In the context of Senator Obama’s radical and successful use of the internet to win the Presidency, commentators wildly speculated about how President Obama would then use the internet to govern. Having amassed 1 million+ followers, would he run the first ever Twit-ocracy and use Twitter to solve his country’s problems? Would he run an enlarged collaborative People’s Cabinet via Facebook?

Months into President Obama’s period of governance, we now have a good sense of what democracy under Obama looks like. And both government policy wonks and web 2.0 geeks have reasons to be pleased with the direction Obama’s taking American democracy.

Policy wonks should be excited about his declaration, on day two of being in office, that he was dedicated to transparent, participative and collaborative governance:

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

Cue excitement from 2.0 geeks too – as obviously public participation and collaboration are values at the heart of the web 2.0 movement. So the next question from the 2.0 community was “so what’s the big man going to do?” Given the precedent of Obama’s election campaign, and the fact that the US are the richest and most tech-savvy nation (inventors of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Amazon . . .), the expectations were certainly set high.

The reality has certainly been a lot more muted than most geeks would have liked. Nothing overly glam and technologically ground-breaking, but instead a steady stream of pilot e-democracy projects and iterative improvements using an array of different web 2.0 tools.

A quick list of these innovations in participative and transparent governance include:

  • dialogue [link no longer available]: a crowd-sourcing process designed to tap the IT community for ideas for implementing
  • a web portal providing access to Federal government data sets.

For policy wonks the most interesting ongoing issue is how to make the concept of participative policy making work in practice – given the practical issues around integrating public crowd-sourcing into the formal policy making process. Certainly the dialogue indicates that focused “expert-based crowd-sourcing” works, however there’s still a question of how to make more broad “citizen-based crowd-sourcing” work effectively.

And if I were to rate Obama’s democracy 2.0 so far? Well, I’d probably give him a B+. A promising positive start, but definitely not the finished article.

For a more in-depth account of Obama’s democracy 2.0, read my briefing paper. Download a .pdf version here, or read it via Scribd below (N.B. use the toggle functions on the top left of the app below to enlarge)
View Obama’s democracy 2.0 on Scribd