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Business, Government - Written by on Monday, September 21, 2009 9:28 - 3 Comments

Steve Guengerich
New Methods Needed for Government 2.0

My colleague Nick Vitalari and I recently attended a conference in Washington DC on Government 2.0. We have both written about our reflections on the speakers and examples they described during the event, with Nick writing about the new public-private ecosystem and me writing more generally about favorites and the differences between the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the large federal agency members that composed the majority of the audience.

To highlight these differences further, my personal observation was that there was a dramatic over-emphasis on visual, programmatic, and evangelical descriptions of the Government 2.0 examples presented during the event. However, there was an under-emphasis on subjects such as process change, adaptable methodology, and cultural dynamics.

The one notable exception was Eric Ries of Kleiner Perkins Caufield whose “lean start-up” discussion was an insightful, but moreso from the perspective of the “developer of a product” and not “the implementer of a large-scale enterprise solution” – see Eric’s blog for more: http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/

This is not to say that presenters dismissed the subjects. But their comments amounted to lip service clichés, such as “you have to manage the change” and “it’s important to get your management’s support.” But there were practically no specifics given for how to perform those critical activities.

In fact, the only presenters that spoke confidently about such issues were the government reps themselves: CIOs and directors, for example, from large healthcare, communications and defense agencies. However, it sounded as though most were relying heavily on their knowledge and skills with existing, time-tested Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC) frameworks, leadership approaches, and change management methods.

This is a problem. On the one hand, the Whitehouse and current administration is opening up the floodgates of structured and unstructured data, supported by everything from policy directives, such as the Open Government Initiative, to technology innovation, such as last week’s initial roll-out of the federal Apps.gov website, promoting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications and cloud computing.

On the other hand, there is an enormous federal bureaucracy with its supporting technological, procedural, and people infrastructure supporting systems and that are mission critical and strategic – they can’t go down and they can’t fail. Many people’s lives and livelihoods depend on them.

It’s like having two gears that are spinning at very different speeds, but extremely rapidly, with the force of the government 2.0 movement forcing the gears together. My opinion is that the solution to enabling the gears to mesh and spin together is from innovations in process management and service implementation of enterprise 2.0 (or what I’ll refer to, for simplicity’s sake, as “collaborative”) systems.

It may not sound so thrilling, but I believe it is absolutely the key to success. At nGenera, we have spent a great deal of time and money studying organizational collaboration, large and small. And, from this research, we have learned what elements are crucial for the success of large-scale collaborative initiatives, like those that lie ahead of the federal government as it implements more government 2.0 initiatives.

Some of these elements are well-documented, for example, “Eight Ways to Collaborate,” published in the Harvard Business Review by Tammy Erickson and Lynda Gratton in 2007, from their landmark study on enterprise collaboration.

Since then, at the heart of newer research, is a construct referred to as “collaborative intents.” In other words, collaboration and collaborative systems are not an “end” in themselves…they are a means to an end. The question is what are the difference kinds of “ends” – or better said “outcomes” – that leaders seek to achieve through collaborative systems. This is an absolutely fundamental, crucial decision point that must be met early in the design and development process.

Far too often, unfortunately, the collaborative intent or intents are not decisively settled. This lack of clarity can be a major source of misalignment and can cause significant hardship resulting in cost and timeline over-runs for a major government 2.0 project. We’ve developed a boardroom imperative describing collaborative intents that you can download.

Others have begun to recognize that existing management processes and approaches to implementing new services are insufficient, as well. At the conference that Nick and I attended, there was a large presence from major service providers, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, to smaller niche players, such as Aquilent. In every case, there was no doubt that there was a great deal of momentum and a lot of learning going on about how the old ways of doing things needed to be re-thought.

I’ll be talking more about collaborative intents and associated methodologies in future posts. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from others about their experiences with implementing new social networking-based or collaborative systems for their public sector purposes, whether local/municipal, state/provincial, or federal.


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Chris Jones
Sep 21, 2009 11:59


I was unable to attend the G20 workshops in DC, but from what I’ve been able to gather you’re right, the energy continues to be on imagining the future, not on defining a process to get there. To me, that’s understandable. The target problems are highly complex and interdependent; the ways we need to attack them are revolutionary and different.

So our collective understanding of the challenges is still evolving.

The good news: it’s evolving !!

Not sure if you’ve seen all the work underway on this. I’ve started a project called a “Framework for Social Ecosystem Change” where a group of colleagues and I are working out an approach to put Wikinomics Ch.6 into action. It is based on collaborative experiences observed using social media over the last several months.

Latest thinking is here: http://bit.ly/povEC

Our blog-based material is not currently as intuitive as I’d prefer. Many of the concepts – collaboration, innovation, paradigms, knowledge, complex systems – tend to be a bit esoteric, making it hard to visualize what we’re proposing.

So our plan in the near term is to provide some examples, substituting some of the academic terms with more practical ones.

Perhaps you can add insights or some metaphors to help us explain?

Comments would be VERY much appreciated.

Clearly Wikinomics has been a significant catalyst in this thinking. In many ways, your team “wrote the book” on this subject, and I’ve been prolific about referencing it heavily as interested folks join the fray.

Also want to send kudos to Beth Noveck for her paper w/ David Johnson on Complexity, referenced in my early posts, which sparked a radical shift in my thinking. I learned quickly that social ecosystems are in fact “complex adaptive systems” (CAS). We are working to apply these important concepts in our solution design.

These are ambitious undertakings. As I’ve said often, to be successful, we’re going to need all the help we can get.

Chris Jones (@SourcePOV)
Cary, NC

Sep 21, 2009 15:00

Thanks for your comments, Chris, and for the link to the ecosystem posts, which people can find here, for those that want a straight pathname: http://sourcepov.wordpress.com/category/ecosystem/

Some very thoughtful discussion by you and others on the mechanics of what is different now about design and implementation. I look forward to referring back to some of what I read – especially the new ecosystem: http://sourcepov.wordpress.com/category/ecosystem/ – as I prepare my next post on process and methodology.

One comment I would make to bridge between our points of view is about the word “collaborate.” Referring to the “incremental solution element” in your “New Plan” diagram and its specific reference to the activity of “co-creation,” our point-of-view is that collaboration is a densely packed word. And, so far, our research has found that when you unpack it, you find up to 10 different notions of what the individual(s) could possibly be describing when they say that they “want to collaborate.”

That’s why the collaborative intents are so important, that I mentioned in the post and for which we developed a download-able boardroom imperative. One “collaborative intent” – as you highlight – is “co-creating products, services, or experiences.” The business outcomes sought from this form of collaboration are relevant new offerings and stronger customer loyalty, resulting hopefully in higher profit margins, lower overall costs of acquisition, and greater lifetime vaue of customers.

But, there are several other collaborative intents:
- connecting previously unrelated ideas
- engaging stakeholders: markets, communities, employees, partners
- tapping people, expertise, or other resources, as needed
…and several others

Getting clarity about your collaborative intents and the business outcomes being sought are paramount to success. I look forward to interacting with you and others about this subject in future posts. Your team is doing some intriguing work and we’re pleased to hear wikinomics has helped influence some of the discussion – we’re glad to see you taking it to the next level.

Chris Jones
Dec 5, 2009 18:17

Hey Steve,

I couldn’t agree more about getting the semantics right. Collaboration is often riddled with responses like “What do you mean?” “That’s not what we call it” and “You don’t understand”. And to make it worse, as you said, the concept of collaboration itself is so broad that the premise for any given interaction could be up for debate. And that doesn’t help.

Places in the process where we can address semantics include visioning, culture alignment, and understanding context shifts. I touched on these in a recent post on “Community” -

and here’s another post that touches on collab process, this one by Hutch Carpenter -

ps. I’d love to see your “collaboration” breakdown – I’m intrigued by (and work under) several of the definitions you already shared above .. I could benefit from being more specific when I discuss it, which is often .. if not, daily !!

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