What is Gov 2.0?


Gov 2.0 is a phrase that refers to the adoption of new online technologies by governments in an effort to usher in a greater level of democracy and participation in government. The phrase Gov 2.0, like its forebear Web 2.0, was popularised by Tim O’Reilly, whose O’Reilly Media hosted the first Gov 2.0 Expo in 2010. While many governments are actively participating in the move towards more online integration and participation, this does not mean that Gov 2.0 has been accurately defined, and there are lots of different opinions and ideas floating around about how governments can best serve and involve their citizens in the internet age.

The lack of a clear definition of the phrase is partly a result of Gov 2.0 becoming a buzzword, in common with anything else that has ‘2.0’ tacked onto the end of it (see also Library 2.0, Medicine 2.0, Publishing 2.0, Enterprise 2.0…). As a consequence, the phrase has become widely used without ever having a fixed meaning. Even Web 2.0, which was officially declared the ‘millionth word’ in the English language in 2009, does not have a simple, fixed definition, and debate still rages about what it really means.

Broadly speaking, Gov 2.0 refers to the application of social media platforms and other forms of online collaboration to government, in order to facilitate more direct participation from citizens and businesses, and also a higher level of government transparency.

As one of the most prominent figures in the world of Gov 2.0, Tim O’Reilly defines it as the “idea of the government as platform: how can government design programs to be generative, building frameworks that enable people to build new services of their own.”. O’Reilly sees Gov 2.0 as a way of “harnessing a highly motivated and diverse population not just to help [politicians] get elected, but to help them do a better job.”. The ultimate aim of Gov 2.0 is to transform government into an open platform that smooths the path to innovation and allows the collective actions of citizens to be coordinated like never before.

The Open Government Directive, which was introduced in the US in 2009, requires federal agencies to take steps towards greater transparency, collaboration, and participation. While most of these plans have yet to be implemented, it does hint at the intended direction of the US government on this issue. The progress of these plans has been slowed to a certain extent by bureaucracy, the economic and military pressures that the US has been facing, and also the reaction to the ‘radical openness’ of Wikileaks in 2010.

Perhaps the first example of the movement towards promoting government openness through technology came when Carl Malamud put data from the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) online, using a small grant from the National Science Foundation and some servers from Google chairman Eric Schmidt, then head of technology at Sun Microsystems. Since then, Malamud has continued to his mission to bring greater transparency to government institutions using the web, via websites such as Law.gov and House.Resources.org.

So while we can see that the ideas behind Gov 2.0 have been kicking around for much longer than the buzzword itself, it is clear that the widespread adoption of web-based technologies in developed nations has brought a new momentum to the idea of open government. Over the next few years, we will see many of these concepts be put into practice for the first time, with both positive and negative consequences. While the process of switching to a more open, technology based government is hardly newsworthy, we can expect some of the consequences of that move to be very big news indeed.