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Connection – the real value for Content and Community

2009 July 31

“Only connect. That was the whole of her sermon” E. M. Forster– Howards End

Martin Stewart-Weeks has made some interesting observations about the Task Force’s potential role in connecting three broad conversations involving Government. Connecting is a great way to think about the Internet age and I was reminded today of the timeless theme of EM Forster’s novel, Howards End – Only connect. A novel about the challenges of operating relationships across social class, it also seems to me to explore the heart of what individuals want from their government and each other – relationship through connection.

When I think about what is driving this development, it is largely a change in how people and things can be connected.

In the first wave of the Internet, people were able to connect to content that they had previously been unaware of, or unable to access. This was liberating. The technology was simple, lightweight and over time more user friendly and consequently the network effect took hold rapidly.

After a while, people started asking questions about what might be possible – “what if you could do…?”. Before we knew it we were using browsers to do all kinds of things from banking to sharing photos.

That was when we started to see some really big changes that involved a move from merely accessing content to the empowerment of people through the relationship between content, community and commerce. In my view it is the evolving of these three factors that defines what we have come to know as Web 2.0 – or the second iteration of the Web.

I call this out because the addition of community, or social graphs for individuals, and commerce, or the capability of transacting, is fundamental I think to the potential of Govt 2.0 – or the next iteration of government. In other words it’s not just about the content, or the data, or the information or digital bits wherever they may be stored. Importantly and most urgently it’s about people – individuals and groups – and how they access and apply the insight they find in content and data and information to their lives and the lives of others.

Ensuring that we drive for greater visibility and access to useful public sector information is an important step in building an improved dynamic between government and citizen. How citizens and communities of interest can benefit from and augment information and how governments can participate in those efforts more collaboratively needs to be given serious thought.

Let’s keep in mind, however, the actual value of information rests entirely in what it may mean when applied to or by an individual or group. Often this realisable value (insight) remains obscure to those third parties holding the keys to the raw data – and yet in making decisions about the release of information the economic question of value is highly relevant as there is almost always a cost to releasing information. How to get the right balance in this right of access, benefit and cost equation is a question in which the general community needs to be involved.

Pip Marlow

2 Responses
  1. 2009 August 1

    That was real nice Pip,

    Let’s keep in mind, however, the actual value of information rests entirely in what it may mean when applied to or by an individual or group.

    Could I just make one point. It’s not so much “individual” or “group” (as far as the World Bank, and its peers, talk about these things). It’s ‘Communities of Practice’. I’m being pedantic I know. But with the taxonomies that neil talks about on the previous thread, we should try and get the terminology right, so that when the institutional librarians begin to focus on ‘how they classify things’ on the web, we can say “is that clear enough?”

  2. 2009 August 7

    There was a fascinating panel discussion at the #glam-wiki conference in Canberra this morning and near the end I made a suggestion that seemed to be well received.

    @sebchan and @katelundy suggested I submit it to the #gov2taskforce and adding a comment to this post seems like a great place to do just that 8)

    One of the key points that I take away from #glam-wiki is that agreeing on the collection “metadata” that can also be used to re-define the KPIs the Government measures the GLAM institutions performance by is essential.

    It also seems clear that there’s a great opportunity to do this through a crowdsourced collaborative wiki driven process that really engages the community to say out loud what it is that they value in the work our GLAM institutions do.

    While I know this is not a trivial task, I do believe it is a small enough bite-sized chunk to be feasible.

    I also believe the following things could come out of this process:
    - this could engage the community in a broader discussion about the “value models” for our GLAM institutions, which if nothing else, would help raise their profile and community engagement.
    - give government a tangible way to review and redefine how they measure “performance” along the lines of collaboration, access, re-use and engagement. But not in a top-down “big design up front” kind of way that is just “handed down” to the community…in a way that really reflects what the community wants and values.
    - give the GLAM institutions the tools and frameworks to clearly visualise how they ARE delivering on these values and really ARE performing.
    - use the tools of “openness” to discuss the “openness” that the community is crying out for.

    I for one would love to participate in a process like this and I think it’s important that the process is just as open as we want the access to our cultural content to be.

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