Purchasing Gov 2.0 services – nothing like buying a pen.

I have been getting increasingly alarmed at reports of central purchasing initiatives for Gov 2.0 where contracts are signed at a whole of government level.

Central purchasing seems like ever such a good idea to drive down costs. If the Government buys all its pens from one source then the pens are cheaper – is the theory.

Would this work for Gov 2.0 services?  Of course not.  Pens pretty much all do the same thing.  Web 2.0 services do not.

Web 2.0 is very far from being a mature field and central purchasing implies standardisation.  Standardisation is the enemy of innovation and in a world that is evolving as fast as web 2.0 services for government any exclusive centralised standard contract risks locking out new innovations.

I do not want to suggest that standards should not be applied.  Accessibility standards, for example, are an important part of the framework within which all web 2.0 sites should operate.  However, there is a difference between standards and standardisation.

One of the great things about our sector is that we are constantly challenged by new tools, tricks and start ups. To stand still is to atrophy.  Because of this we, and most of our competitors, are constantly reinventing, challenging and improving our offerings and services based on client feedback and ideas of how to facilitate better engagement. This is why I love what I do.  This is also why we work to make our tools compatible with others on the market so clients can use the best available technologies and services for their projects.  For example EngagementHQ’s API allows data transfer to other platforms. Many of our clients integrate specialist services from other providers into their consultations and we encourage this.

Ideally when planning an engagement project the Government Department in question will consider the subject matter, the audience and their feedback needs and will then choose the best methodologies and tools to engage.  A site designed for collaborative budgeting will look different for a site for engaging youth which may in turn look very different to a community discussion about new legislation.

It would be a real pity if the ability of public servants to shop around and use the best tools available was removed by a system that views online engagement as a standardised function – like an ink based writing implement.

Photo Credit: Robert Howie

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