Monday, August 31, 2009

The most difficult leap for Government is not from 1.0 to 2.0, but from consultation to collaboration

With all the hubbub about Gov 2.0 at present it's often forgotten that a lot of what is being attempted is simply taking what is already done in other mediums and doing it online.

For example, online engagement and consultation is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary step. Where governments used to host robust town hall meetings, they are now conducting these discussions online.

In most cases this lowers the consultation risk for governments,

  • every audience question or comment can be moderated before it is public,
  • there is no physical proximity and therefore less risk to the health of political representatives, 
  • discussions can take place over time (and with no time limit), allowing greater participation and reducing impositions on the time of everyone involved,
  • they cost less - no venue or travel expenses, no security contingents or vetting,
  • there are less errors or gaffes as aides and advisors can vet the representative's words for factual and political errors before they are published, and 
  • the political representative's words will not be distorted as easily through word of mouth. Anyone can go to the online consultation and review what they actually said.
Looking at the  open data aspects of Gov 2.0, again this is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary step. Government has made some data available for years - albeit not always in machine-readable format. Data that is collected but does not become publicly available is still generally captured and stored by departments and can be subject to our current freedom of information laws.

Gov 2.0 ups the ante, changing the definition of what should be made public and requires processes and systems to be revised, however it doesn't require entirely new behaviours and approaches - data is collected, stored and reported now, in the future only the access and formats will change.

The real challenge for governments in Gov 2.0 is moving to a collaborative or participatory model. This is a fundamental shift in the power arrangement - the government is no longer central to the relationship, it is simply working with partners to achieve agreed goals.

In a collaborative environment the government doesn't control the terms of the discussion (as in a consultation), control the message (in a promotion) or set the parameters on what and how data will be released from internal silos. Instead the government is merely one of the players at the table - and often not the most influential.

Overseas we've seen some examples of this collaboration in action, generally initiated by the public and then seeing their governments forced to participate based on the number of people in the community involved.

One example is Fix my street, a UK-based community-developed service allowing people to report local infrastructure issues that their council is responsible for maintaining, such as potholes, street lights, pavements and blocked drains. Looking at the site, there have been over 50,000 issues reported, with over 1,200 fixed in the last month - by councils forced to pay attention to their community's needs.

It's hard to find lots of other examples as yet - and it's even difficult to think of the potential shapes of collaborative initiatives - possibly because our paradigm is still too narrow, the internet as yet too young.


I'm not yet sure whether or to what extent the principle of collaboration will take hold in governments. There needs to be further changes in government policy and processes, society, education systems, legal systems and the concept of ownership for effective collaboration between a constituency and its government to become streamlined and fully effective.

However, in my opinion, collaboration is the space where both citizens and government can see the greatest benefits from Gov 2.0 as it engages the community as an equal stakeholder in the development and management of public goods.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Finalists of Apps for America 2 announced

The Sunlight Foundation has announced the three finalists for the Apps for America 2 competition.

These finalists represent the best online social innovation sites developed by Americans to make the US government more transparent.

I'm hoping that we'll soon see a similar competition held here in Australia.

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28 reasons why organisations avoid social media - (try it as bingo)

Jeff Bullas has written a fantastic post, 28 Reasons Why The CEO Is Afraid Of Social Media, which lists many of the reasons given by organisations when resisting getting involved with online social media.

While he's followed up with another great post addressing many of these concerns, 9 Ways To Convince The CEO To Use Social Media and Enter The 21st Century, I thought his first post was so good that it deserved to be turned into a Social Media Bingo game.

Below you'll find Jeff's 28 reasons arranged on a single page, ready to be downloaded and used as Social Media Bingo.

If your organisation is still avoiding engagement with social media, see how many of Jeff's reasons apply - and let me know how many you managed to cross off!

Social Media Bingo

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Are you supporting Australian gov 2.0 initiatives?

There are a lot of people interested in Gov 2.0 and social media these days - it's no surprise given the level of commitment indicated by political leaders in Australia and the dollars beginning to become available in the area.

However few of them appear to be actively contributing to the Gov 2.0 discussion in Australia.

Considering the number of people signed up to the Gov2 Australia list and attending Gov 2.0 events, by my estimation less than ten percentage of people are contributing over 80% of the discussion.

Now this isn't necessarily a major issue. Many people are new to the area and listening and learning, or are simply shy. What does concern me is whether this quiet majority are supporting the various Gov 2.0 initiatives being rolled out by Departments.

The Gov 2.0 area in Australian is still an infant and the scrutiny on Gov 2.0 initiatives is intense, so any indication that they do not work - such as through low participation or destructive, rather than constructive criticism, can easily set back any Department's attempts to move into a new and, frankly, scary space.

So if you're one of the quiet majority, please consider taking a small step to support the rest of the Gov 2.0 community - post a comment at a government blog, provide feedback on an online consultation or follow and retweet a government twitterer.

Most importantly, look for opportunities within your own agency to promote the initiatives of other departments to your staff and audiences.

If you're not sure which initiatives to support, here's a few to choose from,

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do we risk too much by risking too little?

Government by nature is risk-averse.

There's very good reasons for this, as many decisions made by the government are life-influencing for large numbers of citizens.

For example, a simple policy change can have widespread, even catastrophic effects on certain groups in the community. Equally, bold sweeping changes can have significant political impacts, not always to the benefit of the party in power.

Therefore it is generally safer (and often required) for government organisations to be cautious in decision-making - spending the time necessary to ensure that as many voices and views are heard and making the minimum possible changes necessary to improve the system without damaging peoples' lives.

However risk-aversion can have its downsides,

  • change is generally slow to occur,
  • new ideas take a long time to be adopted,
  • decisions are sometimes considered in relation to risks alone - ignoring the benefits,
  • organisational structures grow rigid and hierachical - attracting people who seek to strengthen the risk-averse culture and are more resistent to change,
  • mistakes become seen as failures rather than learning opportunities,
  • managing costs is progressively more difficult (as savings come from reducing functions rather than employing innovative solutions),
  • the organisation can progressively become out-of-tune with it's customers and community - making it less effective at meeting its purpose.
More risk-tolerant organisations are better at resolving many of the challenges above. They are often more nimble and responsive, however may make more mistakes and errors.

Similar to the biological world, highly risk-averse organisations usually do better in stable and predictable environments which change slowly or not at all. Whereas more risk-tolerant organisations usually do better in fast changing and variable environments.

But here's the rub. Business environments are not uniformly stable or variable.

At any point in time some elements of an environment are likely to be quite stable - for example the laws and protocols defining an organisation's existence.

At the same time some aspects can be changing quite rapidly - such as the news of the day and the situations of customers and communities.

Other aspects may fall between the extremes, staff levels and skills and supplier prices.


One of the fast-changing areas is, naturally, online - which has evolved from basic text only bulletin boards twenty years ago (before the net) into real-time audio-video data exchanges today.

Where an organisation is risk-averse it is likely to be slower to enter the online arena, or make use of the tools and techniques available. This leaves the organisation behind the current trends in the community, potentially leaving many citizens frustrated and annoyed (as they cannot simply go online to do what they want to do).

Even worse this risk-aversion can lead to an organisation struggling to keep up, not having the inhouse expertise to fully understand and realise the benefits of emerging solutions that could save it significant costs or improve service delivery, or leaving the organisation potentially facing much larger 'catch-up costs' in the future.

In other words, by applying a risk-averse risk management approach to highly variable situations, an attempt at risk management can achieve the reverse - increasing the risk for the organisation.

So how does an organisation address this?

In my view it means we need to consider the rate of environment change in our risk management strategies - applying the appropriate approach for the environmental element.

Therefore while many areas within an organisation can make do with a risk-averse management approach, there must be sufficient flexibility within the system (or a different system entirely) for fast-changing and variable areas, which need a more risk-tolerant approach.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Is the Australian government equipped to provide collective public goods online?

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Google Maps, Wordpress.

What do all these online services have in common?

They are all part of the world's virtual infrastructure, providing collective public goods that many people, including many Australians, use on a daily basis - whether for the storage, organisation, distribution or discovery of information.

They are also all privately owned and operated (for profit or not). There are few if any similar virtual collective public goods provided by governments.

Finally, from a national security and self-sufficiency standpoint, none of them is Australian owned or operated. If a foreign jurisdiction decided to close down or block any of these services, Australia would suffer at least a temporary economic loss.

On Friday, at the Public Sphere Q&A session with Gov 2.0 Task Force members, the Taskforce's Chairman Dr Nicholas Gruen stated that,

I think it was the government’s job to build Google, Facebook, Twitter. I’m quite serious about that.

While, for some, this statement might appear unusual - or even absurd - Dr Gruen is stating that one of the core purposes of government is to develop and provide infrastructure for its citizens, public goods that benefit nations and states but are often too expensive, unprofitable or may be a national security risk if left in the hands of private or foreign entities.

Traditionally public infrastructure has focused on physical systems - rail and road networks, hospitals, libraries and schools, sewage, water and electricity networks, telegraph and phone systems, buses and trains. Or on communications and informational systems such as newspapers, television and radio stations.

However it is time to consider whether that definition should be extended to include virtual public infrastructure. This includes the public goods used to store, discover and distribute information and communication online, just as physical public infrastructure has distributed water, words and people.

This thinking is in its infancy. Few governments globally are providing any of the virtual public infrastructure citizens will need through the 21st century - other than having their national broadcasters go online, as have all other broadcasters.

Of course there are digital initiatives such as the National Broadband Network in Australia and similar schemes being discussed in the UK, US and other countries. However these are examples of physical infrastructure required to support digital communications. Consider this similar to building the roads and railways of the past.

The next step is for governments to consider whether and what they need to provide as the virtual infrastructure that sits on top of these networks - the digital equivalent of buses and trains that will be required on our digital transport network.

So should governments have developed these online services (as Dr Gruen suggested)?

Should they be developing other virtual public goods? The online tools and services that commercial entities will never develop?

Or should they leave it up to the market?

To answer these questions I think we need to go a little deeper and consider whether governments are the most appropriate bodies to develop virtual collective public goods.

In most countries governments limit their online participation to information and service provision - consumer to government to consumer and business to government to business.

While there's no shortage of ability, there is little public sector fostering of direct citizen to citizen or business to business connections or even more complex arrangements such as citizens to government to business and vice versa.

This is often because of the tight restrictions many governments apply regarding what material can be stored and expressed via government-operated websites.

The risk of breaching individual privacy, allowing political commentary (as the public sector is apolitical) and breaching copyright is far more restrictive than were regulations on the use of the (previously government-owned) telephony system, or on public discussions in government-owned public spaces (parks, parliaments, sidewalks and government offices).

These restrictions makes it legally risky for a government department to directly support many online citizen-to-citizen engagements, and even places a significant burden on the governance oversight of citizen-to-government-to-citizen discussions.

So, besides reforming government regulations, or having citizens agree to blanket waivers when entering certain government-run spaces, how can government best provide public goods online?

One alternative is outsourcing. Funding private and not-for-profit organisations to deliver these services on behalf of government.

This has precedents in Australia, for example the jobs network and aid agencies receive government support in the form of grants and contracts to provide certain services on behalf of government.

There are also examples of government supporting (partially funding) private competition to public services - including private schools, child care and bus companies.

Perhaps governments will need to adopt one of these two models online, at least in the short-term while complex legislative and cultural changes take place.

Or is there another way government should meet citizens' needs for virtual public goods?

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Is your team ready to implement Gov 2.0?

I found an interesting post on Govloop the other day by Martha McLean, Bureaucracy 2.0 – make sure your team is ready to stand and deliver.

This identified a challenge that is facing public servants - do we prepare our teams to engage in Gov 2.0 activities (possibly preempting the need), or do we wait for senior leadership to define the direction.

Over the nearly three years I've worked in the public service I was primarily focused on lifting the awareness of the online channel in the eyes of senior management. This involved putting in place appropriate reporting systems, flagging how the channel could be used to solve various organisational 'problems' in a cost-effective manner, and flagging all the outside research demonstrating that real people used the internet in real ways to resolve real issues - sometimes bypassing government services altogether.

I am hoping that over the next few years I can spend less time on the basics of internet education and spend more of my time helping develop public sector capabilities in utilising Gov 2.0 techniques and tools to improve government outcomes - through spreading knowledge and demonstrating successful outcomes.

It's a big vision, but all the best ones are.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

From concept to implementation - Digital Britain

The UK has moved forward from its recent Digital Britain report to release an Implementation Plan. This details how the government proposes to turn the actions within Digital Britain into reality.

A very interesting, and not overly long, document, the plan lays out clear governance structures, responsibilities and accountabilities for rolling out Digital Britain.

It's a model other governments could choose to use to take the step from Gov 2.0 vision to actualisation.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Are you making a submission to the Australia Gov 2.0 Taskforce?

The Government 2.0 Taskforce has been requesting submission in response to their recently released, Towards Government 2.0: An Issues Paper.

So far there are four submissions listed on the Taskforce's website.

Now while these may not represent all the submissions received to-date (as it may take time to process and put them online), it does worry me that out of Australia's 1.2 million public servants (based on Public Sector news) that there appears to have been so few submissions received to-date.

If you are involved with, affected by or interested in how government should change to face the challenges of an increasing digitalised society, than please read the Issues Paper and respond with your views via the submission process.

Or at least read the submissions thus far and reflect on whether your views have been reflected.

Your views may influence the direction the Taskforce and government takes in the Gov 2.0 space.

You have until the start of business, 24 August.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

US Army testing redeveloping manuals via wikis

The US Army is running a 90 day trial allowing service men and women to directly comment and edit seven of their 550 manuals online via a wiki-based approach to test crowdsourcing in the military.

Reported in the Army Times, Army to test wiki-style changes to 7 manuals, the article states that,

The people who write doctrine say that with things changing so fast in the field, it has been hard to keep the Army’s 550 manuals up to date and relevant.

By letting the entire Army update the manuals, they say, more and better information can go out to a wider population of soldiers.
I wonder how many Australian government publications could benefit from crowd sourcing the wisdom of their audiences?

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Government 2.0 Taskforce holding Open Forums in all states

Australia's Gov 2.0 Taskforce will be holding Open Forums in every state and territory of Australia over the next few weeks, seeking input from a range of audience groups - government, industry, academics, NGOs and interested others.

If you wish to influence the future of the Australian government's Gov 2.0 agenda, look for details and RSVP for one of these meetings from the Taskforce's website at http://gov2.net.au/roadshows/

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Introducing a common web reporting platform across federal government

Over the last few years I've often thought about the value of having a complete picture of web traffic to the Australian government.

This would require a common way to track and report on the usage of each discrete government website and the ability to track and measure the traffic between them over time (using anonymous user data).

I see enormous value in this approach. Firstly it would help government departments holistically understand how citizens see the inter-relationships between different government services and information across agency boundaries.

Secondly it would support smaller agencies to cost-effectively develop appropriate reports and access the data they need to improve their online presence and provide ROI for online initiatives. Rather than web reporting sophistication being a factor of agency size it would become a consistent core whole-of-government capability, regardless of agency size, budget, technical skills and inhouse web expertise.

Thirdly this approach would help executives and web professionals moving between government departments as they could expect a consistent level of reporting for the online space no matter where they worked. This would cut down learning curves and help improve the consistency of online channel management across government.

Finally, having standardised and consistent web reporting would lead to consistent and more accurate reporting to parliament of the overall size of the government's online audience, and the share held by each department, supporting decision making for the use of the online channel.

So could this be done?

I think it could.

We have precedents for whole-of-government licenses in the use of technologies such as Funnelback for search (which crawls all government sites for Australia.gov.au and is available for departments to use for their web search) and Adobe Smartforms for business forms (via business.gov.au).

The technology for whole-of-government online reporting is readily available without requiring major changes to how any department operates. The reporting could be deployed simply by requiring the addition of a small piece of code to every web page on every site, as is used by systems like Google Analytics and WebTrends On-Demand. Departments could even continue to also use their existing in-house tools if they so chose or exclude websites where special circumstances applied.

Through aggregating the reporting function, more funds and expertise could be focused on producing more meaningful and useful reports. Standard report templates could be developed for departments to use - or not - as they preferred.

Finally, this approach would provide cost and procurement efficiencies for government. Only one procurement process would be necessary to select the product, rather than individual processes being conducted by various agencies. The scale of the federal government means that government could purchase and maintain the tool at a much lower cost per department than it would cost a department to purchase an appropriate tool.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

PM launches first direct web chat

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday held his first live web chat on climate change with a group of 20 commenters from his climate change blog post.

While the chat apparently suffered from some technical hiccups and, reading the transcript, the PM's typing skills were limited (he stated that "my typing skills are a toal embarassment to my kids", it still received some well considered responses and achieved several major step forward for Government 2.0 in Australia.

Firstly, this was the first time, to my knowledge, that an Australia Prime Minister has participated in an online chat session with citizens as part of a mandated consultation process. This opens the door to using online chat as a mechanism in similar processes across Australian government.

Secondly the Prime Minister participated personally rather than via a proxy. No-one was typing on behalf of the PM, he was directly involved in the experience. In my view this sends the message that the government is serious about online engagement. If the PM is going to make the time and effort to directly engage constituents in online consultations, what excuse can senior public servants and Ministers have for refusing to similarly participate or permit their departments to engage?

Thirdly, the chat wasn't executed perfect, but it still managed to deliver beneficial outcomes and is publicly visible for scrutiny. I take this as an indication that, within reason, it is becoming more acceptable for government to take risks when using the online channel. We can experiment with new approaches, pilot concepts in order to establish their effectiveness and usefulness (rather than waiting for 'someone else' to trial them first) and incomplete successes can be considered learning experiences that assist in educating government in improving its approach in the future.

I'm very encouraged that the Prime Minister was willing to lead by example by holding and participating in an online consultation. I hope this is only the first of many trials in using newer technologies to connect better with the public - hear their concerns, thoughts and ideas, and allow the government to become better at our main duty of serving the citizens of Australia.

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UK Prime Minister driving government 2.0 to address global issues

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has given an astounding presentation, Gordon Brown: Wiring a web for global good, in opening TED Oxford. It firmly establishes his interest and commitment to the use of new technologies by government to aid in the solution of global and national issues.

To quote from the synopsis,

We're at a unique moment in history, says UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown: we can use today's interconnectedness to develop our shared global ethic -- and work together to confront the challenges of poverty, security, climate change and the economy.
Despite being highly inspiring, the video (embedded below) is worth watching to gain an understanding of how seriously Government 2.0 and the benefits of new technologies are being taken in leading countries around the world.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

British troops encouraged to use social media

As reported in Mashable, British Troops Told to Tweet and Blog,

Britain’s Ministry of Defence has told troops they’re free to use social media tools and should apply “common sense” when deciding what to share online.

What’s more, the MOD has said it will sponsor soldiers who want to use blogs and Twitter to share stories of military life with the outside world.
To support this effort the Ministry of Defense has released new Online engagement guidelines as to what is expected of troops.

As the UK Defense News site states in the article, Forces encouraged to blog, tweet and engage online,
Social media - such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube - are an increasingly important way for Forces and MOD personnel to do business, engage with the public and keep in touch with family and friends.
Based on the online engagement guidelines,
Armed Forces and MOD staff can talk about their work online without prior authorisation from their chain of command, as long as they stay within the advice.

This stance reflects efforts underway in the US to support online engagement by US Defense forces, which have recently undergone pressure with the US Marines shutting down Marine's social media access while a security review takes place.

Increasingly in the US online engagement is being seen as another front for military activities to counter how "just one man in a cave that's hooked up to the Internet has been able to out-communicate the greatest communications society in the history of the world -- the United States," (US Army Secretary Pete Geren).

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OpenAustralia barred from republishing QLD's Hansard

It appears that the the Clerk of Queensland’s Parliament has barred OpenAustralia from republishing the state's Hansard on a series of grounds, in a blow to OpenAustralia's goal of making all of Australia's parliamentary Hansard records available online in a searchable format.

OpenAustralia has blogged about the matter, in the post, Queensland bars OpenAustralia from republishing its Hansard, republishing the email from the Clerk of the Parliament in full.

This is a good example of some of the challenges to government transparency and openness. There can be control issues arising from laws and policies which limit government openness which will need to be reconsidered at parliamentary levels.

There can also be education, responsibility, accountability, process and risk considerations around online openness. Who can approve the release of information, what are the foreseeable risks in doing so and how can they be mitigated?

Without a thorough understanding of the online medium, clear responsibilities and effective processes it can be hard in some instances to identify who has the right to approve government information being released.

OpenAustralia is speaking to other state jurisdictions about Hansard records (and has been for a number of months). It will be interesting to see whether the decision taken by the Clerk of the Parliament in QLD will become a precedent or an anomaly.

By the way, this is how Queensland's Hansard website looks.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Seeking innovative Gov 2.0 ideas? Here's some places to look

Government 2.0 is slowly coming of age, which means there are now many examples of innovative and successful sites and applications emerging around the world.

However it can be hard to find them.

Here are some places I look,

White House open innovations showcase
The US White House lists a number of clever, and very different, websites which demonstrate many different aspects of Government 2.0 thinking. As they are designed to stimulate government thinking and provide successful examples of working initiatives it's a great source of inspiration for public servants.

eGovernment Awards (by country)
There are a number of different eGovernment Awards around the world which generally include some of the most impressive examples of Government 2.0 activity. An obvious place to start is Australia's own e-Awards run by AGIMO. There are similar awards run in other countries such as the UK's e-Government National Awards, the European eGovernment Awards and the Electronic Government (EXCELGov) Awards for the Americas.

Twitter
If you want to innovative Government 2.0 ideas there's no better place to ask for help than some of the government-focused people on Twitter. One of them, somewhere in the world, is likely to have come across an idea and shared it via tweets. Often you can identify a number of innovative ideas simply by looking at the right twitter stream. This can be done without even registering for Twitter simply by searching Twitter for 'government 2.0', 'government innovation' or similar terms. Alternatively you can create an account and locate a group of government people to follow - possible via a service like WeFollow.

Google Alerts
Google Alerts provide regular updates when topics you select are discussed online. Setting up searches for terms such as 'government 2.0' or 'gov 2.0' (two of my alerts) are able to provide a daily or weekly dose of relevant results, including some of the most innovative government activity.

Where else do you look online to find innovative government 2.0 initiatives?

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Have you voted for your priorities for Government 2.0?

The recent Public Sphere: Government 2.0: Policy & Practice, run by Senator Kate Lundy's office captured a number of views on government 2.0 in Australia.

These views are now in the process of being prioritised based on public feedback.

The prioritised views will be submitted to the Government 2.0 Taskforce to use in their work preparing a paper on how to progress Government 2.0 in Australia.

If you've not yet visited the Australia 2 website to define and comment on your top Government 2.0 priorities you've only a few weeks left to register your views.

Visit the Public Sphere priorities at Australia 2.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Do you monitor social media conversations about your department?

As a marketer I find the internet a dream channel for monitoring customer sentiment and concerns.

Social media and search engines can be easily and cheaply tracked to provide fast feedback on various initiatives. This helps organisations shape their campaigns and responses to external events.

I'd recommend that this is equally of enormous value to government, where perception and citizen sentiment can strongly influence political views and processes.

If your department isn't keeping an eye on what people are saying about you and your key topic areas (and Minister) online, then you may be missing an enormous opportunity to get early warnings on potential growing issues, to adjust campaigns and programs to take advantage of trends or to tap into popular sentiment to shape new ideas.

One example of effective use of social media monitoring is from the US Army, who closely monitor blogs and social networking sites to track the public response to various events.

The article, Air Force checked blogs, Twitter to gauge New Yorkers' anger about flyover, from NextGov, discusses how the US Army used online monitoring to track and respond to the public anger resulting from their fly-over of New York in April.

Within an hour of the flyover the Army knew it had the makings of a public relations disaster on its hands and was able to begin putting in place a response.

The Army has also used the learnings from this experience to educate further activities and use online media to ensure that citizens are receiving the facts about events.

This type of approach has many applications across government, from emergency management through to reviewing the response and level of accurate coverage of ministerial announcements.

So if you're not yet using the online channel to track citizen sentiment you may be doing your department and Minister a disservice.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Building a business case to move from IE6 to a modern web browser

Here's some notes useful for a business case justifying an upgrade from Internet Explorer 6 to a more modern web browser that I prepared last week for a colleague at another organisation.

It supports the priority in Australia 2 to Upgrade all government web browsers.

Please add to them in the comments if you see points I've missed.

Goal
Encourage a government Department to upgrade from Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) to an industry supported web browser.

Background
The IE6 web browser was originally released by Microsoft in 2001.

Over the last eight years it has been updated twice, Internet Explorer 7 was released in October 2006 and Internet Explorer 8 in March 2009 (with developer previews available since March 2008).

Since 2001 the entire web browser market has changed. Netscape ceased developing Navigator (in December 2007) and new browsers entered the market including Apple's Safari in November 2003 (version 4 released June 2009), Mozilla Firefox in November 2004 (version 3.5 released June 2009) and Google Chrome in December 2008.

These entrants, and the long-standing Opera web browser, have significantly driven innovation in the market.

IE6 support
The IE6 browser, being two versions behind, is no longer supported by Microsoft and is in rapid decline in community usage.

Major websites and organisations are progressively ceasing support for IE6, meaning that increasing numbers of websites are not accessible using the browser. For example, Google, the top accessed website in Australian and across the world, has advised that it will no longer be supporting IE6 for its applications.

A campaign to encourage people to shift away from IE6 has been operating online for several years with significant success and has support from Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Balmer, who stated that,

Microsoft recommends end users that are browsing the web with Internet Explorer 6 to upgrade today to benefit from numerous improvements including security features and usability enhancements.

Interoperability is key to enabling developers to continue to create great user experiences on the web. Our commitment to the technical community continues with our significant investment in Internet Explorer 8.

We continue to believe in the importance of supporting the end users and encourage the technical community to work with us in securing a good transition for the users that today are using IE6.
Web standards
IE6 does not adhere to web standards as defined by the WSG and as reflected within the Acid2 test.

As stated in Wikipedia's page about Acid2,
Acid2 tests aspects of HTML markup, CSS 2.1 styling, PNG images, and data URIs. The Acid2 test page will be displayed correctly in any application that follows the World Wide Web Consortium and Internet Engineering Task Force specifications for these technologies. These specifications are known as web standards because they describe how technologies used on the web are expected to function.
Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3 and Safari 2+ all successfully pass the Acid2 test. IE6 and IE7 fail to pass the Acid2 test (as did earlier versions of other web browsers).

This test will eventually be supplanted by the Acid3 test, which is currently only passed by Safari 4, Opera 10 beta and Chrome 3.0.17.

It is not yet necessary for organisations to use Acid3 compliant web browsers as not all the test conditions within Acid3 have been passed by the W3C at this time.

Browser market shares
IE6 is currently in rapid decline, with the primary users being organisations who have not yet upgraded to more modern web browsers. Home users have predominantly upgraded to more modern web browsers.

It is estimated that Internet Explorer has between 52 and 74% web browser market share in July 2009 depending on the specific measurement site (source: Usage share of web browsers). Firefox has between 18 and 31%, Safari 2.6 - 4.1%, Chrome up to 3.1% and Opera up to 3.3%.

Internet Explorer 6 is estimated at having 15 - 25% market share globally. However in Australia this share is reportedly much lower, at around 9% (StatCounter)

Benefits of an upgrade
  • Moves the organisation to a supported web browser,
  • greater compatibility with web standards,
  • future-proofs the organisation's web browsing for several years (as major sites cease IE6 support),
  • aligns staff with citizens' use of the internet - statistics for Australian web use show that the Australian public predominantly use modern browsers,
  • provides a greater level of security whilst browsing,
  • supports tabbed browsing (opening multiple pages in one master window),
  • allows use of modern web features within the organisation's intranet,
  • there is no product cost for an upgrade from IE6 to a modern web browser.
Risks of upgrading
  • Some legacy internal systems may not be fully interoperable with modern web browsers,
  • security impacts will need to be investigated to ensure there is no increased risk of systems penetration,
  • greater ability to access modern websites may increase internet use for work purposes - thereby increasing network load.
Risks of not upgrading
  • Political risk for Minister if questions asked within parliament on reasons for use of old and unsupported technology (as is already occurring in the UK),
  • organisation will continue falling further behind current web standards,
  • organisation will progressively lose access to key online services as they cease IE6 support,
  • greater security risks due to less security in IE6 than more recent web browsers,
  • increasing difficulty in upgrading internal systems that require web browsers as modern versions of content management systems and other web-based solutions are less and less likely to support IE6,
  • need to invest in optimising (dumbing down) the organisation's websites for IE6 simply to support staff,
  • difficulties in meeting web standards if testing cannot be conducted on modern, web standards compliant, web browsers.

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Contribute to the study on public sector innovation

The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) is holding a series of focus groups through August to give Australian federal public servants the opportunity to share their views on innovation in the public sector.

If you're a federal public servant interested in having your say on public sector innovation, you can learn more at DIISR's site on the page, Advancing Public Sector Innovation - Focus Groups.

You can also follow the project on Twitter as @PSInnovate.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Case study - Twitter's use in emergency management

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now regularly using Twitter and other online channels to supplement offline media when providing emergency announcements and information.

This has meant more than simply setting up a Twitter account and sending messages, the agency has invested in training videographers and educating staff on how to use new media effectively to inform the public.

This has been covered in a case study released by FEMA in its website, FEMAinfocus: FEMA Twitter Media Availability with Administrator Paulison.

In this FEMA describes Twitter as,

The social media tool Twitter www.twitter.com (which FEMA uses under the account femainfocus) is a free web-based interface that allows for cell phone messaging to be distributed to large audiences. Thus, the tool works well for FEMA to promote individual preparedness and information avenues.


NextGov has also covered FEMA's use of social media in the article, FEMA takes open approach to social media.

Combined it provides a clear picture of how Twitter and other social media tools can be valuable in emergency situations.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Blogging's impact on governments in the Arabic speaking world

Often those of us living in English-speaking countries focus on what is going on in other English-speaking nations, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, UK and so on. There's a perfectly good reason for this, many of us don't speak the languages used in other blogs around the world.

However the impact of social media is global, and doesn't only, or mainly, occur in English or in Western countries.

A good example of this is a recent case study looking at Arabic blogs, entitled Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture and Dissent.

Conducted by Harvard University the study,

... identified a base network of approximately 35,000 active blogs, created a network map of the 6,000 most connected blogs, and with a team of Arabic speakers hand coded 4,000 blogs. The goal for the study was to produce a baseline assessment of the networked public sphere in the Arab Middle East, and its relationship to a range of emergent issues, including politics, media, religion, culture, and international affairs.
The study found that the majority of Arabic bloggers were young males, though there was a significant pocket of female bloggers in Egypt. While many blogs were in Arabic, a number were also in English or French - largely based on the influence of former colonial powers.

Most Arabic blogs focused on personal diary-style observations, with personal life and local politics being more of a focus than international affairs, per the quote below,
But when writing about politics, bloggers tend to focus on issues within their own country, and are more often than not critical of domestic political leaders. Foreign political leaders are discussed less often, but also more in negative than positive terms. Domestic news is more popular than international news among general politics and public life topics. The one political issue that clearly concerns bloggers across the Arab world is Palestine, and in particular the situation in Gaza (Israel’s December 2008/January 2009 military action occurred during the study). Other popular topics include religion (more in personal than political terms) and human rights (more common than criticism of western culture and values). Terrorism and the US are not major topics. When discussing terrorism, Arab bloggers are overwhelmingly critical of terrorists. When the US is discussed, it is nearly always critically.
The study also found that terrorism was also generally not a leading topic of conversation and,
... when discussing terrorism, Arab bloggers are overwhelmingly critical of violent extremists. We consider this a positive finding, although qualified because the issue of attitudes toward terrorism hinge on the term’s interpretation across the Arab world. Whatever its presence in other, less ‘public’ online venues, overt support for violent global confrontation with the West appears to be exceedingly rare in blogs. However, it is not unusual to find blogs that criticize terrorists on the one hand, and praise Hamas or Hezbollah for violent ‘resistance’ to Israel on the other.
We've already seen the impact of blogging on countries such as Iran (which is Muslim but not Arabic), which is sometimes considered the third largest nation of bloggers.

I'll leave you with one of the most powerful paragraphs from the report itself, discussing the
...collision of old realities and new technologies taking place in the Arab world, and a surprising number of elements intertwine in them: abuse of power, legitimacy of authority, the power of television, the ubiquity of video cameras, feedback between blogs and the press, traditional vs. modern sensibilities, freedom of expression, the power of online voices, and the scope of political arenas—local, national, pan-Arab, pan-Muslim, global. At stake in this collision are both the symbolic construction and the hard power of ‘The Public’ across the region. Notable is the seamless combination of modes of communication into a single system: face-to-face interaction (including cattle prods), mobile phones, television, newspapers, and multiple genres of Internet sites (blogs, forums, chat rooms, video sharing, photo sharing, etc.). Increasingly, these comprise an emerging networked public sphere, in which the power of elites to control the public agenda and bracket the range of allowable opinions is seriously challenged.

I expect that the Arabic world already has things to teach Australia about online engagement.

The full case study is available online (PDF).

Here's the visual representation of the Arabic blogosphere from the case study.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

WTF is social media - one year on

If you excuse the suggestive language, this slideshow provides an excellent birds-eye view of the extent of the social media landscape.

It is worth comparing with the version released a year ago to see some the growth and changes that have driven social media into mainstream society.

View more documents from Marta Kagan.

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