Where’s Government 2.0?


B.C. needs leadership to implement e–government.


Anyone remember the Campbell government’s e-B.C. Strategy? Not too surprising if you don’t, because it’s been more than four years since the B.C. government formally announced it, with the vision of “transforming the way people every­where engage the British Columbia government and receive services they need, at the time and in the manner of their choosing.” That promise of instant engagement includes businesses that use government services and bid on government projects.

In August 2001, the premier set up an advisory body called the Premier’s Technology Council, which includes members from academia and the business sector. However, the e-B.C. strategy fell into the lap of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), and we haven’t heard anything about it for several years now. The OCIO’s website doesn’t mention an e-B.C. strategy but states that its two key initiatives are an electronic-ID system and an effort to extend Internet access throughout the province.

You wouldn’t know there ever was an e-B.C. strategy judging from the B.C. government home page (gov.bc.ca), which is more declamatory than citizen centred. That’s because most e-government initiatives have been happening in the ministries rather than from the top down, in spite of one of the stated objectives in the e-B.C. strategy: to “promote horizontal co-ordination and collaboration among ministries as well as to reduce ‘siloed’ approaches.”

The siloed approach, alas, still seems to be the cart leading the horse. Many people may not be aware of the excellent e-government projects delivering services to the business community – some of them award-winning efforts – at the ministry level that are not visible on the government’s home page.

Yet without a centralized e-government strategy and a commitment to centralized governance and funding of e-government-style projects in the ministries, the B.C. government can’t take advantage of economies of scale, nor can it ensure a sound IT architecture to ensure that the technology deployed today can be leveraged across government.

I’ve been involved in e-government projects here and elsewhere in Canada, and I’ve seen government departments or ministries invest heavily in a worthy e-government project only to have it shelved after the powers that be deploy an enterprise-level system that replaces it. Another common problem is that some agencies don’t have the financial resources to put their services online while other better-funded departments or ministries can launch sexy new e-government projects that only benefit their line of business.

Right now the term “e-government” is starting to be replaced by “government 2.0,” a derivation of “web 2.0.” In case you’re not familiar with it, web 2.0 is about websites such as Facebook that use social media to get people connected with each other online as well as contributing content to the sites. It’s an Internet buzzword, and now governments are starting to think that maybe it’s the virtual wave of the future.

At Canada’s annual government technology conference last October, government 2.0 was the main theme. The City of Toronto hosted a Web 2.0 Summit last November to discuss how the city could use social media to increase engagement with citizens and businesses. And on a national level, the government of Canada has long been recognized as an international e-government leader for its Government Online initiative, which has transformed federal service delivery.

An e-government research report on the Industry Canada website says governments should develop governance models focused on “citizen-centric” delivery of government services. The question is, During the upcoming election campaign, will Premier Campbell and others running for office articulate a transformational e-government strategy for our province?

Garth Buchholz is the president and chief web strategist of DigitalPractices Media Inc., a Victoria-based digital interactive media company.