Monday, August 30, 2010

Gaming of online polls and ways to mitigate vote fraud

I've been reading up on the gaming of the Time.com 100 Poll in 2009, where vote rigging saw the founder of 4Chan elevated to the top position and the order of names in the poll manipulated to spell out 'MARBLECAKE ALSO THE GAME' (see the video below).

While there are often legitimate reasons to create online polls or voting tools, it is very important to be aware of the potential pitfalls if measures aren't in place to minimise the risk of inappropriate voting - people 'gaming', defrauding or hacking individual polls.

Often people aren't aware of how easy it can be to game voting and it is important to weigh up what you're doing and put the right level of protection in place.

One of the simplest form of voting fraud can involve users with multiple computers and web browsers, who may be able to vote once per each - then vote again after clearing their browser cache of cookies. This is possible in the polls featured in many popular newspaper websites.

If an email address is required to vote, as is employed in more sophisticated voting systems, users with multiple accounts can sign-up and vote many times - particularly where they own domains and can create thousands of email addresses at a time. This can be monitored and partially mitigated by looking at voting patterns over time and checking the email addresses for similarity and veracity.

When polls check IP addresses they are harder to 'game', however there are still technical approaches some people can use to change IP addresses - or use botnetworks (all with different IPs) to vote on your behalf. This, however, can become quite technically complex and requires significantly more resources.

Finally, if the poll system's security is not assured, someone may hack the actual voting system and introduce biases that influence the outcome - from changing the order in which options to vote on are displayed, counting some votes as more than a single vote, or more obviously just manipulating the total votes through changing the register of votes.

There are way of checking polls to minimise fraud, using technology to check IP addresses, combining this with email address verification or linking to other services such as Facebook where people are unlikely to control more than a single account. There are also CAPTCHA-based means to screen out most automated voting (though adding a hurdle to fast voting) and even more complex automation techniques to analyse voting patterns in real-time and flag, check or disallow some votes based on their origin.

Depending on the poll different levels of mitigation may be needed. Basically the greater the reward for receiving the most votes in a poll, or the greater the controversy over the subject, the greater the likelihood that gaming or fraud will occur, and the greater the mitigation required.

Online voting in elections - such as used by Estonia - tends to employ far more sophisticated techniques to verify votes. These are much more effective, however tend to cost quite a bit (at present) to implement.

So if you're running a fairly simple and low cost online poll it may be best to use it simply as an indication, or to back it up with a human step (selecting a winner from the top ten publicly voted entries) which mitigates a lot of the risk of vote rigging.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

ACT government launches Canberra 2030 consultation integrating Web 2.0 tools

The government for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has just launched a consultation asking for the community's views on what the city should be like in twenty years time.

The Canberra 2030 consultation has gone some way to integrate Web 2.0 tools. It allows residents to submit ideas and vote on the ideas of others (up or down) and has a 'discussion forum' - although this is pre-moderated and not structured in a standard forum mode, which is likely to constrain the discussion somewhat.

There's a Twitter account and a Flickr account and also a video up at YouTube - although this doesn't appear to have been embedded in the Canberra 2030 site itself.

Despite a few basic usability issues and a little of a 'tickbox' approach, the site represents a real attempt to consult Canberrans in a more interactive way and it is worth a look.

Plus if you're an ACT resident you could win an iPad.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Disaster management using open source and social media

Some of you may be aware of the Mercury 10 national counter-terrorism exercise currently being held in Australia, involving a variety of government bodies.

While this type of scenario is only one of potentially many different types of crises or disasters that could occur, natural disasters, pandemics, rocks from space, and so on, it does raise the question for me, how is Australia using social media and open source technologies in crisis management.

We've seen quite intensive use of social media in situations such as the Haiti earthquake, Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the swine flu pandemic last year.

Across the world authorities are realising how valuable social media can be to help them quickly get information out to the public, to collect information on the extent of a disaster and help prioritise relief efforts.

They are also beginning to realise how dangerous it can be to not engage online, leaving rumours and misinformation to spread even faster and more virulently than was previously possible. A good example was during the Mumbai terrorist attacks when a rumour that the Indian government was asking for all live tweeting from Mumbai to stop in order to avoid giving the terrorists information about police movements.

However the really interesting developments in disaster management are happening outside of government. Software engineers and disaster management specialists have spent the last few years developing better tools for addressing crisis situations - often without any support from the authorities responsible for managing emergencies.

Two of these platforms are Ushahidi and Sahana.

Both of these platforms are open source, free-to-use web-based platforms designed to be highly resilient during disaster situations and flexible to the needs of both developing and developed nations.

Ushahidi, developed to report on violence during the 2008 Kenya election, has been deployed more than 20 times around the world to address situations such as violence in Gaza, the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Chile and Haiti's emergency responses to their respective earthquake, track crime levels in Atlanta, medical supply levels in pharmacies across Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia and track the swine flu pandemic.

The system allows reports by mobile phone SMS and MMS and via the internet to be aggregated into a real-time map, then used to identify priority areas for relief efforts or activities. While the system can be deployed simply for reporting by authorities, it has proven to be strongest where citizens have been able to report incidents directly, allowing emergency authorities to respond with a more complete picture of events.

Ushahidi is entirely free to reuse and can be deployed within a few hours.

The group behind the service are currently working on a second service, Swift River, designed to help manage the flood of online information about a disaster in the first few hours and help both emergency services and the public distinguish between rumour and fact. While Swift River won't be launched until the end of August, a video discussing how it will work is available online.

Sahana is another free open source system developed to assist in disaster management. A a web based collaboration tool, it is designed to help manage common coordination problems, such as locating missing persons, managing volunteers and aid and coordinating efforts between a variety of aid groups, government and those impacted by the disaster.

It was originally developed in 2004 by Sri Lankan developers to support the response to the December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and was deployed by the Sri Lanka government to support disaster recovery efforts. A second phase, funded through Sweden, saw Sahana expanded into a more generic disaster management tool with global application.

Sahana was designed to cope with many of the infrastructure issues that frequently occur during disasters, such as intermittent power, loss of network connectivity and the need to deploy the service on low-end hardware and systems. In fact Sahana can be transported on and operated from a USB stick and is extremely flexible and easy to customise, reflecting the need to adapt quickly to the individual nature of every disaster.

Sahana is in use for the Pakistan floods at the moment and it was also used for the Haiti earthquake - discussed in this case study (PDF). It has also been used in the Phillipines, the US, Peru, China, Indonesia and Pakistan for a range of disaster management needs.

There are other open source tools available for disaster management purposes. It is also possible to rapidly build a custom system for a specific need using free and low cost tools such as Wordpress (for content management), Google Maps (for geospatial representations), YouTube (for video), Flickr (for images), Slideshare and Scribd (for presentations and documents), Twitter (for real-time updates), WidgetBox (for embeddable widgets), Facebook (for group coordination), Wufoo (for forms) and services such as Yahoo Pipes to integrate and process information and news feeds.

In most cases the time required to put together these types of custom systems is significantly less than that required to have systems developed within high-end content management systems - as are normally deployed for normal business needs by government agencies.

In most cases these third party services are also cheaper, more scalable and have greater network resilience and peak usage capability - reflecting their need to cater for millions of simultaneous users, more than most government sites are engineered to handle.

So while some governments appear to be relying on traditional means of communications in disasters - brochures or media releases at carefully timed intervals - it is inevitable that communities will self-organise, create their own tools and deploy them with great speed.

Today's challenge for governments is to use social media and online tools to improve their own disaster management capability, organise the flood of information and provide better outcomes - deploying disaster management systems or throwing together custom solutions in a matter of hours rather than months.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Legal benefits of social media use

I've been speaking with a few lawyers and solicitors lately regarding the risks of various social media initiatives and tools.

Today, over lunch, it struck me that lawyers rarely - if ever - speak about the legal benefits of social media, the ways in which the use of social media can provide better outcomes for organisation, in a legal sense, than 'traditional' approaches to listening, communication, consultation and engagement.

So I've made a stab below at identifying some of the legal benefits of social media - please feel free to add your own, or debate my views, in comments.


Identifying potential legal risks early
The first legal benefit is the capability to monitor social media to identify any emerging concerns or issues that could lead to future legal risks for an organisation.

People often speak openly online about their concerns and frustrations. A trend of similar issues can represent an emerging issue with a policy, system or service delivery function that could eventuate as a court case or even a class action.

Social media provides an avenue to identify these trending issues quickly and gives organisations an opportunity to address them before they 'blow up' into the media and legal action.


Audit trails
One of the major benefits of the online channel is the capability to capture and track user behaviour - particularly when a user is registered and signs into a service. This can provide legal benefits through a clear audit trail of an individual's online activities to either verify their story, or prove it untrue.

Where an individual claims to not have viewed particular material, or to not have agreed to certain terms and conditions, a digital trail can provide veracity - for example when signing up to a particular online service, changing contact details or revealing personal information.

I have seen cases in government where an individual has claimed that their online account had been fraudulently modified by another party however, through auditing the digital records, it became possible to prove that it was a relative authorised to use the account who had made the changes, preventing any type of legal action against the agency providing the service.

In a case unrelated to government, recently an iPhone log was used to prove that an individual was being falsely accused of rape and in other cases email records and the logs from websites have been used to prove or disprove an individual's involvement in particular matters.

Where government employs social media tools for activities such as stakeholder or community engagement or consultation and some form of log-in or other way to recognise users (such as through a Facebook or Twitter identity) is in use, it becomes much harder for individuals to falsely claim that they were unaware of certain information or otherwise prove statements that could lead to agency legal liability.


Accessibility
The internet can be a cost-effective way to provide documents and discussions during a consultation process in an accessible manner, avoiding the legal risk of breaching the Disabilities Act.

Rather than holding a consultation by mail, where mailed submissions are scanned in and either not provided online at all, or presented as images - totally inaccessible to screen readers - government can hold online consultations where every submission is typed directly into the consultation site.

These submissions can be reviewed and published online in a manner accessible to all internet users. They can also be printed (maybe in braille) or read out by a machine over a phone line for non-users.

This use of the internet for consultations is a very cost-effective way for organisations to meet their obligations under the Disabilities Act and avoid legal action for providing submissions in a non-accessible manner.


Inclusion (equalising access)
Using the internet in engagement activities, alongside other approaches, allows a much broader range of people to participate - minimising the legal risks of decisions where some audiences claim they were not consulted.

Often those who work nights, have day jobs, young children, are physically less mobile, geographically distant or otherwise have commitments are less able to participate in face-to-face discussion with a government agency or its representatives.

Where these people are affected by the outcomes of a face-to-face engagement process these people could feel excluded and unheard. In some situations, could lead to legal action against certain policies or decisions.

By using the internet alongside other approaches within an engagement process - via a forum, blog, facebook page, or similar means - a government agency can ensure that audiences unable to attend a physical event are heard and their views considered.

This increases their feeling of inclusion and lessens the risk of developing poor policy, reducing the risk of policy failures which could lead to legal action.


So there you are - four legal benefits from using social media that can reduce an organisation's legal risks (versus not using social media).

Can you think of any others?

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

ABS embraces internal blogs and wikis

As covered in The Australian's article, Australian Bureau of Statistics embraces world of blogs and wikis, the ABS has implemented an internal collaboration platform supporting blogs, wikis and collaborative documents.

The article reports that 30% of staff have begun using the wiki and blog functions. If reported correctly this reflects a huge demand for internal digital collaboration within the Bureau and bodes well for the implementation of similar platforms in other government agencies.

Given that the platform is said to simplify the management of collaboratively written and edited documents, removing the load from email and enabling better version control, there are significant long-term knowledge management and internal efficiencies that could be realised by the ABS.

I've often wondered why government agencies have been so slow to move away from desktop-based word processing towards wiki-style collaborative documents (with appropriate security and version control). Admittedly there are transition costs - both ICT and training - however the savings in not having incorrect versions sent around as large email attachments and the time saved by not having to compile edits from numerous people back into a single document are quite large.

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UK redevelops legislative database to support and encourage reuse

Brought to my attention by Mia Garlick via Twitter, the UK has redeveloped its legislative database with a focus on reuse by external parties.

The recently released site legislation.gov.uk covers 800 years of legislation from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

According to an article from Cornell University Law School, Legislation.gov.uk, John Sheridan, Head of e-Services and Strategy at The National Archives says that the site was designed to meet two objectives,

to deliver a high quality public service for people who need to consult, cite, and use legislation on the Web; and to expose the UK’s Statute Book as data, for people to take, use, and re-use for whatever purpose or application they wish.
The Crown Copyright for the site specifies that,
You are encouraged to use and re-use the information that is available on this site freely and flexibly, with only a few conditions.

This type of approach makes legislation vastly more accessible to the public and, through an API provided by the site, supports the development of applications and services that assist the public, organisations and lawyers to understand and apply the law.

More information on why and how the site was designed is available in the article referenced above.

Australia isn't yet at the same point. Our legislation, detailed at Comlaw, is not yet supported through APIs or other machine-readable data formats and is covered under a more restrictive licensing regime,
This work is copyright. You may download, display, print and reproduce this material in unaltered form only (retaining this notice) for your personal, non-commercial use or use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, all other rights are reserved.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

AGIMO invites participation and guest blogging on accessibility matters

AGIMO's latest blog post, Welcome to the WCAG 2.0 Community of Expertise (CoE), has invited those with an interest or involvement with accessibility matters to join a new Community of Expertise or provide guest posts to the AGIMO blog.

Related to the endorsement of WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0) by the Australian government earlier this year, AGIMO has established the Community of Expertise to encourage collaboration in developing advice, techniques and resources to implement WCAG 2.0.

Those from the public and private sectors are both invited to join the Community.

To learn more, and for an update on AGIMO's progress in developing support resources aiding agencies in WCAG 2.0 adoption, visit AGIMO's blog at Govspace.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Gov 2.0 is thriving during Australia's federal election

Commentators have said that major political parties have "failed to harness the full potential of social media in the 2010 Election" or broken the "cardinal rule of social media" due to only engaging in one way (outbound) communication.

This is despite recent global examples of the effectiveness of online engagement in shifting votes, such as in Colombia's Presidential election wheresocial media has been used to overcome a 12 point deficit in 50 days)

However, irregardless of how Australian politicians are presently using social media, Gov 2.0 has been thriving during the Australian election.

At least 20 Web 2.0 sites have been set up by individual Australians, not-for-profit and commercial organisations to monitor, engage, influence and support election-related community interaction online.

There's even been an iPhone application developed to support voting decisions.

I've listed all of these sites at the Government 2.0 Best practice Wiki on the page Australian election-related sites page.

I'm sure it's not an exhaustive list and will continue adding to it as I discover new sites.

If you're aware of other Web 2.0 election-specific sites that I've missed, please add them directly to the wiki.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tapping into Canberra's entrepreneurial community

This weekend Canberra is hosting a Start-up Camp, a three day event where entrepreneurs form teams and develop new online business concepts.

This type of event could be an opportunity for government to tap into smart and skilled people, gathering and testing new ideas.

In this camp there are six projects underway, as listed below:

itubecover.com - get your cool environmentally-friendly protective iPhone cover entirely made from recycled materials

mywardrobe.me - can't decide an outfit...take the easy option...browse through your wardrobe online

thumbtips.com.au - any topic, any time, the more controversial the better, you give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down

ilickit.com - product reviews made interesting, lick 'em or flick 'em with ilickit.com!

isplit.com.au - after world peace, surely this is needed. No one in your circle will ever dare not pay their share again

checkthishome.net - heading to Oz from overseas for a long stay...why not get the low-down on where you're going to stay ahead of them.

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What I'm reading on Gov2.0 today....

I read constantly to keep up-to-date with the Gov 2.0 and Web 2.0 world, so I thought I'd publish a list of what I've read today based on the pages I have open currently in my web browser.

Global Gov 2.0 - "Generation GovLoop" Provoking Profound Change?
Highlights how changes in public service demographics will change how public services operate. As Baby Boomers and Veterans retire, their Generation X and Y replacements will place higher value on collaboration and engagement particularly via social media.

Govts need well-defined social media strategy
More and more Government agencies are using social media to communicate and engage with the public. However they haven't always put the strategies in place to use these channels most effectively. These agencies would not launch a TV campaign without a well-thought out strategy, so why would they do so for social media. They need to establish clear, well-defined social media strategies in order to use social media channels appropriately and to manage potential issues.

An Executive′s Guide To Social Media
The personality type of many executives disinclines them to use social media. They tend to be highly-driven introverts, who value hard work over instant success. They also tend to develop healthy egos and place enormous value on reputation, avoiding channels which could damage their own standing in front of their peers.

Therefore they need to be approached in the right way to become interested in online channels. Key topics to sell to them are unfiltered feedback (often they find it hard to get the truth from scared underlings), the ability to engage authentically and tell their organisation's story (as they are proud of their organisation), to save money (as online can deliver better returns for less cost), accountability (statistics).

White House uses LinkedIn for policy discussion
The US government has begun using LinkedIn as another online social network for discussions with its citizens.

A Victory for Social Media: Inside the Election of Colombia's New President
The new Colombian President successfully used social media to overcome a 12 point deficit and win the last Presidential election through effective online engagement. A lesson for other political parties seeking election.

Gov 2.0 as means not end
Sometimes advocates of Gov 2.0, or those new to the area, forget that the approach is designed to serve a purpose, it is not a purpose in its own right. It can also be used to facilitate different things - greater systems transparency, improved engagement with citizens and better cost controls - depending on the needs of the state.

GetUp! wins again in online vote case
In a majority decision, the Federal Court has ruled that it is legal for Australians to enrol online and that the AEC's interpretation of 'sign' as requiring a paper signature is flawed. This opens the door to online voter enrolment across Australia - provided the AEC can place systems in place to facilitate this.

"Knowledge is a mashup" - Dig into the Smithsonian Commons and you'll find Gov 2.0 in action.
This article outlines the activities going on at the Smithsonian to open up its entire catalogue to online access, thoroughly cross-referenced and indexed, with user-based tags and associations permitted via an open data approach. Collections can also be shared to other websites and social networks, promoting the greatest possible reach for the collection - an excellent example of Gov 2.0 in action.

An investigation of Emotional Intelligence and the use of Online Social Media tools in organisations (#EISM Report)
An Australian report looking at the impacts of Emotional Intelligence levels and online communication on each other.

Five Rules For How To Make Things Go Viral (TCTV)
You can't predict what will go viral, but you can make choices that improve the chances. This article outlines five 'rules' which can be applied to any online content to help encourage viral behaviour.

Open Government Data Principles
These eight principles provide an excellent framework for government data openness. They are being applied more and more widely in the US and other countries - although have not received wide attention in Australia yet.

Plenary: Data into Action
This is the online record of a Plenary session covering examples of how Gov 2.0 has been successfully put into practice in a variety of environments.

The Value of Transparency Is At The Boundary between Government and Society
This post covers how more transparency doesn't necessarily mean better governance. Governments must work interactively and constructively with citizens, releasing the right information to support collective problem solving and better solutions.

Governments and e-participation programs: A study of the challenges faced by institutional projects
From the synopsis:
This paper examines the difficulties faced by government projects aimed at fostering citizens’ political participation by using the Internet. After presenting the participatory tools found on two institutional Web sites (the Brazilian Presidency and the House of Representatives), I examine how the constraints pointed out by a relevant part of the literature in e–participation are reflected in such initiatives. Promoting online participation needs more than providing communication resources, since civic culture and other issues are still key factors in influencing our patterns of political involvement. A participatory use of digital tools depends more on circumstances, such as institutional willingness, than on technical mechanisms available.

Employees-First, Citizen-Second: The Best Route to Open Government
This post discusses the need to engage and involve government employees in open government and social media initiatives in order to improve organisational capability and deliver better outcomes for citizens. Internal collaboration first, public consultation second.

And Of Course, Here’s The Twitter Movie Trailer
A community-created trailer for a Twitter movie - and linking to a similar trailer for a YouTube movie. While more humour than work, these trailers - and the trailer for the real movie "The Social Network" provide insights into how people view and use these services in the real world.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Victoria releases best-practice Gov 2.0 Action Plan

Victoria has maintained its lead over other Australian states in the adoption of Government 2.0 through today's release of the Government 2.0 Action Plan - Victoria.

The Plan outlines four priority areas for Gov 2.0:

  1. Driving adoption in the VPS > Leadership
  2. Engaging communities and citizens > Participation
  3. Opening up government > Transparency
  4. Building capability > Performance

With 14 initiaitves under these priorities, the plan was devised using extensive consultation and a wiki-based approach, engaging a wide range of stakeholders across government.

This approach, previously used in New Zealand, the US and the United Kingdom, has proven effective in generating significant engagement and support for the eventuating plan.

Rather than a 'big bang' approach - as used for many government initiatives, the Plan state that:
Our approach to implementation is think big, start small and scale fast.

In my view, Victoria's Gov 2.0 Action Plan is an example of best practice in how to prepare to systematically embed Government 2.0 techniques and tools into a government, taking the necessary steps to reform public sector culture, build capability, engage proactively and innovate iteratively to deliver the best outcomes for citizens.

I believe that the effective execution of this Action Plan, ahead of Gov 2.0 efforts in other states, will give Victoria a substantial first-mover economic advantage, positioning the state as more innovative and better equipped to service citizens and businesses in the 21st Century.

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Targeting Gov 2.0 apps development - US government combating child obesity with Apps for Healthy Kids

The mash-up (or Apps) competitions we've seen in Australia thus far have been broad and largely untargeted. Governments have released a bunch of public sector datasets and invited developers to create a bunch of applications related to that data for their jurisdiction, but without a highly specific goal or purpose in mind, other than creating applications that add value to the data.

The US, which leads Australia in this area of Gov 2.0, initially took a similar approach. However it has now moved to a new level - Apps competitions focused on individual campaigns, themes and issues.

One such example is the Apps for Healthy Kids competition which, quoting from its website is,

part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. Apps for Healthy Kids challenges software developers, game designers, students, and other innovators to develop fun and engaging software tools and games that drive children, especially “tweens” (ages 9-12) – directly or through their parents – to eat better and be more physically active.

The competition, which has received over 90 entries, requires developers to use a specific government dataset of information to develop a game or activity focused on a specific audience and campaign goal.

The prize money, $60,000, is a fraction of what it could cost a government Department to develop this many concepts to production level.

The winning entry will be used by the government for 12 months at no license cost and then reverts to the entrant's control - perhaps to become a saleable product or even be licensed by the government for ongoing use.

Besides the value of the winning application, there is substantial public relations value in holding the competition in the first place. It raises awareness of the issue, engaging people in either creating and voting for entries, or simply supporting the initiative through the 'challenge supporters' mechanism.

This type of targeted crowd sourcing approach has many different potential applications for governments from local through to federal levels. Many different issues and campaigns could provide fertile ground for these types of apps competitions.

Note that despite our current lack of targeted apps competitions, Australia isn't that far behind the US in crowd sourcing. There have been examples of online video competitions, design competitions and other approaches designed to encourage the community to engage with and produce content that can be used for the public good.

Below is the introductory video for Apps for Healthy Kids:

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Does Gov 2.0 require government leadership or participation?

This post is in reflection to a post by Nicholas Gruen over at Club Troppo entitled, What Coalition Politicians ‘get’ Government 2.0?

For me the post triggered a broader question - does Gov 2.0 require government leadership or participation?

I think examples from both Australia and overseas demonstrate that the mass enablement of societies via the internet can - and does - proceed without government leadership, encouragement, involvement and even in face of significant political and public sector resistance.

The Government 2.0 movement did not begin as a government policy or program. The concept was not created by politicians or public servants. Instead it arose from the application of Web 2.0 techniques and technologies to the process of governance.

Long before any 'Gov 2.0' websites or applications existed, the public in many countries had already begun using the internet's capability to give every citizen a town hall platform, printing press and television station to discuss matters related to government.

Online content was generated, followed by robust discussions, on areas related to national and state governance - party political policies, the interpretation of laws and the conduct of politicians, government agencies and public servants.

This rise of citizen content creation, participation and online discourse around the world has prompted greater public awareness and engagement with governments of all persuasions, from robust democracies to totalitarian dictatorships.

Examples of this in action already abound - the role of Twitter in Iranian Presidential election, the political impact of blogging across the Middle-East, the use of mobile phones to expose election fraud in Nigeria, the backlash against a Chinese government proposal to force online forum participants to use their real identities, the rise of independent tools to monitor parliamentary discussions in the UK and Australia and the role of social media in the 2008 US Presidential election.

This Gov 2.0 activity has begun forcing governments to (willingly or not) adapt their own processes to cater for more educated, publicly visible and active citizenry.

Australia, with a robust democracy and high average incomes, is if anything in less need of Government 2.0 than many other nations.  We already have strong and stable institutions, the rule of law, low levels of corruption, an independent media and citizens who, for the most part, lead comfortable 'middle-class' lifestyles.

Even so we have seen Gov 2.0 sites outside of government agencies flourish in the last two years. I personally count at least 50 independent websites involved with aspects of Gov 2.0 engagement (for example OpenAustralia, Open Forum, OurSay, Australia2, Planning Alerts, BuzzElection, TweetMP, The National Forum, Club Troppo and this list (in comments) of Australian political blogs - most of which allow community comment).

It has also become accepted internationally that freeing up access to a range of public sector information provides a massive boost to the bottom line economy of nations, with New Zealand being the latest nation to begin making its data more usable online.


Therefore, in my view, Gov 2.0 does not need government leadership - or even a level of support or participation - to continue growing, in Australia or around the world.

Instead we need to ask a few more specific questions related to the cost and risks where governments do not actively encourage, support or actually oppose Gov 2.0 adoption.

  • What will be the economic cost of inactivity on the Gov 2.0 front?
  • What will be the political and reputational costs of failing to upskill either or both public services and political arms of governments in the effective application of Gov 2.0 techniques?
  • How will Gov 2.0 inactivity impact on international competitiveness, where other nations embed Gov 2.0 in their governance systems?

These questions have, as yet, not been explored extensively in Australia - or really elsewhere in the world. As the Gov 2.0 movement is still young it is difficult to find evidence of long-term value - increased public engagement in democratic institutions, public value or cost savings.

However the growth in Gov 2.0 around the world demonstrates, at least to me, that there has been significant public value created, even if governments currently lack the tools and techniques to accurately measure it.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

New Zealand government moves to encourage use of Creative Commons licensing for public sector data

New Zealand's government has just launched a Creative Commons-based approach for the standardisation of the licensing of government copyright works for re-use.

Named the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing framework (NZGOAL), the approach outlines the licensing government agencies should use when releasing copyright works and non-copyright material for re-use by third parties (preferablt 'no restriction').

The licensing approach does not apply for content containing personal or in-confidence information and various restrictions may be applied to content by using one of the variant Creative Commons licenses, though the government has specified that most public sector information should be released without restriction.

The launch announcement states that re-use of government material by individuals and organisations may have significant creative and economic benefit for New Zealand, a position that has been reflected by the UK, US and other governments.

While use of the licensing approach is not mandatory, the NZGoal document states that hoped that the NZ government hopes that agencies will embrace NZGOAL; license more of their copyright works on open terms; and open up access to more of their non-copyright material that may be of interest to the public, bearing in mind the potential benefits of doing so for both the public and agencies alike.

The Australian Government is also beginning to release material under Creative Commons licensing, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Geosciences Australia and the Department of Finance and Deregulation leading the way.

However at this stage no whole-of-government framework exists to provide guidance on how and when to release material in this fashion at federal level - although the Government Information Licensing Framework (GILF) is in place in Queensland.

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