Web 2.0 needs 'Govt 2.0' for citizen engagement

Governments urged to keep up to date with technology at Govis conference in New Zealand

Government needs to reflect the changes in communications that have resulted from Web 2.0 technology and help facilitate two-way communication between citizens.

This was the message Canadian web and "unmarketing" guru Tara Hunt, co-founder of the Citizen Agency consultancy, delivered at the Govis conference, held in Wellington, New Zealand, last week.

The Web used to be a presentation and marketing tool, but it has turned into an avenue for two-way communication, including the "bottom-up" expression of views, as well as for grassroots action, Hunt told Government Information Services conference.

Government should reflect these changes and facilitate both communication and the creation of new Internet-based businesses -- becoming a "springboard" to help people find fulfillment in their business and personal lives.

For example, Web 2.0 has revealed the great business potential embodied in the "long tail", the collectively huge number of people who share a minority interest, says Hunt. The Web has enabled whole industries to be built by putting members of this long tail in touch with one another. TradeMe is the most obvious local example.

There are significant support structures government could help build, to facilitate a "democratized distribution of information", she says. An example here would be a secure network, and interfaces to multiple platforms, that government could help create, to support these lucrative new web-based businesses, she says.

Hunt began her marketing career working for an oil and gas company, before moving into the "slow death" of advertising agency work. After this, she launched her own consultancy, Rogue Strategies, which specializes in "unmarketing". She also managed marketing for visual search firm Riya.com, before launching the Citizen Agency, with co-founder Chris Messina.

Hunt's Citizen Agency is an Internet consultancy that "specializes in developing community-centric strategies around product research, design, development and marketing".

As an example of where government could offer direct help, Hunt cites history and historical material. There is a wealth of this on New Zealand sites such as Te Ara, but no indication of how ordinary people could submit their own treasured photographs and oral histories without going through a narrow curatorial "bottleneck".

But there are practical applications too. Hunt demonstrated the power of the customer mind interacting with government with the aid of a video about a Toronto group that collectively redesigned the Toronto Transit Commission's Web site, making it more useful to people travelling around the city. TCC was most enthusiastic about the project.

Hunt was a substitute speaker for fellow blogger Kathy Sierra, who is avoiding travel after receiving death threats online.

She is also a supporter of Lawrence Lessig, who founded Creative Commons, a non-profit organization which aims to lessen intellectual property controls, so as to expand the opportunity for people to legally build upon others' work.

As a counterpoint to the Health Ministry representative Brendan Kelly's presentation, Hunt pointed to the huge amount of population data collected by government agencies, particularly health and education agencies, and asked why people don't have access to their own files.

It seems that a person's record of their health belongs not to that person but to the health provider. In some cases, this could be a life and death matter. For example, if there were concerns about a drug's side-effects, the patient concerned would probably know and be worried he or she had taken such a drug, but it might have escaped the health authorities' attention.

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Stephen Bell

Computerworld New Zealand
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