The great promise of Web 2.0
Conversation is the great promise of Web 2.0.
Whereas the early days of the web and the initial applications in government especially of the new Internet tools were all about an essentially “broadcast” model of communication, the more recent experiments of the “participative web” are characteristically interactive. Or at least they should be.
The whole point of social networking is not so much to send a message as to get one back. While it’s always nice to tell the world what you think, if you do it on a social technology platform, you are inviting others to join the conversation. The whole idea is to listen, to talk, to debate, to agree and disagree, to create communities of influence and practice, to share. Somehow we are fumbling our way towards a more conversational model of governance in which everyone in the conversation, citizens as much as governments learn to listen more carefully to each other. I hope it isn’t too naïve to suggest that in some way or another, the social networking experience is all about listening and therefore learning as the necessary condition for a style of governing that is altogether more nuanced and responsive than perhaps we are used to.
If that is true, what kind of evidence should we expect to see about changes in the way people and communities engage with government? What would be some of the ‘green shoots’ of conversational government, signs that both sides are using these new tools and processes to become ¬more adept at listening as well as telling? Presumably we should expect that the design and delivery of public services, as well as the more involved policy development processes from which they derive, should both betray at least some signs of deeper knowledge of the needs and aspirations of citizens and growing understanding of the complexities and constraints of governing.
Of course, in the end the quality of the conversation at the heart of good government is not about technology or clever websites, although they should help. Online engagement creates at least the potential to ‘democratise democracy’ by offering a much richer mix of spaces in which people can talk, listen, debate, argue and contribute their ideas and aspirations to the public conversation. In that sense, this is all about underlying habits of mind and heart that commit to an open, inclusive and ethical relationship that builds trust and confidence.
Do you have personal experiences that suggest we’re starting to see that evidence? Especially with reference to the gradual introduction of Web 2.0 tools and techniques, what have been some of the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’ of your recent engagement with government?