“Government as platform” provides a compelling vision for the future of government and society

Before my recent keynote at CeBIT on Platform Strategy: Creating Exponential Value in a Connected World I did a video interview with Alex Zaharov-Reutt of ITWire, shown below. The full article and video is available on ITWire.

It was a very broad-ranging interview, however one of the topics I touched on was the concluding point of my keynote that afternoon, on governments as platforms.

I have written before about issues such as the role of crowdsourcing in government, how crowdfunding could shift the shape of taxation and government, how we can envisage the future of government as a solution enabler, and the value of a framework for the Transformation of Government.

As I have recently spent increasing time and attention on platform strategy, it has struck me that “government as platform” provides a clear and compelling vision for the future role of government.

The current view of government is of a set of institutions that take money from citizens in the form of taxes, and spend it to create social value. One of the most fundamental problems with this model is that governments are indubitably highly ineffective and inefficient at achieving the desired outcomes with the resources they have.

Governments should not be doing work that they do very poorly. They should be facilitators, enablers, catalysts, and orchestrators of value-creating interactions between citizens.

The starting point needs to be agreeing and understanding the social and economic outcomes we want, which can still happen through a political process that may not be dissimilar to current structures (though the shift to true participatory democracy is another important topic, to return to another day).

When we know what outcomes we want, we can design platforms that bring together participants to create those outcomes in the most efficient manner possible.

As a small example, HireUp enabling people with disability to find and work with their own support workers. The platform is able to enable the desired outcomes at substantially lower cost than any government body has been able to do. Moreover, since it enables people to find each other, it is far more likely to bring together people who will get on well with each other, rather than be randomly matched.

The idea of government of platform is by no means new. Tim O’Reilly has written and spoken about the idea at length, including an excellent book chapter on the topic. The UK government is currently discussing the topic, though largely from a narrower technological perspective.

Now that platforms models such as Uber, AirBnB, PayPal, Upwork, Tripadvisor, Lending Club and many others have not only helped people understand what platforms are, but also for us to develop far better principles for effective platform strategy, we are in a far better position to build not just the metaphor, but the reality, of government as platform.

The potential is exceptional.