Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BarCamp Canberra 2 outcomes

Last Saturday the second BarCamp Canberra was held, featuring 25 presentations on an assortment of online focused topics, both ICT and business related.

With roughly 75 attendees, including the first Member of Parliament to attend an Australian BarCamp, Senator Kate Lundy (who is also on Twitter as @katelundy), the themes for the day focused on developing the online channel in government and emergency management.

On the emergency front, Pamela Fox (mash-up queen) provided an excellent insider's view of how Google developed and managed the maps of Victorian bushfires, and also provided access to her whitepaper on how government could further assist the public by making mapping data available alongside emergency RSS feeds. Side benefits she highlighted included less load on government web servers, improving reliability in high usage periods, greater capacity for the public to make use of emergency information and lower-cost more efficient information distribution and discovery.

Tom Worthington's presentation on how to get bushfire emergency authorities to work together was also very insightful, providing an understanding of how far Australia is from a nationally consistent system (very useful for emergencies that cross state borders).

James Dellow provided an excellent view on the progress of egovernment (gov 2.0) in the UK, and his slides are available online.

The Twitter feed for the day was immensely popular, trending as the 3rd top discussion at times through the day. It can be viewed at #bcc2.

Some other posts about the day are visible at:
Tom Worthington's blog
Ruth Ellison's blog

A selection of photos from the day are visible here and here.

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Social Media in Government conference outcomes

The US "Social Media for Government" conference was held in Washington, DC last week.

It appears to have discussed a large number of topics that would be of equal interest to public servants and officials here in Australia, so I've attached a few below....



Another presentation was on Measuring the impact of Social Media in Government, given by Ari Herzog and Andrew Krzmarzick, as embedded below.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Guest post: Supporting a major government project with social media tools

I am pleased to present this guest post from a colleague who has done a fantastic job of incorporating online tools into the government project management mix.

I feel that the work Nathanael Boehm and his team have been doing on the Training.gov.au project is an example of how social media can improve the ability of government to support consultation with stakeholders and customers and to deliver successful outcomes.

Guest post:
Nathanael Boehm is a web user interaction designer currently working for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) on the Training.gov.au project. In addition to web design he is involved in the project and contract management, training and social media aspects of the project. In this guest blog post on eGovAU Nathanael talks about why the Training.gov.au team decided to use social media and how they did it.

The Vocational Education and Training sector in Australia is complex, with many stakeholders playing a role in delivering training information and industry regulation. Collectively they are known as the National Training System and the information infrastructure supporting this System is legislatively referred to as the National Training Information Service. This Service is currently provided by NTIS.gov.au, a website developed by the now decommissioned Australian National Training Authority.

In order to accommodate current policy, stakeholder expectations and user needs, Training.gov.au is being developed by the Department to replace NTIS. The new service is planned to be launched later this year.

The Training.gov.au project team was firmly committed to following a User-Centred Design (UCD) approach. Due to the complex nature of the National Training System, this meant coordinating input and expert opinions from thousands of organisations and key personnel.

The method for managing consultation had to take into account all of the dependencies and linkages between Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), Registering/Course Accreditation Bodies (RCABs), State Training Authorities (STAs), the Commonwealth, legislation, National Quality Council (NQC), Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF), Industry Skills Councils (ISCs) and other players.

To solve this the centerpiece of the project team's thinking was the launch of the Training.gov.au Project Blog which to my knowledge was the first ongoing Australian Federal Government blog.

There wasn't much effort or cost involved, we had existing web hosting infrastructure in place and web skills in the team. Therefore, over a few weeks, the team combined a WordPress theme with static information about the project and launched the Training.gov.au Project Blog.

In the spirit of engagement we aim for a very personal style. Each blog post is attributed to a member of the team, not the team as a whole, with the main blog contributors being Jo, Marty, Jonathon and myself. We try to steer clear of government speak, jargon and acronyms as much as possible.

We're aiming for openness and transparency - people appreciate that they know what we're doing and where we're up to every step of the way. They also appreciate the insights into how the project is being conducted and it gives the Project team an opportunity to show both that we're working really, really hard and that we are talking to our stakeholders.

The blog has been well-received by our stakeholders and users. It allows us to broadcast useful information that would otherwise not be available through traditional channels, simply because we're not prepared to spam everyone involved with an email telling them how our training sessions last week went. But there's still value in that content and the blog allows us to leverage it.

The blog also provides a method for our stakeholders to respond. In addition to formal response mechanisms, like the interest registration form, they can easily post comments attached to blog posts. With Jo out in the field promoting the blog as part of her engagement activities the number of comments and visitors is rapidly increasing.

In addition to deployment of the blog we stepped up our external in-person on-site engagement activities - preceded by bringing on a dedicated stakeholder engagement officer. We have a Twitter account @TrainingGovAu, although that is a secondary channel. We're not really pushing it at this stage but we do use it to engage in the Twittersphere when needed and to provide an additional entry point to blog content.

In the last few weeks we've also started using DOPPLR to demonstrate how much on-site engagement we do around the country and to assist with coordination of travel with stakeholders. Although the incorporation of DOPPLR into our social media strategy is under evaluation, our goal is to let people more readily see when we will be in their region or city if they want to attend a system demonstration or training.

Yes it's hard work doing all this engagement - the easy option would be to lock ourselves up in a room for 12 months and just build the website. However that doesn't give the project team any satisfaction in our work or any assurance that we're going to deliver a solution our stakeholders will like or that people will want to use, in support of the policy and business objectives.

In summary, the project team cannot read our stakeholders' or users' minds. It is essential to the success of the Training.gov.au project that we engage and consult broadly. Online social media has been a fundamental component of achieving this by closing the gap between the project team and the people we're delivering for.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Information held by the Government is a national resource

Information held by the Government is a national resource and should be managed in the public interest. Access to government information increases public participation, and leads to increased scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government activity.

It would be great to hear an Australian government make a statement like the above, acknowledging that much of the information collected by the government should be readily accessible.

Well in fact they have.

The quote above is from Senator the Hon Robert Faulkner in the FOI Reform - Companion Guide (available in PDF format only from this page).

The next step is to make information available in an appropriate format for easy reuse online, allowing it to recombined and used in innovative ways that add value and lead to new insights.

That's what the US government is planning to do.

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What are the best blog platforms for Australian government departments?

If your Department or agency is considering getting started in blogging it's worth considering the platforms that others in government are using to meet their needs.

Looking across the Australian government, there are now at least several different platforms used to deliver successful blogs.

For example the ABS's Statistically speaking blog uses Blogger (as I do for my blog), a free service from Google, whereas DEEWR's Training.gov.au project blog, the Austrade blog, the Australian War Memorial's blog, the Victorian Public Service Continual Improvement Network and the Sydney Observatory blog use Wordpress, also available for free, or in a paid version.

A couple of others I can't determine the system used - if anyone can tell me which system their blogs are using I'd appreciate it (including Defence, DBCDE and Mosman Library).

Considering the platforms I can identify, there's some clear benefits for agencies and for their audiences,

  • The platforms are familiar - they are in common use across the internet (therefore offer familiar controls and functions)
  • They are simple for government business areas to set-up and operate with little or no ICT involvement required
  • They are hosted through third parties, rather than requiring government investments in infrastructure and bandwidth
  • They provide the capacity to plug in RSS, photos, videos, analytics and various other tools quickly and easily - again with little or no ICT overhead

  • They offer configurable moderation of comments
  • They support single or multiple-author capabilities


In my view these are all useful in getting government blogs up and running quickly with a minimum of cost or stress. They also allow the primary focus of blogging activity to be on managing content and responses rather than on managing technology and development.

If you are looking further afield at the options for blogs, Elance has published a good article covering some of the most common blogging platforms, appropriately titled The Best Technology Platforms for Bloggers.

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US government opens social media flood gates - legal deal signed to use sites

The US government might have become one of the most active public administrations using blogging, Twitter, Facebook and other online 'social' mediums, but until now there have been legal issues over how and whether Federal agencies could legally use these tools.

However, after nine months of negotiations and discussion, the GSA has now signed an agreement with four video-sharing and social networking sites permitting their use by Federal authorities. Agreements with another two sites are in progress, and I am sure more will come.

Seventeen Federal Agencies have already signed, or are in the process of signing up via GSA's template, opening the floodgates to a significant leap in US government use of online channels.

Reported in Nextgov, GSA signs deals for agencies to use social networking sites, these agreements are a watershed for US public sector internet use.

The four sites with agreements, structured as Memorandums of Understanding, are Flickr, Vimeo, blip.tv and YouTube. GSA is negotiating with Facebook and MySpace.

Federal agencies are also beginning to create new roles to meet the President's new transparency directive and integrate use of online communications and engagement channels within their mix,

Most agencies will appoint directors of new media to determine how they can use social networking tools to meet mission goals and comply with President Obama's open government directive, said Sheila Campbell, team leader of Web best practices for the government portal USA.gov and co-chair of the Federal Web Managers Council.

The directive will instruct agencies to make their operations more transparent and to create a process that asks the public to submit opinions on policy issues and enable collaboration with organizations in the public and private sectors.

"Agencies that already have a business case to use these tools will have the legal footing to do so," Campbell said. Tools should be used strategically, she added, "not just for the sake of using them, but to accomplish agency missions."

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Catch 22 of government online participation

Government often has a narrow path to walk when engaging online, some of the measures in place to protect the privacy and security of citizens and government officials can conflict with efforts to improve the transparency and openness of government processes.

Hence this article from the New York Times, Government 2.0 Meets Catch 22.

The article highlights some of the issues that US government officials must navigate and contend with when participating with online communities or even using the internet to research potential employees.

While the article doesn't present any real solutions for government, it does highlight that there can be the need for some government policies and legislation to be reconsidered to provide the appropriate balance between government's ability to engage online and to protect those it employs and serves.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Are you ready for Internet Explorer 8 and Safari 4? - Overview of the web browser market

Does your organisation keep an eye on current browser standards and adoption rates?

If not it's worth surveying the market a few times each year to ensure that your web standards continue to align with market trends.

Below is a quick whip around the market, looking at the main browsers in use today.

Internet Explorer
Microsoft recently released the final version of Internet Explorer 8, with the expected range of features as demonstrated during the public beta.

It is still early days for the browser, however based on past experience it will experience rapid early adoption up to around 10-15% of the market, primarily offsetting Internet Explorer 7 rather than other browsers, then more slowly grow towards a larger market share over several years.

Most of the initial adoption will be by households - government customers - meaning that it is important to track usage and determine when your agency will begin supporting the browser. Fortunately this is the most standards compliant Microsoft browser in recent years, simplifying the task of supporting it alongside other modern web browsers.

I expect to see limited effect on Internet Explorer 6, which now has negligible and continually declining market share anyway. By my website reporting under 5% of Australian web users now use IE6. Wikipedia articles indicate (drawing from various reports) a similar trend, with IE6 in February 2009 accounting for only 18.85% of the 68% of computers using IE - making its overall share around 12% internationally.

IE6 is also very much a 9-5 web browser, used primarily in government agencies and libraries, which are more resistant to rapid software upgrades due to their security frameworks. Once government agencies move away from IE6 due to Microsoft withdrawing support for the browser I expect it will largely disappear, removing the need for many code hacks and saving significant development costs for organisations.

Most larger private companies are happily using Internet Explorer 7 and while they are likely to adopt Internet Explorer 8 at some point, they are more likely to follow a wait and see approach to ensure the product is stable and secure before upgrading.

In overall terms, IE is at its lowest market share since 2004, with only around 68-74% of internet users now using the browser. I do not see IE8 reversing this decline to any measurable extent and I am willing to predict that we could see IE's share declining into the sub 66% range by the end of 2009.

This would still leave IE the dominant web browser overall, however Firefox may have close to equivalent share with IE7, making it just as important.


Safari
Apple is getting closer to launching Safari 4, with a public beta now available for both Mac and PC.

The new version appears from my testing to be less of a jump for coders (therefore has less of an impact on business management of websites), with Safari 4 appearing to largely extend the features of the already very standards compliant Safari 3.

As Safari is still primarily regarding as a browser for the Mac, I expect Safari 4 will experience a fairly rapid growth replacing Safari 3, but will have very limited impacts on browser shares across non-Apple platforms.

As Apple continues to grow, particularly in the mobile space, there will be some growth from the current 4-8% market share (depending whose reports you believe), however it would take inroads on the PC front to see this browser grow significantly into the double digits range.


Firefox
Firefox is continuing to pick up market share from Internet Explorer, now holding 18-22% of the market according to reports featured in Wikipedia.

The browser continues to be highly standards friendly and has a huge groundswell of support despite a few intermittent speed bugs in several recent releases.

I predict that Firefox will reach 25% market share by the end of 2009, which could take it almost to parity with IE7 use by that time.

Ignore Firefox at your peril.


Chrome
Despite being lightening fast in running web-based applications, Google's new Chrome browser does not appear to be gaining significant uptake.

It currently sits at slightly over 1% of the market by most measures and in my view it has failed to capture the popular imagination.

I've spoken to a number of people who've said that Chrome just doesn't look familiar enough as a web browser, indicating to me that aesthetics may be more important than its super fast javascript engine.

Given that Google introduced this browser to encourage others to improve the speed of their engines (in order to run Google web applications faster and cut down speed differences with desktop applications), I don't think Google is worried about the take-up rate at this time.

The browser is on a rapid development curve, with around 30 incremental updates since release, but still doesn't support some key web features and doesn't render all sites correctly (I have troubles with managing my blog with it - ironic given I use a Google blog tool).

I expect that when (if) Google really wants to push adoption it will engage its marketing muscle to do so, then we might see rapid take-up, however this will most likely occur at the expense of Firefox and Opera before it impacts on IE.


Opera
I am beginning to feel that Opera is the 'nice guy' of the browser industry. In other words, it will finish last.

While the browser has had significant success on non-Apple mobile platforms, its overall browser market share remains around 0.7% and has been stable for most of the last year.

For whatever reason Opera hasn't managed to convince users that it has a unique selling proposition and given the competition across the browser market at present I don't see it coming up with anything new quickly enough to prevent others copying the feature and capitalising on the benefits.


What do I use?
Personally I use all of the browsers above, with Firefox my preferred browser for web surfing and Chrome for web-applications (such as Gmail and Google Docs). IE has a place as a secondary browser, but I rarely open Safari or Opera except when testing sites.

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A method to measure the level of government 2.0 in a government site - egovernment index

Andrew Krzmarzick has posted an interesting article on his Generation Shift blog regarding a method to measure the level of government 2.0 services included in a government site.

Developed by the Brookings Institute, the approach involves scoring agencies against a set of criteria and tracking them over time. The Institute has analysed over 1,500 US state and federal government sites against the criteria, providing a large sample for comparison purposes.

The Brookings Institute has produced a report on the topic, State and Federal Electronic Government in the United States, 2008 (PDF).

It is a very interesting read and might provide a useful benchmarking tool for Australian government agencies to measure their own sites.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BarCamp Canberra next weekend - 28 March

In case you've not seen the buzz around mailing lists, the second Canberra BarCamp is on next weekend, 28 March, at the Australian National University.

What's a BarCamp?

Think of it as an impromptu conference featuring talented designers, developers and other online professionals. They gather to share their knowledge and expertise in a series of 20 minute presentations.

Anyone can present at the event on a topic of their choice.

It is a great opportunity to share experiences and network within the Canberra online community.

More details on the BarCamp concept is available from the official site.

Register at the official BarCamp Canberra site or at the Facebook group.

Podcasts of previous presentations are also available online at http://barcampcanberra.org/blog/podcasts/

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British vote 'yes' to egovernment

A study of 4,000 UK adults has found that 42 percent had used the internet to access information about government or local council services, or completed a government form or process online in the last year.

This shot up to 55 percent amongst adults with home internet access.

The study, conducted by OfCom also indicated that,

More than 70 per cent of those we surveyed online (and 60 per cent of the general population) said the web had made it easier to engage in citizen participation activities, such as contacting an MP or signing a petition.

But despite an increase in web-based activities, many people still want to keep traditional methods of contact.

For example, 33 per cent of those we surveyed online would rather deal with someone face to face, such as when contacting their MP.

However in areas of 'multiple deprivation', where people are more likely to be experiencing poverty, low employment, high crime, poor health and less access to services,
More than 70 per cent in those areas were also unaware of online citizen participation opportunities, almost half did not sufficiently trust the internet for these activities and 40 per cent said they lacked confidence to participate in citizen activities online.

In other people, poor and less educated people (who presumably also have less access to the internet) are less likely to realise the benefits they can receive from egovernment, trust the internet or be confident online participants.

These findings suggest that alongside education and employment access improvements, improving access to internet services can improve participation in egovernment - which makes sense to me.

They also suggest, in my view, that the internet is a great supplement and mechanism for expanding participation, but doesn't replace the need for face-to-face and phone services.

Finally the findings also suggested to me that, at least in the UK, the digital divide may still be a very wide one indeed, hence their initiative to roll out 100Mb broadband as a basic service alongside electricity, sewage and water supply.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Judging the personal risk to privacy when participating in social networking

A group of students from Penn State University have developed a methodology for assessing the personal risk to privacy when participating in online social media.

It's an interesting attempt to quantify objectively the risks for individuals and could be a useful starting point for government departments to help their staff understand the impacts of their choices.

You'll find the system, termed SNAPR (Social Networking Action & Privacy Risk Methodology) online here.

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US Business.gov launches small business community

The US business.gov website has launched an online community for small business owners, providing a place where they can discuss business-related issues across a range of topics.

While there is a slant towards topics related to business engagement with government - from registration processes through to how to successfully do business with government, the topics are far broader as US small businesses discuss the current business environment, their planning processes and procurement strategies.

I see this as a very valuable public good for a government to provide for small businesses. A government can provide a fair and effectively moderated environment, without commercial bias. This supports smaller businesses in expanding their network of contacts, building their knowledge and sharing experiences to reinforce the individual commitments of owners to success.

Besides the benefits in helping small business to grow, thereby employing more people and expanding the economic basis of a country, there are benefits to a government in having a close finger on the pulse of one of the largest contributors to national economic growth.

Rather than relying on business 'interest groups' and peak bodies, who may on occasion not fully represent the diverse interests of their members, a government can form a broader view of the outlook of businesses, gauging sentiment and identifying blockers to growth which could be addressed in legislation or policy.

It also provides access to a group able to critique proposed policies and initiatives, to help fine-tune them to deliver greater value - therefore greater return on investments from the public purse.

The benefits above to business (or communities) and to governments is not limited to this particular segment of the community.

Online communities form around interests - from child care to transport - and can be tapped into or facilitated by government to inform and support policy creation, service delivery, communications and consultations. Effectively they are 'aggregators' which can be used to both build discussion and to improve awareness of services.

They can also provide a 'blackberry' for politicians to keep touch with their constituents where otherwise they may become isolated from market concerns due to workload and minding.

Note that it is not easy to build a community from scratch and often government is best served in participating with existing communities rather than trying to create its own, however there are circumstances where government is best placed as the facilitator rather than simply as an involved party.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Delivery of a website 'realignment'

Last year I posted about redesigning sites to put customers at the centre of the universe.

At the time we were reviewing my agency's primary site based on usability research and surveys. Through these our customers had indicated that the site was perceived as about us rather than about them (the tools and information they wanted to access quickly).

I'm pleased to say that, after working through a redesign process to align the site more closely with agency goals and styles and some tough decisions on specific content to feature, the new design is now live, largely reflecting the original wireframe concept.

I think we managed to meet the rules I set for my team,

  • put customer needs first
  • use less words
  • minimise disruption
  • lift the look


You can view the site at www.csa.gov.au.

Feedback is welcome.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

The power of raw government data

In the US President Obama's newly appointed (and first) Federal Government CIO Vivek Kundra has committed to finding new ways to make government data open and accessible.

The Computer World article, First federal CIO wants to 'democratize' U.S. government data, discusses how,

In a conference call with reporters, Kundra said he plans to create a Web site called Data.gov that would "democratize" the federal government's vast information resources, making them accessible in open formats and in feeds for developers.

He also said he hopes to use emerging technologies like cloud computing to cut the need for expensive contractors who often end up "on the payroll indefinitely."
These are not idle words from a political appointee - Kundra, who I have mentioned previously, is well-known amongst egovernment practitioners around the world for his innovative work in pushing the boundaries of egovernment as the District of Columbia's CTO.

Politicians often have reservations about releasing raw data, despite being collected using public funds, due to perceived concerns that the data might be used to politically damage their reputations.

Similarly government departments often restrict the release of raw data due to concerns over how it may be reused or misused.

In Australia we even go to the extent of copyrighting government data. In the US most data, publications and other tools created by their Federal government are copyright free.

However with the US's moves the debate will soon shift to the disadvantages of not allowing free access to most raw government data.

As history has recorded, countries that remove barriers to the free flow of ideas and information develop faster, are economically more successful and their people enjoy higher standards of living.

Fostering innovation directly leads to national success.

So in a world where some countries make data freely available, how do other nations continue to compete?

To draw an analogy from the publishing world, Wikipedia disrupted the business model for Encyclopedia Britannica. By providing free 'crowd-sourced' information of greater depth and about the same accuracy as a highly expensive product, Britannica has been struggling to survive for years.

After trialing a number of different protective business models to sustain its existence, but protect its data, Encyclopedia Britannica has finally adopted one that might work - it has opened its articles up to 'crowd-sourcing', accepting suggestions which are then reviewed and acted on by its professional editors - a step towards openness. Visit the Britannica blog to learn how to suggest changes to the encyclopedia.

In other words, you cannot beat openness with secrecy - the only way to remain successful is to step towards openness yourself.

This really isn't news. Many have talked about the need for greater openness of government data before. I've even mentioned it myself once or twice.

To finish, I thought I'd flag this recent talk given by Tim Berners-Lee (the father of the world wide web) at TED on the need for open data. It has some points worth reflecting on.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

eGovernment interoperability is a cultural, not a technical issue

This post from Oliver Bell's OSRIN blog, eGovernment Interoperability Frameworks, time for a rethink?, served to crystalise thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for awhile.

Oliver contends that most of the technical standards for interoperability via the internet have been resolved, with commercial and citizen usage of the internet built on these standards over the last ten years or more.

He argues that the primary issues remaining are around the cultural willingness for different parts of government and different governments to work together and with the commercial sector to deliver interoperable services online.

While I am not an IT architect by training (in fact I come from a business stream), my formal education and twenty years of working experience have taught me a fair amount about how to connect systems together to achieve outcomes (not always IT systems).

In my experience there are no insurmountable engineering issues - you can always find a way to exchange data in a meaningful way using the right translators and formats.

However sometimes the engineering issues appear to be insurmountable because of entrenched interests and policies - human rather than technical issues.

These often arise, in both commercial and public sectors, out of procedure-driven cultures, political struggles, poor communication, lack of knowledge, pride or prejudice.

Solve these cultural and human issues, allocate some funds and the engineering issues around interoperability largely go away.

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The Google in Government Symposium - notes from the day

On Wednesday 18 March I attended the Google in Government Symposium, hosted by Hedloc.

I had planned to liveblog the day, as I liveblogged the recent Politics and Technology forum, however due to a lack of available wi-fi (the National Convention Centre still charges $40 for six hours access - which I was not personally willing to pay), I resorted to taking notes on PC, which I've provided below in an edited form.

I also twittered the event as a personal stream-of-consciousness record and thanks to the dozen or so people who asked questions of the presenters through me or discussed the event with me on Twitter.

The record of the Twitter conversation can be found here, or under the hashtag #cggov - note that the records are in reverse chronological order, so go to the last result to start at the start of the day.

The text below is an edited version of my personal notes from the day. It does not represent the views of any other individual or organisation. Any errors or omissions are mine.

Google in Government notes transcript

Google Enterprise Overview
Presenter: Paul Slakey - Director Americas and APAC, Google

  • Google is the world's largest search engine – 63% market share
  • It has 21,000 staff 50% technical/engineering
  • Its 2008 revenue was $21B and profit was $5B (that's $1M revenue per staff member)
  • Has more than 90 offices globally
  • Products available in 117 interface languages across 157 international domains
Google Enterprise
  • 40% of world's information is behind firewalls
  • 10 of 15 US cabinet agency websites use Google search as their search tool
  • Washington DC is rolling Google search out to 86 agencies
Google Search Appliance
  • Plugs into most data storage
Google Maps/Earth
  • APIs for showing your data on Google's maps on your website
  • Premier level provides Enterprise support, features, no ads
Google Apps
  • Messaging, collaboration, security, compliance
  • Totally run from the web, no IT install hassles (just firewall access)
  • No delay in spam/virus filtering, run from cloud
  • 10 million active users, including some large enterprises
  • Security and ownership of information is an interesting area
  • Claims that Google is one of the most secure environments on the planet – what happens to access to data if a foreign power cuts international data links or legislates that they have the right to view all data?

Destination Innovation
Presenter: Alan Noble - Engineering Director, Australia & New Zealand, Google
  • Internet has transformed in last ten years from static print world imitation to dynamic, complex, application-rich environment
  • Openness meant we could innovate unimpeded
His view of the two major trends for innovation
  • Open Source
  • Open Data
Google is a big supporter of open standards, Open Social Alliance and Open Handset Alliance

Google is very interested in having governments make public data available online on same basis to all organisations and citizens - and has made submission in this vein in the current consultation process.

Some examples of openness
  • Make public transportation much more accessible to masses via Google transit (as Adelaide and Perth have done)
  • Victoria fires google map, indicating extent and severity of fires, using a real-time fire feed. This reduced load (and cost) for Government servers by shifting it to Google's map servers.
Two technologies changing the face of the web
  • APIs (Google maps originally launched with no API and was reverse engineered by clever programmers – Google hired them)
  • Gadgets/widgets – over 100,000 websites now syndicating gadgets, billions of pageviews per week – no one organisation could do this.
Four trends on the web
  • Open social – about knowledge sharing via collaboration applications, not simply for social engagement
  • Geospatial
  • Openly available digital information – greater information sharing, environmental benefits, shipping bits not products
  • The cloud – software as a service meets utility software – scalable and elastic – will finally make the computer invisible

Destination Search
Presenter: Richard Suhr - Head of Google Enterprise, ANZ & South East Asia, Google

Search challenges for Gov Agencies
  • Search is the starting point to the world's information.
  • Too much information, hard to organise
  • Google has unique position – spent ten years figuring out how to make search work for consumers
  • Why is it so much harder to find information in enterprises, than in private life?
New US president has made search front-and-centre

Singaporean government came to Google and said they wanted a better search system across all of their government departments. Google took one search appliance – runs all search for all of government. Operates 4 million pages, 300 different search experiences (in agencies)

Quick stats from Google
  • When navigation fails, 50% of users turn to search
  • 71% use keyword searches to find products and services
  • 90% of consumers said they used site search to access self-service content
  • 85% of site searches don't return what the user sought
  • 80% of visitors abandon a site if search functionality is poor
  • 22% of site searches return no results

  • 29% of CEOs/CIOs said it is difficult to find information to make company-wide decisions, 40% of senior managers reported the same
  • Knowledge workers spend more than 25% of their time searching for information to do their jobs – and when they find it it is often wrong

  • As much as 10% of a company's salary costs are wasted on unproductive searches
Customer (and staff) view
  • Speed - If it's not fast, I won't use it
  • Relevance - If I don't find it first time, I will go elsewhere
Google's trends...
  • Focus on 'answers' not 'results'
  • Building connectors (native support for over 100 connections)
  • Multimedia search done right
  • Compliance and archiving search
  • Federated search (hook search together across different systems)

Technical Overview and Case Studies
ATO website – people can now find information on the website, users gravitating to search as the first path for navigation, rather than menus – huge increase in search.

Presenter: Aaren Tebbutt - Account Manager, HEDLOC
  • Can integrate search across platforms, delivering a search across websites, file servers and databases.
  • Supports unlimited collections across subsets of content
  • Can suggest best bets and search narrowing terms
  • Secure results are not presented to unauthenticated users
DEEWR
  • Wanted faster and more relevant result for their document management repository
  • Integrated security – presented results that were 'search only' – could not see a snippet or have a link
  • Can use metadata to refine search – and display metadata in results
Extras
  • OneBox module – can get results from applications and database systems, sent back as XML and integrated into search results. Used to integrate contacts information into a single set of search results. Also works for maps and other content.
  • Search as you type function – suggest results as people type

Destination Geospatial
Presenter: Mickey Kataria - Google maps Product Manager, Google

Mission: 'Organise the world's geographical information and make it universally accessible and useful'
  • Google maps is no. 1 most trafficked mapping website (including in Australia, US, UK, NZ)
  • Acquired Maps from an Australian product in 2004, integrated with 'Keyhole' for Google Earth – another company acquired by Google.
  • Google Maps APO – embed a fully customisable, interactive (or static) map into any webpage
Features
  • Street View
  • Driving Directions
  • Geocoding
  • Static Maps
  • Javascript or Flash versions of interactive maps
Maps API - Premier version
  • Contract/SLA
  • Support
  • Opt-in options for ads
  • HTTPS support
  • Advanced geocoding
  • Larger static maps
  • Usable internally (within a firewall)
Maplets
  • Share your data back into google maps, for example,
    Australian Electorate map for Federal election
    UK Metropolitan police crime map – http://maps.met.police.uk
Mobile
  • Maps on phone, static maps API, Javascript maps API
  • Map Kit – native API for iPhone
User-generated content
  • MyMaps – create your own map (plotting points, sharing, collaboratively editing)
  • MapMaker – create maps where they don't exist
  • Editing listings – add a business, move a location
Google Earth
Presenter: Brian Atwood - Google Earth Enterprise Product Manager
  • More robust and full-featured than maps
  • Government a major GID user, Google earth provides a single interface to aggregate all this data
  • Two components,
    1. All data goes into Google Earth Fusion Software – processes and blends it together
    2. Processed data goes to Google Earth Server which allows viewing of data in a 3D or 2D format
  • Visual clearing house for data, viewable by those who are given access
  • Fast, easy-to-use and low cost
  • Works with and is complementary to existing GIS systems
Examples:
  • DC GIS – crime and other data
  • New York Dept of Transport – travel, accident and crisis info
  • Department of Homeland Security Earth – iCAV – crisis info, hurricanes, floods, etc
  • US Forest Service – GPS tracking of planes in real-time

Case study - Virtual Alabama

  • Needed an 'affordable, scalable, maintainable' system to visualise state asset imagery and infrastructure data
  • Initiative started by Governor in 2005

  • Video – Virtual Alabama 'common operating picture for state of Alabama', full case study is on Youtube (will add link later)
Goals
  • Common operating picture and situational awareness (everyone sees same data)
  • Right people have right data at right time
  • Increase efficiencies in data usage, reduce costs
  • Very easy to use
  • Able to handle terabytes of data quickly
Implementation
  • Began project in June 2006, Initial release in August 2006, all 67 counties by Nov 2007
  • 550 Agencies now using it
  • 2,100 total users + growing

Case study - Energy Australia
Presenter: Lawrence Bolton, Manager Community Liaison and Infrastructure

In his area
  • 4,500 substations
  • 5,000 distribution centres
  • 11,000 distributors
  • Need load monitoring to prevent substations getting overloaded
  • Huge infrastructure program over next 5 years $8B to replace aging equipment
Wanted a way to 'see' or 'visualise' data

Google Earth is being rolled out in pilot as the visualisation platform for their GIS data, using layers and rich information.


Case Study - Australian Federal Police
Presenter: James Harris - Team Leader Geospatial services, Information Services Australian Federal Police
  • Over 50 GIS Apps
  • Most in specialist hands
  • Silos of data and solutions
  • Little or no succession plan
  • It was a 'cottage industry'
Audited systems:
  • Found 30 GE Pro Installations
  • 300+ GE installations - potential licensing issues, Google gave them an amnesty to fix
  • Dec 08, over 1,000,000 hits on maps.google.com.au per month – increasing 400% or 800% per year
Selected Google Earth via a tender process, and are implementing an internal version so no-one external is aware of when the Federal Police have interest in a location. Initially using 8 terabytes of storage – with multiple globes.

Initial role out in April to testers, full rollout in June.

Looking to roll out maps, live feeds, custom build tools, link into corporate databases in future.


Case Study - NT Land Information Systems
Presenter: Phillip Rudd - Director NT Land Information Systems

Geospatial useful for key questions
  • Where did it happen?
  • What else is around there?
  • Is there a pattern over time/space?
Uses Google Earth alongside other tools (complex system - but it works well).

Department was gathering lots of map data, but could not effectively do much with it.

Originally deployed solution in production in 2006.

Emergency Management – 239 registered users
Land Information – open to all users (potentially 9,500 desktops) actual 1,619 logins

'We all think in pictures, not in words'

Uses:
  • Counter terrorism and Emergency management
  • Spatial Searching
  • Automated mapping

Destination Apps and Security
Presenter: Paul Slakey - Director Americas and APAC, Google

Why are users unhappy?
  • better tools at home than at work
Stats on current IT management
  • IT organisations spend 80% of their budget on Maintenance
  • 68% of organisations experience 6+ data leaks every year
  • 60% of the average agency's Intellectual Property is trapped in email
Forrester report Jan 2009 – should your email live in the cloud?

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What form should a government blog take?

There's an excellent and very active discussion over at Adriel Hampton's blog regarding, Templating a Government 2.0 Blog.

The discussion ranges beyond the pure technical and moderation challenges of establishing a blog (which are very easy to overcome) and into the mindset of government.

In fact my view of the discussion is that setting up and running a blog is easy - changing government's approach to support blogging is the tough part.

Fortunately there are now many excellent examples of well-established government blogs so it is clearly possible to change government mindsets.

As a side issue, per Phillip Sheldrake's post at Marcoms professionals, Continuous engagement... the death of market research, it is important to differentiate between a blog and market research, or as is very clearly stated in a post over at Online Consultation, Market research is not community engagement.

Blogs are designed to continually engage and live for a sustained period of time. Market research generally takes place periodically, occurring over shorter periods.

So you're establishing a 'blog' simply to ask questions for a limited period, you should clearly consider its goals and whether you're simply using a blog-like format for market research, or are actually created an ongoing dialogue with your audience - a blog.

The difference in goals may influence your approach in order to maximise the effectiveness of the medium, and avoid audience confusion when audience expectations may not be met.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

What does the future look like?

Microsoft have developed a Future Visions series to provide some insight into where technology is headed, and how it will help people.

If you are looking to anticipate the needs of your customers, rather than simply play catch-up, the series provides some very thought provoking ideas.

Here is the montage video, exploring different concepts in brief. Below I've placed links to the full videos on each topic.



And in case you think this technology is still a long way off, read this article from the Inquisitor, If You Want the Future, Look to the Hackers. It talks about companies placing working brainjacks into people's heads, and how to create a Minority Report-style interface using your Nintendo Wii.

The others videos in the Microsoft Future Vision series are:

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Is your department tribalising?

The Tribalisation of Business is holding its second annual survey on social media use within organisations.

If you run communities or leverage social media as part of your business you can participate in the 2009 survey here.

Sponsored by Deloittes, Beeline labs and the Society for New Communications Research, the 2008 survey had some very interesting findings around the management and cost of online communities.

For example the 2008 survey had the following major takeaways,

#1: Communities are about Delivering Game-Changing Results

  • Communities can increase revenue per customer dramatically, i.e., 50%
  • Communities will increase product introduction success ratios
  • Communities amplify everything you do- increasing effectiveness and decreasing costs
#2: The Rise of the CMO 2.0?
  • Communities should be an important part of the CMO’s toolset (but for many large companies - there is an under-investment and scale problem)
  • Companies should evolve the role of the CMO into Chief Community Officer (but that will require drastic changes in attitude and approach to marketing)
  • If done properly, communities will transform the way marketing works (reduced costs, improved effectiveness, new opportunities)
#3: The Need for New Management Thinking
  • Mismatch between community goals and associated investments
  • Major gaps between Community Goals and what is being measured
  • Communities have yet to combine with major talent initiatives
  • Communities will transform most business processes
#3.5: The Worst Practices Enjoy Wide Adoption
  • The “build it and they will come” fallacy
  • The “let’s keep it small so it doesn’t move the needle” phenomenon
  • The “not invented here” syndrome
Also the survey found that,
  • Marketing, Research, Sales and/or PR departments ran the organisation's online community in 60% of cases. IT ran the community only 6% of the time and Customer Service only 2% of the time,

  • most communities (71%) were managed by one or fewer full-time staff, with another 13% managed by 2-5 staff,

  • the annual operating budget for 58% of communities was under US$50,000 and between US$50,000 and $200,000 for another 24% of communities,

  • the majority of organisations (85%) learnt about online community through participating in online communities or reading blogs - attending conferences was used for learning by 53% of organisations and the media by 51% of organisations, Consultants and agencies were only used by 28% of organisations and Analysts by 26%,

  • the biggest obstacle to success (51%) was getting people to engage, the second biggest was having enough time to manage the community at 44% and attracting people to the community was third at 35%.
More interesting graphs from the 2008 survey are listed here.


So my takeaways?
  • Online communities are about community, not technology - don't give IT control,
  • there's not a large investment to start,
  • you should participate online to learn about online communities - don't rely on consultants and agencies to build your internal understanding,
  • you have to work the community - don't rely on the community building itself,
  • tap into existing communities where possible, it's faster, cheaper, easier and more effective than re-inventing the wheel.
But if you're reading my blog you've already figured these out already - correct?

It's the people who are not reading blogs who need the education!

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Less online hurdles = more egovernment customers

The complexity of screens and the registration and sign-in processes for some Australian egovernment (online) services disturbs me.

In the commercial world I lived by a simple rule of thumb, on average each hurdle I erected between a customer and their goal reduced the overall number of customers who reached their goal by 30%.

To visually demonstate,



Hurdles
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Customers
1,000,000
700,000
490,000
343,000
240,100
168,070
117,649
82,354
57,648
40,354
28,248
Percentage using
100%
70%
49%
34%
24%
17%
12%
8%
6%
4%
3%
















This mean that if I started with one million customers and had ten hurdles, only 28,248 of them (3%) would be willing and able to jump all of them to use the service.

If I cut this to six hurdles, this would increase usage to 117,649 customers (12%) - or four times as many - a 400% increase in usage!

If I could cut it to only three hurdles, that would raise the number of customers able to use the service to 490,000 customers (49%) or another three times as many - 300% increase from the six hurdles figure or a massive 1,700% increase from ten hurdles.

In other words, removing hurdles can dramatically increase usage. While in reality it is never as linear as this, remove the right hurdles and the number of customers using an online service will soar.

When engaging customers online we already have built-in hurdles people have to meet to use and interact with our egovernment services:
  • Access to a computer
  • An internet connection
  • Comfort with using the above
  • Mandatory registration processes (even for simple transactions)
However there are often additional hurdles that organisations erect such as,
  • No sales pitch for services - explaining by video/animation and audio how a service works and what benefits it provides customers
  • Difficult-to-find services and registration/sign-on links
  • Overly complex registration/sign-on processes
  • Unnecessary information collection - to the extent of asking customers information they are unlikely to have access to
  • Badly written service, security and privacy information
  • Poorly constructed workflows with unnecessary or out-of-order steps and no clarity on where the customer is in the process (how many steps remain)
  • Error messages in bureaucratic or tech-speak that dead-end the customer (no way forward)
  • A lack of appropriate acknowledgement when steps or transactions are correctly completed
  • Forcing customers to switch channels in the middle of a process without warning or when tasks could be completed entirely online
  • A requirement for complex and non-intuitive password and usernames
  • Difficult password and username retrieval processes (if a service is used less than weekly, most customers will forget their password at some point)
  • A lack of tutorials, contextual help or step-ups to live online interactions with customer service officers (such as Avatar-based agent interactions, or actual staff interactions via text chat, voice chat or video chat)
  • Services that require the use of plug-ins, older web browsers or are not friendly towards mobile devices
There are approaches to reduce or negate many of these hurdles already implemented in the commercial sector.

Most of these can be adopted by government without compromising security or privacy and all lead to greater usage and satisfaction with online services.

Some of these 'hurdle-repellents' include:
  • Upfront video demonstrating what the service does (the benefit) and how it works (ease of use)
  • Larger and more prominent registration/sign-on) buttons, with less clutter on pages to distract customers
  • Use of plain english in all instructions and error messages, generally in informal language
  • Extra large form fields (12pt or larger) for easier reading
  • Simpler workflows with less steps and clear progression bars explaining the next step
  • Customer-defined usernames and passwords (or use of email address as username), with visual aids to maximise security (such as password strength indicators)
  • Secret questions (some user-defined) to provide a second line of support for customers who forget their passwords
  • Clear and simple 'forgotten password' processes which do not require customers to switch channels (to call)
  • Contextual help integrated into every screen
  • Video or text and graphics tutorials for each workflow - clearly accessible within the workflow and before a user authenticates (double as sales tools)
  • Live online help, potentially with co-browsing (where the customer service officer can see what the customer is seeing)

There are other commonly used approaches to reducing the hurdles for your customers when using egovernment services. Try out some commercial sites and you'll quickly gather more ideas.

So why reduce the hurdles for customers - potentially at a cost to the government?
The benefits for the government agency include faster outcomes, lower cost transactions and greater customer satisfaction. There's a side benefit of more timely and accurate reporting as online transactions can be easier to capture and report on than those over a counter or phone.

The benefits for customers include less stress when transacting (therefore more likelihood they will keep using the same approach) and faster outcomes.

The downside? Government will need to invest more in our online infrastructure to make it easier and faster for customers.

I reckon that trade-off is well worth it.

So what is your agency doing to remove online transaction hurdles for customers?

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Australia ranked lucky 13th in egovernment - down from 7th position in 2008

The Waseda university in Japan has released its 2009 Waseda University International e-Government Ranking, the fifth consecutive report on how 34 leading countries are progressing in their egovernment activities.

Australia managed to reach 13th position, down from 7th in 2008. In fact Australia experienced the second greatest year-on-year fall in ranking of any country (only Hong Kong did worse).

Australia ranked 6th in 2007, 8th in 2006 and 6th in 2005.

The top ten for 2009 included Singapore (who beat the US into the top position for the first time in the ranking's history), USA, Sweden, UK, Japan, Korea, Canada, Taiwan, Finland, Germany, Italy and Norway.

We did beat New Zealand, who came in at 19th place (down from 15th last year).

The ranking found that network preparedness was a requirement for success, with countries with more mature (and faster) networks being more effective at launching and maintaining egovernment initiatives.

It also found that usability was a key factor in the adoption of egovernment services and that more countries were treating this as a key priority.

Other factors included a shift towards a central online portal for nations and the support and scope of the whole-of-government CIO in terms of egovernment initiatives.

Web 2.0 adoption was also highlighted as a factor, particularly in the success of Asian countries - who now hold 4 of the top 10 positions in the ranking.

Australia scored in the top ten for two areas of egovernment, Interface Function and
Applications and e-Gov Promotion. We did not reach the top ten for the other three areas, Management Optimization, National Portal or CIO in Government.

A press release with details of the ranking is available at www.giti.waseda.ac.jp/GITS/news/download/e-Government_Ranking2009_en.pdf.

A press release for last year's ranking is available at www.obi.giti.waseda.ac.jp/e_gov/2008-02_World_e-Gov_Ranking.pdf

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Making government data available online for mashups - US moving to legislate

The US government has taken the first holistic step towards making federal data available online in bulk.

This would allow the public to reuse the data, mash it up with other sources and repackage it online in innovative ways - potentially uncovering relationships and new uses that were never conceived of by the government.

Reported in Threat Level in the article, An API for Federal Legislation? Congress Wants Your Opinion, the first step calls for a feasibility study to assess the cost of making data publicly available in bulk.

The step is being enshrined in the new Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which is already in the process of being passed.

In the words of the sponsor for the feasibility study,

“In our web 2.0 world, we can empower the public by providing them with raw data that they can remix and reuse in new and innovative ways," says Honda, who is vice chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. "With these tools, the public can collaborate on projects that can help legislators to create better policies to address the pressing challenges facing our nation.”


The Australian government has a great deal of data which could similarly be freed up to work for the common good of the nation, but access to it varies by department and there are no common standards for how it should be made public.

Perhaps we also need a centralised legislative approach to move towards greater and more consistent access.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Should rail timetables be restricted under government copyright?

NSW has been the scene of an interesting series of events over the last week regarding the right of iPhone developers to republish NSW Rail timetables in their applications.

Covered in the Sydney Morning Herald articles, CityRail puts brakes on iPhone timetable app and How RailCorp's derailing commuter 'apps', last week it emerged that NSW Rail had threatened four developers with legal action for repackaged NSW rail timetables into applications for iPhones, breaching copyright.

The reason for the legal action given to the SMH was,

"RailCorp's primary concern is that our customers receive accurate, up-to-date timetable information," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Next the NSW Premier stepped in and as covered in the article, Rees orders RailCorp to talk to iPhone app makers, releasing the news publicly initially via his PremierofNSW Twitter account.

I've blogged previously about the need for government to make it easier to reuse publicly released government information.

Why copyright material that is made available online anyway? if the aim is to simply prevent out-of-context use or commercial reselling, there are options like Creative Commons available.

Indeed the ABS has taken steps in this direction, beginning to publish most website content under a Creative Commons license.

I envisage timetables as an appropriate type of information to be offered as a web service or RSS feed. This would allow NSW Rail full control over the accuracy of the information while allowing other websites and mobile applications to integrate it into their offerings. The public can then vote with their feet as to which version of the information they prefer, and how much they are willing to pay for it.

Much the same type of service is already offered by the Bureau of Meteorology - and the success of OzWeather on the iPhone is a testament to the successful integration of information possible when there's a web-savvy government agency and a developer who finds a way to add value to the raw data.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Practical benefits of online media for government

Some of the practical benefits for government of online social media are beginning to emerge from various jurisdictions around the world. One that has particularly struck me as very positive is the use of online media by Washington DC to convince felons to voluntarily turn themselves in.

Written about in Using Social Media to Improve Public Safety - DC’s Fugitive Safe Surrender Prompts 530 Offenders with Warrants to Voluntarily Surrender in a Church (Doc) (and also available in the DC Public Safety Blog blog), the paper details how many fugitives wanted to turn themselves in, but had difficulty trusting police and the legal system to treat them fairly.

While the DC Safe Surrender program was in operation to allow fugitives to turn themselves in at a place of worship, thereby creating a more comfortable experience and a greater sense that they would get a fair go, there were fugitives who still were unsure of how they would be received and, frankly, thought it was simply a scam.

So Washington DC employed an integrated media strategy, using television and radio advertisements to drive fugitives and their friends and families (who often did the research for them) to the DC Safe Surrender website where the program could be clearly explained.

To add faces and personal experiences, the website featured videos of fugitives who had surrendered speaking about their decision and how they felt.

The website not only supported fugitives in making the hard decision to trust the legal authorities, but also convinced the media and other institutions to support the program.

By building the sense of trust and transparency the site has led to a large number of people surrendering and allowing their cases to be heard, reducing the workload on enforcement agencies and also the possibility of those on the run of re-offending simply to stay out of the clutches of a legal system they didn't trust.

That's the power of the online channel. To allow individuals to share their experiences in a one-to-one fashion, establishing a level of trust that is hard for an institution to match.

Once this trust is established it can be referred or inferred from the individual back to an institution, allowing institutions to build their level of trust with individuals.

This isn't a new approach for the commercial sector - it's known as word of mouth advertising. It has been shown many times that the trust built out of personal relationships is much more powerful than trust in 'traditional' advertising.

Could your agency improve its outcomes by improving the level of trust and respect your customers have in it?

If so, online may offer you approaches to build this trust in a more cost-effective and interpersonal way than the old 'print-radio-TV-outdoor' mix of advertising options.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

PDFs can be accessible!

I've previously applauded the efforts of the Human Rights Commissioner to draw attention to government websites who provide inaccessible content via WebWatch.

Even where an agency's overall site may be designed according to accessibility guidelines, when certain key information is presented only in PDF format, this information can be inaccessible.

However I've also been a little cautious of the 'PDF is bad' approach.

The PDF format can be made accessible. If you use Adobe's software to generate PDFs there are a set of tools for ensuring documents are accessible, including the ability to assess the accessibility, tag images with alternate text and set the reading order for content.

Correct formatting of the original document (such as the use of standard heading levels) also goes a long way to improving accessibility, as does some thought around colour contrasts and use of text rather than graphics of text. These approaches apply as much for PDF as they do for HTML content.

So I'm pleased to see that Stap Isi has posted about several presentations where people have been explaining to public servants how to create accessible PDF documents in the article, My name is b3rn and I make PDFs.

I don't think government is likely to abandon PDF any time soon, so ensuring that public servants are trained to generate accessible PDFs is crucial.

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Over 100 UK councils wild for Twitter

Over in the UK councils are being to adopt micro-blogging in a major way, with over 100 councils now using Twitter to make announcments and have two way conversations with their constituencies.

The UK council association has published an article, Councils turn to new media, which discusses the uses councils are making of the service - addressing complaints and informing citizens of issues.

A demonstration of this interaction is discussed in a post on The blog of the IDeA Strategy and Development Unit, Turn a frown upside down: councillors, Twitter and “customer” interaction.

In case you want to see who in UK councils are tweeting formally, visit Cllr Tweeps.

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Thoughts from the web

I've been too busy and tired this week to really commit to putting much content into eGovAU - which doesn't mean I'm not listening and thinking about what is happening in the wider egovernment world.

So instead of a regular post I thought I'd share some thoughts that have particularly stuck with me this week.

It's Time for Governance - The need to senior level whole-of-government guidance in the egovernment space.

The Second Revolution: Why the UK Government Beats the US Government on the Web - What the UK government is doing well, and the US isn't.

Beginners Guide to Government 2.0 -- Some Suggestions from a Practitioner - to maximise your egovernment efforts, hire people from the private sector who have used the internet for more than ten years and can both execute as well as strategise.

Twitter and Widgets and Blogs, Oh My - the tools US state governments are now using as part of their basic 'toolkit' for citizen communication, engagement and consultation.

Aussie councillors AWOL from Twitter - A discussion of how of the roughly 6,600 councillors in Australia, only around 12 are using Twitter, compared to the number in the UK, where government is a more mature internet user.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Making laws align with egovernment

I've come across some interesting situations recently where technology is far in advance of legal frameworks, placing governments in a position where agencies may be breaking - or at least bending - laws by using certain online tools.

Twitter is a case in point. The technology was invented after the Spam Act was passed and it is not actually email, however it does permit the sending of advertising messages out to thousands or even millions of people. How is this covered? Personally I'm not sure, however I'd hazard a guess that legal opinions will probably vary.

Another example is the use of services such as YouTube, Facebook and other social media tools. All come with terms of use attached which may in some cases contravene government legal requirements.

This hasn't yet become a pressing issue in Australia and the use of YouTube in particular has become quite widespread across government, with at least 20 agencies using it to host and distribute video.

In the US there's also a great deal of use of YouTube by local state and federal agencies.

In this case federal agencies have been in a legally gray area. While they are only answerable to federal law, YouTube's terms of service specify that its users are liable to the applicable state libel laws.

Also of concern is that in the US anything the government publishes is in the public domain and freely available for reuse (unlike in Australia where agencies generally attach copyright to their work). YouTube's terms also specify that the user posting the video is responsible for the video - which is not the approach the US government takes.

As in most situations, where new technology meets old laws it's the laws and how they are interpreted that changes. In this case the US federal government is negotiating with YouTube to change the conditions to legitimise its use of the channel.

This has been discussed quite broadly in Nextgov, particularly in the article Feds and YouTube close to reaching a deal to post video.

I wonder how Australian government agencies will handle the inevitable conflicts between laws and society in the online world - particularly when dealing with services often created, owned and managed out of overseas jurisdictions.

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