Thursday, April 1, 2010

Social media: plan to run the government like Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a multilingual, web based free content encyclopedia. It is a technology creating collaborative actions and openly editable. It was started in Jan 2001 and in a span of 8 year it has become a massive live collaboration and is a great success.

If we plan to run the government like Wikipedia, we have to find out what are similar situations will support our actions, and evalueate our limitations. In India there are,in general, three levels of governance. The union government at New Delhi, state governments and local governments. Basic requirement for running the Government on th the lines of Wikipedia is to have internet facilities. In spite of the best efforts of the Government t- as far as I know -the penetration of internet is limited to urban areas.Even that is not as widespread .Government of India uses internet extensively for its functioning.But its use at other levels of governance varies from state to state.In most states presence and use of internet is limited and insignificant. In this backdrop, we can consider we can consider replication of the Wikipedia success model only for use in Government of India in areas like policy formulation, policy reform, problem solving, information sharing etc.

The Government of India has a ministry for spreading use of information technology infunctions of Government and for its regulation.This is named Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. NIC works under this ministry.. National Informatics Centre (NIC) is a premiere S & T institution of the Government of India, established in 1976, for providing e-Government / e- Governance Solutions adopting best practices, integrated services and global solutions in Government Sector. It has all the technical expertise required for the project. NIC is providing network backbone and e-Governance support to Central Government, State Governments, UT Administrations, Districts and other Government bodies. It offers a wide range of ICT services including Nationwide Communication Network for decentralized planning, improvement in Government services and wider transparency of national and local Governments.

This is the available IT infrastructure and can form the base for the program. To build upon this base, we need political desire to adopt e governance as a mission of the government. At present almost all departments are having their own websites They contain all details of the departments. Within the departments of the Government, almost all projects and programs have their own site which offers full details of the concerned organization.. They have provision to take feedback and provide contacts to write in case of any need. But as per my experience it is one way story. If some body will contact online on given address on line, he will rarely get any response. Here lies the question how to make it an open, interactive and community based portal which will enable Government to interact with the public at the desired level. Wikipedia have about 1500 administrators to administer effective control. Likewise NIC also has a good network. So if we decide to make our portals open for the community there will not be any problem in exercising control.Through this network we can control the process, actions and contents without difficulty. In the light of the above discussion it can be concluded that we have the needed infrastructure, there is some use in government departments but it is still very limited. Online tendering is used by some government organizations. We have to take a policy decision to go for this.

What are the costs of organizing work the Wiki way? In the cost analysis, technically we are on sound footing. Hence we have to reorient and modify it to make it suitable for community based live and interactive. The cost on this will not be much in my opinion as we have a good and strong base. The political cost is the main factor. The public will well come any such move by the government. But politicians will not prefer it as they think it will reduce their power. Everything is ready, only a political desire is required. Cost wise it will not be very expensive for the government.

Knowledge Management programs are typically tied to organizational objectives and are intended to lead to the achievement of specific outcomes such as shared intelligence, improved performance, competitive advantage, or higher levels of innovation. Everyday new technologies are directly impacting our daily lives. These requirements are forcing new effective approaches for operating our organizations. The organization should substitute the traditional problem solving methods that are centered around short-term solutions and try for more strategic and long term solutions. Government business Intelligence is the art of gaining business advantage from data and can be used to determine the answers of questions like who are my customers, what is going on with my sales of services. To make informed decisions and respond to the competition accordingly a business must use tools and technologies to manipulate the business intelligence. This will lead to transparency, accountability and finally to reduction of corruption.

It will improve efficiency, effectiveness. Service quality will improve significantly and will reduce costs for the users to a significant degree. The overall preference for computerized systems over the manual system is a notable benefit. Direct economic impact on agencies is expected in terms of operating costs.

In spite of all its benefits it has many and major disadvantages too. In case of system hacking or failure by design or default by any notorious groups or individuals a catastrophic situation will develop. Such situations will cost the country very dearly. From the security angle, there is the great threat of data theft. Another major constraint is that it will be limited to entirely urban, educated, employed or business people. So it will be a tool of only a very small percentage of the population. The poor who don’t have the access to internet will be deprived of this facility. Hence they will be at a disadvantage and will lack the ability to contribute and will lag behind the majority in confidence. In terms of social economics it is not an equitable mechanism. Any step taken that is not beneficial to the masses is very difficult to adopt implement and sustain, so it is a major drawback in Indian perspective.

Transforming functions within the government is not a big problem. The reason is very simple to understand. In case of Wikipedia, they have evolved a way of functioning that is suitable to them. Similarly when NIC started functioning in 1976 its activitives were designed to be user friendly. It evolved the sites and systes which its clients could easily adopt. To prove this point I would draw your attention to the government of India site and to the state government of Uttar Pradesh site . Similar to Wikipedia, all information of each government is at a single site and is only a click away. In information technology, India is a leading country and is providing cheap and quality services all over the world. Hence we are in an advantagious position, the NIC system was designed emulating the best international practices, keeping the future in focus right from the outset . Any one with even a little knowledge of computers can access any government site without any difficulty. Some of the functions like online tendering and procurement are already in use successfully. But the downside of this isthat use in other functional areas is highly limited.

Wikipedia has reached a large audience in about 8 years. It is a single window service. On this the two are different. While Wiki is a single site, government functions at different layers and levels. Each government provides it services in different manners which varies widely.each department/ministry has their own sites. So, in the case of government systems work on a highly decentralized mode. At each step scale will be less and it is better from management point of view as it makes the system simple. Reduced level of scale will help in saving time while searching a particular item of the service.