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Helping Government Go 2.0

I've been a fan of Canadian businessman, author and digital strategist Don Tapscott (perhaps best known as the author of Wikinomics) since I read one of his columns in an in-flight magazine on a trip to California several years ago. In the column, Tapscott wrote about his realization that young people looked at computers differently than we old fogies do.

In essence, this generation of Internet-savvy kids never see the actual computer - just the content on the screen. That's why computers never scared them. They looked at computers the same way people in our generation looked at TV. We never thought about the TV when we were watching Bugs Bunny or Lost in Space or Star Trek. We just saw the programs. The only time the actual machinery intruded into out mind space was when it broke.

So I was very interested to read of his new project on governance by participation. Tapscott, the founder of New Paradigm (now known as nGenera), expects that as more and more young people for whom these news digital technologies are second-nature, the way we interact with government is going to change. So nGenera has initiated a multi-million dollar research project (and many of the world's nations are signing up as participants) to study how these new technologies will affect the interaction between governments and citizens.

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The Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal recently described nGenera's project this way:

Project Government 2.0 is based on the assumption that even governments can't fight technologies that give power to the people. "If governments are to ensure their relevance and authority, they must move quickly to meet rising expectations for openness, accountability, effectiveness and efficiency in the public sector," the project outline says.

Web 2.0 has promising implications for those who think the best government is the one that governs least, especially outside basic functions like national defense and law enforcement. Can more direct participation by citizens in assessing policies limit government ambitions to what government can actually accomplish? Would citizen taxpayers put their collective faith in most spending programs? Or is there a risk that the wisdom of crowds as reflected in Web 2.0 won't turn out to be so wise?