Goverment 2.0 – Moving Beyond Participation and Engagement

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Ever since Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, technology and internet for politics has changed from a medium to a platform. The 2008 campaign is often cited as a case study for its inordinate and efficient use of the internet, online-tools and services to engage and organize campaign workers, messaging, and everything in between. Here are some bits and pieces of information that I’ve overheard:

  • The campaign website was built on Drupal (Open Source)
  • The campaign allowed you to invite others to join the movement and create geographic communities
  • The campaign used SMS/Text messaging to announce the VP Pick – thereby communicating not only via email, but now through SMS/text also.

This wave was then moved over to the Administration in early 2009 and Goverment 2.0 was born. As Richard Freidman says – “You name it – you own it” — Tim O’Reilly coined and promulgated the term – Gov 2.0. It encapsulated the notion of using technology for better government.

This began with a movement by the President himself asking the OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy)  to craft the Open Government Directive in early 2009. The Open Government Directive itself engaged citizens to provide input using IdeaScale ( – and NAPA administered that process. Ideas for Open Government were further refined using collaborative wiki tool – Mixed Ink – and finally the Open Goverment Directive was published in Dec 2009.

As part of the Open Government Directive, each of the 24 cabinet level agencies were asked to formulate their own Open Gov plans – by April 2010. The General Services Administration coordinated with 23 Federal Agencies to launch IdeaScale sites for all of the agencies and engage citizens on providing feedback for each of them. On April 16, each of the agencies produced their individual open government plans.

One of the criticisms for such listening initiatives such as crowdsourcing ideas and conducting online dialogs has been that they are exactly that – they are all about participation and engagement – and not anything else. I disagree. Case in point is the Veterans Administration’s VHA Innovation Challenge.

The Veteran’s Administration was challenged by the President himself to innovate and accelerate its service delivery to veterans. VHA Innovation Challenge was announced and launched by Secy Shinseki. It involved asking 310,000 of its own employees, partners, and  contractors how the VA can fulfill its mission better, faster, and cheaper. The VA elected to use IdeaScale as a platform for collecting ideas from all of its employees. Over 50,000 employees participated in this 3 week effort to talk, discuss and vote on ideas that can help the VA. Everyone was included to participate – doctors, nurses, and technologists.

The VA then decided to take top 75 of the 6500 ideas that were generated and asked the submitters to put together and present a detailed and more comprehensive proposal. A panel of judges from multiple disciplines (healthcare, technology etc.) including external participants then judged these proposals and picked 26 winners. These 26 proposals were funded. Funded!

This is one of those moments where you see government actually become better. The VA announced that the panel has selected the 26 winners and all of those ideas have already been assigned program managers to oversee their execution and completion. Many of them will be completed within a couple of months.

It seems fitting that on this Memorial Day, 2010 the VA  leveraged technology and crowdsourcing to actually improve itself, and not simply engage its audience. I will be tracking each of those 26 ideas that are currently under implementation – and we hope that the VA will share their actual implementation results when they have been gathered.

About Vivek Bhaskaran

Vivek Bhaskaran is the President and CEO of Survey Analytics.


  1. Excellent example of the Wisdom of the Crowd. What is particularly interesting to me is that big GOV tends operate in silos. There has got to be a huge improvement in moral at the VA, at least with those who provided feedback, seeing that those at the top actually wanted feedback, AND were ready willing and able to do something about it.


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