Web 2.0 and the Government

The Sabah goverment started its e-goverment initiative in the late 90s and I was somewhat involved in those nascent efforts by designing some of the first-ever goverment websites for departments like the Sabah Museum and the State Library. A decade later, this e-goverment effort has not progressed beyond government departments and agencies (static information) web sites, a government news site, centralised email, and several intranet applications, and a handful of online applications used by citizens. The state government has yet to fully harness and leverage the many Internet technologies and their new working paradigms (such as the Web 2.0 platform), increased penetration of the Internet and wireless broadband services, as well as the increasing number of tech-savvy and connected citizens, many of whom are young, educated, and eager-to-involve citizens.

The Web 2.0 era has been with us for a few years already and is a networked world supporting individual users creating content individually and collectively, sharing and updating information and knowledge using sophisticated, diverse sharing devices and tools, and remixing and improving on content created by each other. This platform places a lot of importance on the online environment being individual-user-centric. Web 2.0 applications demand that government departments engage citizens and customers online where they are (in social network sites and online communities) rather than create portals and all-purpose web sites and expect citizens and customers to approach them. In addition this new paradigm of working require a new environment of collaborative culture within government departments agencies. As a means of getting government and citizens to collaborate, the primary objectives of interaction-focused uses includes to interact with citizens to get their feedback on policies, issues, services (as well as service design and new ideas), and to benefit from the “wisdom of the crowd” through creation of new content, and extending and expanding the information provided by the government.

Everybody lugs a camera these days, be it a phone camera or those handy point-and-shoot pocketables. The Kota Kinabalu City council, for example, can set up a web site where citizens can upload pictures of faulty or broken-down public facilities and amenities, and have users digg these reports. By looking at the most diggs, the Council (or any relevant government organization) can know where are the most complaints about the facilities that they are supposed to maintain, and through the pictures actually gauge the actual state of the disrepair. Take for example the above picture I took at the Likas Sports Complex: the worst public-use facility I saw in Sabah; I am sure it will be digged to the top the instant it is uploaded to this website.

The State Government is very ernest in its desire to achieve its stated policy to make tourism as one of the cornerstones of Sabah’s economy, and in this the government has made great strides in its tourism promotion efforts. The results can be seen in the many-fold increase (more that 2 million in 2009) in both Malaysian and foreign tourists visiting Sabah in the last few years. Yet, at least on the Net, there is no one-stop place where a would-be tourist can really learn and know about Sabah. (Yes, there is the Sabah Tourism Board website but the information are rather thin and not in-depth.) Now, if we can have a http://www.wikisabah.com.my where the wiki can use the wisdom of the crowd, and especially Sabahans, I am sure we will have an Internet site that will be a very useful resource, especially for foreign tourists.

Finally, and I am sure you dear readers probably have much more and better ideas, the government can leverage Web 2.0 collaboration in its regulatory work also. For example, DBKK has been grading Kota Kinabalu eateries for some time now, rating the place A, B, or C, depending on the cleanliness of the place. DBKK can, by force of law, close down a restaurant if it consistently break health or cleanliness laws. (The City Council rarely does this though, instead preferring to work positively with the shop owner.) This rating can be combined with customer online reviews as well as food critic reviews to create enhanced value for the community, and at the same time be an economic (dis)incentive for the eateries operators.

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