OpenGov: One big challenge? Or a thousand small hurdles

Update – July 2009: This list of 50 Hurdles has evolved into the ‘Interactive Charter‘ (an attempt to create a clear statement of intent for open government) and ‘Social Strategy‘ (a toolkit of practical resources for sorting it out). Keep an eye on posts tagged ‘interactivecharter‘ on this blog for the latest updates.

The original post:

What’s the big challenge to using new technology for mobilisation / communication around social issues, where government or large existing organisations are to be players in creating change?

Working with front-line professionals in local government over the last couple of months, I’ve been coming to see that:

  • The big challenges are not about technology – they are about the content and the process of mobilisation and communication.
  • When it comes to technology we’ve not got one big challenge we’ve got 100s of small challenges – and we’ve got no systematic way of dealing with them.

When all these small challenges stack up – the chance of staff members or teams in local or national government organisations and agencies being able to effectively engage with online-enabled policy making shrinks and shrinks.

Of course – as small challenges – I’m sure they can all be overcome. And one of the first steps to overcoming a challenge is knowing it is there – so below are 50 of the challenges I’ve encountered since the start of this year.

50 Small Hurdles to Online Engagement in Government

(Update 4th May 2009: There is now a wiki set-up with all these hurdles listed, and space for you to read/add shared learning about overcoming them…)


  1. Access to Web 2.0 sites is blocked or filtered;
  2. Requesting that a website is unblocked requires a form to be filled in and the request may not be actioned for 24 hours or more;
  3. A site that has previously been unblocked is suddenly blocked again;
  4. A site is only unblocked for the computer a staff member usually sits at – and they are unable to access Web 2.0 Sites from another part of the office, or another desk;
  5. Web 2.0 Sites can only be accessed during lunch hours;
  6. Managers see abuse of ICT resources as an ICT issue rather than a management issue;
  7. ICT staff see access to Web 2.0 sites as an issue for ICT decision making, rather than for team leaders and managers;
  8. There is no capacity to provide staff with internet-enabled mobile phones, even if a business case can be made;
  9. Staff are not aware of the ICT, internet access and mobile phone/internet access resources they can legitimately ask for;
  10. Permission to use Web 2.0 is granted ad-hoc but not enshrined in policy, so a change in ICT manager could make access more difficult;


  1. Computer only have out-of-date Internet Browsers (E.g. IE6);
  2. Staff cannot change their browsers home-page;
  3. Staff cannot install browser plug-ins or add-ons, and key plug-ins like Flash are out-of-date versions;
  4. E-mail sign-up confirmations from Web 2.0 sites regularly get caught in spam filters;
  5. Staff cannot install desktop widgets and utility software (e.g. Twitter clients, RSS readers etc.)
  6. Office computers have no ability to play sound;
  7. There is no easy way to get a photo onto an office computer. For example, a personal photo to use as a profile picture online;
  8. Any customisations staff add to their computer log-in are regularly lost;
  9. There is no WiFi in meeting rooms, and guests cannot get access to the internet in the building;
  10. There is a one-size fits all IT policy;


  1. There are no finance procedures or company credit cards to pay for low-cost online subscription services;
  2. There are no systems in place for backing up content from Web 2.0 tools;
  3. There is no secure password vault that can be used to keep track of ‘corporate’ memberships of Web 2.0 sites;
  4. There is no agreed way of notifying other staff members of plans for using Web 2.0 tools;
  5. There are no policies or procedures for responding to positive or negative online comments;
  6. There is no processes for carrying out CRB or Independent Safeguarding Authority checks on staff or sub-contractors involved in the use of Social Media to engage with young people or vulnerable adults;


  1. There are no policies on personal use of Social Networks and Social Media sites;
  2. There is no accessible guidance available to staff on personal use of Social Networks and Social Media sites;
  3. There is no policy on Safeguarding and Child Protection in digital environments;
  4. There is no policy on Data Protection in digital environments – and no guidance on items of data which should not be shared in digital environments;
  5. There are no policies on appropriate levels for official staff engagement with Web 2.0
  6. Consent forms and model release forms make no mention of possibly sharing photos or videos from events and activities online;


  1. Senior managers see Web 2.0 and the Social Web as something to be scared of;
  2. Senior managers see Web 2.0 as a passing fad, or at best a persistent distraction and minority interest;
  3. Staff see Web 2.0 as an extra burden to add to already busy and pressured days;
  4. Ideas from outside the organisations are treated with suspicion;
  5. The organisation wants to be in control of any discussions that take place about it online;
  6. The organisation wants to moderate every discussion that it is any way responsible to convening or starting;
  7. The organisation wants to put it’s brand front-and-centre in every online engagement;
  8. Service-user engagement is not valued;


  1. Staff have never received basic training in how a web browser, web addresses and search engines work;
  2. Staff are not aware of tabbed web-browsing;
  3. Staff do not make use of search tools;
  4. Staff find it difficult to adapt to and remember new ways of working digitally;
  5. Staff are not able to download, edit and upload images in web formats;
  6. Staff do not know how to install new utility software or browser plug-ins;
  7. Staff have no opportunities to share skills and develop their understanding of digital environments;


  1. Managers do not support staff exploration and experimentation with Web 2.0;
  2. Managers take no ownership over exploration and experimentation with Web 2.0 and provide no support to their staff;
  3. Managers react to initial teething problems with Web 2.0 engagement by shutting it all down and banning further exploration of the potential;

Your Challenges & Your Solutions?
I know that not only can all these challenges be overcome – but they have been. Somewhere.

If you’ve overcome one of the challenges here – could you write 50 words on how you did it? Add it as a comment here or your own blog post including the tag ‘smallchallenges’.

Or perhaps you can add to the challenges list? Naming the challenges is the first step to overcoming them!

41 thoughts on “OpenGov: One big challenge? Or a thousand small hurdles”

  1. You’re absolutely right, there’s nothing there that isn’t achievable. Some technical issues, some governance / policy, but nothing that a sense of purpose, and a realisation of where Web 2.0 / social media can fit in to an organisation, couldn’t surmount. That, for me, is the biggest issue. Staff at the coal face are more likely to be aware of new technologies and would have the ideas on how to exploit them, but where is the corporate desire to listen and learn?

  2. Hi Tim – good list. It would be good to develop it so that people can allocate where responsibility lies for each hurdle – how much is stuff you really ought to just sort yourself and how much needs permission from above or external support and then to see what the overall balance is. Obviously to a degree it will vary between organisations and even departments but it could make an interesting picture of now just what the hurdles are but who’s responsible for them.

  3. Great list Tim, and most of it applicable to most of our schools as well. So is that holding back the development of key skills in our centres of learning? I think so!!

  4. Hi Tim,

    Reading your list makes my heart sink, as I am sure it does for many who have worked within an environment that chokes digital innovation. It is not limited to government; I have had this experience in both the private and public sector.

    I am very fortunate to be working on a public sector project that has a CEO who is a proponent of web 2.0 technologies for engaging with stakeholders. I think that the list of issues or small challenges have at their root poor leadership and management as you note in points 48 and 49 which causes the blockage. The culture change has to start at the top to be become engrained in the organisation’s culture.

    In addition to assigning responsibility to the list, I would like to see some weighting applied to demonstrate the linking between the challenges where one affects the implementation of the other.

    Enjoyed reading the post,


  5. Tim–this is a great list! I’ve been doing a lot of work lately with State and local government and can attest to every one of these. What would be cool is a wiki with pages set up for each of the issues where we could all add ideas and resources for overcoming the problems. And I like Tara’s idea of looking at how many of these are interrelated and impacting one could impact many others. For example, many of the issues of policy and updating of technology have more to do with management attitudes and beliefs than with anything else. Impacting those and showing where things need to change would potentially kill several birds with one stone. Great stuff!

  6. Thanks all for the comments & I’ve had some great offline conversations around these themes in the last few days.

    Re: Wikifying the whole thing. Great idea! Let’s do it. I’ll get onto setting something up over the next few days… perhaps looking at the 50-100 challenges, and on the flip-side, the opportunities too ūüôā

  7. Great article Tim!

    A way to circumvent the usual fears organisations have of moving towards more collaborative and transparent work I and the CIO of the municipality I’m employed used was to introduce technologies in a very concrete maner. I found that our organisation lacked both a coherent way of working in projects and a IT-system to support such work. In a discussion with the CIO I introduced the idea of using a Wiki (TWiki to be exact) as a collaborative platform for all our projects.

    The CIO, who’s very pro web2.0 tech and social media in general, then introduced to idea to one of our larger departments by using a typical example of why a Wiki is a better system to work with than e-mail.

    Once the Wiki is introduced we’ve implemented another way of working that makes further moves toward other social media easier, hopefully.

    So the lesson learned is that by first introducing web2.0 tech internally by showing very concrete examples and/or cases you raise the level of acceptance for further moves towards transparency and collaboration. Strategically you do this through making regular work more efficient so that employees on all levels see some actual benefit. Policy and vision are important, but my experience tells me that such questions usually stay “owned” by higher management (unfortunately).

  8. Björn, Craig

    Thanks for the comments.

    Craig, good to know we’re not alone.

    Bj√∂rn, really useful comments. It’s certainly key that anything to resolve some of these points gets the balance between experimentation to just learn-by-doing, and policy etc. to gain management buy-in. The relationship between those is certainly something you’re comment above has got me reflecting on more.

  9. I’ll agree with my friend and colleague, Craig, above. I deal with many Federal government agencies as well as politicians’ offices and setting aside the technical matters, which I reckon you have covered, many staff in organisations are simply not informed (through no particular fault of their own) that there are guidelines and whole-of-government directives that cover their legitimate involvement in activities such as this.

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