Monday, November 30, 2009

Paper and internet petitions may soon be treated equally

Victoria's eGovernment Resource Centre's newsletter has alerted me to moves underway in the House of Representatives to treat electronic petitions in the same manner as paper petitions.

Covered in an article in the The Age, Paper and internet petitions may soon be treated equally, the approach being recommended is for the Federal government to adopt Queensland's system and operate an official government petitions site, similar to the UK approach with e-Petitions.

There is still some resistance to the idea, as documented in the The Age article. However my view is that the reduction in barriers to petition participation is a good move, particularly as we, as a society, are moving away from a letter-writing cultural tradition to a digital one.

Provided the government continues to support paper petitions alongside digital ones the community will be supported.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

State of the eUnion: Government 2.0 and onwards

You may have already seen notices about this book over at the eGovernment Resource Centre or other places but, in case you're not aware of it, this is a fantastic read on where Government 2.0 is right now and where it is going.

The book is available for free download from 21Gov.net and you can get the PDF right here, State of the eUnion: Government 2.0 and Onwards.

Enjoy - and please tell me what you thought of it in comments below.

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Great read on Gov 2.0 in Australia - Upgrading Democracy (foreword by Minister Tanner)

The Centre for Policy Development, a non-partisan Australian think tank, has released the Upgrading Democracy Edition of Insight, their enewsletter.

With a foreword by Minister Lindsay Tanner and articles from Senator Kate Lundy and Gov 2.0 Taskforce member Martin Stewart-Weeks - amongst a set of other fantastic essays, I recommend reading this Insight to gain a clearer picture of the Australian Government's vision for Gov 2.0 and how it can be put into practice.

It is jam-packed with Gov 2.0 information that's both useful for experienced practitioners and for newcomers, as well as for senior agency leadership.

It is free to read and has been released under a Creative Commons license to make it easy to share.

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How much should a government website cost - are we over-engineering our websites?

These days when I personally need to set up a new website, I either hop onto Wordpress or download one of the free open-source content management systems, purchase space on a decent US server and follow the installation instructions.

I use a design template found online, customising it with some style tweaks where required, then spend a few days writing content.

It's not very hard and doesn't take very long (normally under a week).

However in government we have very strong governance structures around website creation - with good reason - to ensure that the platforms we use are secure, reliable and effective. We also have extensive content approval processes which can require a number of steps before words reach the screen.

This places a great deal of overhead on the process of creating and managing government websites, adding significantly to IT and resourcing costs.

I don't question the need for public organisations to guarantee the reliability and security of their websites. However I do wonder if we're placing a disproportionate level of cost onto this process - so much overhead on our websites that they may be slower to deliver and less cost-effective than other communications channels.

I also wonder if departments spend much time scrutinising their governance arrangements to see if they can reduce the burden, and therefore the cost and time to market, (without compromising the outcome) by either planing ahead or working together better.

If we are really one government shouldn't we be able to - as a group or via some central agency - security assess and review a group of web technologies then pick and choose between them as needed - depending on our internal platforms and needs?

Why not compare our departmental content management processes and learn from the organisations who are most effective and efficient?

Food for thought.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bringing government into the age of persistent communications

Many organisations use campaign-based communications models.

They develop their campaign strategy, identify and engage their audience, communicate a message, then wind down the campaign and allow the audience to disengage and disperse.

At a future time, when the audience no longer seems influenced by the previous message, they repeat this process - potentially reusing campaign materials, but having to locate and engage the audience all over again.

A cynic could call this communications amnesia - we deliberately forget all about our audiences as soon as we've finished shouting our message at them.

I prefer to call this episodic communications as it operates very similarly to episodic programming, at the end of each episode the set may remain in place, but the actors are returned to their starting points.

Social media, on the other hand, allows organisations to cost-effectively establish an ongoing relationship with their audiences.

By developing online spaces where their audience can gather and interact, seeding them with content and well-considered participation guidelines, organisations can encourage audience members to join and participate in a community around a given topic for an extended period of time.

Best of all the approach supports and improves the efficiency of episodic communications campaigns by providing a ready-made engaged audience who can be encouraged to pay attention to new messages at significantly less additional cost.

I call this approach persistent communications.

I'm starting to see governments use social media tools to build engaged audiences around specific topics - from the Digital Economy and National Culture Policy to yourHealth.

However so far I have seen limited appreciation of how these audiences can be leveraged as persistent communities of interest.

To me it makes sense that once you've invested money, resources and time into building one of these groups, it is worth continuing to invest a small amount to keep the group - a budding community - functioning and growing.

This turns it into an ongoing resource that can be leveraged in the future for additional input or directed into future campaign-based initiatives.

This can create a positive feedback loop - with campaigns becoming more cost-effective over time.

Campaign (used to build a) -> Persistent audience (leveraged into further) -> Campaigns (used to build a) -> (bigger) Persistent audience -> and so on.

This approach hasn't been totally ignored in government.

Future Melbourne has done a reasonable job of maintaining its momentum. It makes sense - Melbourne has a long future ahead of it, why not leverage the investment in the community by keeping them engaged and willing to participate. It saves money, time and effort.

Similarly Bang The Table has been peppering me with additional consultations being held by the ACT government, leveraging my participation in an earlier consultation as someone who is interested and willing to comment on further topics over time (although they've not yet taken the step to build a profile for me and invite me to consultations from other governments which fit my interest profile).

Most commercial organisations know that a relationship with a customer is worth its weight in gold. Once a customer is deeply engaged with one of your products you are able to leverage this into new areas at much lower cost than - take Apple's progression from computers to music players to phones or Sony's fiercely loyal Playstation audience.

Government also has this opportunity to use persistent communication centred on social media to build and sustain persistent relationships with our community.

We can leverage interest in one consultation via one department at one level of government into future interest in another engagement activity in a different agency in another government level through sustaining an persistent communications strategy.

This would save significant public money, however to get there we will need to rethink our departmental communications approaches - revisiting our systems for developing, governing, tracking and analysing communications.

From episodic communications tactics to a persistent communications strategy -should we call this Communications 2.0?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Could the government replace some advertising and communications contracts with crowdsourcing?

Many government initiatives need to be communicated to all or some of the community to increase awareness and, in some cases, encourage behavioural change.

Whether advising people of changes in tax laws, informing and influencing the community's health habits, or seeking public submissions in a consultation, there needs to be communications strategies in place to identify, reach and influence appropriate audiences.

Over the past forty years, like other large private sector organisations, government departments have worked with specialist advertising and communications agencies to provide the extra help required to craft messages and run communications campaigns.

This approach helps smooths out bumps in hiring (providing extra hands and minds for short periods), introduces fresh ideas from highly talented communications experts and provides a broader perspective through exposing government departments to people who continually work across the entire communications industry.

However new approaches to sourcing communications ideas are now emerging - thanks to digital communications.

Recently Unilever removed the advertising agency for its Peperami product and replaced it with - crowdsourcing.

Rather than using Lowes, the agency who had worked on the account for 16 years, Unilever put up a US$10,000 prize and, using a service called Ideabounty, opened up the account to anyone in the world with good ideas.

I won't go into the details of this example - there's more information in The Guardian's article, Unilever goes crowdsourcing to spice up Peperami's TV ads.

However what I will ask is this - should the Australian government look beyond advertising and communications agencies for good communications ideas?

Should we go directly to the communities impacted by our programs, invite them to provide ideas for communications campaigns and reward them appropriately?

Will this cost less than using professional agencies?

Will it deliver better or 'as good' outcomes?

Finally, if it does make sense, will our procurement and advertising guidelines allow us to use a crowdsourcing approach to deliver better outcomes at lower costs?

It's probably a good time for government agencies to think about these questions - I expect we'll begin being asked them in the next few years as more organisations visibly consider crowdsourcing.


Below are a few reference articles on the topic worth reading - I welcome your comments, particularly from  anyone who provides communications services to Australian governments.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dealing with video accessibility - automating captions and transcripts

I found out last week that Google had recently integrated YouTube with Google's speech-text technology, allowing videos displayed on YouTube to have their captions and transcripts automatically generated.

In addition, these captions and transcripts can then be translated, via Google's text translation system, and displayed on the video in any supported language.

The transcript can also be downloaded (and corrected if necessary) to be reused in other environments.

Whilst Google admits that neither the speech-to-text autocaptioning or the translation tool are perfect, these are measurable steps forward in using computing power to address accessibility in videos.

It also is a powerful tool for any organisation with video footage - even for internal use. They can simply upload video to YouTube in a private channel, have it auto-transcribed - correct this as required and then translate the material as necessary, then remove the video from YouTube and use the translated material internally.

More information on this tool is available at YouTube's blog in the post, Automatic captions in YouTube and I've embedded their demo video below.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

APSC releases Protocols for online media participation

The APSC has replaced its Interim protocols for online media participation (released December 2008) with Circular 2009/6: Protocols for online media participation.

The new Circular is briefer than its predecessor, going further than I had expected, making it clear in no uncertain tones that (my bold in the quote below),

Web 2.0 provides public servants with unprecedented opportunities to open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community. In a professional and respectful manner, APS employees should engage in robust policy conversations.

Equally, as citizens, APS employees should also embrace the opportunity to add to the mix of opinions contributing to sound, sustainable policies and service delivery approaches. Employees should also consider carefully whether they should identify themselves as either an APS employee or an employee of their agency.
This guidance is followed by a set of ground rules - which are consistent with the practice of many other organisations. You can read them in the Circular.

In case your agency need to consider the Circular within the APS code, the APSC says that,
The guidance has been incorporated into chapters 3 and 15 of APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice: A guide for APS employees and Agency Heads. This publication assists APS employees to understand the practical application of the APS Values and Code of Conduct in both common and unusual circumstances. It also provides advice for agency heads in establishing policies and procedures that promote the APS Values and ensure compliance with the Code. A revised edition of the publication is now available on the Commission’s website at www.apsc.gov.au/ethics/publications.html.

With the "can I/Can't I" of online participation now much clearer, the next step for agencies is to ensure they put the best possible social media participation guidance in place to address any grey areas.

If your agency wants to consider some examples of best practice social media policies, there are over a hundred examples at Social Media Governance.

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Australiam Gov 2.0 Taskforce announces winners for its brainstorming and innovation competitions

Australia's Government 2.0 Taskforce has announced the winners of its structured brainstorming competition, which was held in September - October this year.

The competition involved public submissions and voting via an ideas market system with the final decision on winners being made by the Taskforce.

In the structured brainstorming category there were two winning ideas, both nominated by Brad Peterson,


In the Government 2.0 Innovators category, the Taskforce announced three winners,

I'm honoured to both have been nominated and to have been selected amongst the winners and would like to commend the other winners for their efforts.

I'd love to see similar events run on a ongoing basis to help encourage the suggestion of good ideas, reward those innovating in government and inspire others to do likewise - similar to the US's SAVE award (introduced by President Obama in September).

Perhaps this would even inspire agencies to run similar awards/competitions internally to encourage innovation that improves their operations, as the US Transportation Security Administration does via its IdeaFactory tool.

It is very hard to manufacture innovation in a highly structured organisation, however it is relatively easy to recognise and reward it.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Last chance to vote on MashupAustralia's peoples' choice - 81 entries to choose from

MashUpAustralia had 81 entries into Australia's first competitive event for mashing up data from Australian governments.

Now that entries have closed, the public have until 4PM AEDT on 20 November to vote for a people's choice - that means you!

So if you've not yet had a look at the entries and voted, this is your LAST chance.

Go to MashUpAustralia to vote.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

US engaging in offensive as well as defensive cyberwar

Nextgov has published a very insightful piece on the US's cyberwar endeavours, including their use of it as an offensive tool to locate and knock out the organisational capabilities of their enemies and even kill foes.

The article, The cyberwar plan, not just a defensive game, also covers the Russian attacks on Estonia and Georgia and China's use of cyberwarfare techniques to gain economic advantage over foreigners (I also continue wondering about the attack on the Melbourne Film Festival earlier this year).

It's a very well-researched piece and provides a lot of food for thought.

Given that most wealth and knowledge is stored electronically and most organisation is done via digital channels, the impact of a successful attack on our communications systems or finance sector would be catastrophic to our economy and potentially to our ability to cope with a physical attack.

Australia's defense force has traditionally been very quiet about a domestic cyberwar capability and I wonder whether we are adequately defended and able to respond to attacks on Australia's digital sovereignty.

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Youtube offers free branded channels to government departments globally

Youtube recently announced that government departments using the service can get a free branded channel for their videos, saving a US$50,000 set-up fee.

The offer is apparently still making its way to the Youtube site, however the details of the offer are public and it is available now.

Below I've provided the content of an email sent to me by Geordie Hyland of Youtube regarding how to take up the offer and here is a link to a blog post by Mike Kujawski in his blog Public Sector Marketing 2.0 with details of what departments will get with a branded channel.

Note that departments do need to assess whether taking this up meets their needs - and whether there's any potential lock-in effect that may not be in their strategic interests in the future.

Youtube does have a dominant position in the online video distribution market at present - however it may not suit all departments' needs.

Please contact me by email directly for a Youtube contact if needed.

Hi,

Thanks for your interest in starting a YouTube channel for your government, government department, or government agency. If you like, you can start a YouTube channel right away by creating an account and posting videos. One time at the end of every month, YouTube will transfer any new government channels to "branded" - thus allowing you to upload a branded banner to the top of your channel, and giving you the ability to upload longer videos to the site.

We do not have the capacity to do this more than one time per month, so please be patient if you don't hear back right away - and feel free to start posting videos to your account.

To enter your application for a branded channel, please send an email to government@youtube.com with the following 5 pieces of information:

* The name of your government, government department, or agency.
* Your .gov website URL.
* The account name you've registered on YouTube (i.e., your YouTube username).
* The email address you are using to manage the account.
* Any other information you want to tell us about your plans to launch the channel, and what types of content you plan to post.

Please also be aware the YouTube will not negotiate any individual content licensing agreements with state or local governments - your contract with YouTube is our site-wide terms and conditions, which you agree to upon starting an account on YouTube. To see that policy, please go to: http://www.youtube.com/t/terms

Thanks, and good luck!

-The YouTube Team

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Knowledge Shared equals Power Squared

I've written this post based on my comments in response to the post at the Gov 2.0 Taskforce site, If I could start with a blank piece of paper… (part 2).

In that comment I made a point that it is relatively easy for government agencies to technically adopt Gov 2.0 approaches. The technology, legal framework and much of the legwork on identifying and mitigating risks has been completed here and overseas - if you know where to look.

However culturally the adoption of Gov 2.0 poses much greater challenges. There are paradigm shifts required in public sector thinking and behaviour. This takes time to work through the system.

One part of this shift is related to the belief that Knowledge equals Power.

While this belief is both long-standing and happens to have been true for much of human history it is no longer true, and a more accurate meme would be Knowledge Shared equals Power Squared.

In the past knowledge was expensive to store and distribute. Those who held knowledge on a particular topic were held in high regard and could exert considerable power - and command substantial fees - based on their expertise.

This fostered practices where professions erected barriers to control the flow of knowledge and keep price points high - similar to how deBeers has been accused (and several times found guilty and fined) of controlling the supply, and therefore maintaining a high price for diamonds.

Indeed Wikipedia's definition of profession includes a number of characteristics based on containing and controlling knowledge, including the statement,

Inaccessible body of knowledge: In some professions, the body of knowledge is relatively inaccessible to the uninitiated. Medicine and law are typically not school subjects and have separate faculties and even separate libraries at universities.
For public sectors around the world the same influences have been at play, as have additional factors; controlling knowledge for privacy reasons, national security, to avoid public unrest and even - in some jurisdictions - to protect political figures.

However the knowledge hoarding model begins to fail when it becomes cheap and easy to share and when the knowledge required to complete a task exceeds an individual's capability to learn in the time available.

This has been reflected in a longitudinal study of knowledge workers that Robert Kelley of Carnegie-Mellon University conducted over more than twenty years. He asked professionals "What percentage of the knowledge you need to do your job is stored in your own mind?"

In 1986 the answer was typically about 75%. By 1997 workers estimated that they had only about 15% to 20% of the knowledge needed in their own mind. Kelley estimated that by 2006 the answer was only 8% to 10%.

Given that professionals now need to draw 90% or more of the knowledge they need to do their jobs from others, in my view 'Knowledge equals Power' is no longer true.

I believe it is now more accurate to state Knowledge Shared equals Power Squared.

While 'squared' is not empirically true, the statement reflects that to gain and hold power individuals and organisations need to share knowledge and networking.

For the public sector this shift isn't simply about opening up access to existing knowledge resources, it requires rethinking attitudes, behaviours and policies.

For example, where hiring practices focus on hiring people with exceptional personal knowledge perhaps they need to be re-weighted. We still need people with enough knowledge to form good critical judgements, however they also need exceptional networking and information processing skills so they can locate and assess the additional knowledge needed.

Organisations that rely on long-time staff as their corporate memory need to review whether this is an effective long-term strategy. Should they future-proof themselves against inevitable retirements and resignations by taking all this knowledge, codifying and placing it in a central location for everyone to access? Should they then open up this location for editing by staff (as a wiki) so that it remains current, useful and relevant?

Thirdly, personal networks can become a source of considerable strength for both individuals and the organisations that employ them. They allow a staff member to quickly source valuable knowledge from their peers and accelerate an organisation's decision making and implementation processes. However to harness this power organisations need to allow their staff to access these networks from the office - the online communities and social networks where professionals meet and discuss.

All of these steps pale in comparison with one of the biggest areas of knowledge sharing - with the community. Organisations can derive enormous value from collaborating with their customers, constituents and stakeholders. However for this to work effectively the organisation must share their knowledge openly and allow the community to see and respond quickly to each others' comments.

I'll be posting more on this topic later this week.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

How should the public service engage with controversial topics online?

In my experience, where possible, Australian public servants avoid controversial topics when consulting with the public.

Controversial topics are messy, unpredictable, raise high emotions and draw out divergent viewpoints - making discussions difficult to manage and control. They also often edge into political matters which are outside the scope of the public service, who strive to remain professionally apolitical in their service to their political masters.

Of course, often active discussion thrives on controversy. Radically differing viewpoints and high emotional engagement leads to energetic and insightful debate. They can soar to great heights - and plummet to unspeakable depths.

On the other hand, discussions on topics where most people agree tend to be largely controllable - but also predictable, boring and repetitive. Why bother repeating a 'me too' point or stating something that seems self-evident?

People rapidly lose interest and drift away when there's no cut and thrust of debate and the conclusions are easily arrived at from the proposition.

For public servants striving to generate online discussion on blogs and forums there's a difficult line to walk between proposing topics that are controversial and those that are safe.

Instinct tends to draw public servants to safe topics, where we can predict the likely responses and avoid the risk of heated and uncivil discussion. It's easier (and more risk-adverse) to manage a discussion when the outcome is obvious, it requires less time, effort and critical judgement - and also requires less Ministerial correspondence, scrutiny from senior management and career risk.

However it is hard to get audiences to engage on many safe topics. The public is uninterested, has already agreed on an outcome or simply doesn't feel entertained and stimulated by many safe discussions. To be frank, they are boring and don't materially add to the policy or operational discussion.

So how can public servants engage with controversy online, without engaging too much?

Fortunately there are a number of models on how to do this. People have been stepping through this minefield for thousands of years in physical discussions and many of the same tools work online.

The first approach is to structure the debate where you cannot structure the content. Find a topic and choose two positions. Form 'teams' to argue each of the positions in sequential order. Have an audience able to make side comments and vote on which team did a better job of building a compelling case.

Those of you familiar with formal debating will recognise this approach. It still allows passionate discussion but within a straight-jacket of format and set positions, which avoids a free-for-all. There is a beginning, a middle and an end - which prevents it dragging for an unknown period and usually there are only two 'sides' - positions - which an audience can take.

A second approach is an expert panel, where each expert provides their own position and the audience can comment or vote on the position they most ascribe to. This is more flexible than a debate, however still largely restricts discussion to positions set by 'authorities'. While it provides greater flexibility for diverse views it can also limit discussion and debate between the distinct expert positions as the experts may not be as willing to debate each other or have their supporters do so.

A third option, which I term rotating perspectives, also supports multiple positions, but each is examined sequentially over time by an audience. This focuses discussion on the pros and cons of each particular position over time and allows the community managers to introduce new perspectives based on the direction of the discussion. While more flexible and responsive to audience feedback than an expert panel, and encouraging online audience participation, this approach can lead to uneven analysis of ideas. Early positions may receive more discussion (based on a big promotional launch) and greater critical thought - as they are visible longer for reflection and responses can be made later in the process. This also risks having members of the audience pre-empting certain positions ahead of time - though this isn't necessarily a bad outcome as it increases the sense of active discussion.

My fourth, and final - for now - option is to provide separate groups for discussion of each different position. These can be linked or merged where positions converge or separated out where a single position diverges into several. Audience members can suggest and create their own positions, which then become new groups for discussion. Towards the end of the discussion many positions may merge towards a common core thread - or they may diverge, identifying the most intractable issues that need resolution. Similar to workshopping, this approach is complex, requiring additional moderation and an appropriate technology platform - such as a Nationbuilder (used for Australia2) or Ideascale which allows ideas to be separately discussed, merged as required and with a degree of automated nouse that can merge similar positions.

There are other approaches as well - breaking down a topic into individual issues and discussing each separately, or having the community rate contributions with the aim of self-moderation (which works quite well in some online communities).

What other approaches can you suggest that would allow the public service to engage with controversial topic online while remaining comfortable about the risks?

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Waiting for social media to stop being the story and start being the medium

I'm beginning to get annoyed with the attitudes I'm seeing both in the mainstream press and at many conferences discussing social media.

The discussion is still about how important social media is becoming, how if you don't get on now you'll be left behind and about the antics of celebrity and sports tweeters.

To me these are all signs of how early we still are in the process of adopting social media as one of the many tools in our toolkits - quite a versatile and flexible tool, but still simply a tool amongst others.

It's reminiscent of the coverage and conferences about the internet around ten years ago - where the internet was seen as a bright new toy that people had to use, even if they were not sure why.

To my recollection it took a dotcom bust and about three years of solid achievement in the online space before internet moved from a buzzword to a toolset - when people noticed that after all the hype there was a solid core of value in using the internet channel alongside, or replacing, existing communications, marketing and fulfilment channels.

Social media has been around as a term for around five years now - however for most of that time it was below the notice of the popular media and organisations were a little shy of the concept of 'social' being more than after work drinks.

I think we are seeing some solid achievements now in the area and hope that soon legacy (traditional) media, conference organisers and management will begin treating social media with no less AND no more respect than it deserves.

It's a tool - a good one for some purposes and a poor one for others - no more.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Collaboration within organisations increases productivity - new report

When I stepped into the public sector just over three years ago, in terms of workplace collaboration it was like stepping back twenty years.

I found that staff directories were merely lists of names, titles and phone numbers - without listing people's expertise, qualifications, experience, current projects and interests.

The only way to get to know and understand the skills of staff in most other areas was to discover them by word of mouth or meet them at work functions.

Collaboration was limited to face-to-face working groups, flying people around the country to attend meetings, or sending draft documents to others by email or on paper and asking for feedback. Sometime comments were returned written on document print-outs, in long-hand reminiscent of a doctor's prescriptions.

Even when document edits were tracked changes, compiling and reconciling the edits from different people in such a process could take days, if not weeks, before the document was ready to be recirculated for re-review.

While these collaboration systems were slow and clumsy, people - public servants - made them work. I worry about whether it also made best use of peoples' skills, departmental time and public money.

Recently Frost and Sullivan released a report which defined the productivity gains both public and commercial sector organisations can gain from more advanced collaboration techniques.

Reported in NextGov and titled Meetings Around the World II: Charting the Course of Advanced Collaboration (PDF), the report

surveyed 3,662 professionals in businesses and government agencies about their use of advanced collaboration tools such as voice-over-Internet Protocol, instant messaging or meeting via high-definition video to get their work done.
The report found that these collaborative tools delivered a return of 4.2x the organisation's investment and that 60% of workers felt that the tools increased their performance.

Is a 4x ROI sufficient to encourage government departments to invest in better collaboration tools? I hope so - and look forward to more productive collaboration with my colleagues in the years to come.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Embracing serendipity in government - we now serve citizens best by collaborating with them

Government runs on rules. Policies, processes and procedures designed to address every contingency and plan for every possible risk in order to provide equity, stability and certainty.

However, as experience has shown time and time again, we cannot predict the future.

While we continually attempt to plan ahead, largely these plans are based on extrapolating past trends and experiences.

This has served us well in times of relatively stable and slow-changing societies and provides enormous capability to mobilise and focus resources towards a few large and separate goals.

However it doesn't work as effectively during rapidly changing conditions where there are a myriad of interlocking issues. The approach can also neglect large and important changes, which are often discontinuous and almost totally unpredictable.

History is littered with enormous societal, economic and cultural shifts brought on by unpredictable innovations; gunpowder, the printing press, steam-power, radio, television and, most recently, the internet.

Each of these - and other - innovations profoundly changed how societies operated, destroying industries and creating a stream of new inventions, professions and both political and cultural challenges in their wake.

In hindsight we can often see very clearly how these changes unfolded and they can appear historically as an evolutionary process. However when living just before or during these enormous shifts it is virtually impossible for most individuals or organisations to predict outcomes ten, five, two or even a single year ahead.

I believe we are living in this type of time right now. The invention of the internet, progress in nano and bio technologies and in alternative - hopefully sustainable - sources of energy is in the process of increasingly rapidly reshaping our world. At the same time we are facing the consequences of previous disruptive innovations - most notably climate change, fuelled by enormous levels of fossil fuel use over two hundred years and population growth, fuelled by improvements in food technology and medicine.

This becomes a time of enormous challenge for governments. How do we extrapolate trends, develop policies, acknowledge and address risks which didn't exist a few years ago?

How do we continue to serve the public appropriately when the time required to plan, develop and implement national infrastructure is greater than the effective lifespan of that infrastructure?

How do we let go of faltering systems to embrace new ways of developing and implementing policy without losing continuity of governance?

And how long can we continue to govern incrementally when living in an exponential world?

We're in a place where there are many more questions than answers. Issues are ever more complex and multi-faceted and can no longer be in silos. Our organisations need to be more flexible and adaptive in response to an increasingly assertive community who often have better tools and information than the government departments servicing them.

Fortunately the disruptive technologies we are developing also allow us to approach many of these challenges collectively on a national and international scale.

We have the means to mobilise the brainpower of a nation - or many nations - using the internet and simple crowdsourcing tools.

We've already seen communities emerge online where companies ask their insolvable questions publicly, allowing scientists, academics and the general public to discuss and provide suggestions.

We've also seen governments willing to ask questions of their constituents, rather than rely on traditional stakeholders, academics and bureaucrats to have all the answers.

I hope over the coming years we see Australian governments embrace serendipity rather than attempt unsuccessfully to chain it. I hope we see bureaucrats and citizens working collaboratively to address major issues, working in adaptive and flexible configurations rather than rigid silos, stepping beyond 'consultation' towards participatory policy development and evolution.

This will require courage on the part of elected officials and senior public servants alike. It will require different types of leadership and thinking, better communications and a broader focus on connecting people over managing fixed resources.

Can we achieve this step from where we are today?

I'm optimistic that we can, but it will take significant work and pain to achieve.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Positive and practical examples of online government engagement initiatives

I was chatting with friends on Twitter the other day regarding how useful it would be for Australian government to see positive and practical examples of online government engagement initiatives.

With fortunately timing, Crispin of Bang the Table recently posted about a new report from the US based Public Agenda's Centre for Advancement in Public Engagement which provides a number of examples of effective public sector online engagement initiatives from around the world.

The report also has some practical principles for constructing an online engagement strategy.

View the post, and the report, at Promising Practices in Online Engagement.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

NSW government launches data.nsw.gov.au with over 400 datasets

The NSW government has released a catalogue of over 400 datasets at data.nsw.gov.au, making it probably the second largest government data catalogue in the world (after data.gov in the US).

From the discussions I've seen and taken part in, this is far beyond what was expected.

Many of the datasets are only available as PDFs or as tables in webpages and the copyright terms, however this is only to be expected in a first release of this type.

Overall it's a tremendous resource and will hopefully encourage other Australian governments to take similar steps.

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