UK and US Share Challenges to Transformational Government

08/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the UK, I had the opportunity to speak with a few people involved in
the transformation of UK government. They include Labour and Tories,
elected officials and civil servants.

Much of the leadership and much of the civil service is committed to new
forms of digital engagement and public service. If someone needed
convincing, the events of November 4th in the US were compelling
regarding the role of the Net and social media.

The challenges all involve translation of that commitment to large-scale
action with real results.

The technology is the easy part; the real challenge involves professional
and emotional buy-in and commitment from the mass of government tech
workers and from the citizenry.

That's true in the UK and the US as well; probably true in many nations.

Sure, there are substantive operational differences in both systems, but
the gist is that both are nominally command-and-control systems. In
reality, performance is a function of the commitment of the workers. If
people feel that their work has meaning, if they feel they can be part of
something bigger, they will respond in force.

In both countries, public servants have already been doing so, providing
new means of customer service and engagement. It's slow-building, but
real. In the US, much of that leadership comes from the Federal Web
Managers Council.

This is the beginning of the transformation of the US and UK systems, and
it faces specific challenges:

  • leadership must show a clear commitment to transformation, to address organizational inertia
  • obsolete regulations must be revised
  • there needs to be some organization or coordination of efforts, at least so everyone has some idea of what's happening
  • security and privacy concerns must be addressed

In a sense, we're complementing systems of representative government with
mass engagement, that is, online grassroots democracy.

This is "an idea whose time has come," as it was in the UK in 1688 (the
"glorious revolution") and in the US in 1787 (the Constitution.)