With the rise of Web 2.0 and 3.0, growing Internet traffic, social networking and a host of other technologically driven applications and appetities, government at all levels is confronting the burgeoning changes in its role and participation in the society around it.

An important part of this process is the separation of the paths down which technology is taking society at large from the paths government should and should not follow in performing its essential functions. Experience has shown that not every tool, functionality and resource available to and used by citizens should become part of the governance process. The quandry is deciding up front which is which. This quandry can be seen in the very definition of government being used to described the future: “connected government”, “open government”, “participatory democracy”, “transparent government” are just some of the terms being used to describe what their users think government should be.

The core challenge, it would seem, is to develop an approach that makes government at once more effective in discharging its myriad day to day duties, more open and responsive to the honestly held beliefs and concerns of its citizens, yet still fully capable of discharging its constitutional responsibilities without infringing on or abrogating the rights of its citizens. History shows that this:

  • Will not be an easy process
  • Will not lend itself to a solution based solely on availablle technnology
  • Is likely to be tried unsuccessfully (or disastrously) more than once before we get it right.

This would seem to dictate that, whatever the technological imperatives, government should be changed carefully, in small steps and with well-considered fallbacks from the paths that turn out to be ineffective or dangerous to our liberties. One way to do this, for instance, would be to focus on those government functions we know are broken and understand how to fix (yes, there are such things.)  Then we could focus on applying new technology in areas where the target is familiar, the outcome more easily measured and the impact is less likely to spin out of control.