Editorial: Embracing change

We in the IT community have dealt with change for years, but the pace seems to be quickening.

We keep hearing that we are living in a time of change. But those of us in the information technology community have been living with change for years. In many ways, we have been leaders of change. But even for us, the pace seems to be quickening.
Understanding change doesn’t make adjusting to it any easier. Government agencies are not known for being adept at dealing with change, so it is understandable they are struggling to govern in a Web 2.0 world.

A number of recent stories have highlighted the government’s responses to changes caused by the proliferation of Web 2.0 tools. When the Army proposed regulations that would essentially prohibit soldiers from blogging, it had to quickly withdraw them following a torrent of criticism.

Next, the Defense Department blocked access to 13 social-networking sites. Rear Adm. Elizabeth Hight, vice director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, warned that DOD could block more sites.

DOD’s reasoning is sound: Many of those sites are bandwidth hogs. Hight was quick to point out that the decision had nothing to do with censoring content.

Government agencies are not alone in blocking access to many of those sites. 1105 Media, the parent company of Federal Computer Week, blocks YouTube, for example.

But social-networking sites are part of our changing world. Leslie Harris, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told Federal Computer Week, “Web 2.0 is not just real-time communication but [is] the capacity for many people to create things together.” DOD’s policy “does not seek to balance the value of the Internet on the lives of the soldiers.”

Such sites are changing the way organizations and people work with information. And they represent a huge change for government. The traditional mode of government — in which information is power, and the more information you have the more powerful you are — is becoming passé. Information is still powerful, but real power comes from sharing it.
Agencies can resist change, but if history is any indication, it will happen anyway. Instead, it would be refreshing if the government embraced the possibilities of change.