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.

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?



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Can you ask Don to comment on Lawrence Lessig's Change-Congress movement?

Rich Jones
Boston University Free Culture

Sent by Rich Jones | 2:16 PM | 5-20-2008

A caller 'Dave' at the very end of the Gov. 2.0 segment was talking about Mayor Graham Richard of 'Indianapolis' he was infact the seated mayor of another Indiana town: Fort Wayne. The caller sited an example of the newly reworked pothole repair. Being a lifelong resident of Fort Wayne I can say that not only was the fix brillant and now is much more timely to fix a pothole, but it truely is a great example of the use of technology in a 'Gov. 2.0' setting. Next up, our bus routes! (wishful thinking!)

Sent by Christopher Adams | 2:43 PM | 5-20-2008

Thomas Kuhn was discussing paradigm shifts (_The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_) long before it became a twenty-cent buzzword.

Mr. Tapscott claimed that he created that phrase - I would posit that it has been in the lexicon of cosmology and science long before business wonks started using it.

Sent by Nathan Williams | 2:44 PM | 5-20-2008

Thank you for covering this issue. This is such an important issue because openness and accountability are so necessary to maintaining (and in our case, to restoring) a healthy democracy. Not only that, they provide avenues for greater effectiveness and efficiency in government through much greater citizen participation. I have been trying to promote this issue by running a transparent campaign for U.S. President - not so much to win, but to show how it can be done. In addition, one of my planks is a promise to wire the Executive Branch for video and to webcast any meetings that concern the public interest that need no be classified for national security reasons. One of many additional benefits of webcasting these meetings is that we will no longer be forced to rely on the Press Secretary, leaks to the press, and media gatekeepers to get information about what's going on within our own government. If you're interested in my campaign, please check out - and you can watch my live webcast by clicking on the "Watch" button. It's pretty boring because I'm not running around the country talking to thousands of people at the moment - but imagine if a major candidate was doing it.

Sent by Kelcey Wilson | 3:07 PM | 5-20-2008

Remember in 2006 when Ted Stevens R-Alaska gave a speech to Congress calling the internet "a series of tubes"..I still get a belly laugh from that. He must have been joking.

Sent by MO | 4:17 PM | 5-20-2008

I researched a Grant through offered by the Office Of Child Support Enforcement and found that the Federal Government is seeking new technologically innovative ways of increasing the amount of outstanding unpaid Child Support that is uncollected. After review of the Grant, I discussed it with the local Sheriff's office, for I could not complete the application of the Grant without the Counties approval. The County turned down my proposal and stated that it would not back the Grant Proposal.

In my local County there is approximately $95 million that is to be collected per year, and only approximately $45 million is collected, thus continuing the drainage of the TANF (The Assistance for Needy Families)funds which are paid by our taxed funds.

In neighboring Counties they have been able to decrease the yearly outstanding amount from 11 million to a little over 2 million by hosting a Deadbeat Parent County Web Page with a simple posted picture page and comment page, thus allowing the local community to assist the Sheriff's department in apprehending these Deadbeat Parents.

New legislature is a must, guaranteeing the needed funds to supersede the Local Counties, mandating the small expenditure to produce such results.

Beth Ann

Sent by Beth Ann Holderman | 7:50 PM | 5-20-2008

Interesting example concerning Indiana potholes. There's a British nonprofit,, that's developed an online tool for reporting and tracking potholes, creating feedback, accountability, and smoother streets.

They've also developed a tool creating a searchable transcriipt of sessions of Parliament, and another allowing Brits to contact all their elected representatives with one email.

Their software code is open source, and they're highly collaborative. Any enterprising coders out there ready to create US applications?

Sent by Mark Frischmuth - | 1:44 PM | 5-21-2008


Thank you for your comment.

Your idea for webcasting government sessions is interesting.

My favorite part of your website is "Administration 2008???, where you ask for help from visitors in developing a list of nominees for positions that the President appoints. But rather than ask for suggestions via email, you might consider a wiki where users could add to your list, comment on individuals, and maybe even vote for them. If a sufficient community of users developed, it could become a place where citizens can discuss the makeup and performance of the administration of the eventual President.

A similar approach could also be applied to developing your policy platform. Check out the Green Party of Canada's experiment at:

Good luck with the campaign!

Rick Jones: is a great example of a project that is using Wikinomics and Government 2.0 principles to reengage citizens in their democratic institutions. The project was launched a few months ago by Larry Lessig, the Stanford Law Professor who founded the Creative Commons. The goal is to eliminate corruption in Congress by focusing on four key goals: ending donations from lobbyists and PACs, eliminating earmarks, increasing transparency, and supporting publicly-financed campaigns.

The website has a public directory of members of congress' with their positions on each of these goals. The novel part is that these policy positions are evaluated by a user community that "tags" each member of congress according to their support (or non-support) for each issue. Tags are later verified by a team of volunteers.

By crowdsourcing this information, Change-Congress will generate its database in far less time and with far fewer resources than would have traditionally been needed. And because users can continuously update it, it is less likely to become outdated.

The only unfortunate thing about Change-Congress is that its information on a candidate is limited to whether they support an issue or not. Candidates might have nuanced positions. Rather than having a staff verify tags, the user community -- and perhaps the members of Congress themselves -- could get engaged in a dialogue about the nature of the objectives and how to achieve them.

One clarification to Nathan Williams re "paradigm shifts." I said on air that "I didn't invent the word," not that I did. The notion of a paradigm shift was of course, first developed in Kuhn's, wonderful book. In the 1980s I worked with a research group that applied the word to concept beyond science to business and in the fall of 1991 I published the book "Paradigm Shift." That's all.

Don Tapscott

Sent by Don Tapscott | 9:20 PM | 5-21-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from