Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Zealand online consultation on student loans

The New Zealand's Inland Revenue department has launched an online consultation around proposed changes to student loans - with the main topic being around totally web-enabling the process for managing student loan accounts.

The consultation is at studentloanforum.taxpolicy.ird.govt.nz and might be a useful example for other government departments who might be considering online consultation.

The comments made are visible within the forum once logged in - which may be a useful way for other jurisdictions looking at student loans to also gather ideas.

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Build it or they will come

In 2007 a combined SMS and online electoral monitoring system went into action in Nigeria to report electoral fraud. Based on increasing mobile use (as fixed infrastructure is very limited in the country), mobile phones were able to provide voters with a voice when ballots were not conducted fairly. Similar systems are now being used in a range of other countries across the world to broadcast any electoral issues to the world.

Next, due to the effective application of online social media, in 2008 the preferred Democrat nominee for the US Presidency was beaten by a relative newcomer with little national profile. That relative newcomer then went on to successfully win the US Presidential race.

Earlier this year when UK Parliamentarians were caught charging expenses that the public deemed inappropriate they sought to protect their privacy by providing PDF documents, blacking out a significant portion of the documents for privacy and legal reasons. However the UK Guardian newspaper created a website (in less than 5 days) where the public could transcribe pages and cross-match critical information. Within 10 minutes of release over 320 members of the public were busy transcribing a few pages each, and within a few hours more than 2,000 pages had been reviewed. Now over 197,000 pages have been reviewed by over 22,000 UK citizens.

The Guardian was not alone in this effort, other websites such as www.whattheyclaimed.com began similar efforts to improve parliamentary transparency.

Most recently the Iranian election has been internationally scrutinised through the actions of hundreds of thousands of young Iranians using Twitter and similar online services to send messages, photos and videos out of the country. The medium has been used to organise protests, identify electoral fraud and keep the world informed of developments in a country which restricts journalists and the free press.

Internationally many people have supported the protesters in Iran by providing ways for them to send their messages out as the government systematically, and unsuccessfully, attempted to block online communications channels. The combined efforts of thousands of people around the world outmaneuvered the Iranian government and ensured that the voices of Iranian citizens continued to be heard.

And finally, in China, which has the most internet users of any country in the world, the government attempted to bolster its 'great firewall' (known internally as the Golden Shield Project) with software required to be installed on every PC. Despite using sophisticated software and a rumoured over 30,000 public officials working full-time to ensure that the Chinese people do not see material online that the government deems inappropriate, the Chinese have been unable to prevent their citizens from accessing the free media of other countries or using the internet to share their thoughts on the Chinese regime - both good and bad.

Resistance to the new measure has been intense. The Chinese government has already had to soften its approach from making the software compulsory to install to simply making it available with every computer.

These examples represent the change going on across the world. Out of Africa, across the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and into Asia, the internet is reshaping the relationship between governments and their citizens.

Governments who have attempted to limit or prevent citizen access to the internet have failed in almost every jurisdiction. In most cases the government dare not take the extreme step of disconnect their citizens completely, as the internet has become critical for private enterprises and the government in conducting their business.

Governments are finding that attempting to control new media use by citizens, or simply to continue to use old patterns of governing, is progressively seeing their control over the public agenda weaken.

Where governments are not building public services online, members of the public are banding together to do so - effectively disintermediating governments.

The lesson for me is that if governments are to lead their people, they need to acknowledge and accept the changes that are occurring, reform their own culture and operations where necessary and get out in front and demonstrate leadership.

Fortunately for Australia, increasingly our governments are recognising and acting on this.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Global Intranet report found that organizations without a 2.0 strategy risk outright failure

Prescient Digital have released the results of their Intranet 2.0 Global Survey, reporting that organisation without a 2.0 strategy risks being left behind, or outright failing.

The survey, with 561 responses globally (13% from government), found that Intranet 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis and other vehicles have become mainstream, and are present in nearly 50% of organizations (regardless of size) in North America, Europe, and Australia and New Zealand.

Toby Ward, CEO of Prescient Digital Media & author of the Intranet Global Survey said in a press release that,

“Employees want to work for progressive and innovative organizations, and expect 2.0 environments from employers of choice.”

The survey found that organisations that had deployed Intranet 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs and forums had spent very little doing so, with 46% having spent less than US$10,000 and only 19% having spent US$100,000 or more.

A summary of the Global Intranet 2.0 report is available freely online.

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Victorian Government Inquiry recommends that Vic Gov opens most data for free public reuse

The Victorian Government's Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee recently released the final report (PDF) for its Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data.

The Inquiry was designed to look at and report back to the Victorian Parliament on the potential application of open content and open source licensing to Victorian Government information, particularly considering the economic benefits, improvements to discovery and use of data, the ICT requirements and potential risks, impediments and restrictions.

With 46 recommendations, the report is quite a hefty read (238 pages) - however there are three key recommendations the report highlights, which I hope are both adopted by the Victorian Government and considered by other governments across Australia.

These were,

  • develop a framework for free or low cost access to all possible public sector information,
  • that the government use the Creative Commons licensing model for most (around 85%) of public sector information, tapping into a simple to understand and widely used system - with the remaining 15% subject to appropriate licensing based on the need for restricted access, and
  • that the Victorian government develop a central directory enabling easier discovery of public sector information and the access conditions attached to it.
These three recommendations alone have the prospect of creating a sea change in the Victorian government's approach to the management, licensing and access to public sector data. They shift the playing field shifting from a pro-secrecy towards a pro-disclosure model allowing (most) public information to be reused by individuals, not-for-profits and the private sector to generate economic benefits for the state and drive innovation.

A fourth recommendation is also worth noting, to quote,
The Committee also considers the use of open source software (OSS) within and by the Victorian Government. One of the Committee’s recommendations is that the Government ensure tendering for software is neither licence specific nor has proprietary software-specific requirements, and that it meet the given objectives of Government.
This recommendation will help level the playing field for open source software in government. While open source is already widely used in the public sector, the lack of a responsible single vendor has sometimes raised the perceived risk of open source. Also often software has been selected on the basis of initial purchase/implementation costs rather than on the total cost of ownership, which can be manipulated by vendors of proprietary software to encourage very low-cost take-up of products but with expensive ongoing maintenance and development.

The next step is for the Victorian government to consider and adopt some, all or none of the 46 recommendations - the first of which is,
Recommendation 1: That the Victorian Government release a public statement indicating that it endorses open access as the default position for the management of its public sector information.
Recommendation 39 is also very interesting from a national perspective,
Recommendation 39: That the Victorian Government work with other jurisdictions towards national harmonisation in enhancing access to and reuse of PSI.


Many in the government 2.0 community will be waiting with bated breath.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The fifth great media shift in the last 500 years

Every now and then a work shines through with absolute clarity.

The video below, sent to me by a former colleague, provides such clarity regarding the fifth great media shift in the last 500 years - the internet.

It may be very useful for public servants in educating their colleagues about the changes occurring around the world.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Australian government announces government 2.0 taskforce headed by Dr Nicholas Gruen

At the Government 2.0 Public Sphere Camp, Ministers Tanner and Ludwig have announced the creation of a Government 2.0 Taskforce.

Chaired by Dr Nicholas Gruen, the Taskforce is made up of fifteen policy and technical experts and entrepreneurs from government, business, academia, and cultural institutions.

The taskforce has two main streams,

  • to increase the openness of government through making public sector information more widely available to promote transparency, innovation and value adding to government information.
  • encouraging online engagement with the aim of drawing in the information, knowledge, perspectives, resources and even, where possible, the active collaboration of anyone wishing to contribute to public life.
It will both provide advice and be able to fund initiatives, and has already launched a competition to design a logo and banner for the Taskforce.

More information is at the Taskforce's website, www.gov2.net.au.

During the announcement, Minister Tanner said that while today people are still largely passive consumers of online information this is changing. Web 2.0 has changed the internet from a platform for communication to be a platform for collaboration.

Through online tools like blogs and wikis government can keep citizens appraised and be involved with what government is doing.

The Taskforce will advise the government on how to develop a pro-disclosure and innovative culture.

Minister Ludwig spoke about changing the Freedom of Information approach in Australia from being request-based to being pro-disclosure.

He also commented that making vast amounts of data available is not the endpoint, data must be appropriately formatted to allow it to be effectively used.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Government 2.0 Public Sphere Camp liveblog

Below is the liveblog for the Government 2.0 Public Sphere Camp being run at Parliament House Canberra on Monday 22 June 2009.

This is a jointly published liveblog in co-operation with Des Walsh and Nathanael Boehm.

You can pre-register for email notification when the liveblog begins below.

Please join in with your comments and questions through the day.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

How the White House's new Media Office sizes the potential and pitfalls of opening up to citizens online

In an interesting and very frank article in NextGov, named The Public Eye, Bev Godwin of the White House's new media office has provided her views of the challenges and opportunities for government in engaging online.

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Utah 2.0

The US state of Utah has been a very active implementer of government 2.0 initiatives for several years now, and is known as one of the most progressive early adopters (for government) in the space.

They recently released a new website which uses many web 2.0 features to improve the experience for uses and also aggregates many of the government 2.0 activities the state undertakes.

According to Federal Computer Week's article, Utah goes Web 2.0, the site includes,

the aggregation of 27 state blogs and more than 100 Twitter accounts, according to state officials.

The new site has geographical detection technology that estimates the location of visitors and displays relevant location specific information, including local meetings, government Web sites, school and library information, park information, and available online services, Utah officials said.

A data portal provides access to public data sets from local, state and federal government sources.


It also offers 24/7 live chat as well as many other web 2.0 features.

The new site is online at www.utah.govegov

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Government 2.0 initiatives in Australia Part 2 (Public Sphere Camp series)

Following on from my post on Wednesday, below are some of the federal and non-government initiatives in the Government 2.0 space.

Federal

ABS CData
The Australian Bureau of Statistics is responsible for collecting and providing access to a large proportion of data collected by government in Australia.

Before the internet the reports produced by the ABS were available on paper, floppy disk or CD to help business and other government agencies understand and manage the changes occurring in Australia.

With the arrival of the internet the ABS took its data online, providing downloadable data tables as well as reports, initially at a cost but finally free.

Recently the ABS took the next few steps, introducing Creative Commons licensing to permit greater flexibility in the reuse of its data and launching the CData system, which allows individuals and organisations to delve deeper into the ABS's census data, creating and customising their own data tables for viewing online or free download.

The system is a large step towards totally automating machine readable government data and making it freely available for reuse. While only census data is available at present, it would not be an overwhelming challenge to expand the data sets over time, providing employment, economic activity, industry and other subsets.

Openly accessible machine-readable data is one of the most commonly cited government 2.0 characteristic as it supports government openness while stimulating innovation. The ABS's efforts are a giant step in supporting Australia in achieving these goals.

ABS BetaWorks
One of the hardest steps for any organisation to take is to expose some of its inner decision-making processes to external scrutiny. However that is what the ABS has done with BetaWorks.

ABS BetaWorks is a collaborative design site the ABS is now using to support the ongoing development of the ABS website. The site contains a selection of the projects the ABS is considering, or has underway, and encourages visitors to participate by providing their thoughts, suggestions and ideas for how the ABS could improve various website features.

While not fully collaborative - as you cannot hold conversations through the site in anything approaching real time - the comment approach helps the ABS build a better picture of how people use their site and would like to see features developed. This in turn helps the ABS better serve it's customers.


Non-government
Government 2.0 initiaitives are not limited to being created by governments. In many instances independent individuals and organisations are also creating online services that support the government 2.0 approach.

OpenAustralia
A particularly good example is the OpenAustralia site which replicates the Hansard record for Federal government in a much easier to read, search and comment format. This allows people to subscribe to receive email notices when a particular MP speaks or to make comments on specific debates for others to reflect on.

The site also includes the register of members' interests - which previously was only available on paper from a specific office in Canberra. Not many people had the inclination to travel to Canberra to view this list - or even knew how to access it - so placing it online has enormous utility for citizens who wish to know a little more about their parliamentary members.

The site, similar to the UK site it was based on, lowers the barriers for citizens to scrutinise parliamentary debates and increases their ability to learn about specific MPs, effectively raising the transparency in our democracy.

It also has been supportive in identifying inaccuracies in the official Hansard record, as noted in News.com.au's article Open Australia highlights parliamentary errors.

Open Forum
Open Forum is a platform for presenting information and discussions around political topics.

It supports a blog mechanism, used by many politicians, which provides a way for them to provide their thoughts and insights without the filter of the media. It also provides an online forum, or bulletin board, feature which allows community discussion on specific topics, such as on human rights.

By providing an independent venue for discussion outside of government control, Open Forum is an important site for enabling online democratic conversations across Australia.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Europeans asking - what are the top things government should do in the next three years to transform public services?

The European Union is currently going through a process to decide on the content of a new egovernment declaration.

To support and facilitate this, an independent group has launched an open online brainstorm to solicit bottom-up feedback on what citizens believe should be done.

This is being facilitated through a site, Co-creating an open declaration on public services 2.0 and a uservoice suggestion market.

This type of consultation is extremely easy for an organisation or individuals to establish online and provides an opportunity to source feedback from non-traditional sources.

What will be interesting in the future is whether it will be the government concerned running such a consultation, or whether it will be run by independent parties and then attract media attention for what was left out by the government.

The only way to control or even influence these discussions is to become part of them, embracing the new tools available today.

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Government 2.0 initiatives in Australia Part 1 (Public Sphere Camp series)

Last week I posted about some of the Government 2.0 initiatives around the world.

This week I'm posting about some of the initiatives going on in Australia.

There are a number of government and non-government organisations who are very actively participating online and a great deal of experimentation going on. In fact while we're not the absolute leader in this area, we're certainly amongst the forerunners in many cases.

What I've done below is provide mini case studies of initiatives at various levels, linking to previous posts I've made on these initiatives.

I've split this into several posts in order to cover more ground.

Local government
Mosman municipal council
As the first Australian council to adopt Twitter as a communications channel, Mosman city council has been one of the ground-breakers in the social media space at local council level.

The council has taken a committed approach to online media, using blogs and online consultation techniques to supplement and inform 'heritage' citizen consultation approaches such as town hall meetings.

Hornsby Shire Council
Many local councils are beginning to very actively use online consultation as an approach to inform decision making. Hornsby Shire Council is one who has gone this route with the Hornsby Shire Housing Strategy consultation. This consultation has attracted over 1,100 comments and contains some very thoughtful discussion of how citizens would like to see the Shire shape itself into the future.

Future Melbourne
A second and even more comprehensive example is the Melbourne Citiy Council's Future Melbourne consultation, which has combined a wiki, discussion forums, video and other online tools to involve Melbournians in the future shape of their city.

State government
Queensland government's SharemyStory
Road tragedies affect many lives. Apart from the victims, who may be killed or permanently disabled, there is an impact on the families and friends of the victims, on onlookers and on the community.

As one approach to raise awareness of these impacts, support people in grieving and help the community and individuals recognise and take steps to minimise the risk of road tragedy the Queensland government launched the SharemyStory site where survivors, relatives and friends could publicly share their stories.

The site now contains over 1,000 stories submitted by people in memory of those killed or injured in road accidents and is a very powerful reminder of the pain and harm these accidents can cause.

The site also offers way to support specific stories and to share specific stories across social media sites. It also has a Twitter channel.

Appropriate provisions are in place to protect the privacy of individuals and where people do not wish to share their personal information there are approaches the site administrators can take.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice guide updated to including blogging and social media

I'm not quite sure when these edits happened, but reading through the APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice last night I noticed that they have been updated to comprehensively include blogs and social media (particularly Section 15: APS employees as citizens).

If you've not read this recently, it is worth reviewing to see how online channels are now integrated within the code of practice for Australian federal public servants.

This extends the effect of Circular 2008/8: Interim protocols for online media participation.

Social media participation by public servants in Australia is slowly becoming an accepted part of the landscape.

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Twitter opened door on Iranian election (while offline media stayed silent)

The events of the past few days in Iran have demonstrated the capability of Twitter to circumvent controls on traditional media, allowing people to communicate and provide images of what is going on on the ground.

In case you've not yet heard through television, radio or the press, there have been a series of massive protests in Iran over the election results, with loud claims that the election had been rigged.

These protests, punctuated with vivid images, have been documented using Twitter as a media channel. Coverage via traditional media, which has been tightly controlled by the state, has been delayed and impeded by prohibitions such as not being able to leave the capital, Tehran, to witness events elsewhere in the country.

Iran is well-known for being a country with a high level of social media use across its population, sometimes called the third largest nation of bloggers.

This is another demonstration of the shift in power from central administrations towards individuals, it is becoming more and more difficult for governments to control real-time message flow - particularly when there are widespread dissenting views.

If you want to follow it yourself, try these Twitter searches

Or these news report,

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Friday, June 12, 2009

US reports on open government brainstorm - do Australians share these views?

The US government has been running an online consultation on the topic of open government via the OpenGov suggestions market.

A summary analysis report on the first stage of the brainstorm has now been released, outlining the main suggestions and topics US citizens found critical for open government.

Some of the highlighted recommendations included,

  • each agency should appoint a senior representative to lead transparency initiatives;

  • government should adopt common data standards;

  • all open meetings should be webcasting;

  • online government services should be made reusable by the private sector - if citizens own the services they should be able to build on top of them;

  • Post all FOIA request responses on the web so everyone, not just the requester, has access and impose penalties on agencies not following FOIA, or creating excessive delays (such as in India where public servants can be fined);

  • Digitize all government research reports and make them available free;

  • Use well-designed feedback systems instead of central control to improve web design;

  • Make government websites mobile platform-ready;

  • Government should communicate a governmentwide strategy for using social media tools to create a more effective and transparent government;

  • Allow government employees to engage in social networking.

I wonder if Australians would have similar views if the Australian government ran a similar consultation.

Here is the complete summary analysis report (PDF)


Also of great interest is the reason the US government used online consultation rather than having internal policy experts develop an open government policy,
Traditionally, proposed policy is crafted by government representatives—who though knowledgeable, do not always have access to the best possible expertise and information—and subsequently posted to invite public comment. The challenge lies in the fact that this process is designed to engender incremental rather than transformational change. Creating a transparent, participatory and collaborative government, however, is a foundational shift, and success requires that we are able to access the best and most creative ideas for accomplishing this goal, wherever they reside.

The vision for this exercise, therefore, is to invert the policymaking process by enabling informed public dialogue to inform policymaking at the front end. The collaborative three-phase process employed opens up tremendous possibilities for real-time innovation. People are invited to:
  1. Brainstorm—share ideas on how to make government more open, participatory and collaborative, discuss and vote on the ideas of others;
  2. Discuss—dig deeper on the ideas and challenges identified during the Brainstorm phase; and
  3. Draft—collaboratively craft constructive recommendations for an Open Government Directive.

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Nominations sought for global award, The 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics

As reported in the Victorian eGovernment Resource Centre, nominations are open for The 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics.

This is a highly prestigious international award designed to recognise the ten individuals, organisations and companies having the greatest impact on how the Internet is changing politics.

Last year the Victorian eGovernment Resource Centre was the only Australian nomination to make the final list of ten, which included the Mybarackobama site.

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Catch me at the eGovernment conference

I'll be attending (and speaking on behalf of my Department at) the Canberra eGovernment Conference next Monday and Tuesday.

If you're also be attending please come and say hello.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Which Australian pollies are tweeting most?

tweetMP, which lists Australian politicians using the Twitter service, has expanded its functionality to include statistics on which parties and politicians are the most active Tweeters.

Now listing 22 Federal politicians on Twitter, the take-up rate seems to be accelerating towards the level of activity in the US and UK.

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How are governments overseas using Government 2.0? (Public Sphere Camp Series)

Government 2.0 is a global trend and many governments around the world are already deep into online initiatives of this type.

Below I'm going to touch on three examples which demonstrate some of the potential benefits of government 2.0 - accessibility, collaboration, transparency and engagement.

If these only whet your appetite, there are further examples at the Government 2.0 Best Practices wiki, which has aggregated a list of examples from around the world.

US's Data.gov
One of the first actions of President Obama when he took office in the United States was to make it clear to the senior executives of US federal government agencies that he wished them to make public information available online using the latest and most appropriate technologies and formats.

One of the key areas his administration focused on was data and statistics. Under US law data collected by the federal government using public funds is copyright-free and should be made freely available to the public unless if there are strong reasons to not make specific data sets available (such as national security matters).

The challenge was to make the data freely available online via a central point, in formats that could be readily reused by other websites, organisations and the public.

Recently the US government launched the Data.gov site, which intends to aggregate hundreds of thousands of US government data feeds in machine readable forms online.

As an initiative supported centrally by the President's office, the site launched with about 49 datasets from a variety of agencies, however has been adding new feeds regularly. Eventually this site will become the data hub for the US government with citizens and organisations able to access any public federal data from it quickly and easily.

Even more importantly the data feeds can be reused by other websites, web applications and even mobile applications in ways that add value, such as superimposing data on maps or combining different datasets to provide new insights.

While data.gov is still in its infancy, the US government has demonstrated its commitment to accessible government through this approach and it will become very difficult for a future president to turn back the clock to the fragmented and difficult to access government data of the past.


New Zealand's Policing Act wiki
During 2007-08 New Zealand reviewed its Policing Act, updating a piece of legislation that had grown old and out of touch with the community.

Alongside traditional consultation approaches the New Zealand government decided to provide the text of the legislation in a wiki which would allow anyone who registered to make changes directly to the text, add comments and have conversations and debates over the content of the Act.

The Police Act wiki, which used a simple set of moderation principles received an "overwhelming response" and became a major influence in how the updated legislation was crafted.

The wiki was extremely low cost to run and manage and attracted a range of participants that would not have the time or inclination to attend physical consultation events.

This example demonstrates how governments can practically and successfully use web 2.0 approaches to collaboratively engage citizens in the democratic process.

Rather than relying on a small set of experts and expensive and time-consuming physical consultations, governments are able to quickly, simply and cheaply get feedback and input on proposals online.

UK's Lords of the blog

Finally, the UK the House of Lords is commonly considered old and stodgy. However the UK's Upper House is also one of the most active groups of bloggers in government - with their Lords of the Blog site featuring the posts of 15 Lords discussing the workings of UK government and the specific legislation they are considering.

The blog, which accepts comments from the public (again under a simple moderation policy), was initially trialled as a way to build public engagement in UK democracy and illustrate the valuable role played by the House of Lords.

It has now been operating successfully for 18 months and has been credited with reinvigorating public interest in the democratic process.

This type of approach makes politicians and government processes more accessible to the public, creates greater openness and transparency on the part of the government and leads to increased engagement and participation in democracy by the public.

Blogs can also become tools for testing concepts or introducing news that traditional media outlets do not tend to carry. Essentially they become a direct personal link between the blogger(s) and their constituents.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What is Government 2.0 (Public Sphere Camp Series)

The term 'Web 2.0' entered popular language in 2004. It was an attempt to define the shift that was occurring online from the internet being a communications tool to a collaborative user-driven social medium.

While some Web 2.0 capable tools, such as blogs, wikis and forums, had existed for many years prior to the creation of the term, before 2004 the internet was more often seen as being a place for corporate-driven content - websites developed and controlled by organisations to communicate and sell to customers.

However most internet commentators were seeing a shift away from this corporate model as early as 2001. As the internet grew and evolved as a medium the barriers to individual participation and content creation fell.

By 2004 the trend was clear, the internet was becoming less like the other mass mediums, television, radio and print - which were dominated by a few large organisations that controlled the production and distribution of content - and more of a democratic platform that enabled individuals to create, communicate and collaborate at a near equal footing with media giants.

The change saw new organisations emerge.

Wikipedia became the world's most popular encyclopedia, driven entirely by user content.

YouTube became the world's most viewed video channel, with an audience larger than any television station, driven entirely by user content.

Facebook and Myspace grew to have as many members as some of the largest countries in the world, driven by user content.

By placing virtually free creation and distribution tools in the hands of the public, the internet had largely (but not completely) democratised content and removed much of the power held by the former communications gatekeepers.

Government 2.0
Government 2.0 grew out of Web 2.0 in an attempt to define a new approach to governing which provides governments and their citizens more direct and immediate ways to communicate, engage and collaborate enabled by Web 2.0 principles and tools.

Government 2.0 defines an approach to governing rather than a collection of technologies.

For example, Wikipedia defines the term as,

Government 2.0 is neologism for attempts to apply the social networking and integration advantages of Web 2.0 to the practice of government. Government 2.0 is an attempt to provide more effective processes for government service delivery to individuals and businesses. Integration of tools such as wikis, development of government-specific social networking sites and the use of blogs, RSS feeds and Google Maps are all helping governments provide information to people in a manner that is more immediately useful to the people concerned.

The Gov 2.0 Australia group defines Government 2.0 as
Government 2.0 is not about social networking or technology based approaches to anything. It is a fundamental shift in the implementation of government - toward an open, collaborative, cooperative arrangement where there is (wherever possible) open consultation, open data, shared knowledge, mutual acknowledgment of expertise, mutual respect for shared values and an understanding of how to agree to disagree. Technology and social tools are merely an enabler in this process.

What does Government 2.0 mean for governments around the world?
Some governments have seen Government 2.0 as a threat - providing the community with greater power to question the wisdom of the governing parties and public service, or forcing greater accountability and transparency on practices which communities may see as corrupt or dishonest. They act out of the fear of being personally exposed or having weaknesses in political processes uncovered.

A second group has approached Government 2.0 with caution, unclear of the potential consequences and afraid of taking risk. They see some of the benefits of adopting new approaches, however baulk at the gate due to the difficulty in quantifying the unknowns involved.

Finally, some governments have embraced the opportunity to use Government 2.0 to engage citizens and strengthen the democratic process, increasing the pool of ideas and effort available to create and manage government services.

These governments recognise that Government 2.0 approaches can increase the effective power of government to deliver positive community outcomes at low costs and are prepared to take risks in order to realise these opportunities.

Whichever approach a government takes, it is clear that communities around the world are increasingly adopting Web 2.0 approaches in their daily lives.

Where governments are not showing leadership the public is using the internet to discuss and debate the actions of governments and individual politicians and, in some cases, use these approaches to organise opposition to government controls.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Open government - what does it mean? (Public Sphere Camp series)

In the last two weeks before the Government 2.0 Public Sphere Camp in Canberra on 22 June, I'll be posting a series of articles on government 2.0.

This will cover areas such as,

  • what does 'open government' mean in the context of the internet,
  • how is government 2.0 being introduced around the world,
  • what is occurring in the open government and government 2.0 space in Australia,
  • what benefits will government 2.0 generate for Australia,
  • what are the costs and risks of government 2.0,
  • what are the leading hurdles to government 2.0 in Australia.
I'd like to link to those posting on a similar topic - drop me a comment below.


Today I thought I'd start by discussing what 'open government' means in the context of the internet - at least to me.

Wikipedia defines open government as,
the political doctrine which holds that the business of government and state administration should be opened at all levels to effective public scrutiny and oversight. In its broadest construction it opposes reason of state and national security considerations, which have tended to legitimize extensive state secrecy.
Open government operates on the philosophy that a nation's government exists to serve the best interests of its people.

It takes the approach that the best way to ensure that the governing party and public service are acting in the public's interest is to make the machinery of government open to continual public scrutiny and accountability.

This can include making processes, procedures, decisions and data freely available in the public domain on a timely basis. It can also include actively consulting and collaborating with stakeholders and the public on directions and decisions.

Most people I have spoken to in government are pro-open government. They recognise that they work for the public and have the responsibility to ensure that the decisions made by government are to the benefit of citizens and that citizens understand the basis of these decisions.

However governments have other responsibilities to their public which can limit or conflict with the intentions of open governance.

These include preserving the privacy of individuals, maintaining effective law, order and national security and placing the interests of citizens ahead of the interests of citizens in other jurisdictions. Many decisions taken by government are also designed to serve the majority - or a specific minority - of society, weighing up relative benefits and costs. It's simply not possible to make all of the people happy all of the time.

This is generally where open government changes from an ideal to a spectrum, ranging from tightly managed societies where information and freedoms are rigidly and centrally controlled through to free and open societies without any central management where social or individual rights may not be enforceable, let alone enforced.

The challenge for governments is to find the level of openness that best meets the needs and desires of the society it serves - based on what is technically possible and resourced at the time.

The arrival of the internet has significantly changed the scope of what is possible for open government. While it may not have shifted the needs or desire of the public for privacy and the rule of law, the internet has greatly enabled citizens and government to share data and information and collaborate and consult stakeholders and citizens in a cost-effective manner - sometimes known as government 2.0.

Data
Data is often where open government starts. For many years Australia and other western nations have had Freedom of Information laws designed to help individuals gain access to data the government has collected - without breaching individual privacy or national security.

Without going into a discussion on how well these laws have operated, the aim was to meet open government goals to make government data and information more freely available to the public.

Data is an accountability tool for the public. It can be used to scrutinise government decisions, to understand why one group in society appears favoured over another or to understand - and question - how government is collecting and spending money from the public purse.

Until the arrival of the internet it was extremely costly to make government data available. On top of other reasons, this made it difficult for the public and the media to sometimes understand or scrutinise government decisions.

The internet has changed the landscape for data. An organisation with web-enabled systems can not only distribute its reports more cost-effectively, but can make the underlying data available for the public and stakeholders to reuse to discover new insights and add new value to old figures.

A prime example can be seen in the evolution of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) over the last twenty years. In the 1980s the ABS used to sell its statistical reports in paper and multimedia form. Although the data was collected using funds from the public purse, the cost of distributing the information made it uneconomical to make it freely available to anyone who wanted it.

During the 1990s the ABS moved to a dual online-offline model, where reports were available online in summary and then full form at little or no cost, while print publications continued to be charged. All the ABS data was secured under a copyright which required that organisations seek ABS approval for reuse.

In the last few years the ABS has moved to uncovering more of the data under the report information, allowing individuals and organisations to use the CData Online service to extract data subsets from the Census for their own use. This data is available free and is released under a Creative Commons license, which permits free redistribution and remixing of the data, simply attributing the ABS.

Of course the ABS is only one of 30 or more Australian government departments which actively collects information about their portfolio interests, customers or citizens. Not all of these departments are at the same cultural maturity level as the ABS, or have invested in the systems required to expose their public data in the same manner.

This leads to significant unevenness in the capability of government to be open. It also raises questions around a central commitment towards openness where these efforts are not funded or prioritised.

The United States Federal government has tackled this issue at a central level. President Obama famously released a memo on government transparency which made open government a priority for the executive leadership of every federal agency.

The US has also launched a central portal for publicly available data, Data.gov, which is progressively aggregating data released by federal agencies - and illustrates which agencies are not pulling their weight.

Consultation
Data sharing alone isn't open government. Another consideration is how government communicates with and involves citizens and stakeholders in decision-making.

In the past Town Hall events, dinners and events on the campaign trail, letters to Parliamentarians and departments, focus groups and lobby groups were the prime ways in which citizens could access and influence government decision-making processes.

These come with a high cost and low reliability. Generally only a few people get to speak at public events and these are often the loudest and most opinionated - or are backed by significant interests. Letters are a dying medium, with it far more likely that people will dash off a quick email then go to the trouble of laborously writing, signing and posting a physical letter.

With the internet it has become possible to get a greater sampling of peoples' views in a very short time.

While not all people are online, or use the medium with the same expertise, it does provide an avenue to rapidly assertain the views of a large (80% plus) segment of the population, whilst older consultation techniques can be used for the remaining population.

The internet also allows for greater qualitative assessment of different views as it doesn't simply offer the ability to communicate, but also to aggregate similar views, for individuals to complete polls, rate ideas and effectively vote on decisions in ways that are little different to how we conduct our most critical democratic act of voting.

We already use online consultation in Australia, with the federal government placing many national consultations on the business consultation site. State governments have their own mechanisms in place. These are still first generation tools, simply providing access to documents and supporting email or written responses.

The UK has gone a step further with its Petitions site, where it allows citizens to create and run petitions for submission to government. This supports citizen-to-citizen interaction as well as citizen-to-government.

The US has gone even further, using suggestion markets to both collect suggestions and to rate their relative importance. This would be similar to taking all of the UK petitions and allowing the public to not only add their names but also provide a prioritised list of which petitions are more important to them.

The US government first used this approach to gain an understanding of the public's views of the priorities for the incoming President in a Citizen's briefing book via Change.gov. It has subsequently used the same approach for a variety of topics and to collect questions for the President to answer, including for discussing the topic of open government itself.

Despite fears around misuse, the actual level of inappropriate use for all of these sites has been extremely low - lower than the number of hecklers at an average physical event. More of a challenge has been coping with the huge response rates - tens of thousands of ideas voted on by millions of Americans.


Open government in summary
So to wrap up today's post, the principle of open government reflects the commitment of a governing party and the public service to be accountable and inclusive of the public in their decision-making processes.

The practice of open government involves balancing the needs and wants of the public for openness with their desire for privacy and security, shaped by the technology of the day and the level of resourcing committed to openness.

The challenge today is how to bring Australian government consistently into the internet age, meeting citizen's desire for openness and transparency within the resources available to departments.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

ACT government launches online public consultation about how citizens wish to be engaged

The ACT Chief Minister's Office, in conjunction with Bang The Table, has launched a consultation asking Canberra residents how they prefer to be engaged by the government.

I've been taking a look at some of the comments being made and there are some very clear preferences for not using telephone consultation, ensuring that people get the opportunity to speak in physical consultations and ensuring that engagement occurs before political decisions are made.

If you're a Canberran, take a look at the consultation and have a go at participating in it if you wish to better understand how this form of online consultation can work.

The consultation is online here.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How Australian journalists are using Twitter

If you've been attempting to advocate the use of Twitter for your Department or Agency, as I know a couple of people have been attempting to do, this article by MediaShift on How Journalists Are Using Twitter in Australia provides some large calibre ammunition.

So does this Internal Comms Hub report discussing Why crisis planning is now incomplete without social media, which is also supported by P&O Cruises who are currently using Twitter to address swine flu concerns, as reported in Thumbrella, P&O use social media for swine flu updates.

If you do want to see which Australian journalists and media outlets are now actively using Twitter, refer to this list from Earley Edition, Australia’s top 100 Journalists and news media people on Twitter.

And in case you need more tips on how to get started, here's a couple of posts I wrote earlier, Getting started with Twitter in Australian government and Creating appropriate guidelines for Twitter engagement

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

IAB publishes social advertising best practices guidelines

The Interative Advertising Bureau (IAB) has published guidelines for best practice in social advertising, prefacing it with the statement,

Social media has overtaken email as the most popular consumer activity, according to a recent Nielsen study
If your department or agency is looking to use any of the online social channels that now exist, from Facebook to Youtube to Twitter, to reach your audiences, these guidelines are a must read.

To quote the guidelines,
This document outlines recommendations for these key social advertising topics and is intended for social networks, publishers, ad agencies, marketers, and service providers delivering social advertising. These best practices were developed via a thorough examination of the critical consumer, media and advertiser issues to help social media further realize its advertising potential.
They are available at the IAB website's social advertising section as a PDF download.

The IAB also provides definitions of social metrics for measuring social media sites, blogs, widgets and social media applications.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

New group for Australian Government 2.0 practitioners/interested parties

If you have an interest or are involved with Government 2.0 endeavours in Australia, take a look at the new GovLoop group Government 2.0 Australia.

Overall there are more than 12,000 participants in Govloop from around the world (though largely from the US) - meaning that there's already plenty of information and conversation from people at the coal face of government 2.0 activities.

While the Australian group is still small it has already seen some interesting discussions.

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Open Government Public Sphere Camp on 22 June at Parliament House - call for speakers and attendees

EDITED: Monday 9 June, 2009: The Open Government Public Sphere Camp has been renamed 'Government 2.0 Public Sphere Camp'. This more effectively communicates the content and purpose of the event. Other details have not changed.

The second of Senator Kate Lundy's Public Sphere series has been combined with the Canberra BarCamp unorganisers' Gov 2.0 concept to create a jointly-run Open Government Public Sphere Camp.

To quote from Senator Lundy's site,

Open government is a rising topic of debate across the world. Trends in technology, media and public opinion have made it both more possible and more necessary for governments to reconsider what and how information is made freely available to the public.

This Public Sphere event will gather views on how creating an even more participatory form of government in Australia will improve the effectiveness of public administration, enable communities to better help themselves, promote renewed engagement in the democratic process and enhance our capacity to respond to emerging complex social, geopolitical and environmental challenges. We expect the topic and resulting event to bring together government practitioners and decision-makers, and interested parties outside of government.

If you have an interest or are formally participating in open government initiatives, there are opportunities to both attend and speak at this event.

There will be two distinct sessions during the day, the morning will concentrate on government policy, engagement and leadership, as well as issues that limit the capacity for Open Government.

The second session in the afternoon will focus on open government systems, standards, data and best practices.

To learn more or sign-up for the event visit Public Sphere #2 - Open Government: Policy and Practice.

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