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2020 Summit : What might have been

2009 October 2

At the time of the 2020 Summit last year I blogged a lot . It was an unprecedented gathering of thought and optimism and a demonstration of how a grand idea can become a reality, and also a demonstration of how momentum can be lost in the process.

Getting 1000 people to collaborate on ideas for 2 days was a risk. It was well choreographed and the outputs were sanitised for the media. The risks were managed efficiently. But in spite of that it was an enormous outpouring of public voice. The exchange between delegates, the volume of submissions, the satellite events leading up and the online discussion that took place beforehand, all left a deep impression on me and many others.

In many ways it was a Gov2.0 experiment. Crowdsourcing ideas, open discussion, engagement between government and people. It’s flaws were that it was Gov2.0 without exploiting technology and without continuing the discussion.

Before the event we were given access to an online discussion forum. It was a place where stream leaders (if they were interested) posted ideas and started discussions. Some were better than others at this. Some discussion was lively. Many connections were made. But the site was difficult to navigate, late in starting, accessed by few and there were controls over the interaction – for example, we could not interact with members of other streams, which was frustratingly limiting. The most important failing was that the forum was shut down only days after the event. There was plenty of momentum at the time, but nowhere to direct it.

If the 2020 Summit were held today many things would be different and there would be much less tolerance of a lack of online engagement. Before during and after the event Twitter, live blogging and other tools that take events beyond the boundaries of walls, would play a much greater role. Collaboration online for submissions and brainstorming ideas, capturing the conversation in different places, sharing and discussion by a much wider audience would create a stronger interaction between participants and populous, making the whole thing more democratic. A kind of uncontrolled, spontaneous online discussion of it all would occur, which is how it should be.

For me the conversation was the strength of the process, all the conversations. I was happy to have them online and offline with whoever was around to participate.

There was a great deal of focus on the event itself, and the physical gathering of people together was intensely powerful. It created a momentum that simply fizzled out as the transcripts, the notes, the submissions and the discussions were whisked away into the rules and structures of the public service to be processed and analysed.

Eventually a report was released, long after most people had lost interest. It was a bit of an anti-climax really. It was great experiment in open government but not followed with the transparency and accountability that is necessary in true open government.

So I’d say to the Prime Minister, thank you for giving us a voice, for crowdsourcing ideas, for creating an environment of collaboration and innovation. Please do it again, but next time let’s talk for longer, before and after with more people, let the collaboration continue much further into the process with wider participation and use technology to seed conversations everywhere. Let’s turn this first step in participatory democracy into a movement. Let it evolve naturally into something uniquely Australian. Embrace the risk, and see what happens.

Led from the top it could create profound change in the way government engages with the community, and the way the community engages with government.

10 Responses
  1. 2009 October 2

    Lisa, nice.

    Though folk like you and I know the 2020 Summit could have been done the way you describe in the first place, at least now we know with the growth in interest in online engagement by politicians, government and business, there’s no way it will be anything other than connected from now on.

    Just as an aside, take a look at where some of the Australian tech community, including me, held our own discussion on some of the issues we felt were important. It’s largely there as a placeholder now, but no reason it couldn’t be reactivated.

  2. 2009 October 2

    Hi Lisa,

    While I had no involvement with the 2020 event, I see similar factors at play in other government consultation processes.

    One of the learnings for governments over the next few years will be that due to the mechanisms now available via social media, public consultations can no longer be easily switched on and off by the government like a tap.

    People can easily form groups and continue talking about topics long after a government consultation is concluded.

    They can track the public submissions, see when governments have taken community comments into account in the consultation report and even score governments on how well they implement recommendations or policy resulting from consultations.

    I don’t think the Australian public as yet have fully realised that they have the capability to do this, but I can see it coming simply from how quickly campaigns against the proposed mandatory internet filter or Kraft’s brand name choice were organised and co-ordinated.

    What I will be very excited to see are how governments who recognise that we now have a continuous policy improvement/consultation environment get out in front and lead the process – in effect managing (but not totally controlling) the approach to deliver better outcomes for their constituents.

    Rather than running discreet individual consultations on a topic every X years, these governments will run ongoing consultation approaches which continually listen to feedback and seek small and regular improvements to legislation and policies rather than ‘big leaps’ .

    • 2009 October 3
      Lisa Harvey permalink

      I like the idea of “continuous policy improvement”. The 2020 was such a set of discreet processes. Lead up events – done. Summit weekend – done. Reports written in apparent isolation and released with fanfare on a specific date – done.

      In Craig’s model we could still be talking about it and anyone could be involved for whatever bits of it they wanted to.

  3. 2009 October 2
    Nicholas Gruen permalink

    Agreed Lisa, Stephen and Craig. The release of sidewiki just ups the ante a little more on those who think they can stay in control.

    (I posted a different take on the Summit- though not one that disagrees with the points made so far in this thread – here.)

  4. 2009 October 3
    Lisa Harvey permalink

    The external conversations, like the one Stephen mentions, are really important, and as you say, Craig, will become more important. They add a great energy to the democratic process.

    The trick is how government takes account of these in policy making, and how government participate in these discussions in a productive way.

  5. 2009 October 3

    I took great interest in the 2020 Summit, as I knew several academics who were or got themselves invited, especially to the governance stream. And that’s my point, as it was not a “crowd-sourcing” exercise at all. Affluent participants came with particular ideas to propel. Open-mindedness was not prevalent.

    The Summit perpetuated the myth that only the elite have the ideas and deserve to meet officially to talk about them. In my view, that’s not participatory democracy.

    Of course, we need policy experts. But we also need decisions to be directly influenced by ordinary citizens talking and deliberating about what is important, informed by that expertise.

    Either ensure you facilitate a Really Big crowd talking (which can be Web-enabled), or a randomly-selected and stratified mini-public to find out where common ground lies. That way you get diversity of perspectives that crosscut rich/poor, young/old, schooled/unschooled, immigrant/native, conservative/progressive, etc.

    • 2009 October 4

      Hi Ron,

      That’s one of the key reasons I chose not to get involved with 2020.

      The approach was still hub and spoke – with the government the hub. As Lisa indicated the different streams could not easily cross fertilise as barriers were put in place to prevent this from occurring (in the online forum for example) – and I’m sure it was done for what were considered good reasons.

      Some of the greatest innovations and breakthroughs in science have been when people from different disciplines get together and talk across silos. This type of approach can also work for policy.

      However most governments (of all persuasions), being largely hierarchical, don’t intrinsically have a structure that encourages cross-silo, cross-discipline interaction – either internally or when they deal with the community. Firstly they don’t have the structures and governance models in place (and would need to have them in place – which is a sign of hierarchical thinking to begin with) and secondly they’ve selected and trained their staff (public servants) to act and think within a hierarchical model, and act to support it as they climb the ladder.

      Moving forward we need to recognise that the wheel works much better if there’s also an outer rim of people talking to each other without the government intermediating (as well as the spokes and hub).

      • 2009 October 4

        Or indeed, many outer rims at different levels touching the spokes, hub and each other – looks remarkably like a web of sharing and collaboration, I’d say.

  6. 2009 October 6
    simonfj permalink

    I think we’re very fortunate to have a professional bureaucrat as PM. Cynics might say he’s big on symbolism and slack on delivery, but he’s educated enough to know that its the bureaucracy that runs a country. All a government can do is steer (a bit). 2020 sent a signal. If only we could past this idea that the ‘output’ needs to be a report, and incremental change is the reality (in a social sense).

    Craig’s comment scopes the institution we’re searching for in broad relief,

    a structure that encourages cross-silo, cross-discipline interaction – either internally or when they deal with the community.

    Including ‘external conversations‘, ‘diversity of perspectives‘ and building’web of collaborations‘ are descriptions you’ll find in the .edu space as much as, with their Innovative Secretariats being the key.

    The nice thing is that the common alienation that Australian’s share has obviously been recognized in an agency called The great pity is that its secretariat might be in the PM’s office but the abortion of a website is being deewrized. Still, its a line in the sand.

    Let’s face it. Change is rarely an output of policy making. It’s confirmation that a (social) change has already taken place (so goverment employees might as well do likewise). No?

  7. 2009 October 19

    I was inspired by the main 2020 summit, and encouraged by the PM as a Labor Senator (as were all elected representatives) to host a ‘local summit’.

    The local 2020 summit I organised for April 3, 2008 was a collaboration between myself, Pia Waugh (well before she came on board as my adviser) and ANU Adjunct Professor Tom Worthington. Tom used moodle to capture the presentations and discussion.

    These local summits were held all around the country and in a way helped democratise the main 2020 summit as local communities organised themselves. For example, the ACT Government had their local summit, which was held at the Convention Centre in Canberra over a weekend.

    I wonder if we could mashup all the material from all of the local summits…. better still refine the concept and put the social networking tools to work next time…

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