Friday, May 29, 2009

DEWHA appoints a New Media head

The Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has become the first Australian Federal Government agency to my knowledge to appoint a New Media head.

I've previously commented on the rising trend in governments overseas to acknowledge the importance of online and new media by appointing New Media and Social Media Directors, and the US President has renamed the Public Relations Office as the a Public Engagement office, however up until now no Australian Federal Department to my knowledge had recognised the importance of the medium in this fashion.

Both Forrester and Nielsen have reported that they are the most used media for Australians, as has AGIMO's Interacting with Government Report, which found that online was the preferred channel for engagement with government and in 2008 the internet became the number one channel last used by the Australian public to interact with government.

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New book - What every intranet team should know

Step Two Designs has released the book, What every team should know written by James Robertson.

The book is designed as a 'quick start' for intranet teams and provides practical advice on how to plan, design, manage and grow intranets.

Combining over 13 years experience in intranets and building on the free reports available from Step Two's website, I reckon the book is well worth a look.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Department of Broadband consulting teens and pre-teens online

Around four weeks ago the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) launched its first online consultation with 11-17 year old children on the topic of Cyberbullying.

Announced via the Australian Labour Party's website back on 4 May, Youth to advise on cyber-bullying and cyber-threats, the consultation involves 15 schools and 305 students from across Australia in a secure moderated forum.

I haven't seen this consultation get much attention from the media or across various government sources, which is an enormous shame given how groundbreaking this work is for Australia.

If the Australian government is now able to consult minors online, surely we're able to establish online consultative forums for other groups in the community.

Hopefully a case study on this consultation will be released and provide other departments with details on how the DBCDE has gone about securing and moderating the forum.

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Twenty theses for government 2.0

Following the style of the ClueTrain Manifesto, Steve Radick has developed twenty theses for Government 2.0.

To quote his post,

Just as the Cluetrain laid out 95 theses that described the new global conversation taking place via the Internet, here are 20 theses (I’m not nearly as ambitious as the Cluetrain authors) for carpetbaggers, gurus, civil servants, contractors, and anyone else interested in Government 2.0.

A number of the theses are very pertinent for the egovernment area in Australia and, in my view, demonstrate in practice the difference in thinking between 'digital natives' and 'digital immigrants' (or 'digital convicts' as a colleague from the ABS typified people who are being forced into the online world).

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NSW Police now officially on Twitter

Encouraged by the success of a imposter claiming to be the NSW Police on Twitter, the NSW Police have now taken over the account and are using it to constructively communicate information to the public.

Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, Twitter con gives police tweet idea, the NSW Police Twitter account is being used for awareness raising, to issue warning notifications and appeal for public assistance.

Anyone in Sydney who wishes to learn more about the NSW Police's decision should consider attending the next In the Public Interest event on the evening of Wednesday 17 June where Strath Gordon the Director of Public Affairs for NSW Police will be discussing the initiative.

The NSW Police join a range of other state and local government agencies in Australia using the platform for real-time public communications.

As yet no Federal government agencies are using the service, but based on the widespread use in the US, Canada and the UK this is only a matter of time.

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Australian Government launches Human Rights Online Consultation by forum

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has launched an online forum allowing Australians to provide their views and ask questions about human rights in Australia.

Hosted by Open Forum, the discussion forum is open until Friday 26 June 2009.

29/05/09
CORRECTION: Per the comment from Leon below, this discussion forum is not being operated by the Australian Human Rights Commission (former HREOC), it is being operated by the National Human Rights Consultation.

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What strategies might be employed to adopt greater use of Web 2.0 in government agencies?

The title of this post is derived from the question the US government is currently asking American citizens in the Open Government Brainstorm.

The site allows individuals to suggest ideas for open government, and rate those of other - providing a prioritisation list that the US Federal government can then choose to act on.

Other questions the site asks the public to consider are,

  • How might the operations of government be made more transparent and accountable?

  • How might federal advisory committees, rulemaking or electronic rulemaking be better used to drive greater expertise into decisionmaking?

  • What alternative models exist to improve the quality of decisionmaking and increase opportunities for citizen participation?

  • What strategies might be employed to adopt greater use of Web 2.0 in agencies?

  • What policy impediments to innovation in government currently exist?

  • What is the best way to change the culture of government to embrace collaboration?

  • What changes in training or hiring of personnel would enhance innovation?

  • What performance measures are necessary to determine the effectiveness of open government policies?
They all seem to reflect the same questions we're grappling with in Australian government - albeit in a more fragmented manner.

The Open Government Brainstorming site is build on an online tool, Ideascale, which I've used personally. It is extremely easy to use and fast to set up.

I often wonder what it will take to get Australian governments to use similar cheap and fast online tools to consult the Australian people.

However at least we can leverage off the ideas suggested in the US using this site.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Aussie pollies being invited to tweet

In an example of how the public is pushing government towards embracing the online channel, the TweetMP site has been launched to encourage tweeting by Australian politicians.

The site features a method to invite Australian Federal parliamentarians to set up a Twitter account, includes a full list of publicly tweeting MPs and their latest tweets.

There is also an API that allows MP twitter feeds to be integrated into any website - which OpenAustralia is now using.

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Apps for America competition launches - cash prizes for best mash ups of government data

In conjunction with the Data.gov launch, Sunlight Labs in partnership with Google has launched the Apps for America 2 competition to find the best mash ups using US Federal government data.

Over US$20,000 is being given away for open source online applications using the Federal datasets at Data.gov based on the following criteria:

  1. Transparency: Does the app help citizens see things they couldn't see before the app existed?

  2. Permanence: Will the app be usable over a long period of time? Does the idea have survivability?

  3. Design & Visualization: Does the app look great? Does the app visualize data in a new and interesting way?


The UK government holds similar competitions.

I wonder what innovation the Australian government could unlock if it made public data available in machine-readable formats, then held its own competition.

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Data.gov launches - allows public to mash up US federal data

The US government has taken the first step towards meeting President Obama's pledge to make US taxpayer funded information freely available online in reusable formats late last week with the launch of the Data.gov website.

At launch the site featured dozens of datasets from around 20 Federal agencies ready to be used by the public, commercial and NGO sectors in mash-up applications and services.

The public is also able to suggest additional information to be made available through the site.

I am an extremely big fan of making public sector data available online (where there are no security issues), particularly when the data is readily available for online reuse through APIs, XML, RSS, KML/KMZ and similar machine-readable formats.

A speech by the US Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra launched the site and made the purpose extremely clear in the video below. Kundra expects more than 240,000 datasets to eventually be available online, per the post at Governing People by George Fahey, Data.gov opens.

The post also comments that,

The first applications built on this data has already arrived (see FBI Fugitive Concentration).

This demonstrates how quickly the public can make good use of public information when it is made public.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Australian Bureau of Statistics launches '╬▓etaWorks' blog

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has launched a blog that allows the public to comment on ongoing development of the ABS website.

Named ABS ╬▓etaWorks, the site is to my knowledge the first of its kind in the world for the public arena.

It features a number of improvements that the ABS is working on in the online arena, with the ability to add comments or suggestions via a moderated feature.

It also allows the public to suggest further improvements to the site.

The ABS has several years of experience in the blogging area, with its Statistically Speaking blog.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Follow US political activity online - over 130 federal members on Twitter

I've previously discussed how actively the US has taken up Twitter as a communications tool in government circles - as have the UK, Canada, Israel and several other countries.

Looking at the website Who Politicians Tweet, there are now more than 130 US Federal politicians using Twitter, or around 24% of all 535 elected members (Reps 435, Senate 100).

In Australia I can only find twelve Federal members using Twitter, or about 5% of the combined 226 elected members (Reps 150, Senate 76).

However more Australian councils are adopting the service - with more than 20 now actively using Twitter, up from only three a few months ago.

You can see a full list of Aussie politicians and political parties on Twitter at Oz Pollie Tweeters.

From my commercial experience I have normally considered Australia as running about two years behind the US for the online channel. I am curiously watching to see if this also holds true in the public arena.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Australian internet usage 20% greater than TV - Nielsen

I've just come across a media release from Nielsen (PDF) from March this year indicating that internet use by Australian internet users reached 16.1 hours per week in 2008, soaring ahead of TV at 12.9 viewing hours per week (radio sits at 8.8 hours).

This suggests that the average Australian internet user is spending 20% more time online than they do in front of the television - although there is also a high instance of multi-channelling - 61% of Australians watch TV and use the internet at the same time and 50% listen to the radio while surfing the net.

Nielsen's media consumption chart is below.



Also this morning the Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that Google is on target to crack $1 billion in revenue in Australia - a larger revenue than the entire Australian commercial radio segment, or magazines and outdoor advertising markets.

With the new financial year approaching it might be a very good time to reweigh communications strategies and budgets to ensure that they are being spent on the medium where Australians are spending most of their leisure time.

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Where should government go with single sign-on?

Single sign-on is often seen as one of the Holy Grails of the internet - the ability to use a single logon to access all your secure online accounts and conduct transactions with whoever you choose.

This is seen as a way to make life easier for citizens/customers, allowing them to move easily from provider to provider, just as they may choose to move from store to store in a mall. It also reduces 'password fatigue', where users have too many passwords to remember and, correspondingly, is expected to reduce the IT cost of lost passwords.

The main risk of single sign-on solutions is also related to passwords - having a single logon for everything stored in a central location theoretically makes it easier for a hacker or identity thief to completely compromise an individual.

It might appear that the public sector has an advantage in moving towards a single sign-on for egovernment services. We have the dollars, expertise and computing power to pull together large IT projects, we don't have internal competitive pressures and possess the legislative power to change any laws necessary to allow citizens to access all government services via a single logon.

In contrast the private sector is fragmented between thousands of entities, potentially all competing for their slice of the online pie. Different online services are tied up with different intellectual property and sharing this IP would seem counter-intuitive to increasing profit margins.

However in practice the situation has been very different.

In the commercial world large and small organisations have been lining up behind a single standard for single sign-on, OpenID.

The OpenID Foundation estimates there are already over 1 billion OpenID-enabled web users and that more than 40,000 websites globally support the system.

OpenID is supported by the biggest online, authentication and IT players, including Microsoft, IBM, Verisign, PayPal, Google and Yahoo and was recently implemented by Facebook.

The system is fast becoming the global ID standard for authenticating users to websites - although I am unaware of a single case around the world where a government has adopted the same system.

On the government front single sign-on services are less developed. In Australia we've had the proprietary MyAccount service available for sometime now, linking Centrelink, Medicare and CSA customer accounts. MyAccount requires users to register separately for each agency's online service then link them together by registering a separate (fourth) account. This separate account can then be used to log into the online services for each of the agencies.

This service is presently being expanded. Australia.gov.au has indicated that they will be adopting the same single sign-on mechanism and that more agencies will be coming shortly.

The UK government has similarly been working on an independent single sign-on solution. This has encountered issues that I am sure Australia will also face - different services require different security levels, and stepping between the security necessary is more complex than simply offering a username and password.


The question in my head is whether it is possible for government to adopt the (free and open) OpenID standard rather than spend the time and money required to develop and expand a separate proprietary system.

In other words, do we need the government to continue to invest in a second 'single' sign-on when the commercial world is already well-advanced in a global solution?

The issue isn't that simple unfortunately. There are many reasons why a government may wish to own its own authentication system, such as national security, protection of citizen privacy, custom ways to 'step-up' to higher security levels (though this is also possible in OpenID).

However it is important to reconsider the value of a separate government system is from time to time, particularly if the commercial world is heading in a different direction.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What does 'transparent' mean for government?

eGovernment, or government 2.0, is often discussed as a means to create greater transparency in government.

However has there been a clear definition of what transparency really means for government in Australia?

At the furthest extreme transparency would be like living in a glass house with glass furniture - everyone could see in and view everything that was taking place at all times.

This approach clearly isn't practical for governments. Some processes are hidden to prevent foreign nations taking advantage of local changes - such as defense force movements. Others are hidden to protect the privacy of citizens, public servants or politicians and reduce the risk of pressure being placed on individuals by unscrupulous parties - witness protection, fostering and adoption processes spring to mind.

Moving along the scale of transparency, at some point the level becomes too low to sustain democratic processes. When a government hides its budgets there is no accountability to the public, if voting is secret it is easily rigged.

Transparency is also influenced by time and access. For example, the Register of Members Interests for the Australian Federal Government has been publicly available for years. However to see it required physically traveling to Canberra and going to the office where it was available.

Not until recently, when OpenAustralia (a non-government not-for-profit organisation) scanned a copy of the paper-based Register and placed it online was it easy to access without travel.

Timeliness may still be an issue - I'm not sure of the processes whereby OpenAustralia is informed of updates to the Register so they can rescan it to keep the online version current.

Accessibility may also still be an issue - scanned documents are not as accessible as digitally encoded online information. They are harder to transmit or reuse.

Taking the above into account in order to move to a more precise definition, I would define transparency in government as:

Making government data, processes, decisions and activities available in the most timely and accessible formats available at the time - except where making it available would cause direct harm to the nation or its citizens.

This definition is still flawed - 'direct harm' is subject to interpretation.

The definition doesn't consider the cost/benefit - someone must pay to make available data that may only be accessed a few times per year.

Others will see other flaws in my definition - and I would welcome a better one.

However, taking my definition above into account, I see a shift in how government needs to look at its data, processes and decisions.

Firstly, governments need to stop asking IF data should be publicly available and instead take the approach that everything should be available EXCEPT IF it would cause direct damage.

Secondly, governments need to ensure that every system they put in place allows data and processes to be readily exposed in a timely and accessible manner. In my mind this means web-enablement. Legacy systems and processes also need to be bootstrapped into the modern age.

The question I finish on is what will transparency mean for governments?

By nature governments are risk-adverse and prefer to analyse and consider all of the consequences of action before they act. This is a good thing when considering the impact legislation can have on peoples' lives, a mistake in a law can drive thousands into poverty, allow criminals to prosper, or create other severe side-effects.

However in the case of transparency the consequences remain unclear.

Certainly transparency can be seen as a threat - suddenly politicians and government agencies can be held publicly accountable for more of their decisions and actions. Inconsistencies, poor decisions and mistakes can be blown-up into conspiracy theories and lead to unwarranted scalpings. Everyone makes mistakes and all systems need to have built-in tolerances to allow mistakes to be made.

Transparency can also be extremely costly to implement and the benefits are not always clear. Who in the public gains from knowing about some of the low level processes at work in government? Will they provide a net benefit for democracy after taking into account the time and resources required to make the process visible? Will the public even care?

I don't have easy answers to these questions. I don't think any government or individual does.

Here are some other thoughts on the topic of transparency in government:

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Improving access to government through better use of the web

The W3C has published an excellent paper named Improving Access to Government through Better Use of the Web. I commend it to anyone developing egovernment policy.

As stated in the foreword,

This document is an attempt to describe, but not yet solve, the variety of issues and challenges faced by governments in their efforts to apply 21st century capabilities to eGovernment initiatives. It provides examples of existing, applicable open Web standards. Where government needs in the development of eGovernment services are not currently met by existing standards, those gaps are noted.

I found the paper extremely insightful and deserving of several reads. It accurately depicts the issues governments face when engaging online, provides insights into why governments should engage citizens online and details strategies for enabling effective government engagement.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Do you plan your online strategy in the same way you plan your media strategy?

Typically government and commercial media teams spend time identifying publications and journalists that have the most appropriate audiences for an organisation's products and services.

They commit energy to building constructive relationships with those that have influence over the members of the public they are trying to engage, tailoring stories to suit their individual needs.

Why do media teams spend time building relationships with parts of the media? Because it works.

Good working relationships improve outcomes for all of the parties involved - the organisation, the media team, the journalist, media outlet and the ultimate audience.

So if this approach works for offline media, does it work online?

My answer is an unequivocal YES.

If organisations cultivate relationships with key bloggers and forums, tailor information for websites that attract appropriate audiences and commit to ongoing research to identify where they should concentrate their efforts, they will achieve better communications and engagement outcomes.


Conversely, few organisations would follow their current online strategy in offline media. This would involve the organisation producing their own departmental or company newspaper or radio station for the public, then refusing to engage with any other news media.

Unfortunately this is the thinking and approach many government and commercial organisations follow with their websites.

They invest large resources into developing a single 'owned' destination where they expect their customers to come for information and discussion.

They invest little into reaching out to other websites, forums, blogs and social networks - even where these 'media outlets' already attract the audience that the department or company wishes to reach.

This approach is unsustainable and impractical in the long run and will fail to meet organisational goals.

Monitoring audiences, build relationships and engaging with appropriate outlets works for online media at least as well as it does for offline.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Creating appropriate guidelines for Twitter engagement

Mosman council has published information and guidelines for how their organisation will engage citizens via Twitter.

It's very clear and well-constructed, providing a model for how other government agencies can represent a Twitter channel publicly, building on my post on Getting started with Twitter in Australian government.

By the way, if you were wondering how many Australians used Twitter, there are indications that the figure is over 1 million based on extrapolation from this analysis by Lucas Ng, How Many Australian Twitter Users Are There? And What Clients Do They Use?.

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Us Now released free online - film about government, citizens and mass collaboration online

Earlier this week Us Now film Ltd announced that Us Now, its documentary on how the Internet is changing how citizens engage with and what they expect of government, was available online for free viewing, download and distribution.

What is the film about? In the words of its creators in the UK,

In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?

New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.
The movie has already taken the public sector in the UK and the US by storm as it provides a close look at what is occurring online, busting many of the myths and uncovering some simple, but profound, truths.

I recommend this movie to public servants engaged in, or developing policy including, the online sector.

It is also vital viewing for politicians seeking to understand the shifts occurring in the community and how they will affect future campaigns, political processes, policy development, citizen engagement and service delivery.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Government 2.0 paper released

Cisco's global strategic consulting arm (IBSG), has released an interesting white paper on Government 2.0 (PDF).

It takes a long hard look at the opportunities for the public sector in using online media to engage the public, arguing that,

In a world where sharing information is so easy, public agencies should aim to improve citizens’ ability to access information, provide feedback, and view the feedback of other citizens. Ultimately, we should move toward a world where the background information, the thinking, and the options for every public sector decision and action are easily available to citizens.


There are numerous case studies of activities being taken by governments around the world - even one from Australia.

It's a good read for senior executives in the public service who are looking to understand how the world is changing - and the opportunities and risks for their departments for embracing the changes versus hanging back.

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European egovernment awards open for submissions

The European Union's annual egovernment awards are now accepting submissions (online only naturally) at www.epractice.eu/awards.

I find the various egovernment awards around the world a great source of inspiration as to different ways the online world can be used by governments to save money, improve access to services and information and involve citizens in the processes of government.

Incidentally the Australian e-government Awards (or e-awards) are holding their award ceremony tonight at CEBIT to announce the winner from 10 finalists.

Keep an eye on AGIMO's website tomorrow where I expect we will see the results.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The implications of the Ice TV High Court decision for government data

I've had a long time interest in Ice TV. In fact about five years ago I was considering investing in the company, or encouraging my then employer (ActewAGL/TransACT) to invest in it as an extension to their cableTV service.

For anyone unaware of the company, they sell electronic program guides (EPGs) for free-to-air channels for use in Digital Video Recorders (DVRs).

The EPGs are used by DVR systems to allow people to 'set and forget' record their favourite shows for later viewing - such that the DVR records the shows every week, regardless of whether the TV channels move the timeslots around.

Ice TV didn't simply rip off TV guides from the newspaper however, they had people watch the TV channels and record program names and times - then filled the gaps with information from existing program guides.

Ice TV has been involved in a several year legal battle with Channel 9, who claimed they held copyright over their program guide and even the small bits that Ice TV was using to fill gaps was a breach of their copyright over the literary work that was their program guide.

After years of litigation, the High Court has ruled that Channel 9 did not own copyright over program guides - because the information could realistically only be presented in one way... The time, then the program name.

Whilst not a legal expert, I foresee that this may have major implications for many pieces of information government in Australia creates. For instance copyright protection may be void for rail, bus and ferry timetables, tables of basic data (such as this electorate list on the CSA website) and most, if not all, of the data released by the ABS online (which is largely under Creative Commons licenses anyway).

Taking the High Court ruling, as this government data can realistically only be portrayed in one way (Name, Data), it is no longer protected under Australian copyright laws.

This counterdicts the actions by NSW RailCorp to prevent republishing of rail timetables in mobile applications (which the NSW government has already forced them to back down on), and probably some similar activities elsewhere in Australia.

This also impacts the business sector - data in annual reports, tidal charts, exchange rates, and much more are now, under the High Court ruling, probably not covered under our copyright laws.

I'm interesting to see how this will be used by free data advocates - and what the legal responses will be.

The transcript of the Radio National discussion this High Court judgement is at The Law Report - Ice TV.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Can we use crowdsourcing to reshape democracy?

Beth Noveck, director of President Obama’s open government initiative, said in a recent essay,

Our institutions of governance are characterized by a longstanding culture of professionalism in which bureaucrats – not citizens – are the experts. Until recently, we have viewed this arrangement as legitimate because we have not practically been able to argue otherwise. Now we have a chance to do government differently. We have the know-how to create "civic software" that will help us form groups and communities who, working together, can be more effective at informing decision-making than individuals working alone.
(Quote from P&P, Beth Noveck: Wiki-Government | Democracy)

The internet is reshaping the relationship between government and citizens.

For example, the practice of 'crowdsourcing' involves using online technologies to ask a distinct group, or an entire population, to answer questions, provide insights on issues or develop solutions.

The approach is being used in increasing numbers of ways by governments to better hear their citizens, formulate more effective, consensus-based solutions, manage expectations and drive innovation.

One crowdsourcing exercise that I've previously mentioned is the New Zealand Police Act wiki, where an NZ Act of Parliament was developed by placing a seed version on the web using a wiki and allowing the public to edit and comment the Act directly for a period of time. The Act was passed by New Zealand Parliament and from all accounts it appears to have been as effective as any legislation developed by a small group of policy experts.

Similarly the US President has made use of crowd sourcing as a suggestion and prioritisation approach. Prior to his administration taking power it created an idea-sourcing site that allowed the public to suggest priorities for the new government and vote on previous suggestions in an online Citizen Briefing Book. This resulted in tens of thousands of suggestions prioritised by 70,000 participants.

President Obama's Virtual Town Hall has continued this approach, this time attracting over 90,000 participants asking and casting 1.7 million votes on 103,000 questions.

The impact of crowdsourcing isn't simply as a feedback mechanism. It offers the ability to reshape the entire governance process.

A range of local governments in Australia, New Zealand, in UK, across Europe and South America are beginning to actively engage their populations in crowdsourced discussions regarding civic priorities and improvements. For example the state capital city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil (2.3 million inhabitants) has used participatory voting since 1993 for determining civic priorities and in 2006 shifted to a digital participation model to broaden the level of involvement, with 10% of voters participating compared to 1.5% in the previous offline model.

Another example is the Future Melbourne consultation, which attracted over 30,000 comments by 7,000 visitors (and not one instance of spam, off-topic or offensive content).

One possibility for crowdsourcing would be for every piece of legislation currently on Australian books (Federal, state or local) to be placed onto wikis or similar tools to allow Australians to publicly review, comment, suggest edits and plain english translations.

This step could also be taken with all proposed legislation. President Obama has already committed to making all US Federal legislation available for the public to comment on for a few days prior to it going to the house for approval. The next step is employ a co-creation process online.

Naturally this would need to be done in a staged approach - there's simply too much legislation and different groups would be interested in different pieces (and some pieces would have little or no interest).

It relies on changing the copyright approach taken by government. From all rights reserved to some rights reserved (handled admirably by Creative Commons licensing which is already in use by the QLD government and the ABS).

It also relies on the public being able to understand some of the complex legalities of legislation. However if the public cannot understand a piece of legislation, isn't it probably too obtuse anyway?

Of course some might say that the public simply isn't interested in reviewing and commenting on legislation, or that it would be distorted by interest groups or individuals with axes to grind.

However those doing so have not yet tried the experiment and have no evidence on which to base these claims.

I'd love to see any government in Australia - at local, state or federal level, commit to starting this process with a pilot program. Make a few pieces of high profile legislation available online in a wiki-based format. Support comments and edits from any individual, restricting it to those who register with a valid email address.

Moderate the wiki to ensure that no-one misuses their privilege of participation in the democratic process under a clear set of guidelines, and then take on board the suggestions and edits of the public in the final drafting of the legislation.

This approach would lead to the democratisation of policy development and increasing participation by the public in the democratic process.

It may also lead to better policy, and therefore better outcomes for Australians.

Here are some examples of crowdsourcing in action, and here is a slightly contrarian view arguing that Government Needs Smart-sourcing, Not Crowdsourcing.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Redesigning the APH website

The APH website team are currently holding a survey seeking views on how they should redesign their site to better meet the needs of users.

As reported in Senator Kate Lundy's blog, Redesign of the APH website - your thoughts,

The website for Parliament of Australia – www.aph.gov.au is about to be redesigned. The first step of this exciting project is to consult with internal and external users of this website to gather their expectations and requirements.

From 21 April we will have an online survey available on the front page of the aph website and we would appreciate your participation in this short survey. I am sure that you have thoughts that you would like to share with us. The survey will close on 29 May 2009.


Incidentally the Child Support Agency (whose website I manage) is also currently holding a website User Satisfaction survey (available as a pop-up) from www.csa.gov.au.

All users of the site are welcome to provide their feedback.

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Liveblog of PublicSphere #1 - high broadband for Australia

Below is my liveblog of the PublicSphere event.

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High speed broadband for Australia - the unexplored country

This morning I am presenting at Public Sphere #1 - High bandwidth for Australia in a personal capacity.

The event will discuss what high speed bandwidth can do for Australian society, business and government.

I have previously posted some ideas on this topic and will be talking today about how the killer applications and services for a 100Mbit plus service are likely to not have been invented yet.

For those not attending the event, I have attached my presentation below and will add a transcript in the near future.

I will hopefully be liveblogging the event after my presentation throughout the morning.

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Tourism Australia wins a Webby Award

Mumbrella has reported that Tourism Australia's www.australia.com website has won a People’s Voice Winner in the Tourism category of the 2009 Webby Awards.

More information is in Mumbrella's article, Webby Awards for Tourism Australia and Lonely Planet.

I'd like to congratulate the Tourism Australia team for doing a great job creating a world-class website.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A blueprint for making government data reusable online

US federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, has outlined a blueprint for government data at the 2009 Government Web Managers conference.

As reported in GCN, Kundra advised that,

Government data prepared for public reuse should be offered in multiple-formats, be machine-readable and adhere as closely as possible to lightweight standards
This is likely to be a guiding principle for the upcoming www.data.gov site, which has the express purpose of making US government data available for citizen reuse as a governmentwide repository of data feeds.

This vision goes far beyond merely making a limited set of US government information publicly available in proprietary formats. In Kundra's words, “We need to make sure that all that data that’s not private can be made public”.

Per an earlier GCN article,
By opening vast realms of data that federal agencies are now keeping in-house, Kundra hopes to spark new ways of using that information to better serve citizens and even create new industries.

In principle that would be a fantastic outcome for any government to achieve for its country - but is it realistic?

Kundra has addressed this topic as well,
Kundra cited examples of how the publishing federal government information has already “fundamentally transformed the economy” in certain areas. When the National Institutes of Health published its results from mapping the human genome, the agency “created a revolution in personalized medicine," in which hundreds of new drugs were created. When the Defense Department opened Global Positioning System readings for public use, an entire new industry of geolocational devices was born.


In Australia we're beginning to see governments unlock their vaults of data, with services such as CData from the ABS being one of the most impressive steps.

However in this, as in most other areas of egovernance, there's many challenges to overcome before either the US or Australia can fully realise the potential benefits of allowing the community to innovate with public data from a range of agencies.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative," - President Obama

The title of this post was used recently in the White House blog to announce the expansion of their online presence to reach into a range of social media including Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, adding to their presence on Flickr, Youtube, Vimeo and iTunes.

Named White House 2.0, the post also quoted President Obama calling on government to "recognize that we cannot meet the challenges of today with old habits and stale thinking."

It's clear that the US is taking a strong stance on online participation, with the current President spearheading the use of social media to "reach beyond the halls of government" to engage the public.

It will be interesting to see how the US position continues to unfold, and what other national governments learn from the US experience.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Victoria police launches local crime stats online in MyPlace

I applaud Victoria Police for their latest foray into online engagement, MyPlace.

As highlighted in Victoria's eGovernment Resource Centre, the Victorian Police have launched MyPlace as,

An interactive mapping service provide by Victoria Police which is updated every three months so you can see what is happening in your suburbs and hear directly from your local police Inspector about the work being done by police in your neighbourhood.

It is great to see government making this type of public information more easily available to the public in more intuitive and usable ways.

The chat function is an extra bonus. Scheduled chats with the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police are a great tool for raising community engagement. The general public do not often get to communicate with senior police in a convenient and open environment. I hope in future this will be broadened to include chats with other senior Police officers, and potentially an ongoing blog highlighting the good work done by Victoria Police.

However, and this is a small however, I am disappointed that all the wonderful data provided by MyPlace is not available as a standard geoRSS or XML feed or API so that people can reuse the data (under appropriate Creative Commons copyright).

Google launched a wonderful feature last Tuesday which makes it much easier for the public to access, interact with and understand data from US government - doing a fantastic job of integrating data from various different local, state and federal agencies into a seamless experience.

If Victoria Police had taken an open approach to their public data Google, Microsoft and other online services could have shared the 'heavy lifting' of modelling the data by postcode at no cost to the government. This would have then allowed developers across Victoria and across the world, to build innovative new applications using the data.

These applications could include heat maps of crime statistics, integrating crime figures into rental, home and business purchase listings or school selections or even allow high school students doing school projects to compare crime stats with employment and income levels and other ABS census data (if the ABS made its data available in this manner as well) to explore the factors that lead to crime. Many other useful applications are possible, however will, for now, remain unexplored.

At the end of the day MyPlace is a great first step for Victoria Police - and should be considered by every other police force in Australia - and it would be fantastic to see it taken further into openness and transparency, by Victoria or others.

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The daily hurdles government faces in attempting to engage online

Tim Davies from the UK has written an excellent post highlighting all the 'small hurdles' that government agencies face when attempting to engage online.

Entitled OpenGov: One big challenge? Or a thousand small hurdles, despite coming from the UK, the list reflects many of the hurdles faced in Australian government that need to be overcome for Departments to seriously use online engagement alongside other forms of communication and customer interaction.

A number of the hurdles are related to policies and behaviours which would not be tolerated by senior management were they applied to telephones, written correspondence or public appearances.

I am very curiously watching to see how long it takes government to move to remove these hurdles for the online channel as well.

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