Building a government for the 21st century

state of the net.JPG


This blog is about the State of the Net conference I spoke at yesterday. This is indeed a fascinating time to be in Washington DC and I thank Tim Lordon and his team who are the organizors of this event for inviting me. There is a lot we can all learn globally from the changes brought about by the Obama government. I am attempting to capture some of those insights in this blog/blogs from the perspective of Building a 21st century government - a phrase used by Blair Levin of the Obama transition team (keynote). I have also used some insights from the talk by MEP James Elles / EIF (European Internet Foundation ). Note that if you want to read about Blair Levin’s broadband policy which is a key factor in the Obama campaign, have a look at this article from fierce telecom(Obama – Blair Levin – broadband policy ) – I won’t cover broadband policy here but rather will discuss the impact on Open governments.

Finally, as a British i.e. Non American citizen, the observations below are influenced by my personal bias i.e. Pro American values of freedom, democracy and liberty but from the perspective of an outsider

Building a 21st century government

Many of the issues which were addressed in the State of the Net conference are common to Europe and for USA – and even beyond. Having spoken at the European parliament on similar topics before , one of the goals of this blog is to foster an ecosystem of cross pollination of ideas .

The key ideas that embody the concept of Building a 21st century government (as discussed in the talk from Blair Levin and James Elles) are:

a) Being a practical visionary ..

b) An open, transparent and an inclusive government

c) A true democracy i.e. the grassroots population has a voice

d) Fostering the economic implications of mass collaboration

e) An emphasis on broadband as an enabling technology

f) From an EU standpoint; Pervasive computing, The Internet of things, Identity and social networks, Government roles in digital society and spotting long term trends(pervasive computing seems to be discussed more in the EU than in the USA)

g) Science and technology are very significant in the Obama administration

h) The Internet creates an opportunity to run a totally different form of government

i) Government will allow people to see what is going on

j) Web 2.0 ideas to the government

k) Building a 21st century government

l) ‘The idea is to create a government that is working for the people, which admits when it makes mistakes, is based on fact and which learns from mistakes’

m) Government that has the tools but it needs Bold persistent experimentation. I like that idea of Bold persistent experimentation

n) is the vehicle, interface to engage with people

Being thus inspired by the above, I had a look at I could even register for the citizen’s briefing book (as a non US citizen) which is interesting – and thus I could explore the site more. is all about two way interactions and capturing grassroots feedback

a) You can get updates which is fairly common with other sites

b) In the your vision section, you can share your vision and upload a picture and/or video

c) In the Citizens briefing book , you can sign in and view ideas and vote on them. You can see Recent ideas and popular ideas. Categories for ideas include(with number of ideas in brackets as of today)

Economy (5,497) Education (2,085) Energy and Environment (2,560) Foreign Policy (1,556) Health Care (2,241) Homeland Security (1,415) Service (1,206) Technology (1,631) Veterans (590) Additional Issues (3,206)

d) A vote promotes the idea by 10 points

e) Here is one I found interesting. It received 36240 Points and 256 comments!

Bullet Trains & Light Rail

Train transportation funding should be increased at the federal level. I think that the one issue keeping many people from using trains to travel to and from other cities is that they are too slow. What we really need are bullet trains between cities, like the ones that are prevalent in Japan. To increase the number of individuals using trains, the trains have to be much faster, and have to arrive at terminals at a greater frequency. Additionally, more funding should be removed from road construction and moved to funding light rail initiatives in major U.S. cities.

f) You can join a discussion from the discussion service

g) Your seat at the table seems to be a place for groups to put forward their views

h) The America Serves section is a place for volunteers with the outline as below

“When you choose to serve — whether it’s your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood — you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That’s why it’s called the American dream.”

As the new administration takes shape, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will call on Americans from every walk of life to serve. President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps and will create new service organizations to meet the nation’s challenges head on:

• a Classroom Corps to help underserved schools

• a Health Corps to serve in the nation’s clinics and hospitals

• a Clean Energy Corps to achieve the goal of energy independence

• a Veterans Corps to support the Americans who serve by standing in harm’s way

Obama and Biden will call on citizens of all ages to serve. They’ll set a goal that all middle school and high school students engage in 50 hours of community service a year, and develop a plan for all college students who engage in 100 hours of community service to receive a fully-refundable tax credit of $4,000 for their education. Obama and Biden will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.

The Obama-Biden administration’s volunteer initiatives are still taking shape, but take a moment now to let us know that you’re interested, and we’ll keep you posted on all the latest developments.

Enter your information below to let us know you’re interested in serving the nation — and contributing your energy and efforts to confronting the problems we face together.


Why study this administration and the idea of 21st century government/ Government 2.0/ Web 2.0 in Government – whatever you choose to call it?

I believe that it is indeed a truly pioneering effort. And although there is a long way to go – and some mistakes will be made – we don’t see this effort anywhere else in the world.

So, I hope this blog helps in that spirit of cross pollination of ideas and the economic implications of mass collaboration. I will be inviting others to also add their view to this discussion

UPDATE: Also read CDT’s papers on Open government . I was very impressed by James Dempsey’s talk at the Internet Caucus and CDT seems to be doing some interesting work in this space


  1. Hardy says:

    The internet is an international, stateless entity where communities develop without regard to geography. So why should we maintain those old geographic borders?
    Also, the internet is a democratic environment, where people can participate in governance as much as they please. So why should we maintain the old idea of leaders and followers?
    If this makes sense, have a look at the Metagovernment project, and how they are building a framework that can eventually bring us into the internet age of governance: