Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Enterprise social networking - the latest infographic

I thought this infographic from the US on enterprise social networking from Tibbr, released in July 2012, was worth sharing.

Particularly notable was how high an adopter of these types of tools was government ('Public Administration') at 74%, which closely reflects the share of Australian Government agencies I've tracked as now using social media officially (73%).



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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Integrating LinkedIn into your agency's social media activity

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have become the staple platforms for commercial and public sector social media engagement in Australia - driven by the level of activity on those sites by Australians.

However LinkedIn, while used personally by many in business and government roles (around 16% of online Australians - over three million people), has lagged behind in its official use, particularly by government agencies.

LinkedIn, it is fair to say, is a curious beast in social media terms. Rather than being a place where people gather socially to chat and build friendships, it is a business networking site for discussing work-related issues and sharing useful resources.

Conversations on LinkedIn are frequently quite detailed, involve case studies and examples, tend to be more fact-based and involve less emotion and opinion than is seen on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

While lurking is possible, LinkedIn's real value is in the meeting of professional minds on complex issues, making it far less 'fun' to use, but far more valuable to power users.

I have used LinkedIn for professional purposes for years, building a large network of people I wish to maintain contact with, using it for finding staff, researching organisations and locating particular expertise. I contribute less frequently to groups in LinkedIn, but find several are sources of great knowledge on specific topics.

For agencies the case for LinkedIn use is different to the case for other online tools as LinkedIn is less effective as a communications platform, but can be quite valuable as a recruitment, contact management and stakeholder management tool or as a source of knowledge and expertise across many professional topics.

I believe this difference in purpose has held its use back in government as LinkedIn is less often used by communication teams and more often used by engagement and HR teams - who have been slower to adopt online channels in their every day work.

However, with over three million users, LinkedIn is now becoming important for locating and assessing staff and stakeholders and needs consideration within agency recruitment and engagement strategies. Through an organisation's LinkedIn profile agencies are able to tell potential staff what they do and offer, provide access to careers and information on their key goals and services or products.

By having an organisation page, individuals working at an agency can also link themselves to it - which provides the organisation with a view of which of their current staff are active on LinkedIn and also provides a way to keep an eye on alumni for prospective hiring back or approaching for expertise and knowledge of past events.

Of course, with organisations across Australia, or internationally, sometimes having the same name, registering your organisation with LinkedIn is also important to 'own' it before someone else registers it (if they haven't already). I recall having an interesting experience back at the Child Support Agency where staff in Australia were being accidentally associated with the UK's Child Support Agency before I could establish the Australian listing in LinkedIn.

For certain agencies (IP Australia, Austrade and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, for example), LinkedIn also offers opportunities to build business connections and lead or participate in appropriate topic groups in far more cost-effective ways that traditional 'round table' engagements.

So who is using LinkedIn right now in government and how?

Unfortunately the use of LinkedIn by agency isn't yet tracked by government social media lists, nationally, in Victoria, NSWQLD or WA.

However, some agencies have begun using it, such as the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, FAHCSIA and the Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations which have provided a profile, but no jobs or 'products'.

The Department of Health and Ageing has gone slightly further, listing key campaigns and the Brisbane City Council uses LinkedIn to advertise jobs.

However the government agency most effectively using LinkedIn in Australia that I've come across is  Queensland Health, which has customised its landing page to offer news and updates, lists jobs and provides plenty of supporting information on joining the organisation.

This last example shows what is possible with LinkedIn to attract quality recruits and draw back experienced alumni.

Groups, which are not linked to organisational profiles, also provide ways to connect and engage stakeholders. The most notable one I'm aware of in Australian Government is AusGoal, used to discuss the open access and licensing framework being put in place for commonwealth and state governments and share relevant information from around the world.

It is possible that there are many other government groups on LinkedIn, hidden behind passwords and only accessible to a selected few, as well as the many unofficial government groups publicly listed which government staff already belong to (such as the Online Communicators Forum).

In either case these organisational profiles and groups may offer benefits to agencies beyond the use of social networks for broad public engagement. The real challenge within agencies is to rethink the management and purpose of social media - from communication and engagement with large communities, to also include the use of social networks, such as LinkedIn, in more narrow, focused and specific interactions beyond the communications sphere.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Why do agencies struggle with FOI and open data so much?

The linked email conversation (in a blog post), Freedom of Information Request for Classification Data, provides an interesting insight into the struggles government agencies are having with FOI and open data and with the difficulties applicants are having accessing data which should be available in reusable formats.

In this case information which is publicly available and searchable has been made less accessible by an agency in their site (breaking a site scraper). Then after the developer asks the agency for access to the data under FOI the agency (after several delays) offers to make it available for $4,000.

As far as can be determined from the information provided, the process for releasing the data - which is already in a database - simply requires a single SQL command.

The appearance is that the agency is being badly let down by its IT systems or staff - or that it is unwilling to provide the data.

Either situation is a sad reflection on the agency and on the commitment of the government to openness.

I'll keep tracking this request - as are also a number of people in the open data space - to see how it is resolved, and how long it takes to do so.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Remembering to say thank you to citizens

Every day thousands of citizens donate their time and energy online to help government agencies across Australia.

They respond to feedback surveys on websites, provide submissions to consultations, share agency updates on Twitter and Facebook, participate in government-run online groups, provide tips and case studies to help government campaigns help others, create blog posts, websites and pages supporting government activities and even develop apps that add value to government data.

Much of this is done out of passion and interest in supporting the community, not for direct financial or personal benefit.

So wouldn't it be nice for agencies to sometimes say 'thank you' to the citizens that support public servants to do their jobs serving the government of the day and community?

I know several institutions that have learnt the art of saying 'thanks'.

There's appreciation of the efforts of teams in government operated hackathons, the Victorian State Library has invited its largest online supporters to 'meet the team' events at the Library to recognise their selfless activities and the National Library has recognised the largest contributors to Trove in several ways.

However there's many agencies who still forget the simple art of saying thank you to people outside their own walls.

Whether it is physical get-togethers, certificates or letters signed by the Minister or Secretary, a personal email from the online team, public recognition online in a Facebook group or some other method, saying thank you is one of the most important, and human, gestures that can be made to create a positive lasting relationship.

My wife and I will always treasure this simple thank you from the WSPCA last year.

The NAB has taken another route with the video below.

So think about it. When was the last time your agency thanked citizens for giving up their valuable time  to help your agency? What can you do more of to recognise their support, and encourage more of it in the future?



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Thursday, October 25, 2012

How should governments treat mobile apps in an age of open data?

EmergencyAUS app
I had a very interesting conversation the other day regarding the challenge of government mobile apps in the age of open data.

The example used was the EmergencyAUS app, which has been developed by Gridstone Pty Ltd.

As an app created by a commercial entity, EmergencyAUS aggregates emergency information released by a variety of state and federal agencies and presents it through a single interface.

The public can also take photos of emergencies and share them through the app. Best of all the app is free to use

Alongside this, Australian governments have also released mobile apps related to disasters and
DisasterWatch app
emergencies. Federally there is Disasterwatch, released by the Attorney-General's Department, which also aggregates emergency information from a variety of state and federal agencies.

At state level there's several emergency apps now available, but particularly notable is the Victorian Country Fire Association's CFA FireReady app.

This is available across all major mobile platforms and while it focuses on Victorian fire emergencies (including backburning), it also allows the public to take photos of emergencies and share them through the app. These photos can even be used by the CFA to help inform their staff regarding developing issues.

Essentially the commercial app and government apps are competing. They all aggregate information from openly released emergency and disaster data and all have a similar aim - to help inform Australians of critical events occurring near them or near their families and friends.
CFA FireReady


Generally governments in Australia take the position that they do not compete in providing services where commercial entities are prepared to do so. They essentially try to minimise where they compete with private enterprise.

So this example raises some clear issues. As government releases more data in reusable formats (open data), there are likely to be more commercial entities who use this data to create mobile apps or other services.

So should governments stop making apps for this data, and leave the field to commercial entities?
Should governments restrict themselves to apps for data that doesn't have commercial value?
Should governments continue to compete against private firms in creating apps?

To answer these questions I think it is vital for government to begin to think about mobile apps (and websites for that matter) as strategic assets and infrastructure rather than costs or PR tools.

Mobile apps as infrastructure

Government built the telephone network in Australia because it was not commercially viable for a private player to invest in this type of infrastructure. We're now repeating this process with the NBN. We did the same with roads, electricity networks, water networks, the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas and other core infrastructure.

However past a certain point it became viable - even desirable - to sell some of this infrastructure to private concerns, with appropriate legal safeguards in place (such as foreign ownership in Qantas and Telstra's universal service obligation).

To develop some new infrastructure governments began looking at public private partnerships - such as toll roads and utilities such as ActewAGL (the ACT's electricity provider).

These have either taken the form of co-investment in development, and co-ownership in some fashion, or the form of complete private ownership, with the government simply providing incentives, support or ideas to the private sector.

Finally there's infrastructure that government has been totally hands-off during development - such as for mobile networks and for virtual infrastructure including search engines.

Mirroring these to mobile apps (or websites), there's five categories for government to consider:

  • Critical - apps which governments consider core to its ongoing business and therefore both creates and maintains, retaining ownership on an indefinite basis (though commercial entities may create their own versions).
    ie: Emergency management apps, train/tram/bus timetable apps
  • Very important - apps which governments believe must be provided and will make, however are not critical for them to own on an ongoing basis, and therefore may sell to private concerns (with appropriate distribution and maintenance conditions and perhaps a 'resumption' clause if the private concern ceases development)
    ie: Traffic or toilet map apps.
  • Important - apps which governments prefer are developed, but are only prepared to partially invest in - via partial funding or other support or a partnership with private entities.
    ie: Crime statistic/locations, parliamentary information or library/gallery works apps.
  • Interesting - apps that governments find interesting, but not worth investing in. In this case they may release the ideas and data for the apps and leave up to private enterprise to develop - or not.
    ie: Sports field locator or health information apps.
  • Uninteresting - apps which government doesn't care (from a public benefit perspective) whether they are created or not and leave entirely to the private sector.
    ie: most apps you'll find in app stores

Based on this model government agencies need to think about the criticality of a particular app to their core business and act accordingly, treating the apps as an infrastructure investment.

Here's examples of my thinking.

Critical apps
Emergency and disaster apps can be considered critical public safety tools, provided by governments to ensure citizens are informed and supported in times of crisis.

As a core function of government, while private sector organisations may also develop them, agencies would still develop and maintain good quality apps to ensure public safety and information concerns are met.

While commercial entities may develop similar apps, this is not a reason for government to cease maintaining its own, as the government must ensure that a service is provided to the community and commercial entities may stop maintaining - or even withdraw from sale - their apps at any time, leaving a gap that the government's apps will continue to fill.

Very important apps
Traffic apps, while very important for managing traffic congestion and supporting productivity, are not core to the responsibilities of government agencies, but offer significant public value.

Therefore governments would develop these apps, but potentially may sell them to private concerns to maintain and profit from, with provisos that they deliver a certain quality of information and, should the private company decide to stop maintaining the app, the code and app go back to the agency (like an exploration lease for minerals).

The sale of these apps should be considered a cost-recovery exercise as well as pricing the value of the service to the community, ensuring that the public receive some return for the value transferred from public to private hands.

Important apps
Parliamentary information apps, such as ones providing Hansard feeds and information on proposed laws and parliamentary schedules are useful and important to government, however are not essential, or very important to government. Hence it makes sense for government to contribute to the development of these apps - financially or through support - however government shouldn't invest in their creation.

Co-investment might be done through grants or matching funds - such as if a private entity ran a Pozible or Kickstarter fund raising activity and an agency agreed to match up to $X dollars raised.
Support might include access to key individuals, research or data which would support the creation of these apps, or promotion of them through Ministers and agency media contacts and networks (potentially with a level of endorsement).

Interesting apps
Interesting apps, such as one providing the location of all sports fields in a city, might be suggested by a council or agency as an idea, based on data they've released or an identified community need. A paper prototype or business case prepared, but rejected, within the agency may even be released to flesh out and provide context and direction for the app. However agencies and councils would not deem these apps important enough to co-invest in or support, leaving it up to the private sector whether to take on and own the idea or not.

Charging for mobile apps

Another consideration for governments is whether they should charge for apps they create and manage.

I have mixed views on this. There are definitely services that government provides as 'user-pays'. Why should people who don't use the app share in paying for its development and maintenance?

Charging for an app can also provide some funding for its maintenance and improvement over time - very useful where government agencies provision for app development, but have a time limit on funding for it to be maintained and improved, updated to reflect changes in mobile operating systems or even released on new platforms as they emerge.

However in many of these cases the mobile app may not be core to government service provision and potentially could be provided by the commercial sector rather than the public. Perhaps it should be sold off, or left to private hands rather than maintained by government.

If there's a mobile app that your agency is considering charging users to buy or use, perhaps, instead, it is a candidate for sale to a commercial entity to run and maintain, with the sales price being the value of the app.

Or if it is core for government agencies to provide as part of their service mix, should it really be charged for?

In summary


When having a discussion in your agency regarding whether you should make a mobile app, or leave it to the private sector to do - or are thinking about charging users a fee to buy or use your app - it is useful to consider the five categories above and into which your mobile app fits.

If the app is core to your agency's operations it should probably be developed and managed under your agency's watchful eye. If it isn't core, you should think about how important it is and use this to frame your decision on whether to build it yourself, support a private entity to do so or simply give the idea away.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Free our data - a great presentation from Pia Waugh

Open Data advocate Pia Waugh spoke recently on the topic of freeing government data at Ignite Sydney 9 (an event where speakers get five minutes and 20 slides to say their piece).

It provides a strong view as to why governments need to open up data to the community and is definitely worth viewing and sharing.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Avoiding reinventing the wheel - an emerging case study

One of my pet hates is when government agencies re-invent the wheel.

It often starts when politicians announces they're going to do or launch something and agencies are then  tasked with making it actually happen.

If that agency isn't already connected into what other agencies are doing, doesn't conduct some research, or simply doesn't play well with others,  they often build a solution from scratch - ignoring the great work done elsewhere and potentially not learning from the challenges others have successfully (or not) overcome.

This leads to unnecessary waste. Extra costs, repeated mistakes and even community confusion when they could have delivered a better, faster and cheaper outcome by leveraging the work of others - standing on the shoulders of giants, so to speak.

A case in point that has just come to my attention is around the latest media announcement from the Australian Government regarding Implementation of a national foreign ownership register for agricultural land.

This register, as tweeted by the Prime Minister, is a useful and valuable development and will cut through the misinformation that is often spread by the media, lobbyists and involved parties about how Australia is 'selling the farm', when in reality (according to the release) only 5% of our agricultural land is majority owned by foreign interests and this has barely changed in thirty years.

At this stage the approach for providing this register is not yet decided, with stakeholder engagement to take place (some public engagement on what the community would like to see would be beneficial as well to ensure the register serves the purpose) and much planning and deciding around which data is available, how much is commercially sensitive or presents privacy challenges.

This is a great opportunity for the agencies involved to leverage off the great work already done in government to provide a platform for storing and reusing data and another platform for geographic data visualisation.

These sites are data.gov.au, the government's central directory of open data; and myregion.gov.au, the government's main site for presenting geographic data by Australian region (which I personally was involved in implementing).

Using these two sites the data from the registry can be made available to third parties to come up with their own visualisations and insights, mashing it with other data, as well as providing a standard visualisation using myregion's maps for people without the skills to turn online data into visual information.

Wherever cost-effective, governments should seek to reuse and extend existing web platforms rather than build new ones

Of course there may be other considerations for this register that require an additional front-end or context. However I am hopeful that the agencies involved will collaborate to leverage existing investments rather than replicate them.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Scaling Edges - how does it apply to government innovation?

Deloitte recently released a paper entitled ‘Scaling Edges – A pragmatic pathway to board internal change’, which provided strategies on how organisations in the private sector could best achieve innovation at the institutional level.

The paper promotes the following approach:
  • Focus on the edges rather than the core functioning of an organisation
  • Identify projects which align with external forces to achieve significant and sustainable change  
  • Leverage external resources rather than internal support
  • Circumvent organisational scrutiny and resistance that change initiatives commonly face 
A representative from the Victorian Department of Justice is on a three month VPS Innovation Transfer working with Deloittes' Centre for the Edge and is exploring how principles identified in Scaling Edges might apply in a government context.

As part of the research, there's a survey available for public servants to complete to give their views regarding the context.

If you'd like to complete the survey go to: https://www.deloittedtermine.com/SPSSMR/ImageCache/ImageCache.aspx?project=DELAUSCLEDG04L&file=default.htm

For context, the paper can be found here: Scaling Edges

Or watch the three minute summary video below:

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

NSW government consulting on their social media policy for public sector staff

It's good to see that the NSW Government has taken the step to consult the community and public service regarding the social media policy and guidance it is planning to put in place for agencies.

The consultation, visible at http://haveyoursay.nsw.gov.au/socialmedia (which unfortunately only has comments from me right now) uses a forum-based approach to solicit comments.

I hope other Australian governments will take similar steps!

However more important than this specific consultation is the commitment behind it.

The NSW government has committed to adopt the principles of open government: transparency, participation, collaboration, and innovation through digital technologies.

They have committed to two actions under this related to social media:

  • Implement a whole of government policy that supports the use of social media for enhanced public engagement and service delivery 
  • Make reference guidelines available to agencies for public sector staff use of social media 

Finally they have committed to a move to greater public consultation on policy development.

Of course the devil is in the details - how these are implemented and whether the culture of the NSW public service is sufficiently supported and empowered to make the shift to a 2.0 public service.


FYI: my two comments were as follows - just in case they are useful to other agencies and governments (though need to be read in context of the consultations:

Have your say on the draft guidelines for agencies

None of this actually mandates or prompts agencies to provide effective guidance, training and support to staff. 
I advise mandating that all agencies:
1) Have a social media policy that aims to define how the agency will use social media in the course of its activities and make it clear to staff that social media engagement is encouraged and supported within the agency's context.
2) Provide guidance to staff regarding how they maintain a separation between their individual, professional and official positions in social media (such as disclaimers on personal/professional accounts where appropriate "All opinions mine.")
3) Provide guidance and support on appropriate conduct online and build awareness of applicable laws around defamation, abuse, etc
4) Integrate social media training into the workplans for all staff and specifically within induction processes to ensure that staff are equipped to engage online in a safe and professional manner and, where staff do not engage via social media, they are equipped to accurately identify and mitigate risks the agency may face through external social media conversations and the agency's engagement through social media
5) Conduct specific training for senior management, including hands-on experience using key social media channels, to ensure they are able to effectively govern and support the social media activities of the agency.

Have your say on the draft guidelines for public sector staff

The statement 'Respect privacy and confidentiality and only publish information that is or is approved to be in the public domain.' is extremely awkward and I'm not sure what it means. 
Taken in two pieces it state: 'Respect privacy and confidentiality and only publish information that is' and 'or is approved to be in the public domain.'' - the first part reads contrary to the meaning I think you intend. 
Better reworded as: 'Respect privacy and confidentiality. Only publish information that is approved to be in the public domain.'

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Friday, October 19, 2012

National Audit Office invites the public to contribute to departmental audits

In what I believe is a global first, Australia's National Audit Office (ANAO) has launched a pilot program inviting members of the public to contribute to selected audits in progress, aimed at promoting closer citizen engagement in the audit process.

The system allows the public to provide contributions related to the efficient and effective implementation of government programs, policies, projects or activities—including whether the intended benefits are achieved.

Contributions can be provided via an online form, mail or in a document (MS Word or PDF) and will be kept confidential except for defined purposes (a legal requirement under sections 36 and 37 of the Auditor-General Act 1997).

This confidentiality may allow public servants - who often know a lot about how programs operate in practice - to contribute in ways that protect them from retribution in the office.

The pilot program will run until early 2013 and the ability to contribute is limited to certain audits (at least for now). However this is a great start and a huge step forward for one of our most important institutions.

The seven audits currently open for public contributions are listed in this page: http://www.anao.gov.au/Publications/Contribute-to-an-Audit-in-Progress

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What if we let ordinary citizens represent Australia on social media for tourism purposes?

Tourism Australia, state and territory tourism agencies and many regions and cities are now using social media to promote their location (their brand) to potential tourists.

Using the traditional approach, these accounts are managed by professionals employed by agencies and tourism bodies, communicating with official approved messages.

However other countries have begun to explore the potential of expanding social media engagement to put the public in control, allowing individual citizens to curate official tourism social media accounts for a 'rotation' - a week or two for each person.

The best example of this is from Sweden, where the tourist board’s official @Sweden Twitter account has been given to a different citizen each week to curate and tweet from since December 2011.

The account has, at times, attracted some controversy, however it appears the Swedish Government is mature enough to manage this in an adult fashion and their citizens continue to tweet about topics ranging from the weather to body parts to politics (including mention of Australian politics). Any controversial tweets also haven't dampened interest in the account, which has over 66,000 followers.

The citizens who operate the account (termed 'curators') are selected by an official panel and given guidance before being set loose, however tweets are not reviewed or approved by officials.

The account is supported by a website (http://curatorsofsweden.com/) explaining how @Sweden works, providing details of curators and a video (embedded below) with a Q&A with former curators.


Another example of an official account run by citizens, is the US state of Vermont's @ThisisVT, which follows a similar model of a week per curator, selected through a nomination process by a panel (to manage risk).

The account was launched in late July 2012 and now has almost 2,500 followers. It is also supported by a website, www.thisisvt.com, to promote Vermont to tourists from across the US and elsewhere.


These initiatives are building the brand identity of nations and states by presenting citizen perspectives, rather than an institution's carefully packaged messaging.

Essentially the curators are brand ambassadors, providing a human face and personality for potential tourists to bond with.

This isn't in itself a revolutionary concept. Many jurisdictions use brand ambassadors - though normally choose internationally known actors or sports people. However the approach through social media is new, rather than picking celebrities (and their price tags), normal citizens are selected to provide realistic faces for these brands.

Would this 'everyperson' approach be accepted in Australia?

Actually a similar approach already has won awards and enormous praise. The Queensland 'Best job in the world' campaign' selected an individual from over 34,000 entries to visit the state as a working tourist, reporting their experiences to the world via video and blogging.

Of course the 'Best job' campaign selected a single ambassador, whereas @Sweden and @ThisisVT select a new ambassador each week, so provide greater diversity but less celebrity. However I expect we'll see more of this (far lower cost) rotation approach.

Even if Australian governments remain too fearful of having citizens represent the nation, state or region to the world, it is already happening.

These 'Rotation Curation' social media accounts are already appearing, outside government control, with over 30 projects around the world.

There are already at least two unofficial Australian accounts, @WeAreAustralia and @IndigenousX (specifically for Indigenous tweeters), hosting a range of citizen views.

Many other 'unofficial' accounts are listed in Wikipedia, with notable accounts such as:


So would Australian jurisdictions allow Australian citizens to curate and communicate from an official account without approval?

Are tourism authorities - and other government agencies - ready to trust their own citizens?

I hope so, given the examples already out there.

I wonder which government will be first to break through the fear barrier and give it a try - even if only for a few months.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

What's the effective lifespan of a link shared via social media?

When you share a link on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or other social media channels, how long will it continue to receive attention?

I've just been told about a study that Bit.ly (a leading URL shortening service) did on this topic a year ago. The study, You just shared a link. How long will people pay attention? used a selection of 1,000 popular links shared via bit.ly in social media channels to research how long they would receive attention (clicks) from other social media users.

Firstly bit.ly looked at the 'half-life' of links shared through popular social media services, how long it took for them to receive 50% of the clicks they would receive.

Graph of the 'half-life' (time taken to reach 50% of clicks)
of links through various social media services.
They found that links distributed through Twitter, on average, had a half-life of 2.8 hours, while Facebook distributed links ad one of 3.2 hours. Direct emails (such as email newsletters) had a half-life of 3.4 hours, so all quite short and similar.

However links distributed via YouTube had a half-life of 7.4 hours, reflecting that it is not an 'always-on' service like the other channels, and meaning that when tracking responses it is important to recognise that it can take longer for YouTube to reach an audience - which doesn't necessarily mean it is less effective.

On average the half-life (except for YouTube) was 3 hours and in general links lost attention almost completely within 16 hours.

I've also been told that within 24 hours most links have received 99% of the clicks they will ever receive, and within 48 hours this reaches 99.9%.

So how is this useful information for government?

Firstly if you're sharing information through these social media channels, be prepared for a load on your servers. If there's an emergency or a sudden announcement of broad public interest, your website will receive most of its traffic from social media sharing of the link in the first three hours - starting seconds after you send out the message.

if your servers and bandwidth are restricted and slow to respond to increasing loads, you might need to reconsider your hosting and architecture - or provide emergency information through a more resilient and scalable platform (such as a Google Blogspot blog or other cloud-hosted service).

Secondly, if information is being shared about your organisation via links on social media, you don't have long to identify the trend and respond before it escalates.

If, for example, someone tweeted a link to a picture from an asylum seeker mobile phone which appeared to show an Australian navy vessel firing on them, it wouldn't be long before this was accessed by thousands, tens of thousands, even millions of people.

If the photo was a known fake and your agency needed to respond, you'd have to approve and distribute the message within that first few hours window to have an impact on the trend.

The era of multi-day approval processes has gone. Whatever the scenario, your agency needs to be ready to react and respond within a few hours at most.

How do you get there with an agency who still spends weeks approving a media release?

My post on Coping with the challenges of two-speed government agencies offers some ideas to start with - build systems that allow you to respond quickly by cutting repetition and 'fat' from approval processes and clear up the gray areas as to who can approve what types of content.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Don't forget to register for October's Canberra Gov 2.0 lunchtime thingy

On the 18th of October is the next Canberra Gov 2.0 lunchtime thingy, with a focus on open data, data visualisation and new approaches to policy development through policy visualisation.

As usual we have two fantastic speakers:

Pia Waugh, an open government and open data ninja working with the ACT government as an Open Government Policy Advisor, will provide a report on her trip to the global OKFestival, a thousand-person conference focused on open government, open data and data analaysis/visualisation in Helsinki.

Evan Hill, the Methodology and Infographics Manager within the Strategy and Delivery Division of PM&C will be discussing policy visualisation and the newly launched APS Policy Visualisation Network.

For more information, or to register, go here.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Update: 77% of Australian federal parliamentarians are now on social media

I've updated my listing of Australian federal parliamentarians on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social networks, and have found that 77% of them now have a social media presence - up from 72% in June 2012.

What I'd like to talk about today are some of the interesting breakdowns in the figures.

There's a substantial divide between Senators and members of the House of Representatives, with MPs far more likely to use social media channels than Senators - particularly Facebook, where there is a 30% difference (39.47% of Senators compared to 69.33% of Reps).

This makes sense, given that MPs represent an electorate and have significant needs to connect with their constituents, whereas Senators, who represent states, generally do not campaign in a similar way.

Social networkSenateHouse of Representatives
Facebook39.47%69.33%
Twitter59.21%68.67%

Unlike the broader Australian population, Twitter is the network of choice for parliamentarians - perhaps because it requires substantially less curation and moderation than Facebook.

Social networkOnline AustraliansFederal parliamentarians
Facebook98%59.29%
Twitter14%65.49%

Liberal and Labor members are both reasonably likely to use social media, with the Liberals ahead of Labor on 79.57% compared to 73.53%.

The Greens are the highest users of social media, with 100% of their federal parliamentarians using some form of social network. This offers their party opportunities to amplify their messages in ways difficult for smaller parties to do using traditional media.

The Nationals, in contrast, only have 69.23% of their parliamentarians using social media. While this may reflect the demographic composition of their electorates, which are more remote and statistically less likely to use online channels, in my view they are missing opportunities to connect to constituents who are online and allow more time to travel to remote constituents who are not.

75% of the independents (including the DLP and Katter's party) are using social media (with Tony Windsor the lone hold-out). Again, much the same reasons as for the Nationals may apply, and my views are the same.

Social networkLiberalsLaborGreensNationalsIndependents
Any network79.57%73.53%100.00%69.23%75.00%
Facebook51.61%46.08%60.00%23.08%25.00%
Twitter54.84%49.02%60.00%38.46%25.00%

(Note that as my spreadsheet is broader than Facebook and Twitter the percentages above for these networks are a little lower than the total.)

Asides from the party and house differences, there's a small, but statistically significant male/female divide, with female parliamentarians more likely to be socially engaged online than males. Given that statistically more women use Facebook and Twitter in Australia than men, this is reflective of the general population.

Social networkMale parliamentariansFemale parliamentarians
Facebook57.76%63.08%
Twitter63.35%70.77%

Even more notable is the age breakdown. The older the parliamentarian, the much less likely they are to use social networks.

Birth yearsAny social networkBy the numbers
1940-4964.71%11 of 17 parliamentarians
1950-5961.76%42 of 68 parliamentarians
1960-6981.97%50 of 61 parliamentarians
1970+100.00%32 of 32 parliamentarians

This becomes telling when considering that older parliamentarians are far more likely to hold Ministerial or other senior posts, and therefore be decision-makers regarding which channels they are comfortable for their departments to use.


There's clearly some way to go before all parliamentarians are using social networks to connect with constituents.  However there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel, with almost 80% of parliamentarians now using social networks.

I expect that by this time next year, around the time of the next federal election this will jump at least another 10%, and by the end of 2014 all Australian federal parliamentarians will be using social networks, in some way, to engage their constituents.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Queensland appoints Australia's first e-Government Assistant Minister

The Queensland Government has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to formally appoint a politician to a specific e-government role, with the appointment of Ray Stevens as the Assistant Minister to the Premier on e-Government.

His role is to oversee the development of the QLD government's open data site (to be at data.qld.gov.au), supported by an Open Data Reform Group including the Director-Generals of all Queensland Government Departments.

The Open Data Reform Group will seek feedback from the public and the ICT sector on what kinds of data, and what formats they need to develop solutions.

Hopefully this group will also draw on expertise from Gov 2.0 practitioners within the government, in the Government 2.0 Community of Practice in Queensland, as well as from open data and Government 2.0 advocates across Australia.

Also very welcome for Gov 2.0 and open government supporters was Premier Newman's statement that “The LNP is determined to change the culture of the Queensland Government to be more open by allowing more public access to Government information collected in all regions, in all kinds of formats, for all kinds of reasons.”

The Premier's media release is at Queensland Government's 'open data' revolution begins.

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Deloittes Australia social media report offers guidance for internal comms

Deloittes Australia has released its Social Media Report 2012, providing much more than a glimpse into how social media is empowering their staff to connect, collaborate and solve problems, sharing wisdom, knowledge and ideas to deliver better customer outcomes.

If your executive and internal communications area are still resistant to the use of social media within the firewall, this report provides some compelling, statistically-supported evidence and examples of how social media can transform the inner landscape of an organisation, making it more responsive, innovative and effective.

Roaming from recruitment through gamification to scone making (an example of complex problem definition and solution via internal collaboration), the report is one of the most accessible and readable I've found in communicating how social media tools can make a difference to an organisation - private or public sector.

They've also done a great job of distilling an internal social media policy down to three words: Empower and trust.

Visit the Social Media Report 2012 (PDF).

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Sharing and comparing political party policies - developing an XML schema for party policies

Something I've had on the backburner for awhile has been the development of a better way to share and compare political party policies.

If you've ever looked at the policy platforms of different political parties in the same election campaign, you'd recognise that each writes their policy in a different format, including different information and a different flow.

For example, compare the way the policies are presented by the three main parties in the ACT election:
The differences in how policies are constructed and presented leads to four critical problems:
  • It is hard for average voters to quickly understand policies from different parties (as they are formatted and written in different ways)
  • It is very hard for average voters to compare policies on the same topic across parties (as they don't contain the same types of information)
  • Sharing policies with constituents through third party sites is very hard. Parties rely on their own sites and have no effective way for supporters or media to rapidly embed their policies into other websites for promotion, comparison or discussion purposes.
  • Accessibility of many party policies is poor. They are often presented as PDFs only (and not accessible ones), or in other inaccessible formats.

A solution must address the four problems:
  • Make it easy for average voters to quickly understand policies from different parties - supporting a common format and approach
  • Make it easy for average voters to compare policies from different parties - containing a standard set of information
  • Allow policies to be easily shared with third party websites, mobile apps and other digital services but keeping a single point of truth
  • Support accessibility by separating content from format
What's the best approach to achieve these four things?

An open XML schema for policies! 

Why is this the best approach?
  • Because this allows political parties to provide their policy information in an easily reusable and comparable manner, without sacrificing their ability to provide unique information important to their own policy position.
  • It preserves the party as the 'source of truth' for their policy, they can update it whenever they wish and anyone who has embedded a copy of their policies will have them automatically update (drawing on the updated XML), ensuring there's no confusion as to what a party's current policy may be. 
  • It improves openness and transparency for the party, supporting an open government agenda and helping voters and the media quickly understand what the party is communicating. 
  • It also promotes sharing, meaning that parties can enlist their supporters to communicate their policies - increasing reach and cut through across the community
To explore this idea I've created the Policy XML Schema wiki and invite others to participate in discussing and shaping this approach.

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How to handle social media mishaps - from the New Zealand Government

The New Zealand Government's new Web Toolkit is beginning to ramp up with some very valuable case studies, advice and processes for managing a government agency's social media presence.

One of the latest useful documents released in the toolkit is on how to handle social media mishaps - which, as public servants are only human, are likely to occur from time to time.

In particular the document has a great matrix detailing the types of mishaps and their likely impacts, which then guides the type and extent of the response.

It is well worth reviewing when developing an agency's plans for responding to social media issues and emergencies.
Social Media in Government How to Handle a Mishap v1 0

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Government tops the list of effective email marketers

For all the claims of government communication being expensive or ineffective compared to the private sector, government has topped the Vision 6 Email Marketing Metrics Report for January - June 2012.

Vision 6, an email marketing company based in Queensland, has reported on the email marketing effectiveness of Australian companies and agencies for the last five years.

Government has consistently performed well in these reports, well ahead of industries such as IT & Telecommunications, Insurance and Superannuation, Advertising/Media/Entertainment, Retail and Consumer Products, Hospitality and Tourism and other 'traditional' heavy email marketers.

In the January - June 2012 report, Government topped the list of 16 industries both for most email opens (33.64%) and most clickthroughs (8.89%).

Open rates for industries from Vision 6's Email Marketing Metrics Report
Looking across all industries, the average bounce rate for emails was around 5.5%. This varied slightly by size of list, the lowest for lists of 10,000 or more email addresses at 5.01% and the highest for lists of 500-9,999 email addresses at 5.81%, with Government averaging 5.38% across the board.

The lowest bounce rate was received by the Trade and Services industry at 1.98% and the highest by Science and Technology at 11.67%.

All days saw fairly even open and click-through rates, dispelling the myth that people prefer opening emails on Tuesdays, and Thursday appeared to be the most popular day for sending emails, despite being average for open and click throughs.

Almost two-thirds of emails (64.65%) that were opened were opened within the first 8 hours (30.2% within one hour and another 34.45% between one and eight hours), four in five within 24 hours and 91.66% within 72 hours (three days) of sending.

Vision 6 says that with increasing use of mobile devices the time before emails are opened is falling - so with only about half of Australians using smartphones and 12% of households owning a tablet (compared to 18% in the US according to Pew Internet), there's plenty of scope for email open timeframes to continue to decrease.

Mobile has become so important already for consumers that Vision 6 also reported that the iPhone mail application has leapt into third spot (at 16.28%) behind Outlook 2003 (at 17.54%) and Apple Webkit (at 16.53%). In fact mobile accounted for 24.33% of all email opens.

To gain more insights on email marketing, and to view all of the reports back to 2006, visit Vision 6 Email Marketing Metrics centre.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Making APIs for government data - should agencies do this or leave it to third parties?

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are a technique for interacting with data (usually on the web) which liberates users from relying on particular applications or having to do complex programming to reuse the data in interesting ways.

Unfortunately few government agencies go the extra distance to release their data with an API, instead using specific data formats which require specific applications to access them.

This is a real shame, as APIs essentially makes data application free - great for accessibility and both easier and faster for any web user or website to reuse the data effectively.

It is often relatively easy for to create APIs from an agency's released data, as demonstrated by the Farmer Market API example from Code for America, which took less than an hour to convert from a spreadsheet into a map visualisation.

Agencies can certainly take the position that they don't want to do the extra work (however little it may be) to provide APIs for their public data and leave it up to third parties to do this - wherever and whenever they wish.

This is a choice, however, that comes with risks.

Where an agency simply 'dumps' data - in a PDF, CSV, Shapefile or other format online, whether via their site or via a central open data site - they are giving up control and introducing risk.

If a third party decides to create an API to make a dataset easier to access, reuse or mash-up, they could easily do so by downloading the dataset, doing various conversions and clean-ups and uploading it to an appropriate service to provide an API (per the Family Market API example).

Through this process the agency loses control over the data. The API and the data it draws on is not held on the agency's servers, or a place they can easily update. It may contain introduced (even inadvertent) errors. 

The agency cannot control the data's currency (through updates), which means that people using the third party API might be accessing (and relying on) old and out-dated data.

The agency even loses the ability to track how many people download or use the data, so they can't tell how popular it may be.

These risks can lead to all kinds of issues for agencies, from journalists publishing stories to people making financial decisions relying on out-dated government data. 

Agencies might see a particular dataset as not popular due to low traffic to it from users of their site, and thereby decide to cease publication of it - when in reality it is one of the most popular data sets they hold, hence a third party designed an API for it which is where all the users go to access it.

As a result of these risks agencies need to consider carefully whether they should - or should not - provide APIs themselves for the data they release.

Open data doesn't have to mean an agency loses control of the datasets it releases, but to retain control they need to actively consider the API question.

Do they make it easy for people to access and reuse their data directly, retaining more control over accuracy and currency, or do they allow a third party with an unknown agenda or capability to maintain it to do so?

Agency management should consider this choice carefully when releasing data, rather than automatically jumping to just releasing that CSV, PDF or Shapefile, or some other file type.

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Monday, October 01, 2012

Victorian Government launches consultation on draft 'digital by design' ICT strategy

The Victorian Government has announced it is seeking public feedback on a proposed ICT strategy, Digital by design developed by the Victorian Information and Communications Advisory Committee (VICTAC).

The draft provides advice on the future management and use of ICT by government and how the Victorian Government can design and use information and technology to deliver better services.

The public consultation is for just over two weeks, finishing on 17 October.

The strategy sets out objectives and actions focused in three key areas and proposes eight principles to guide ICT decision making (per the chart below).

While not focused on Government 2.0, the draft strategy takes into account the increasing digitalisation of communications, expectations of citizens and the need to increasingly co-design and co-produce policy and service deliver programs and to design code for reuse, as well as the need to embed innovation within ICT and release more public data.


To learn more and to leave comments, visit www.vic.gov.au/ictstrategy/

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