The social web continues to grow – and so does its importance – both for the purpose of social interaction and for commerce. Although there are sporadic cases of companies excluding themselves from the social media environment, today’s consumer sector, in particular, can hardly do without these instruments.
And the development doesn’t exclude the public sector. This summer, for instance, the Japanese town Takeo moved its entire Internet site to a Facebook page (info).
Does this mean that Facebook will be deciding the age of Social Government in the future?
According to my assessment, the answer to this question is a definite no.
This is partly due to the fact that Facebook will hardly be able to retain its dominant position, but more to the point it is because Social Government should encompass so much more than a technical web platform.
Facebook currently reports 800 mio. global users and is thus clearly leagues ahead of other social platforms in this environment. However, there are more and more frequent signs, not only since the start of Google+, indicating that Facebook is past its prime. It is hard to obtain actual figures, but many statistics indicate current Facebook growth being based on new markets, whereas the usage in existing markets is declining slightly, as is user satisfaction (see the article in german Spiegel).
The second aspect, however, is more essential. If you try to define the term Social Government – and I can’t think of any other way of expressing this right now – it should mean socially efficient collaboration between politics and administration on the one hand, and citizens and commerce on the other. And this should relate to participation and transparent business processes, and not be reduced to a technical platform.
So what is actually needed to facilitate Social Government?
There are different levels of requirements. At the level of client-administration communication, and considered from the client’s point of view, this also includes participation as well as, subject to the situation, the provision of information and/or services. And participation requires a platform offering access to the information, as well as to the services and results, for all interested parties, while also providing an opportunity for them to have their say.
Speaking of access, this must also be provided in the technical sense. Taiwan has launched an important initiative (more information here), which goes beyond current council initiatives, by setting up more than 2,500 free WiFi-hotspots. Such initiatives are important in order to avoid a two-class society (keyword “digital divide“).
Whether the communication platform is a social website (for instance Facebook), an online administrative transaction platform, or an App on a mobile device makes no difference to its content. From a technical point of view there are various innovations, some of which are advertised quite emotionally. This is not of much interest from the users’ point of view though, as many studies clearly demonstrate that the usability of a platform determines its worth, and that even a technologically advanced platform is not accepted without usability.
However, the second level – the internal administration view – is of equal importance. In order to achieve concrete usability on a communication platform – regardless of what it ends up looking like – administration staff have to perform. For this, the persons in the so-called back office require systems which support and document fast, efficient and transparent business processes while enabling effective participation. So anybody associating Facebook with Social Government is only scratching the surface!
Generously interpreted, these topics can also be identified in the German IT planning council memo, which defines the strategic objectives for the implementation of eGov projects.
However, Singapore’s eGov 2015 Masterplan already places much more emphasis on service and user orientation.
From my point of view, the question ‟Social Government – is it all about Facebook?” which I have already answered negatively, is joined by the question: is there is something like Social Government in the first place?. For my part, I am assuming that Social Government is already included in a consistent and ongoing development of eGovernment and use of available technology.
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