people ask questions over the Internet, and then others vote on which questions they think are most important. The president's transition team used Google Moderator in December 2008 to solicit questions from citizens on the Open for Questions page of Barack Obama's Change.gov site. The goal was to find out what issues people considered most important before he took office. According to the site, more than 20,000 people cast nearly 1 million votes on 10,000 questions.

Team Obama also unveiled the Citizen's Briefing Book in January 2009 on Change.gov, powered by Salesforce.com's hosted CRM technology. The program solicits ideas from citizens on how to fix the country's problems, and lets other citizens vote on them. According to Change.gov, more than 70,000 people participated with half a million votes.

Some states, cities and counties are already using Web 2.0 tools. Neighborhood America, a company that builds enterprise social networks for customer engagement, has worked with private- and public-sector clients since 1999 to build social networks. In spring 2009, the company announced a partnership with Microsoft to create the Public Sector Idea Bank, a group of Web-based solutions that allow governments to track and respond to public records requests, constituent service requests, meeting agenda documents, field-inspection cases and other public processes.

Thomas-Flynn thinks government 2.0 projects will take a little while to gain traction, according to what she's witnessing at Microsoft.

"I don't think this sort of migration to the cloud is going to happen overnight," she said. "I think it's going to be several years, but there's absolutely a lot of customers who we're working with right now that are either considering or have adopted some elements of online offerings."

Ultimately, using SaaS to communicate with constituents in innovative ways could enhance government's image in the eyes of the public. In his book CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, Rutgers University's CRM Research Center chairman and executive vice president of the CRM Association Paul Greenberg wrote that Americans have a love/hate relationship with government that varies depending on how responsive people think it is to their needs. CRM, or government-to-citizen interaction, can be a tool for the public sector to show that response.

"If the government is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people," he said, "if it actually is following the principles of the republic, small 'r,' then the way that the citizenry tends to engage the government is by the capabilities the government offers in their effectiveness in counting out those capabilities and promises that they make."

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.