This site was developed to support the Government 2.0 Taskforce, which operated from June to December 2009. The Government responded to the Government 2.0 Taskforce's report on 3 May 2010. As such, comments are now closed but you are encouraged to continue the conversation at agimo.govspace.gov.au.

Government 2.0 and Society 1.0

2009 July 8

At the Personal Democracy Forum in New York last week danah boyd (now spelled correctly) spoke on the way people access online tools such as Myspace and Facebook. I recommend reading the full text of the talk. She notes that it applies specifically to a US audience, but there are lessons for us.

Her premise is that the divisions that exist in society exist in on-line society. The truth of this has important implications for engagement online:

One thing to keep in mind about social media: the internet mirrors and magnifies pre-existing dynamics. And it makes many different realities much more visible than ever before.

The clearest divisions are between Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. In terms of age distribution, Ben Shepherd crunched Nielsen Netview numbers for Australia: 32% of Facebook users are 25-34; 43% of Myspace users are 12-24, 60% of Twitter users are over 35.

Each community has its own voice, its own language and its own ettiquette. For many, other online communities are foreign places. boyd argues that these differences reflect the differences that exist in sociey.

Social stratification is pervasive in American society (and around the globe). Social media does not magically eradicate inequality. Rather, it mirrors what is happening in everyday life and makes social divisions visible. What we see online is not the property of these specific sites, but the pattern of adoption and development that emerged as people embraced them. People brought their biases with them to these sites and they got baked in.

 While the race and class dynamics are different in Australia than they are in the USA, we can reasonably expect that the essential demographics that create divisions of age, gender, socio-economics, geographic location, education, ATSI (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) and CALD(culturally and linguistically diverse) background in our society also create divisions online.  

boyd also notes that people participate in social media with their existing off-line networks rather than engaging with new people. This creates another puzzle for governments wanting to engage with people online – how to engage using social media when the networks are essentially social. One exception to this pattern are people with a business, career or cause agenda. These people are active connection makers. For the most part I expect that people reading this blog fall into this category.

Adding to the problem is that the networks are fundamentally corporate and competitive. Sharing friends and information across networks is not possible, and third parties crossovers are incomplete and often unsatisfactory. This separation reinforces the boundaries between communities and therefore the social divisions that led to the divided participation in the first place. Twitter is different to Myspace and different to Facebook and different to Bebo and Second Life and so on.

Online participation is, for many, unpredictable and inconsistent. People have different reasons for participating in networks and different levels of participation, and participate at different times. It should be no surprise that the level of engagement in online public life reflects how people engage in public life. It is important that government engagement considers this context.

But here’s the main issue with social divisions. We can accept when people choose to connect to people who are like them and not friend different others. But can we accept when institutions and services only support a portion of the network? When politicians only address half of their constituency? When educators and policy makers engage with people only through the tools of the privileged? When we start leveraging technology to meet specific goals, we may reinforce the divisions that we’re trying to address.

This is the critical challenge that faces government online engagement: Whether through social networking communities or through other Web 2 mechanisms we risk new inequalities, add to the division between those who can and want to participate online and those who don’t, and re-inforce, or worse legitimise, the online reflections of existing divisions, in our society.

This complexity in the context should not be seen as a dealbreaker. Understanding online dynamics is not so different to understanding the dynamics in society, but it is critical that we understand them. It could also be seen as an opportunity to create bridges across some of the boundaries.

18 Responses
  1. 2009 July 8
    Lyndsey permalink

    This is a really good post that pushes the discussion about social media and web 2.0 to a broader discussion about community and political engagement, participation and interaction generally.

    This blog forum, the Twitter thread and the conferences that have aligned with the launch of the Gov 2.0 have been successful (to an extent) in engaging an already ’social media aware’ network.

    Understanding online dynamics is important, but understanding community dynamics is crucial. The potential for online strategies to support the building of social capital, collaborative partnership approaches to sustainability and social innovation is exciting.

    But the online environment is about people first and tools second. The social, community, political and procedural goals need to be articulated first, then the analysis of how technology can be used to support these goals and strengthen what already works in our society.

  2. 2009 July 8

    While I agree with the premise of this article, I also see the different spaces and demographics connecting through links between each other, in Twittter for example, people post blog links, their own or link to others (its why I ‘m here) so the circles do extend beyond each ‘cohort’ of different cyberspace.

    In this way Gov.2 can interact in these spaces, if as you say, we look at people first and not the technologies. What’s needed are good communication strategies that encompass all available methodologies and stay linked to new ones and incorporate if appropriate.

  3. 2009 July 8

    An excellent post Lisa. I think that the most valuable aspect of your thoughts is the complete correlation between the web dynamics and that in the real world.

    It got me thinking about the challenges and opportunities and I reflected on some recent work we have done in the community sector space where we pushed some basic web 2.0 thinking.

    I need to be careful to not identify who the client was but I was saddened that they actually shut down what was clearly a dynamic forum on the basis that the posts were often ‘negative’ and exposing the organisation’s failings.

    So, this seems that their ‘crowd’ was bringing it’s own dynamics (partly class based but not completely) to the web 2.0 table and this caused what I can call a violent reaction (I did warn them that the ‘crowd’ might be vocal)

    So, I think perhaps part of the way we can move forward is for the government to fund community groups to move forward on the web 2.0 with some level of commitment to listen to the recipient organisation when it comes back with new information gleaned from the ‘crowd’.

    I think that perhaps that commitment to closing the loop, based on what the ‘crowd’ says is key.

    I imagine that this would need to be based on some pilots with some agile (so perhaps smaller) community groups and then followed by some concrete actions based on the ‘crowd thought’ and supported by government.

    In this way we may be able to start the ongoing learning about how crowd dynamics are able to be handled, especially in niche crowds.

    Hope that all makes some sense and, again, thank you for a wonderful and insightful post.

  4. 2009 July 8
    Lyn permalink

    To the extent that web 2.0 is compartmentalised, it’s also true that you only need to connect with a few widely networked individuals and rely on a ripple effect after that. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter all lend themselves to the ripple.

    Second Life, you’d have to open a cafe or salon or something, which would need to be ’staffed’.

    I’m having trouble imagining a government representative or go-between working World of Warcraft.

    Basic web 2.0 training should be part of any employment training outfit, which could somehow be useful for engaging with some disadvantaged communities. Maybe the InfoXchange people would have some ideas on that.

  5. 2009 July 9

    Excellent post Lisa.

    Putting on my hat as a marketing professional, in both public and private sectors I’ve encountered the view that “as not everyone uses X.com.au, it would be inappropriate and inequitable for our organisation to use it”.

    These same organisations choose to engage customers via a wide range of channels in other mediums (TV – by program/channel, radio – by station/program, print media – by title/geographic area) based on audience segmentation as they understanding that mediums, layout, messages and approaches must change to engage and meet audience needs.

    The online medium must be considered in a similar respect.

    Firstly online is only part of an overall engagement process which spans different mediums from personal interviews to radio talkback and, secondly, ‘one size’ does not fit all people. The approach and medium must be customised to reach the desired audience segment – from a post on a popular news site, to participation in a topical forum to an internally run ideas market.

    The dangers are considering online as a straight replacement for other mediums and/or considering the Internet as a single medium.

    Instead the Internet should be considered as one of the potential platforms on top of which is a set of very different online channels and properties – each with their own audience profiles, strengths and weaknesses.

    As Lyndon has said, understanding community dynamics is crucial and the online environment – just like other mediums – is about people first and tools second.

    Define your audience, define your goal and then select the right channel mix to reach them.

  6. 2009 July 9

    BTW a related article from the UK:

    E-government is not always the best option, say MPs
    Commons committee questions drive to put public services online, and says face-to-face services must still have their place

  7. 2009 July 9

    This post is important as it reflects our limitations as humans and should be considered and embraced in our systems.

    We have different groups with whom we communicate depending on the context. As a human I am limited in the number of people or things with which I can cope at any one time so I unconsciously group my contacts to a few and they vary in composition depending on the context.

    My different groups have few members in common. There are family, business associates, government 2.0:), groups based on sports, work related, community organisations, bloggers, random groups such as people at a conference, etc.

    The Internet rather than restricting me has enabled me to expand the number of groups to which I belong. It also allows me to indirectly be “in contact” with a vast number of people. This is the well known six degrees of separation that appears to hold with many networks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation

    A critical issue with networks is the degree of trust we put in the communication we have with one another.

    So where does this leave Government 2.0?

    Government 2.0 can best work if it facilitates ways for groups to form, trust each other, and to network with other groups. Like data access government 2.0 can be about openness and helping groups to form and communicate. In the same way that allowing access to government data works best if the use of the data is not restricted so access to groups within governments can best assist communication between citizens if it is open and with few restrictions. This does not mean that everyone needs to be connected to everyone else but there needs to be multiple paths through the network for voices to be heard in both directions. For governments it means that groups within governments – say a planning section designing a new freeway – needs to have links into “the broader community network” so that messages can get through. It doesn’t have to be planned in detail simply allowed to happen and it will “organise” itself if the messages can be trusted.

    There is an important role for government 2.0 in ensuring that subgroups within society are able to be “connected” both socially and physically so that messages can flow both directions.

    I guess what this rambling post is trying to say is that it is a fact that we will group into subgroups. As a society we want to try to make sure that the subgroups can connect to each other and that messages can flow in both directions. We do not have to worry about the composition of subgroups but we need to try to ensure that they do not become isolated. In particular groups within governments need to be connected.

  8. 2009 July 9

    It’s worth thinking about this from a different angle. The focus of Gov2.0 isn’t about Government pushing data out on specific platforms like Facebook or Twitter or Second Life.

    Gov2.0 reimagines government in a radical way. Gov2.0 is citizen driven. Instead of pushing information out, invite people in.

    Create transparency and facilitate conversations. Give people access to information and let them spread it to their own networks, in their own voice.

    It’s about embracing the social, open source, collaborative community elements of the 2.0 evolution and using the transparency this creates to engage people in discussion and improve accountability.

    Information transparency and open access to data allows people to make more informed choices and be more responsible for their own actions – and it makes an even larger group of people responsible for keeping track of what’s going on.

    At the heart of Gov2.0 is a challenge to citizens to stop being passive, to stop leaving it up to others to make decisions. It’s about giving people a voice and a way of actively engaging in making a contribution and a difference in their world.

    If that world happens to be World of Warcraft – so be it!

  9. 2009 July 9

    A small comment on one aspect of Lisa’s post:

    In much the same way I block or reject messages or friend requests from marketers or anybody who smells like they are trying to sell me something – I would do the same if a government dpeartment or agency tried to “connect” with me using social media. And if they got all groovy and cool about it then I would be even more suspicious. However, if somebody I am connected to organically (whether the is a purely online connection or somebody I know in the real world) reccommends me a link to something I may be interested in knowing about or participating in I will invariably take a look. This type of referral would be the best way for government content to reach me (and I suspect most other people) online. For this viral dissemination to work departments and agencies need to begin by putting something up online that is worth sharing. In this sense the Australian government still very much needs to get their web 1.0 strategy right before they can suceed at 2.0…3.0…

  10. 2009 July 9

    Lisa a great post and a thoughtful set of comments – I was reading this and thinking we(AGIMO) have looked at this for a long time and while Web 2.0/Gov 2.0 – gives us great opportunity to engage more and more and improve our service delivery – there are still some fundamentals we need to work on (to Sally’s point we need to get some of the Web 1.0 stuff right still – btw – we are working on it too). It is also much broader an we need build mechanisms that ensure we don’t leave out those who are not users of social media and not particulalry engaged in Gov 1.0 or Gov 2.0. What about the person who just goes to the Medicare Office to get their rebate from a doctors bill (hopefully reducing with e-claiming) and does a tax return (hopefully useing etax). How do we include them? I completely agree we don’t want to move into their private life and space.

    I would like to point you to a document we did in AGIMO a few years back, 2006, the Access and Distribution StrategyTo be honest it went under the radar pretty much. It was overshadowed by the 2006 eGov Strategy. But it is a good paper and we should think how we can include this as a broader consideration in the Gov 2.0 work.

  11. 2009 July 11

    Peter I agree the Strategy paper is a good one – for citizen access to government information. The extra dimension that government 2.0 brings to the debate is government access to information about citizens. That is, government 2.0 is about dialogue and communication and for that to happen not only do we need to think about citizen access to government information but government access to citizen information. That is for citizens to engage with government the government has to be able to hear citizens – which means government access to what is being said.

    This means we have to provide ways for voices to be heard but do it in ways that will not compromise privacy and in ways that can work against citizens. We do it with secret voting and we can do it with other information. Imagine how much better our statistics would be if the Bureau of Stats was able to electronically follow the transactions of their representative samples (or even the whole population) in real time.

    By helping citizens provide information to governments then government information can become much richer for the citizens.

    We know that when we free up the flow of economic activity with free trading we get better outcomes. The same applies to other information. That is the more we can “trade information” the more we get non-zero outcomes.

  12. 2009 July 13

    Thanks Peter for the link to the paper. You are absolutely right, it really does look deeply at many of the issues in a positive and practical way.

    I think that everyone on this forum, in the words of the man with the cowboy hat, should do themselves a favour and study it.

    I think it could be especially useful to people within agencies that deal with delivery capability and interoperability.

    While we can theorise about where we need to get to, the sheer size and complexity of government will organically create obstacles and the paper is a good road map to what those obstacles might be and it offers some really sound ways to begin the process of overcoming them.

    Most importantly, it paints a picture of the opportunities that will come from embracing interoperability and I think that the carrot over the stick will be the way to entice agencies to engage.

  13. 2009 July 28

    Her premise is that the divisions that exist in society exist in on-line society. The truth of this has important implications for engagement online:

    This entry ( i think) should have been titled Society 3.0, Government 1.0

    Can we just stop with the talk about “online society”. It’s just media after all. The problem is that we can’t help but inflicting our old ideas about media = broadcasting media from institutions to communities like the one coalescing around this (institutional inspired) domain’s enquiry.

    We’ve come past web 1.0. = the brochureware period.
    And well down web 2.0 = the ‘interactive’ tool period (starting with wikipedia, ending with youtube)
    Now this Web 3.0 period (into the clouds) is starting to focus on “real time communication” tools. This can’t be progressed until institutionalists start looking past their institutional servers and phone numbers, and figuring out how they can support “their” common public’s enquiries. More importantly, how they leave their enquiries at a DNS, which any librarian can direct an interested party to – after/during a series of events.

    We’ve got to the first step of 3.0. We’re ‘capturing’ not ‘producing’ at this DNS. Fantastic! Now all we need is a good National librarian to classify it, so when we reach web 7.0, we can say “do you remember?” and find it.

  14. 2009 July 8
    lisaharvey permalink

    Thanks Ozquilter. You are right about the linkages between the network and it is important to know what they are and how they will work in an engagement strategy. These connections may be fragile and unpredictable but they are very useful.
    Communicatons strategies are key – to ensure that the right audiences are reached and that they are engaged with the right language.

  15. 2009 July 9
    lisaharvey permalink

    Thanks Jimi, the experience you share is not uncommon and it is an important consideration for any engagement process. When you ask a question there is always the chance that people might actually answer it, and the answer might not be what you expect.

    I like the idea of using community groups as “go-betweens”. It can solve many issues of credibility, access and language.

  16. 2009 July 12
    Martin Stewart-Weeks permalink

    This is super stuff. It will be fascinating to watch the discussion over the life of the Task Force about what exactly we mean by Government 2.0 in the first place. Drawing the scope wide, grand and inclusively, which is what Bonnie has done so well, is key…

  17. 2009 July 12
    Martin Stewart-Weeks permalink

    COrrect – distinctions and differences don’t necessarily translate as ‘divides’. We also have to design solutions that accomodate different passions, energy, commitment and need. Web 2.0 is unlikely to create an ‘equal’ and ‘even’ world (why should it, that’s not how the world works, as many people in this discussion have noted. Which leads to an interesitng policy conundrum…how does government fashion these new platforms of engagement, service and trust without denying their essence.

  18. 2009 July 13

    Martin,

    The key to developing any good system is to let it evolve through use rather than do too much planning. Good systems are those that react and adapt to the environment. To that end being too prescriptive in how we do things tends to constrain and limit. However, setting goals and knowing if those goals are being achieved works more effectively.

    For example, I think legislation would be more effective if it concentrated on the explanatory parts and how we would know if the objectives were being achieved rather than on the details of implementation. Perhaps the task force could come up with a set of policy goals and a way of measuring if those goals were being met – rather than worry too much how the goals were to be achieved. That is, let the systems evolve by setting in place objectives and ways of knowing if the objectives are met.

    Perhaps something like the following.

    Geospatial data collected by government and non government agencies should be accessible to anyone who wishes to use it.
    Measure what is collected and see if the objective is being met by measuring accesses or use.

    To give another example

    Personal data collected about an individual by any organisation should be accessible to the individual.
    Measure what data is collected and how many individuals are aware of it.

    or

    Policy Implementation Bodies such as the ABC board, the Reserve Bank, the Directors of quangos should have a wide representation.
    Measure by how much those who want to have a voice in those matters feel they have been heard or would be heard if they wanted to say something.

    or

    Data on which governments and organisations make decisions is to be accurate and timely and available at an appropriate level for its purpose.
    Keep inventories of data in different areas of both government and non government data, its accuracy, timeliness and availability and publish the measures.

    or

    …..

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