Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The next level for Government 2.0 conferences

Gov 2.0 conferences have become very popular in Australia in the last year, however many are still focused on introducing the concepts of Gov 2.0, rather than exploring some of the aspects, and challenges, of the topic in depth.

Geoff Mason is currently working towards a series of more advanced events, covered in his blog post, Sick of conferences telling you what you already know?.

So if you're finding the regular fare of Gov 2.0 conferences a little too basic or repetitive, have a read of Geoff's post and consider how you could be involved.

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ACT launches Fix My Street - but not like the UK Gov 2.0 service

The ACT has launched a Fix My Street service providing ACT residents with methods for reporting and tracking "municipal service requests" online.

According to the site, ACT residents can submit service requests using a menu of topics and even create an account to track the progress of their own requests.

While a major step forward, unlike the popular UK service of the same name, the ACT's version of Fix My Street may only be used by ACT residents rather than by local governments across the country.

The ACT version also does not include photos, allow residents to view the service requests submitted by others or provide details on the number of service requests received or addressed.

A service similar to the UK's site was developed during one of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce's mash-up events last year, named It's Buggered, Mate.

The OpenAustralia Foundation is also working towards introducing a version of the UK's Fix My Street in Australia.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

iPhones dominate Australian mobile internet access

Tiphereth Gloria has posted on Digital Tip a very interesting post regarding how iPhones dominate mobile internet access in Australia.

Quoting June 2010 figures, her post iPhones dominate Australian mobile internet says that iPhones account for 93% of mobile access, with Android, Blackberries, Symbian and other operating systems combined only accounting for 7% of the market.

Overseas iPhones account for 60% of mobile internet access - still a huge share, but significantly less than the Australian experience.

Of course these figures were provided by Apple - I've not seen independent statistics - but they are still striking.

If your agency websites are not customised for access via iPhones you're potentially less accessible to a large proportion of the mobile internet market.

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media140 OzPolitics: How the real-time web is transforming politics - Canberra 29 July

media140 #OzPolitics is a one-day Canberra coming up at the end of July that will explore how social media - the real time web - is transforming politics in Australia.

Featuring a range of speakers including politicians; political journalists; bloggers; public relations experts; academics; and lobbyists, this will be the first event of its type in Australia and will look at how recent new media innovations are transforming how Australian democracy and government operate.

If you can't attend, keep an eye out for the event online by following the #OzPolitics hashtag on Twitter.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Gov 2 and social media events calendar for Australia

I am not aware of a central calendar for all of the Gov 2.0 and social media events run in Australia, so I've created one.

I welcome submissions to the calendar and will also be trying to keep it up to-date with the events I learn about.

To add an event please email me: craig[dot]thomler[at]gmail[dot]com

The public URL is: http://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=g67v5rd3hgi5867oosei76u4v0%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=Australia/Sydney

For feeds use the XML: http://www.google.com/calendar/feeds/g67v5rd3hgi5867oosei76u4v0%40group.calendar.google.com/public/basic

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Why public data should be public - a US view

To kick-off this week, I thought it might be useful to link to an excellent video from the US's Sunlight Foundation providing a glimpse into why there's growing interest in making public information collected and managed by governments public.

It doubles as an introduction to the Public = Online campaign, which is being used in the US to bring greater awareness to the need to make public data public, in real-time online.



Bor those with a deeper interest, below is the campaign launch, filmed at Google's DC offices. Be warned it is over an hour long.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

With a change of leadership, what's next for Gov 2.0 in Australia?

Four years ago Government 2.0 was a barely known concept in Australia and social media was regarded by many in Canberra as a youth fad.

President Obama made social media 'cool' for politicians by using it as a key plank in his run for office. Since his election he has spearheaded a Gov 2.0 agenda of increased transparency and engagement which is in the process of transforming the US government.

In Australia, we saw social media used in a basic manner in the 2007 election, with senior politicians starring in their own Youtube videos, beginning them with "good morning" and MPs were proud of their garish MySpace pages and email lists.

The public service also began using social media more widely around the same time, although a few early adopters were already blogging or using other social networking tools.

Gradually, through 2008 and 2009, more government agencies began adopting new media approaches to communicate with their audiences. In particular state governments such as Victoria's led this charge, engaging their citizens in online consultations and competitions.

Agencies such as Geoscience Australia and the ABS began adopting Creative Commons licensing, making much of their data available for public reuse - free.

The Gov 2.0 Taskforce, launched in July 2009, brought active Federal Ministerial support and increased awareness to the area, culminating in the Taskforce's widely read Final Report which provided a set of recommendations to advance Gov 2.0 adoption, the majority of which have been adopted by government.

This was followed by the APS Reform report, Public Sector Innovation Report and the Freedom of Information Amendment legislation, each playing its part in encouraging government to be more open, engaging and interactive online.

Today there's over 200 Australian Twitter accounts from government agencies, well over 50 blogs and at least 30 Facebook pages, not to mention various forums, competitions, open data feeds and other Gov 2.0 initiatives and activities that are underway.

Much of the Federal activity was actively support by Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, who initiated the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and whose portfolio includes AGIMO (the Australian Government Information Management Office). Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was also a supporter and set an example for his Ministers with his blogs and online chats.

We've now seen the first Australian transfer of power in the Gov 2.0 age, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard taking over the reins of the Australian Government and Minister Tanner indicating he will retire at the next election.

The roots of Government 2.0 have been growing in the public service, however experienced talent is still few and far between and budgets are tight - Gov 2.0 still requires nurturing and support to thrive, particularly if the soil became less accommodating.

This raises a serious question for Government 2.0 advocates and practitioners both inside and outside government. With new political leadership, how deep is the commitment to Gov 2.0 approaches to openness and engagement? Who will drive the momentum at a Federal Ministerial level into the future?

This question is compounded by an impending election which may see the present government change its shape a second time, or potentially be replaced by one of another persuasion.

This will make the next year an interesting one for Gov 2.0 in Australia - we may see it thrive or die back.

What do you expect to happen?

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Six ways government needs to be more like Facebook (to be successful at Gov 2.0)

I was reading an article at Mashable today about What Facebook gets right and it got me thinking.

Facebook, despite its many failings, does some things very well. Things that if governments also did well would help them be successful in the 21st Century.

Consider if Facebook was a country, with 500 million citizens - what lessons could other nations learn?

  1. Hold citizen attention
    Facebook is used on average six hours per month by its citizens. This is achieved by providing reasons to give the site attention, such as personalising news and information to be relevant to an individual citizen and providing various ways to get engaged.

    This compares to under 30 minutes spent on all government sites each month by individuals, according to my figures from Hitwise.

    Consider how much government spends on television and radio trying to get our attention for a few seconds each day. How much could be saved if government spent money on building and operating websites that truly engaged and informed citizens rather than attempting to push out the views of agencies and providing generalised information which cannot be personalised to an individual's needs?

  2. Design for individuals in a scalable way
    Facebook is designed for individuals, with the central component being individual profile pages. These pages contain all the information an individual citizen has shared with Facebook and can be modified to share or not share each piece of information with others.

    If governments allowed individual citizens to have all their information pertaining to government aggregated in a single (secure) place online, we'd be moving towards a citizen-centric government.

    Individuals could self-managed their information, controlling which agencies could access which pieces. These profiles could also scale to contain as much information as was required (but no more) as government offered new services or benefits.

  3. Connect 'like' groups
    On top of individual profiles, Facebook makes it easy for citizens with similar interests to connect in groups. These allow individuals to discuss news and events, share ideas, research, learn and debate. They engender the best of democracy - forums where each can provide their views as part of a group discussion, moderated based on individual group rules.

    Governments around the world are starting to form citizen groups to discuss and debate issues, provide suggestions and submit ideas - however the machinery of government isn't designed to help citizens to form their own groups, it's the government's way or the highway - individuals are left to their own devices.

    If governments began creating the environment and providing the tools for individuals to form their own groups - as President Obama's website did through his campaign - this could be a powerful way to spread an understanding of democracy, promote engagement and deliver real results over time.

  4. Monitor behaviour and trends in real-time
    Facebook is constantly studying how its citizens act, group and behave in its site, giving it a continual flow of information on trending interests and issues. This allows the website to identify key topics and address them early, supporting its citizens and preventing some potential issues from blowing up.

    This type of ongoing monitoring is also highly important for government. We've seen many calls for government to monitor social media channels to understand community sentiment and keep a finger on the pulse in a way that previously was impossible.

    However many governments still rely on traditional gatekeepers - pollsters and lobbyists from interest groups - to provide them with insights. This approach can be prone to distortions, deliberate or otherwise, as few people are able to be truly objective - particularly when they are tasked with pushing specific agendas important to those funding their lobby groups. How representative of the community these groups may be can also be questioned.

  5. Respond quickly to citizen criticism
    Facebook recently came under a lot of criticism for its privacy controls. Did it study the situation carefully for twelve months? Hold a royal inquiry? Label those raising concerns as a small group of lobbyists misleading the public? No.

    Through monitoring its citizens Facebook was already aware of and working on the issue. It was in a position to respond quickly to the criticism, rolling out a set of simplified privacy tools which addressed many peoples' concerns.

    Government can often be slow to react to criticism - or react by attempting to close it down rather than hear it out. This is partially due to having to study situations first - whereas Facebook's continual research keeps it aware of trending issues.

    Governments can also be slow to take action, requiring layers of approval and bureaucracy to be observed before making even simple and commonsense changes. Simplifying these processes and keeping a closer eye on the pulse of the community will help any organisation to reduce the effort required to manage and address issues, saving money, time and reputation into the bargain.

     
  6. A platform for others to build on
    If you're a Facebook citizen than you'd be aware of the thousands of applications built on top of the service - from games to business applications. These applications rely on Facebook to provide the platform - data, commands and systems. In return they significantly increase the use of Facebook and the value of the information it holds - a win-win-win for Facebook, the application developers and Facebook's citizens.

    Government needs to similarly move towards becoming a platform, opening up its data and systems to allow others to develop applications on top.

    Imagine opening up government systems to allow an organisation to develop an end to end business registration system which allowed a citizen to register a company, get an ABN, register for state licenses and apply for development grants. The tool would help many people to start their businesses, provide an application developer with revenue and simplify the administrative burden for agencies at the same time. Similarly imagine being able to incorporate geospatial mapping data from multiple states and ABS statistics to allow a business to decide where to place its new offices.

    If government is able to make the public-owned data it holds more accessible online and open appropriate doors into key services tremendous value will be created for the entire community.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Twitter's demise widely over-reported

Late last year the Australian and international media was full of stories about the demise of Twitter.

Articles talked about how the service's growth had slowed - perhaps even reversed - and that there were clear signs that people were tired and looking for the next big thing.

Six months later and Twitter has released some new figures on usage which demonstrate how the service has continued to grow. Reported in Read Write Web, in the post Just the Facts: Statistics from Twitter Chirp last April, Twitter had grown to over 105 million global users, with 300,000 signing up each day.

With 600,000 searches on Twitter daily, the service receives 3 billion requests each day.

The site received roughly 180 million unique visitors each month, with 60% of tweets coming from third-party applications and 37% of Twitter users using their phones to tweet.

Given that Twitter only had around 8 million unique website visitors in March 2009, the figures don't appear to indicate a service in decline.

Now that over 500 Australian journalists and news media people (or follow the Twitter list here) and more than 200 government bodies in Australia and 49 Federal politicians (plus an unknown number of state and local elected representatives) have Twitter accounts, any Agencies who have not yet learnt to tweet are beginning to look very 20th Century.

By the way if your department has Twitter accounts that aren't on my list, please add yourself via a comment or in the Google spreadsheet.

After all what good is a Twitter account that you don't tell anyone about!

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Australia's first political leaders' Twitter debate happening in NSW at 11.15am

According to the Sydney Morning Herald article, Twitter debate for NSW leaders Keneally, O'Farrell and Rhiannon, NSW's political leaders will stage Australia's first political leadership debate via Twitter this morning at 11.15am.

Featuring NSW Premier Kristina Keneally from the Labor party, Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell from the Liberal party and Greens party leader Lee Rhiannon and moderated by Channel 9's Kevin Wilde, the debate will be tagged under the hashtag #penrithdebate.

The leaders will be taking questions from the public using the same hashtag.

Note that you don't need to be a Twitter user to watch the debate, although to ask a question or comment you will need an account.

It will also be possible to simply follow the leaders and moderator via Tallyroom.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Victoria Police recruit tweeting and YouTubing their Academy training

In a move designed to improve awareness and understanding of the process by which officers are trained (and encourage more quality candidates), Victoria Police is supporting one of its new Academy recruits to tweet their way through training.

Announced in Victoria Police News as The Twittering recruit, Stephanie Attard begun her career as Victoria Police's first recruit tweeter on 7 June this year.

From the article,

Armed with an iPad, 21-year-old Stephanie from Gladstone Park, will ‘tweet’ every day between 7am and 5pm about her time at the Academy.

Stephanie’s Twitter account, http://twitter.com/vicpolrecruit, will be unedited, and all tweets will be straight from Stephanie’s own finger tips.

And it won’t be just the good experiences she will share on her micro-blog - Stephanie will tweet about her good days and her bad.
Stephanie's Twitter account already has over 1,150 followers and she's actively and candidly responding to questions.

Videos of Stephanie's experiences are also being distributed via the VPBlue YouTube channel. Fortnightly videos are planned through the 23 week training process.

This type of approach can be an extremely valuable recruiting tool for any kind of organisation if allowed to be authentic and unscripted (as the Victoria Police effort appear to be).

Victoria Police are now widely using social media tools for community engagement and outreach, including their Twitter account, @VictoriaPolice (with a well constructed Twitter policy here).

They are also very active Facebook participants with both a main Victoria Police Page and a Recruiting forum and hold regular online chats on topics of community interest.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gov 2.0 Heroes Day - 15 June

GovFresh celebrates Gov 2.0 Heroes Day every year on 15 June.

Gov 2.0 Heroes Day celebrates, in the words of GovFresh,

...citizens inside and outside government who go above and beyond the call of duty and creatively leverage technology to build a more open, transparent and collaborative democracy.

The 'usual suspects' of social media are being used to share information and support communications, including a Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube - which already features a range of video interviews.

There's also an interview with Luke Fretwell, founder of GovFresh, about the day.

Who would you consider a Gov 2.0 hero?

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Reinventing website perfection

Traditionally, in my experience both in the private and public sector, the way to build a 'perfect' website has been considered to be;
invest a large quantity of resources, personnel and time at the start of the development process,
use this investment to build all the functionality that the developers can dream up, write all the content the communicators can think of and test it with audiences,
launch the 'perfect' website and hope it works, and then
replace the website (fixing most of the bits that failed) after 3-5 years by repeating the process again.

Personally I've never liked this approach. It places a lot of reliance on using past knowledge to guess future (organisational and audience) needs, involves investing a lot of resources upfront with limited ability to terminate or redirect projects until after they have failed and it also results in websites that degrade in effectiveness over time which can lead to progressively greater reputation and legal risks.

I'd like to see the process for developing a 'perfect' website reinvented. The new process must involve a low upfront cost, the ability to be flexible and agile to meet changing needs quickly and be capable of making a website more and more effective over time, improving reputation and reducing legal risks.

But how is it possible to achieve all these goals at once?

The answer is actually quite simple and well understood by successful entrepreneurs.

Rather than aiming for a perfect site on release day after an extended development period, the goal is to quickly build and launch a site that meets at least one critical audience need.

Once the site has been launched, ensure there are tools for monitoring how it is used and identifying user needs. Then progressively build extra functionality and write more content, guided primarily by the needs of your audience.

This approach ensures the site has enough value at launch to be successful, albeit in a more limited fashion than a 'kitchen sink' website (with more functionality at launch). It also ensures that the website grows progressively more useful and relevant to the audience you aim to serve.

In this way the site becomes increasingly perfect in a more realistic way - perfect for the audience who use it, rather than 'perfect' for the stakeholders who think they know what different audiences want.

We see this approach taken with all kinds of websites and products - from Apple's iPhones through to online services such as Gmail.

It's time to see more of this approach used with government websites as well.

After all - don't we want to create the 'perfect' website for our audiences' needs?

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

The next generation of government

Living in Australia we are fortunate to be able to often look overseas to view the trends that will shape our lives and our workplaces already beginning to unfold.

While Australians often consider our country an innovative leader in many areas, my fifteen years in the online sector have suggested that, for the most part, we lag on average 18-24 months behind the United States in our thinking and activities in this industry.

That's why I found the article Watch out...Here Comes the Next Generation of Government by Steve Ressler (founder of Govloop) so interesting.

I recommend you read Steve's article. It provides some insights into how public organisations must reinvent themselves to attract the best young staff, and how they much reinvent their relationship with their communities to remain relevant.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The difference between Gov 1.0 and Gov 2.0 - as demonstrated by the Queensland and Victorian State Governments

I see a lot of examples of Gov 1.0 and Gov 2.0 these days, but one I saw recently struck me an an object example of the differences between these approaches - how far Australian government has come, and how far there is left to go.

In May the Victorian government quietly launched its ICT Plan Blog to consult online on issues related to the production and use of ICT.

As the blog's About us page states,

This ICT Plan Blog exists for people interested in contributing to the Victorian Government’s consideration of issues relating to the production and use of information and communication technology (ICT). Interested users are encouraged to share their ideas and thoughts. This discussion will assist in shaping the Victorian Government’s future policy and actions.

In the same month the Queensland government launched the quarterly ICT in Focus online newsletter, which was billed as,
your quarterly newsletter to keep you updated on the activities of Queensland Government ICT, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division of the Queensland Government Department of Public Works. The department is Queensland's lead agency in the application of whole-of-Government information management and ICT. The aim of this newsletter is to provide you with progress on our initiatives.

The difference between the two speaks volumes about the internal struggles in understanding and culture that are going on within governments in Australia and around the world.

Victoria's ICT PLan Blog is designed to consult and engage the public in an active debate about the state government's ICT plans and policies. It recognises that the community and commercial sector are involved and active participants in government with significant stakes in what government does and how it does it.

Queensland's ICT in Focus newsletter is designed to tell the public what the government has decided to do. Its approach suggests that the government knows best and, while acknowledging that the community have a right to know about the government's actions, it could be perceived as communicating that the public is simply a passive recipient of government's decisions.

Inherently there's nothing wrong with Queensland's approach, it is how many governments, of all persuasions, have engaged the public over many years.

However today, with Gov 2.0 progressively increasing its impact on jurisdictions around the world, Gov 1.0 approaches to inform communities may be beginning to appear more and more out of place.

Soon governments who seek to only inform and not engage may be perceived to be out-of-step with their peers (less competitive) and out-of-touch with their citizens (less democratic).

Or perhaps Governments still focused on informing and limiting engagement are already perceived as out-of-touch. What do you think?

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

The art of leveraging small announcements to drive Government social media engagement

Governments love big announcements. Billions of dollars in spending, bold new projects and initiatives, launches and major events.

These types of announcements are believed to be the best way to cut through the media storm, attract journalist interest and public attention.

These big announcements appear to work well for traditional media channels, that are always chasing the next big story. However the approach does not work as well in social media channels.

The first difference to consider is that when launching a new initiative a government department can reach out to existing traditional media channels with existing audiences. However in many cases a government department may not yet have aggregated their audience online, making it much less effective.

The big launch tweeted to a dozen followers, or posted on a Facebook page that has only been liked by the families and friends of departmental staff, won't create the type of stir intended and may even send an incorrect signal that it isn't worth engaging via social media channels.

Secondly big announcements tend to require much preparation, approval and timing. This makes them annoyingly difficult to release online at precisely the same time as a Minister steps up to a podium to deliver his speech. Even if you release the online announcement at precisely the right moment, it may take minutes, hours or even days (for web domains or searchable information) to become available to the audience.

Thirdly, big announcements are usually rare and there's large gaps between them. While in traditional media the news will be filled up by all kinds of other announcements and events, on a department's social media channels there is no other news to release, leaving them looking sporadic and disinclining audiences to follow them closely.


What I advocate governments departments do is to by all means make the big announcements, particularly via traditional media to create interest and drive people to an online channel, but also use social media channels to make series of regular small announcements through the life of a campaign or program to sustain and grow online interest.

Laurel Papworth demonstrated how this can work in her recent blog post, #1: Mistakes Companies Make on Twitter TIMELINES VELOCITY, where she illustrated the difference between social media and traditional media in several charts, which I have embedded.

If you're managing an information campaign then you have a range of information available and approved for release. Whether you're releasing videos, publications, factsheets and FAQs or rolling out and completing many small projects within a bigger one, break up your information into 'bite sized' (usually single themed) chunks and distribute them, a few at a time, through your social media channels.

Some people say they have nothing to say, or get concerned that their information may be 'old' because it is already in their website. However it is important to realise that while they might be very familiar with their web content as they visit and think about the website all the time, their audience does not. Every useful, practical, challenging and interesting snippet of information can form the basis for a tweet, a blog post or a Facebook announcement. In some mediums each snippet of information can be published several times through a month - such as on Twitter, where people are not watching your every tweet.

By feeding your social media channel with these small and regular snippets of information (but not too often - no more than a few tweets or one or two posts or Facebook announcements each day) you give your audience a reason to sign-up, to revisit, to share your messages with their friends and to engage with you.

These small announcements can lead into important conversations, giving you even more opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue and to listen to the views of your audience as they reflect on the information you have provided.

Even more important, when you do have a big announcement, you'll have a pre-prepared, engaged and interested social media audience ready to listen, reflect, share and engage, improving your reach and cut-through and demonstrating how effective social media can be to reach audiences directly without relying on journalists to cover your big announcement.

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