The connected citizen

Juli 7th, 2007

The internet made us more powerful as well as making us more transparent. We have access to information anytime, anyplace. We can find, motivate or join like minded people to create something or influence a third party. We also leave our trails on blogs, social networking platforms, newsgroups or buying online. Governments and citizens alike can benefit from this trend.

Hierarchical government structures are the dominant model for public service delivery and meeting public policies. Although desired outcomes are mostly realized, this set-up turns out to have various downsides. Results are a silo like, inward-looking culture, slow decision making, change awareness or knowledge diffusion. While the latter also led to an institutionalized disconnect from citizens it can cause system failures when information and decision making transcends organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. Hurricane Katrina, the Avian Flu, various non-prevented terrorist attacks are such representative cases.

In addition, public administration has become continuously more complex. Economic, social, political and technological developments in the past decades have lead to a growth of the administrative apparatus, its size, power and obligations. Market-based reforms have optimized agency operations and privatized public services through contracting-out (i.e. Public Private Partnerships) or completely conferring them to the private sector. Hence, public managers and policy makers have to work within a sphere of multiple stakeholders and understand interdependent relationships for service provision, regulation and policy making. Knowing whom to hold accountable and a general understanding of this complex system is important for legislators as well as for citizen.

What can governments do?

1. Access
2. Dialogue
3. Transparency
4. Internal change

Governments need to provide access to its services and information by the latest channels (i.e. counter, call center, web portal). Additionally, pervasive municipal WLANs are part of the idea. However, access also means share as much data as possible that was kept within the organization in the past. It is important however to structure and phrase internal information when giving citizens access as they might not be accustomed to the terms, language or procedures. In general, constituents can come up with creative ways of adding value to that data by analyzing or linking it with other information. Google Maps mash-ups like Chicago crime watch are a good example. At the same time it is important that citizens can share their information with their government and fellow constituents.

Dialogues help governments to understand the emotional, social, cultural and government contexts that shape citizens experiences. In an iterative dialogue of equals people can learn from each other. Governments are doing this through focus groups, neighbourhood councils and the like. A centralized call center and number like 311 make it easier for citizens to start that dialogue. In the future, governments could also provide platforms where citizens and governments can form a network on government related topics. Many times though governments cooperated symbolically (Etzioni 1958: 261) usually causing citizens realizing the lack of impact returning to passivity.

By sharing internal knowledge or allowing citizens to track their public services governments create a lot of transparency. In fact they governments loose a level of control while at the same time adding value by decreasing their burden through information requests, using citizen’s input to improve internal efficiency, eliminating gate-keepers or changing daily management. Let’s take the impact of New York’s 311 implementation for example. If any engineer, architect or builder wanted to meet with a DOB building inspector, which was necessary to begin a project, they would have to use the services of an expediter, a person whose job it was to interact with City employees and to facilitate the permitting and inspection process. Each of these expediters had a relationship with an employee in the DOB. As such they were gate-keepers. Typically, expediters would book numerous appointments each day in case they were hired; they would then cancel appointments at the last minute if they did not need them. A building inspector would therefore have his calendar full for several weeks in the future, meaning that anyone not using an expediter would be forced to wait weeks for an appointment. Transparency combined with better access changed this. Now citizens are randomly assigned to an inspector so that nobody can maintain special relationships. Expediters are no longer useful or necessary. The inspectors are working at full capacity and have to meet certain performance criteria (i.e. response time, closing time).

Finally, internal change is necessary to provide an environment and infrastructure to make the above happen. Sustainable, top-level political leadership is one of the key success factors. ( Teaching Case (A) Released

Juni 15th, 2007

Yesterday, our teaching case on was released. It is publicly available on the PNG working paper series site.

The case addresses several issues from the social network and online social networking literature. The case’s objective is to help students understand how existing offline social ties and interpersonal relationships can be transformed into a powerful online social network/online community which is attractive from several perspectives, such as social networking, online advertising, and entrepreneurial activity.

Alexander Schellong and Thomas Langenberg have jointly developed the case in close collaboration with the Program on Networked Governance as well as the support of Erik Wachtmeister, the CEO of, and Louise Wachtmeister, Marketing Director and Co-Founder of aSmallWorld.

Social Finance - P2P lending - Could Web20 provide the people with the power of banking?

Juni 6th, 2007

In line with David’s recent post on social networks and investing, I stick to the topic and would like to point your attention to Social Finance…

VoIP companies such as Skype, now owned by Ebay, are having a big impact on the telecommunication business. Youtube and blogs are threatening traditional business models in media and communications. The business of head hunting is most likely altered by online social networks. Yet, the tools and structures to do money lending or investing have remained the domain of professional organizations such as banks. Could Social Banking or P2P lending change this?

Social Banking or people-to-people (P2P) lending is a term that is describing web based ventures that provide people an alternative opportunity to lend/borrow money. The banking is called social because it uses social mechanisms used in social software. The purpose of social banking can be for profit or non-for-profit.

How does it work? was the first people-to-people lending market place (starting in mid 2006). Others followed such as the UK based Zopa, the German based Smava, CircleLending or the soon to be launched Microplace (bought by eBay). Lending club recently announced its collaboration with facebook where its application can be integrated by the 25 Mio+ facebook users. P2P lending allows people either to lend money or borrow money. People who want to borrow money name the amount and their maximum interest rate they are willing to pay. In addition they need a social security number, drivers liecense, a bank account so that prosper can verfiy the identity and other credit information. Borrowers also present their reason for lending the money (i.e. pay for K-School tuition, extend a business), their personal income and expenses and a picture. This information is available to anyone - even non registered members. Former lenders or others such as family members may endorse a borrower. Combined all these measure aim at creating an environment of trust, community and control. Borrowers may also found groups to improve their average credit rating which creates a level of pressure for all group members to avoid late payments which will have an effect on everyone else. Yet, only $25,000 can be borrowed at one time per group or individual borrower.

Lenders can bid on those loans although Prosper is essentially providing the loans and sells it to the lenders. In order to diversify risk, lenders can decide to lend small amounts of money to several borrowers with different credit rating.

Some thoughts
The boundary of interest rate elasticities is obviously determined by the market (central banks and major credit actors). Therefore, lenders are less likely to consider investing money once a borrower’s interest rate is below the one lenders would receive in a risk-free money market account. On the other hand borrower’s are most likely on willing to pay an interest rate that is the same or below the one provided by major market players.

I am just wondering whether this concept is transferable into any culture and nationstate. According to a survey 74% of British citizens would consider using social banking websites. In contrast, anyone I talked about the idea in Germany was very critical about it, especially the trust component. Trust, cultural norms, social circles and government regulations likely play an important role. Social Banking will certainly be an era where economists and experts of social networks and social capital can enrich each others discussion. This is an emerging trend and as I heard a hot topic for online business investors. Its too early to judge whether social banking can be a disruptive to the banking industry. However, that might be an interesting alternative to many people who are afraid of investing in stocks. Speaking of stocks, may be the next platforms allow individual users or groups of users to do their own IPOs - from P2P lending to P2P stocks!?

What do you think about social banking?
Where do you see its advantages and disadvantages?
Would you participate in it?
Can it disrupt the banking industry?

On a sidenote. There is a US based non-profit ( which is trying to do more or less the same thing for microcredits to the poor in developing countries. And the website netbanker is a good way to keep up with trends in the eBanking industry.

Call for Papers: 6th international EGOV conference 2007

April 2nd, 2007

Regensburg, September 3 - 7, 2007

Submission Deadline: February 15, 2007

The annual EGOV conferences bring together leading researchers and professionals from all over the globe and from many disciplines. Over the years, the interest has increased tremendously. The 2006 conference attracted about 130 participants from 28 countries all over the world including developing countries, with 30 contributions in outstanding research, 30 contributions in ongoing research, 15 projects contributions and 5 workshops. Hence the EGOV Conferences have become a reunion for academics and professionals as well as an important ground for networking.

General information for the EGOV conference can be found at; Info on the location and for further conferences at the DEXA conference cluster.

To counter insurgency - try to understand your enemies social networks first

März 14th, 2007

Of course this is not the only thing those on the ground and in HQ should consider. Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance says David Kilcullen, an Australian Army officer. For decades, the Pentagon and social sciences have had little to do with each other. This was different in World War II and is changing given the difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan. More on that in an article by Packer (2005) in the New Yorker (12/18). In fact, network analysis was also used in the pursuit for Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi President. A paper by Aylwin-Foster (2005) and the US Army field manual (FMI 3-07.22) give further insights into strategies and practices of counter-insurgency operations.

Other aspects of dark networks were presented in an earlier post the PNG blog. With regard to Afghanistan, military planners might find work done by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit of interest. Here is a link to one of their case studies about Afghani social networks in Peshawar, the Pakistani border region with its key trade route (Khyber Pass) to Afghanistan. You can also listen to a program (Taliban Sympathizers Take Refuge in Pakistan) on NPR by Kelly (2006/12/1). Finally, additional insights can surely be derived from Monsutti’s (2005) book, War and Migration:Social Networks and Economic Strategies of the Hazaras of Afghanistan .

Extending the Technology Enactment Framework - PNG Working Paper

Februar 20th, 2007

Jane Fountain’s book “Building the Virtual State” introduced social science researchers to the technology enactment framework (TEF). This working paper presents further modifications to the revised TEF by Okumura who introduced key actors that influence technology enactment. I propose a fourth actor group, the citizen and further causal relations between existing actors and the organisational setting. The revisions towards a more hybrid TEF between an actor-centric and institutional approach allows overcoming some of the limitations brought up by the framework’s critics such as the absence of socio-technical systems theory.

Cross boundary collaboration and eGovernment: PNG Working Paper

Februar 10th, 2007

Administrative and political leadership need to use their growing understanding of
eGovernment to come up with strategies that help them crossing the boundary between organizatonal units for better collaboration and coordination. My PNG working paper “Crossing the boundary - Why putting the e in Government is the easy part” reviews the current status of eGovernment projects and research from around the globe and offers additional insights in how to overcome these challenges.


Figure: Modified Gartner eGovernment Hype Cycle

Government Social Software - SNS in Japan Part IV: Connecting the cases to the literature

Februar 1st, 2007

Today’s post ends my entry series on the use of local Social Networking Services by Japanese municipal governments.

Even without knowing the respective research and terms interviewees made the correct assumptions about social networks or tell stories reflecting results of social networks and social support in disaster literature. Drawing for example on the narrative of the family that was helped by many strangers after a the mother of a sons friend (weak tie) wrote about their flooded house in her “Gorotto Yatchiro” blog which supports Granovetter’s weak tie and Burt’s structural hole role in non routine activities (2004; 1983). Those interviewees who joined the local SNS found new friends on the platform and expanded their social network as concluded by Tindall and Wellman (2001). Furthermore, Soiga NPO is a great example how an organization, once brought into existence for one set of purpose (environmental activities), can also aid others for different purposes described by Coleman, thus constituting social capital available for use (1988). The NPO’s blogs were considered a trusted source and can provide an alternative to the mass media which is regarded by many individuals as a more credible source of risk information than government (McComas, 2001). A centralized approach to the provision and publication of local information might not be fine-grained enough to cater to the viral and capillary spread of word-of-mouth information anyway. This informal interaction can only be supported by recognizing the peer-to-peer nature of local interaction which is distinct from the conventional many-to-many, few-to-many, or one-to-many broadcast nature of other online interaction (Foth, 2006). In the past this role was taken by neighbourhood organizations which are already impacted by demographic and cultural change (young generations are not really interested in joining).
Finally, if the majority of the population would be represented on local SNS platform, sociograms could provide snapshots of networks and interaction structures. From these types of diagrams government and citizens can visually identify emergent positrons and clusters of interaction. By examining these patterns of mediated and unmediated interaction they could gain an added perspective on communication structures that underpin explicit community processes as well as those that support affective, less instrumental behaviors (Garton, Haythornthwaite, & Wellman, 1997). Privacy might be a concern for citizens of course. At the moment, local SNS can serve the functions of managing and building social networks. In disasters it covers the areas of “observe and report” and “warn and inform”. Along the lines of La Porte, I argue that the design and rules of the network constrain the character, use and content of member roles and exchanges and the network (1996). Consequently, local SNS could support the community and government beyond its current scope.

Sidenote: As I heard this week MIC is planing to extend their local SNS pilot with 10 other cities. I will keep you posted.

Government Social Software - SNS in Japan Part III: Some observations

Januar 18th, 2007

In today’s entry I would like to make some comments on the two Japanes local government SNS case studies I presented earlier.

Mr. Kobayashi, the member of Yatsushiro’s IT department, has a key role for the future development and functionalities of the SNS platform. He started this local SNS completely on his own, inspired by the rise of private social networking platforms and personal interest in technology. His government membership and high level of personal involvement ensure the sustainability of “Gorotto Yatchiro”. By comparison, “Ococo Nagaoka” is managed by an actor outside of government. The NPO, although well connected, has less leverage on the level government support and involvement. Government officials reportedly evaluate success by the quantity of users which influences their willingness of support. Therefore, “Ococo Nagaoka” is in a critical state (only 600-700 users).

Many online activities (i.e. exchanges) are depending on a critical mass for others to be attractive, a criteria which has not been met in both cases (1%< of the total population) and both mostly exclude older generations. In addition, both are competing with big platforms like Mixi.

If the local SNS has more users, the load on technology and burden on involved managers will also grow. Mr. Kobayashi would not be able to monitor user behavior without further help if that happens. Although officials claim to learn something from citizens, there is nobody checking the information in the citizens’ blogs.
Mr. Kobayashi is right when pointing to the importance taking a gradual approach of getting more users and introducing the platform. However, government marketing is not helping much and poorly done which reminded me of discussions with administrators who were wondering about the slow user uptake in their eGovernment projects.

Although Mr. Kobayashi added the map feature, functionality and design of existing platforms led to an early framing of his understanding of the possibilities and limits of local SNS. The lack of feedback by other people in the creation process is certainly a reason why its use in disaster or the government citizen relationship is not fully exploited. Administrative members would also be more willing to join, add content and engage with the citizen if there would be a considerable and visible amount of support by executive level administrators. Again, Mixi and Gree formed their perception of SNS so that in their words local SNS is mainly a way to interact with the public and offer it a way to interact with each other. They miss the aspect of building social capital.

Moreover, MIC should have planned a longer pilot phase since the tendency of a slow user uptake was already visible in the data for Yatsushiro. Central government is still influential in Japan so MIC could have also done more to inform and motivate the public and administrators alike.

Government Social Software - SNS in Japan Part II: Nagaoka City

Januar 6th, 2007

The following describes my findings from Nagaoka city. Follow the highlighted area to read the first part about on government social software in Yatsushiro.

Nagaoka is a city located in the center of Niigata prefecture spanning from the northern coast inland of Japan’s main island Honshu. Just like Yatsushiro, Nagaoka merged with a couple of surrounding cities and towns between April 2005 and January 2006 increasing its population by approximately 100.000. Nagaoka was completely destroyed during Second World War and always had to cope with some form of disaster (earthquakes, snow, flood). This fact left its distinctive mark on the now roughly 283.000 people living in Nagaoka and is a reason why the Phoenix was chosen as a symbol of the city. The recovery of the Chuuetsu earthquake (More on the geophysics) in October 2004 is still taking place in some mountainous areas. The community is said to be better connected in those rural areas than in the city. According to city officials internet penetration is now at 60%. During the earthquake the internet and basic mobile messaging were the only communication channels working.

Before Nagaoka introduced the local SNS platform, it had a web bulletin board besides its official city website. Citizens showed the same frustration with the language and inappropriate behavior of some users which led many to abandon the platform. The city’s local SNS called “Ococo Nagaoka” was introduced in mid December 2005. As it is based on “Open Gorotto” I will not go into detail about its functionality. By now (December 2006) there are 600 registered users compared to 300 at the end of the MIC test phase in February. Only a few forums around casual topics like food eco-tourism can be considered active. The local SNS was marketed through publications in city newspapers, banners and section on the city website. In contrast, Mixi has 2000 members just for Nagaoka.


The process that ultimately led to the Nagaoka local SNS started in 2004. Soiga, an NPO, originally founded for environmental activities in April 2004 used a blogs and RSS to inform the public when the region first experienced a severe flood in April and earthquake in October. They provided faster information than government which received wide media attention, especially when they took over communication after Nakanashima government was operational ineffective through flooding. The NPO tried to convince government officials later that year to start an official government blog but their idea was rejected because nobody saw any need or importance in it. Thereafter, the head of the NPO was asked by MIC to join a newly formed working group on local SNS. (Furthere information in Japanese) The group consisted of academics, members from MIC and members of local administrators among them Mr. Kobayashi. They formed two groups to cover the theoretical and implementation/system aspects. First, they all looked at Mixi and Gree as the majority of them had never heard of SNS or used it before. To get the funds, the official project goal was officially about improving civic participation in Nagaoka and Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. Although they could not think of a different kind of use, improved information sharing in disasters was a secondary object. MIC covered the costs (¥ 1,500.000) for the local SNS pilot phase whereas the NPO was asked to manage it and work together with local government. Running costs are at around ¥ 30,000 per month.

When Nagaoka’s local SNS started, many sections except for information policy did not understand the SNS concept and why Nagaoka was chosen. In fact, of those interviewed, many admit that they are still wondering what SNS is all about, why they should put their information online and how it could be further utilized for government. Many immediately joined Mixi to get a feeling for SNS. Perceptions of local SNS vary. The dominating view is that local SNS provides a convenient location for communication and information sharing for citizens and government. In the past neighbourhood associations (NA) were the link between government and citizens. However, most leaders and people in the NA are now very old and lack knowledge or interest in the use of IT. Some interviewees think it could complete or add value to real-life relationships. People could help each other more by learning more about each other, what they could do for the community and as a result rely less on government. One mentions a group that started discussing how to have a nicer city and improve economic growth which members first got to each other through the local and later offline. A member of the disaster section adds that it is strengthening the community by building broad networks between the newly merged cities. Sceptics think that there are more dominating means of communication like mobile phones. A council member who uses multiple blogs and the SNS, thinks that the level of impact on the community of the local SNS is very low. To stress this point he compares his networks on Mixi (112 contacts) and the local SNS (12 contacts). In general though, SNS helped the council member to interact with the younger community.

Currently the members of Soiga (Japanese only) are working on an updated version which should be online by early 2007. The biggest change lies in the use of the Google Maps API. They are as well talking about online advertisement space and how to attract more users to the platform. Significant changes to “Open Gorotto” can only be introduced if they are implemented by Mr. Kobayashi or someone with his skills.