What about the rest of us?
Without doubt one of the biggest questions is: how Gov2.0 can be implemented within the the culture of the Public Service? Patricia Kelly, in her blog post last week: noted that the Taskforce is grappling with the question and pointed to other discussions on how innovation in the public sector can be fostered and embedded in the culture.
The fundamental dilemma for digital engagement is that public statements are scrutinised and analysed for unintended consequences and to predict unpredictable responses and this does not fit an online environment where engagement is immediate, open and casual. It is like speaking in a different language. Also, the release of data, sometimes less than perfect data, under a re-use/re-mix license for uses unimagined rings all the public service alarm bells.
But the Public Service does not exist in a vacuum and the culture is as much a reflection of our response to them as anything else. The Public Service operates between legislation, policy, citizenry and politics.It’s a tough job keeping all those masters happy. This is not just about the public service, it is also about the rest of us.
What do we expect of our Public Service? I’d like them to be a responsive, engaged and innovative group of people who are committed to the idea of public service and making our country a better place for everyone.
To be this they have to be able to operate with freedom, authority to innovate, ability to express ideas and to express their committment to public service by engaging with the public. To do this they have to be trusted, respected and aknowledged for the good works they do.
In a world where we expect our Public Servants to engage online we must also accept that sometimes the conversations might not go exactly as intended by one side or the other. Is it fair to hold officials accountable for a misplaced phrase or an overly enthusiastic opinion? How do we, the citizenry, enable the engagement by tolerating and forgiving such mistakes? What is the media’s role in this?
Where we want our public service to release data freely and enthusiastially we also have to recognise that sometimes the data will be imperfect or that our use of it will be imperfect.
As we demand more online engagement by our Government, should we not also create an environment where such engagement is supported? As we demand the release of data should we not also ensure that we use it wisely and responsibly?
Perhaps, as suggested by Mark Pesce in a recent discussion we need an ethic of government engagement. This goes beyond frameworks and guidelines. An ethic is also independent of technology and will inform behaviour in the context of the diversity of government activity and all participants in it, including the rest of us.
If we are asking the Public Service to change its culture. Should we not also look to our own?