government Spending: All government spending, at every level of the Government should be available for monitor and discussion in a paragraph based format.
  4. Publicly-held data sets: Except where there are genuine and insurmountable privacy issues, governments should look to share publicly-held data sets wherever possible.

TECHNOLOGY: All the data and software provided must be non plattform dependent, that means every citizen can use it from any Operating System or device with Internet access.

Gov2.0 is also about participation of citizens and engagement. However, if one has a look at existing applications (browser-based or mobile) I usually have a problem with them. One of my main concerns about current applications for collaborative governance and participation is their high costs of engagements. They are still designed for people that are really interested.

In a way, we can compare these applications to the classic game platforms, such as XBOX and Playstation, which are designed for hard-core gamers, while new platforms such as WII and iphone games aim to involve the casual player. We need the WII of participation.

Of course, web2.0 applications have already made huge steps in making e-participation tools easier and more usable, but still work needs to be done to engage “the second wave of users”. Fortunately research is going on to make participations easier, less costly, more interesting and relevant. And application-builders and government people involved have open views on this. Some thoughts on the matter.

Maybe we should consider Context Awareness. I guess that Context Awereness could significantly reduce the costs of participation, and therefore facilitating it. We should not expect people to suddenly become participative citizens because it is a good in itself, but because it is practically useful in each specific situation (the long tail of participation).

Firstly some use cases. Context can have very different determining variables. Depending on my current situation (where I am, what I am doing, what I am reading etc.), I should be offered information on specific decisions being taken that could affect me.

1. For example, location-based participation services could be provided, so that when entering a public space (a park, a library…) I am informed of the changes that have been proposed (a proposal to reduce the number of art-books in the library). I could provide my view on the spot, both qualitative (suggestions) and quantitative (voting). I could also see what other users suggested and commented about the service I am using.

2. Another way to ensure context-awareness is through taste-sharing tools. Just as Amazons builds on users’ data to suggest new books (customer who bought this also bought), e-participation tools such as debategraph could suggest “policy issues”. Citizens who engaged in this discussion also were interested in”. This makes it possible to leverage users’ intelligence to ensure better relevance (and less costs) of participation. Technologically, this requires algorithms that build patterns out of users behaviour.

Certainly these tools require better structured data to ensure interoperability, in a way or another, so that information such as taste, choices, location is made available across platforms. But that is engineering work.

Does this make any sense?

I don’t always dare to bring up Web2.0 in public administration with my co-workers. The IT-nurtured colluagues see it as The New Waffle From Management, the project managers and process analysts consider it as Another Attempt To Change Specifications Midcourse and those with society/community background eagerly will point at the definitions war that still is going on.

But I think Web2.0 in public administration actually is very simple. So for your convenience and being at risk to be labelled The Waffling Spec-Changing Definition Mixer my first attempt in defining key recommendations for Web2.0 in public administration.

A: DO NO HARM
1. don’t hyper-protect public data from re-use
2. don’t launch large scale “facade” web2.0 project
3. don’t forbid web 2.0 in the workplace
4. let bottom-up initiatives flourish as barriers to entry are very low

B: ENABLE OTHERS TO DO
5. publish reusable and machine readable data (XML, RSS, RDFa) > see W3C work
6. adopt web-oriented architecture
7. create a public data catalogue

C: ACTIVELY PROMOTE
8. ensure pervasive broadband
9. create e-skills in and outside government: digital literacy, media literacy, web2.0 literacy, programming skills
10. fund bottom-up initiatives through public procurement, awards
11. reach out trough key intermediaries trusted by the community
12. listen, experiment and learn-by-doing

And may I also suggest
D. MINIMIZE CODE
13. don’t duplicate
14. deploy, then customize
15. let the community steer development

In earlier posts I tried to identify the major differences between web1.0 and 2.0, and came up with ‘different values’. I illustrated this with the case of eGovernment. In this post I would like to explore this case further. What could be a clear difference between Gov1.0 to Gov2.0?

Perhaps first a reality check. Statistics show that take-up of Gov20 applications is not euh dramatic. Even the best applications don’t see people queuing to participate and engage. Speaking with open-minded civil servants learns me that they ‘see from which direction the light comes from but can’t pinpoint it’. It is of course early day but nevertheless I guess that the impact is higher than the numbers of users show. Why is this?

I think that Gov2.0 generates (will generate) change because it acts on LEVERAGES, rather than simply “push” or “pull”. Let me summarize some of them, collected from discourses in the blogosphere:

  • it puts to use Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus, where people rather than spending hourse watching TV they edit Wikipedia entries.
  • it exploits personal vanity and desire of recognition by peers (such as wikipedia)
  • it opens the possibility for very narrow products/services/skills to be used: the long tail
  • it augments the impact of data, through better visualisation. For example consider the different impact between a list of restaurant inspections by the US health authorities, and the mapping done by the US everyblock.com (For Boston: http://boston.everyblock.com/restaurant-inspections/).
  • it exposes government behaviour through many-to-many feedback mechanisms: consider the difference between traditional customer complaints procedure and the service of patientopinion.com

Or to quote Tom Steinberg (mySociety.org): “It’s about pressure points, chinks in the armour where improvements might be possible, whether with the consent of government or not”. These armour chinks usually cover a small surface compared with the whole armour, but act as leverages.

Traditionally, in analyzing the impact of ICT two major categories are used: “driving” and “enabling”. The first (driving) to indicate contexts where ICT “pushes” changes by creating new opportunities; the second (enabling) is about existing needs and challenges pulling technological development. Yet I’m sure that we also should look for the main impact of ICT is when it acts on leverage points.

It might seem a bit vague but this this three-fold distinction becomes visible for example when I discuss new functionalities, planned applications or new e-govprojects with my team.

  1. Some clearly see ICT as responding to needs or departments. And even if ICT itself is not the issue in a specific project, at least it can help by launching its wide range of methodologies to define requirements and to increase the understanding of what departments need to analyse information streams and processes.
  2. Others look at the new technology and dream about what it could be used for. This usually makes the advocates of the first approach unhappy (“There they go again”).
  3. The third group twists it and turns it upside down. For them technology is not their issue, nor is proper data analysis or information management. It is the impact on people’s lives and impact from people on government that keeps them going on. As this strangely is the strongest when it is pinpointed to small ‘pressure points’.

Which of course opens many questions, such as: how can leverage effect be captured by existing models of measurement of ICT impact?

Is Web2.0 about values?

Posted: March 29, 2010 in Gov20
Tags: , , , , ,

I see a consensus around that web2.0 is about values rather than tech. I recently read Pekka Himanen, the Hacker Ethic, and realized that the values of web2.0 are exactly the same that he describes very effectively: openness, mutual sharing, passion, creativity, peer review, fun, rejection of hierarchies.
Himanen writes:

”we have seen how this model (hacker) can create great things in the cyberspace without the mediation of companies and government. It remains to be seen which great things the direct collaboration of individuals can do in our “flesh and bones” reality”.

Web1.0 was Geocities with 250.000 personal homepages, while Web2.0 is 70 million blogs. It’s a difference in scale that generates a difference in nature. A quantitative difference that generates a qualitative difference.

That’s the same about the underlying values. Web2.0 is the hackers’ values, being taken up not by a group of geeks, but by a generation of people. And that makes a lot of difference.

I guess, there lies the big difference between traditional IT tools and web2.0. Let’s take the example of eGovernment. I think e-government did not deliver its objectives because it required organisational and cultural change. It tried to impose it from the outside in without providing the incentives to change. Government should have become citizen-centric as a prerequisite to take advantage of IT investment. Web2.0 instead generates cultural change: projects like patientopinion, farmsubsidy, fixmystreet and theyworkforyou act on the incentives (the leverages, the chinks in the armour) for government change by exposing government behaviour.

Companies somehow have to be customer-oriented because they are profit seeking, but government always struggled to be citizen-centric because they lacked the incentives to do so, perhaps largely because of being a monopolist. The impact of web2.0 in government can be larger than in business because it finally provides an incentive to make government citizen-oriented. This incentive is transparency and the deriving public blame/praise.

How ‘cool’ should government websites be? Shoud Gov2.0 websites be ‘cool’? First of all, a lot of Web 2.0 projects in public services are ‘cool’. Don’t ask me to define this ‘coolness’. I guess it is an attribute given by the users of the Web 2.0 application, rather than by the government itself.

When I work on Web2.0 projects and I am asked by civil servants if the cool effect (and ‘waw factor’) should be a key attribute, I tend to cool this down. I would like to have projects discuss the sustainability, the take-up, in other words the real weight of Gov2.0. I would like to showcase projects that are both doing something with government date and are delivering. Governmental e-projects should be professional and well managed. Which (believe me) is more difficult than building cool tools and having ideas.

It’s the old saying of Thomas Alva Edison: “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” Well perhaps it should be a little more than 10 percent, but any Gov2.0 project still is nothing without professionalism and commitment.

I sometimes feel that I spend too much time on speeches trying to convince peope to try a different approach. My message is: there are many good examples out there that don’t need much money. The only thing missing now are excuses. Usually my presentations go well, I get good participation and positive feedback. But I have to admit that more and more I can’t help being disappointed.

My secret agenda is to make a difference. I want to shock and to inspire action. But at the end of these ‘best practice meetings’ I see little of this. I come away tired, with the feeling that nothing will change. Yet another talk, and little action.

Perhaps I should change my approach. The problem is the format. Speeches are not enough. We need live collaboration, hands-on action. We need clear output, new projects being designed and implemented on the moment. I believe this will be more impactful. I will give a short speech of max 30 mins, and then animate a collaborative workshop for building gov20 solutions. Participants will bring a problem or a project idea, and together we will work out how to address it in a Gov20 way.

(Underlying I guess I feel the need to step down and enforce some cultural change myself, even on a small scale.)