Shared Challenges to Transformational Gov't

In the U.K., I had the opportunity to speak with a few people involved in the transformation of U.K. government. They included members of the Labour Party 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 Nov. 4 in the U.S. were compelling regarding the role of the Internet 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 U.K. and the U.S. 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 U.S., much of that leadership comes from the Federal Web Managers Council.

This is the beginning of the transformation of the U.S. and U.K. 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 U.K. in 1688 (the "Glorious Revolution") and in the U.S. in 1787 (the Constitution.)