Open Data and Social Media Government

Andrea DiMaio writes — Why Do Governments Separate Open Data and Social Media Strategies? — about the need to merge open data strategies and social media strategies. He there complains about open data and social media strategies being treated as independent ones, which he believes to be actually related one to the other one.

I not only believe they should go altogether and hand in hand, but that their interaction defines different ways of understanding government or education. It always helps me to draw things and see what see what comes out of it:

Traditional communication Social Media
Closed data

4-year-term Democracy
Plutocracy
(I)

Populism, Suffragism
Oclocracy, 5th Estate
(II)

Open data Transparency, Accountability
4th Estate, Aristocracy, Goverati
(III)
Participation, engagement
Collaboration, cooperation
(IV)

Case I is definitely what we do have nowadays in most modern democracies: a democracy based on 4- (or 5-) years time span between elections, increasingly ruled by plutocracies bound to the economic powers.

Case II is common in plutocracies willing to be seen as cool. They “engage in the conversation” but, without the required information to feed a true democracy, it finally becomes a dialogue of the deaf. The governments perform populist acts and the masses believe they will be heard by shouting out the louder.

Case III is a genuine approach to openness, transparency and accountability. Nevertheless, without the proper communication channels, data can only be used (then exploited) by the “best” (in an elitist sense of the word), hence the ones that can interpret them and make their feedback get to the governments (the Goverati in its worst meaning).

Last, Case IV, is what we should we be aiming to. I definitely avoided labelling it Government 2.0 because it is surely not the “2.0” what matters, but its components: participation, engagement, collaboration, cooperation… all in all, democracy in its purest sense.

In fact, it is just another way to thoroughly look at e-Government, which means Government enhanced by means of Information and Communication Technologies. Or, if you prefer it, enhanced by means of Information (data, open data) and Communication (Social Media) Technologies.

Will the iPad pave the path towards e-Government? A comment to Andrea DiMaio

Andrea DiMaio has recently published two posts — Apple’s iPad Could Do For Governments More than the One-Laptop-Per-Child, Could the iPad Redefine Public Service Delivery? — about the hypothetical impact that the new device by Apple, the iPad, will have on e-Government and citizen participation in general. My point is not to show disagreement — I agree more than disagree with DiMaio’s statements — but to (a) put a grain of salt and, especially, (b) to move the focus from the device towards the concepts.

And I’ll begin with a strong agreement: the iPad is very likely to do more than the One-Laptop-Per-Child, just because the OLPC is doing very little for education, as I think is clearly explained in the Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education monograph. But it is also possible that the iPad will do as little as the OLPC, just because it’s not about devices.

Pieter Verdegem co-authored two interesting articles — User-centered E-Government in practice: A comprehensive model for measuring user satisfaction, Profiling the non-user: Rethinking policy initiatives stimulating ICT acceptance — that, along with the aforementioned monograph, can help to centre the debate.

Just for the sake of clarity let us look at some points raised by the monograph authors, Verdegem and DiMaio about access to e-Government (including the “e-” part), keeping in mind that I fully share DiMaio’s vision on what e-Government should be and the conviction that, somehow, we’ll get to that point.

Affordability

This still is a key issue for many people not to go online, hence not to use e-Government services. It is decreasing in importance and becoming almost marginal in higher income countries. But. While a desktop/laptop + broadband connectivity might be affordable, the addition of a second device + the addition of a second broadband service (3G or whatever) is definitely not affordable for many many people.

Yes, I am assuming having both devices and duplication of Internet access services. But I think this will be the scenario in the short and middle run, for the simple reason that the iPad is not a typing-aimed device or a hard-computing-power device, besides the fact that I do not believe in quantum leaps in computer adoption (i.e. in the short run, iPad users will be computer users, not late-adopters).

Skills

Claire from liberTIC recently commented about lack of skills playing havoc on e-Democracy and Democracy at large.

I think the iPad — as its i-predecessors — will make computer usage simple, much simpler than before. But e-Government is not only about computer usage, but much more. As I introduced in Towards a comprehensive definition of digital skills and Goverati: New competencies for politics, government and participation, there is much field in the area of digital competences that the iPad just won’t and cannot address. And, as time goes by, technological literacy is less of an issue, which is were the iPad could make a major contribution.

Availability

Which leads to where the Gordian knot is: existence and access to content and services. I fully agree that the iPad can contribute to ease access to online public services through its applications, and I am already looking forward this to happen. But the prerequisite is either open data or open application programming interfaces (APIs). There already exist devices and applications to access online public services. And their successes and failures have mostly depended (a) on the richness of the data they could access and (b) the degree in which they could make an impact or contribute to a change. We take for granted that iPad applications will play magic, but the magic is in the data, not the device (though magic wands always help, let’s admit it).

Awareness and peopleware

But things can exist, be accessible, be affordable and people know how to use them, and still don’t make any use of them. This is, indeed, the tragedy of e-Government (and Internet adoption at large) today in higher income countries: I either don’t know what’s out there or frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. The iPad can raise awareness, and the more friendly user interface will help, but I haven’t seen much success in iPhone educational or e-Government applications being used massively.

I honestly doubt that the problem of e-Government (lack of) pervasiveness is a matter of the device, but of peopleware. If Obama succeeded it was not because of the Internet, but because of “hope”. And the Internet was there to deliver it, of course, and to channel people’s hope back. If Ushahidi succeeded in Kenya it was not because of SMSs and mashups, but because of the basic substrate upon which these were erected. I find AppsForDemocracy not only an amazing initiative, but amazing things in themselves and I look forward the day they will be used massively. But, so far, I have the sense it’s just for us the usual e-Government suspects.