Using Technology to Improve Education, Cut Red Tape, Reduce Gridlock,
and Enhance Democracy
& Littlefield Publishers, January 2005)
By William D. Eggers
AUTHOR Q & A
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.
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 soat 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
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
- Minneapolis Mayor
"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
"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