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Communications & Marketing,
Manhattan Institute

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ISBN: 0-7425-4175-4



Government 2.0:
Using Technology to Improve Education, Cut Red Tape, Reduce Gridlock, and Enhance Democracy
(Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, January 2005)

By William D. Eggers


Why did you write Government 2.0?

I wrote this book for two reasons. First, because we are in the midst of a once-in-a-century transformation of government, enabled by technological advances. I wanted to describe this development, and take the reader on a journey across the new digital government landscape, and also provide a roadmap for navigating the promises and perils of this new age.

Second, while several excellent books have been published on individual topics such as e-democracy, privacy and e-learning, I wanted to write a book that covered the full panoply of digital government issues in one place and tie them together into a coherent whole.

In a recent book, author David Carr argues that IT is becoming commoditized and is no longer strategic. Is the new conventional wisdom correct that technology is not transformational?

I don't think so—at least not with regards to the public sector. In researching Government 2.0, I spent three years interviewing hundreds of government decision makers and thought leaders. I became convinced that today's technologies could play a crucial role in fixing the problems of modern government, changing how we get to work, how we pay our taxes, how we register our businesses, and even how our kids learn. In short, by harnessing the power of new technologies, we have the potential to reshape almost everything about government, and many aspects of American life. None of this will happen, however, without a fundamental change of thinking. Government will never truly realize the transformative benefits of information technology until government systems, ways of delivering services, and bureaucratic structures are rethought and redesigned to reflect the realities of the Information Age.

In what ways do government structures and systems need to change to address today’s complex issues?

Traditional hierarchical, bureaucratic government is incapable of solving today's complex, horizontal problems ranging from terrorism to child welfare. Rigid bureaucratic systems that operate with command-and-control procedures, narrow work restrictions, siloed cultures, and operational models are particularly ill suited to addressing problems that often transcend organizational boundaries. A new model of government is emerging in its place called "government by network" in which governments create networks of public, private and nonprofit partners to enhance public value. Technology is a key enabler of this model is it enables government to coordinate information and services across agencies, levels of government and the private sector in order to provide truly seamless services for citizens.

You say that technology will change education, as we know it. Could you explain?

This is hard to answer in a brief way, but let me offer three ways technology can transform education.

First, e-learning eliminates physical boundaries. Universities already operate in a borderless world, drawing students from every state and even from other countries. Now that ability to offer an education to faraway students is coming to the elementary and secondary school world.

Second, technology allows for the end of assembly-line education. Digital technologies now allow students can get personally tailored educations without needing special schools or separate classes. It's even possible now to eliminate much of the guesswork involved in deciding which learning approach works best for the student. Using artificial intelligence, the computer can adapt the pace, complexity and direction of the learning experience according to the learning styles and attention span of each student. Children in the same classroom could learn different things and in different ways at the same time.

Third, IT enables schools to use data from regular assessments and "eBay-style" feedback mechanisms from parents and students to regularly recalibrate lesson plans. Assessments could eventually replace grades, since they offer more precise information on a child's strengths and weaknesses, allowing for mid-course corrections. Once schools and online providers use technology to synchronize their internal assessments with the state standards and they add up to the same whole, then there's no reason why regular online learning assessments couldn’t replace the stomach-lurching, high-stakes year-end testing.

What governments are doing the best job transforming government through technology?

Many governments have embarked down this road but perhaps no government institution is being transformed as profoundly by technology as the United States military. The Pentagon has adopted a new doctrine, dubbed "network-centric warfare," that abandons some long-cherished military dogmas in order to harness fully 21st-century information technologies. In contrast to the traditional chain-of-command model, which epitomized military organizations for centuries, the network-centric model is flatter, less hierarchical.

Information-sharing tools are used to create what is officially termed "Total Information Awareness." Total Information Awareness, or TIA, is a battlefield term that came into use well before its controversial attempted application to domestic-counterterrorism. The phrase designates the goal, or the grail, of the net-centric doctrine: to give everyone from foot soldiers to field commanders access to the same data, so that everyone can react and interact in real time.

The flow of real-time information also allows the Army, Marines, Air Force, and Special Operations Command – perennial rivals, who have long had trouble working together – to orchestrate stunningly coordinated actions. Many believe that the new technological capabilities, if properly exploited, will eventually result in a revolution in military affairs.

Won’t Digital Democracy lead to governing by Internet plebiscite?

That is unlikely. "E-democracy" allows a citizen to participate in public life, contact public servants, and shape public opinion more easily and more effectively than ever before. It also provides the means for more people to have an impact on the decisions that affect them. Some critics worry that this will lead to Internet-driven direct democracy, which in turn would undermine deliberative, representative government. For example, several years ago Steve and Cokie Roberts penned a column titled "Internet Could Become a Threat to Representative Government."

Contrary to the fears of the technophobes or the predictions of the e-utopians, the Internet won't bring us InstaDemocracy. The notion that because technology lets us vote faster and more easily, doesn't mean we should vote more often. Whether to vote more often is fundamentally a political, not a technological, issue; and there is nothing in polling data or in recent elections to suggest that the busy public is clamoring to abrogate the role of their representatives and participate in binding weekly votes on the "issues of the day."

Was the Howard Dean flameout during the Democratic Primaries the political equivalent of the dot com crash? Does it demonstrate the limits of running an Internet-based political campaign?

The Internet didn't fail Dean. Dean failed Dean.

By running the first presidential campaign organized primarily through the Web, Dean demonstrated how an underdog candidate with a compelling message can exploit the speed and decentralized nature of the Internet to quickly go from relative obscurity to a front-runner for the presidency. In addition to record online fundraising, Dean was the first presidential campaign to have a blog, the first (at least in America) to experiment with wireless and text messaging, and the first to use a popular gathering spot called Meetup.com. The really novel part about the Dean campaign was it moved beyond the one-way conversation national campaigns traditionally had with their supporters to a genuine dialogue. The Dean campaign vested a tremendous amount of trust and authority in the Net roots.

Once subjected to the "frontrunner's glare," however, Dean made a bevy of mistakes. The Internet-based model Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi pioneered helped bring Dean to the dance, but when it came time to dance with the homecoming queen, the underdog turned frontrunner just couldn’t get his feet right.

Does Information Age government require sacrificing privacy?

I hope not. Few Americans want to live in a society where government tracks our every movement, in-depth profiles of every citizen reside in giant federal databases, and we’re subjected daily to a form of electronic strip search. But the answer shouldn't be knee-jerk opposition to every government attempt to use technology that could potentially be abused. In our increasingly security-conscious world, the key to protecting our privacy is identifying and promoting the technological, legal, and cultural practices that allow us to reap the benefits of new technologies without descending into a stultifying Big Brother-like world.

What are the biggest obstacles to technology-enabled transformation?

Privacy and security are two formidable obstacles. As expressed earlier, for many people, today's digital tools in the hands of government raise the prospect of an Orwellian 1984-style society. Then there is issue of security. The more we rely on cyber-based systems to run our economy, operate our government, and organize our society, the more tempting a target they present to hackers, criminals, terrorists and others who would do us harm.

Even more daunting may be the political obstacles: jobs, stovepipes, money and culture. The manifestation of these barriers can be seen from the distrust among law enforcement agencies that harms impedes information sharing to the interest groups that have fought against virtual charter schools.



"In this important book, William Eggers shows convincingly just how much promise technology holds for making government more efficient, transparent, and responsive to its citizens. Eggers displays a keen understanding of policy-making in the digital age. Accompanying his insightful policy prescriptions are invaluable tips for putting the ideas into practice. Government 2.0 is a great contribution to freedom and democracy."
- Governor Bill Owens,

"Government 2.0 should be required reading for all policy makers; it showcases the power of harnessing new technologies in a readable fashion with wonderful, real-life anecdotes. The information is vital for anyone helping to chart the political, cultural and economic future of our country."
- Cathilea Robinett, Executive Director, Centers for Digital Government and Education Executive Vice President, e.Republic, Inc.

"Bill Eggers effectively identifies that democracy in America today is increasingly being played out by everyday citizens in front of computer screens. He shows that political leaders can be in constructive two-way conversations with their constituents if they understand the dynamics of today's technologies."
- Minneapolis Mayor
R.T. Rybak

"Bill Eggers is one of the country's leading experts on government reform. I have been reading and listening to for a decade, since I first was elected mayor of Indianapolis. His new book, Government 2.0, provides a major contribution to the public policy debate."
- Stephen Goldsmith, Professor, Faculty Chair of the Innovations in American Government Program, Harvard University and former mayor of Indianapolis

"Every year, more governments are using technology to become more user-friendly and transparent for citizens, and, ultimately, more effective - moving from old-style patronage politics to performance politics. Government 2.0 is a great place to start for government leaders who want to make the right choices to have the biggest impact."
- Baltimore Mayor
Martin O'Malley

"Bill Eggers is out front ably tackling the huge challenge of making America's governments more rational and more electronic. This is the last frontier of the information age. Let's hope Eggers is right that "IT" shall overcome!"
- Richard P. Nathan, Director, Rockefeller Institute of Government, State University of New York



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