Canadian public sector heads to Lac Carling to bone up on Web 2.0

NIAGARA ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. – Sue Corke doesn’t have to be a Web 2.0 devotee to know that online technologies have the potential to drastically improve service delivery.

“I don’t use it myself,” she admitted of tools such as blogs, wikis and social networking sites such as Facebook. “My kids use it a lot. They’re always on Facebook and sending each other messages.”

Corke, the deputy city manager for Toronto, was among the close to 200 delegates attending the 12th annual Lac Carling conference this week. The theme of the conference is around using Web 2.0 technologies and features appearances by former Industry Canada minister John Manley, Wikinomics co-author Anthony Williams and several government technology representatives discussing pilot projects and early successes.

Coined by technology book publisher Tim O’Reilly, Web 2.0 is a loose term that generally refers to the use of Web-based tools to share information and collaborate with each other.

Harry Zarek, CEO of Toronto-based IT consulting firm Compugen, said the concept of Web 2.0 is relatively new in government circles and hasn’t necessarily taken a hold yet, but he said that doesn’t mean the interest isn’t there.

“I would say the initiatives we see tend to be more around traditional IT requirements,” he said. “I don’t think it’s penetrated people’s work environment yet.”

Corke said she is sure there are considerable opportunities to use Web 2.0 to engage citizens, but the benefits could also be internal, particularly among post-Baby Boom employees who are more accustomed to using such technologies.

“We have a whole bunch of young people who are chomping at the bit for these kinds of things,” she said.

Zarek agreed, and suggested that age may play a role in how quickly governments take action on Web 2.0.

“I think in some ways it’s very much a generational thing,” he said. Not that they won’t get up to speed. “Many of them have been hard-pressed to give it the kind of attention they would like.”

Corke added that government are faced with a variety of conflicting priorities which may put Web 2.0 on the back burner, at least for now.

“It may come down to what they want to invest in,” she said. For example, is there more benefit in adopting Web 2.0 tools, or opening up a new public swimming pool?

What little exposure Canadian governments have had includes government bans on Facebook, at least in the Ontario government and the City of Toronto. Zarek said those rules may not represent long-term barriers, however.

“There are ways to set up private wikis and private Facebooks,” he said. “They will deal with those issues. And they are the same kind of issues companies are facing. They are not unique to government.

Lac Carling 2008 continues on Tuesday.

Related content:

Users less satisfied with federal government Web sites, says report

Government faces Facebook reality

Web 2.0: Government’s social networking debate

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