Is government a platform?

An intriguing paper by Tim O’Reilly is published in Innovation, volume 6, number 1, following its original appearance in a book entitled Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice, published by O’Reilly Media in 2010 – the paper is entitled ‘Government as a Platform‘.

Early on we have a definition of Government 2.0 -“Government 2.0, then, is the use of technology—especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0—to better solve collective problems at a city,state, national, and international level.” Which is nice to know…

O’Reilly argues on page 18 that the best way for government to promote competition and more innovation is open standards. Further, the necessity is to “establish a simple framework that makes it possible for the nation – the citizens, not just the government – to create and share useful data”, reminding us on page 25 that ‘”open by default’ is the key to the breakaway success of many of the Internet’s most successful sites”.

There is then the description of “choice architecture” described by Sunstein & Thaler in ‘Nudge’. This is an important and frequently underrated role in government when so many opportunities for participation have been and can be ruined by poorly designed forms, surveys, questionnaires and similar exercises. O’Reilly is equally assured of the importance of the role of the choice architect, for as he says on page 27 “participation means true engagement with citizens in the business of government, and actual collaboration with citizens in the design of government programs”, and again on page 34 that “it is actually systems for harnessing implicit participation that offer some of the greatest opportunities for Government 2.0”.

Rather optimistically on page 35, O’Reilly states “a Government 2.0 approach would use open government data to enable innovative private sector participation to improve their products and services”, but this is reinforced a page further on by saying “Government 2.0 requires a new approach to the design of programs, not as finished products, perfected in a congressional bill, executive order, or procurement specification, but as ongoing experiments”. This bears similarity with the agile processes currently being promoted in UK government.

The paper ends with a useful list of ten ‘Practical Steps for Government Agencies’, that I won’t repeat but which are worth recycling! Please do.


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