Anyone who thinks change is easy should try asking their partner to
change the side of the bed on which they sleep. Adjusting to the
realities of a connected world is a more dramatic challenge, and
change will take considerable time, but we should be clear about
the scale of the expected change.
As we move toward a world where we are always connected and where
any contentvoice, video, or datacan be accessed on any device at
any time, we are likely to see the relationship between citizens
and the state change and the way public services are delivered
transformed. The concept of the public sector is likely to shift to
a much wider set of actors who create public value.
In a white paper, The Connected Republic 2.0
(theconnectedrepublic.org/posts/208), Martin Stewart-Weeks and I
sought to identify some of the key aspects of this transformation.
The first principle on which we focused was the need to take a
platform approach. In a connected world, its not just a matter of
using your own resources to solve a problem; rather, it involves
creating a context that maximizes the ability of others to help you
achieve your goal. Rather than hiring more staff members to advise
citizens on their welfare entitlements, you link the many
organizations that offer this kind of help and use that network to
increase the quantity and quality of advice given to the public.
Our second principle concerned empowering the edge. When moving
information around was difficult, keeping decision making at the
center made sense because that central point was best placed both
to understand what was happening in the different parts of the
organization and to coordinate decision making and its
implementation. Today, more information than the center ever used
to have can easily be made available to local units, frontline
staff members, or even citizens, so the scope for empowerment is
huge. A veteran entitled to support from the state, rather than
receiving a standard package, can design a personal support package
and change it as his or her individual needs change.
The final principle we identified was harnessing the power of us.
By its nature, the public good holds interest for us all, but in a
connected world, tapping into peoples willingness to contribute is
much easier. We can alert the authorities to issues in our local
neighborhood via sites like www.fixmystreet.com/. We can input our
ideas on where the government might best invest to stimulate the
economy or take government data sets and mash them up in ways other
citizens might find useful. More fundamentally, we can invent new
forms of solidarity and reinject into our communities a recognition
that the state is not the only one that can create public value.
Having set out these Web 2.0influenced ideas in a white paper, we
decided to walk the talk and created a community space (www.theconnectedrepublic.
org) to bring together anyone interested in public-sector
transformation. What we learned from that experience has
deepenedour thinking considerably. One thing we got right was
implementing quicklywe didnt spend months researching the idea of a
site, refining our ideas, developing prototypes, etc. In about
three weeks, we moved from the decision to implement to a live
public site. The initial version pulled together a host of Web 2.0
toolsYouTube, del.icio.us, a Wordpress blog, Mediawiki, and a
Forums tooland demonstrated how easy they were to leverage at no
cost. The only drawback was a fragmented site with a separate
log-in for most features.
Other issues were more fundamental. The first was our traditional
mindset, which meant we wanted to put together a decent offering
before we went public. In other words, we did all of our
development before launch, when we should have put up something
incredibly rudimentary and let the users shape how the site
developed. We also did not think enough about our unique selling
pointwhy should people go to our site when there were so many other
places to go to? We never planned (or wanted) to build a community
of thousands, but even for a small community, you need to think
quite deeply about who is going to use it and why.
Last October, we relaunched the site with more emphasis on
user-generated content. Now when you go there, you can clearly see
that it is a community site, where exchanges are mutual rather than
from Cisco (or its Internet Business Solutions Group) to the world.
The site is now thankfully much more integrated, with only one
log-in, and the activity and input of each member of the community
is easily tracked (indeed, we could easily implement a person- or
tag-related RSS feed if we so wanted).
Of course, we could do much more. The next area on which we would
like to work (when we have the chance) is the community side:
making it much easier for people to find out who in their area is
also a member, who contributes the most actively, etc. A regular,
automated email summary of user activity would also be a good
addition to encourage member activity. That, of course, is the
issue. We know we get nearly two thousand visits a month from more
than one thousand different people and that we have a good core of
regular readers (many no doubt using RSS readers, so not
necessarily showing up in the statistics), but converting readers
into contributors is astonishingly difficult.
This brings me back to the beginningthe difficulty of change. I
would find it almost physically impossible to write in the margins
of a printed book, and I transferred some of that mindset to my
interaction with the screen. Even if a blog posting asked for
comments, my feeling was that I should only comment if I had
something new and interesting to say. Having created and nurtured
and looked at many other Web 2.0 sites, my approach has changed,
and my default reaction is now to share my view, however ordinary
it may seem. I am beginning to learn that conversations with
strangers can be strangely rewarding. So get involveda world of
people and new possibilities are just waiting for you.