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If I could start with a blank piece of paper… (part 2)

2009 November 11

David Eaves is a member of the Taskforce’s International Reference Group. This post continues on from his previous post.

The other week Martin Stewart-Weeks posted this piece on the blog. In it he asked:

“…imagine for a moment it was your job to create the guidelines that will help public servants engage online. Although you have the examples from other organisations, you are given the rare luxury to start with a blank sheet of paper (at least for this exercise). What would you write? What issues would you include? Where would you start? Who would you talk to?”

Last week I responded with this post which explained why my efforts would focus on internal change. This week I want to pick the thread back up and talk about what applications I would start with and why.

First, Social Networking Platform (this is essential!):

An inspired public service shouldn’t ban Facebook, it should hire it.

A government-run social networking platform, one that allowed public servants to list their interests, current area of work, past experiences, contact information and current status, would be indispensable. It would allow public servants across ministries to search out and engage counterparts with specialized knowledge, relevant interests or similar responsibilities. Moreover, it would allow public servants to set up networks, where people from different departments, but working on a similar issue, could keep one another abreast of their work.

In contrast, today’s public servants often find themselves unaware of, and unable to connect with, colleagues in other ministries or other levels of government who work on similar issues. This is not because their masters don’t want them to connect (although this is sometimes the case) but because they lack the technology to identify one another. As a result, public servants drafting policy on interconnected issues — such as the Environment Canada employee working on riverbed erosion and the Fisheries and Oceans employee working on spawning salmon — may not even know the other exists.

If I could start with a blank sheet of paper… then I’d create a social networking platform for government. I think it would be the definitive game changer. Public servants could finally find one another (savings millions of hours and dollars in external consultants, redundant searches and duplicated capacity. Moreover if improving co-ordination and the flow of information within and across government ministries is a central challenge, then social networking isn’t a distraction, it’s an opportunity.

Second, Encourage Internal Blogs

I blogged more about this here.

If public servants feel overwhelmed by information one of the main reasons is that they have no filters. There are few, if any bloggers within departments that are writing about what they think is important and what is going on around them. Since information is siloed everybody has to rely on either informal networks to find out what is actually going on (all that wasted time having coffee and calling friends to find out gossip) or on formal networks, getting in structured meetings with other departments or ones’ boss to find out what their bosses, bosses, boss is thinking. What a waste of time and energy.

I suspect that if you allowed public servants to blog, you could cut down on rumours (they would be dispelled more quickly) email traffic and, more importantly, meetings (which are a drain on everybody’s time) by at least 25%. Want to know what my team is up to? Don’t schedule a meeting. First, read my blog. Oh, and search the tags to find what is relevant to you. (you can do that on my blog too, if you are still reading this piece it probably means you are interested in this tag.)

Third, Create a Government Wide Wiki

The first reason to create a wiki is that it would give people a place to work collectively on documents, within their departments or across ministries. Poof, siloes dissolved. (yes, it really is that simple, and if you are middle management, that terrifying).

The second reason is to provide some version control. Do you realize most governments don’t have version control software (or do, but nobody uses it, because it is terrible). A wiki, if nothing else, offers version control. That’s reason enough to migrate.

The third reason though is the most interesting. It would change the information economics, and thus culture, of government. A wiki would slowly come to function as an information clearing house. This would reduce the benefits of hoarding information, as it would be increasingly difficult to leverage information into control over an agenda or resource. Instead the opposite incentive system would take over. Sharing information or your labour (as a gift) within the public service would increase your usefulness to, and reputation among, others within the system.

Fourth, Install an Instant Messaging App

It takes less time than a phone call. And you can cut and paste. Less email, faster turn around, quicker conversations. It isn’t a cure all, but you’ve already got young employees who are aching for it. Do you really want to tell them to not be efficient?

Finally… Twitter

Similar reasons to blogs. Twitter is like a custom newspaper. You don’t read it everyday, and most days you just scan it – you know – to keep an eye on what is going on. But occasionally it has a piece or two that you happen to catch that are absolutely critical… for your file, your department or your boss.

This is how Twitter works. It offers peripheral vision into what is going on in the areas or with the people that you care about or think are important. It allows us to handle the enormous flow of information around us. Denying public servants access to twitter (or not implementing it, or blogs, internally) is essentially telling them that they must drink the entire firehose of information that is flowing through their daily life at work. They ain’t going to do it. Help them manage. Help them tweet.

14 Responses
  1. 2009 November 11
    Neil Henderson permalink

    Good start David,
    I would add a couple more applications to the list:-
    1) A government wide HR system
    I have transferred (internal APS transfers) several times between agencies in Canberra. Information does not get easily transferred from one agency to another with the result that you, as an employee have to tell the APS exactly the same information every time you move – it is crazy and highly inefficient. For example each agency you work at requires to sign a TFN Declaration form – the APS knows what your TFN is, they shouldn’t keep asking the same question. Let’s link the HR systems together so that information is shared.
    2) A government wide meeting system
    Each agency currently runs its own email and appointment systems – so setting up a meeting which involves people from a number of agencies is difficult. On many occasions I have reverted to calling pople on the phone before sending out a meeting appointment – because this is the only way I can find out if people are available at the proposed meeting time. The alternative is for me to send out a meeting appointment and hope/pray that people will be available – not very effective. Lets link the agency Exchange/Notes systems.

  2. 2009 November 12

    I agree David – as I did when you posted this first at your blog last week (though I didn’t have time to comment at the time).

    I think there are several large cultural shifts embodied in the relatively easy and fast wins you list above:

    1) Support for public servants to express their professional voices online – inside and outside their organisation.
    2) Shift from a belief that, as I put it, ‘Knowledge is Power’ to ‘Knowledge Shared is Power Squared’ (hmm I will use that as a blog title!).

    Most government departments could unblock social networks, set-up internal blogs and start tweeting in under a day. We could set up a government-wide Wiki just as quickly (NZ has a few worth looking at already).

    However changing the cultural beliefs that underlie the current patterns of behaviour is the work of years.

    And there’s also the need to:
    - ensure that Departments have appropriate management policies in place when they remove the easy crutch of their IT policies (clarifying appropriate usage rather than technically blocking usage). This should only take a few months however – there’s excellent templates available!

    - educate staff on appropriate conduct online. Hot house flowers don’t learn how to thrive in the wild – as we’ve kept public servants from engaging online they’ve not all had opportunities to learn how to do it well. Maybe we need a ‘license’ system where people have to pass through Learner and Provisional training and support stages (where they have differing levels of approval requirements) before they get a full license to engage online…..



  3. 2009 November 12
    Kevin Cox permalink

    Excellent ideas.

    Clay Shirky in his writing describes the process of group collaboration and communication as being driven by the technology. That is, we are not exactly sure how the systems will develop but we know collaborative systems will happen when the appropriate tools come along. As social animals we cannot help it.

    A critical underlying tool we need is the ability to control electronic information about ourselves and about our organisational entities. This is fundamental to trust in communication which is a requirement for effective social interaction. If we set up appropriate technologies to control electronic information at the personal level then the systems will evolve.

    We must know and trust the “credentials” of the other parties in any communication. We must know what others know about us as it is relevant to the context of the communication. We must know as best we can the understanding of the other parties and we must be able to come to a shared mental model of what it is we are talking about.

    A necessary building block for any electronic social interaction are “electronic presences”. We have many such electronic presences (you can estimate the number you have by counting your user codes passwords plus all the organisations that have information about you in their databases) One electronic presence is your “facebook” data, the ability for you to control it, to release what you want and to whom you want. It is the functionality that we build into our electronic presences that will determine the shape and capabilities of the “applications” that will arise.

    One such presence could be our government presence. That is, each of us can have an electronic presence that enables us to deal with others in the context of government. At the moment we have separate electronic presences for each government agency with whom we deal. Governments of all persuasions are torn between the convenience of us having a single presence – the Australia Card – or multiple presences to prevent the potential abuse of personal information.

    The world of the Internet and communications technology has changed the need for the single id, single signon, approach. What we can do is to have the tools that enable us to have trusted electronic presences that we use as appropriate and as required. The only prerequisite is that we are in control of our electronic presences rather than them being something granted to us by government or the organisation (e.g. facebook) who currently holds our electronic presences.

    Our presences do not all have to “reside” at any one place or in any particular database as the physical location of our electronic presences is a matter of convenience and efficiency. The critical factors are that we are in control of our electronic presence and others know that when they communicate with an electronic presence they can verify who it is they are communicating with and have enough information to be able to respond accordingly.

    Government departments are talking to each other about “federating” authentications. There are moves towards single signons for access to government information. The concept of federating authentication systems is a good one but it is made even more powerful if the individual or any organisation can become part of the federation. So the model is still the same. We have a system where each entity can share credentials with other entities but where the smallest node in the network is the individual.

    So a recommendation that would provide the underlying infrastructure for electronic cooperation via federation is to establish the ability for individuals (and any other entity) to be included as nodes in any federation of government entities. The requirements for this to evolve are:

    1. Entities to know where information about them may be held.
    2. The right to ask the holder of information if they have information about them.
    3. If information is held about the entity then the requirement, if the holder of the information agrees, and the information requestor is able to prove their identity to the satisfaction of the holder of information, to release the information in a verified form.

  4. 2009 November 13

    I would like to add a commercial perspective to Government 2.0. I’ve taught or developed systems for/or in conjunction with Public Servants from 1998-2007 at all levels – Federal and 3 States/Territories either freelance or as senior/managing consultant in a small firm.

    My general observation would be that public servants are often, on balance, not different to corporate people. I would however the system does NOT reward “sticking your neck out” – let alone innovation. For different reasons, the corporate world may punish innovators, or may reward them. This depends on culture – but in Australia this is typically ‘cost-control’ in corporate firms.

    Every innovator in public service I’ve worked with was a ‘covert maverick’ who invariably had a corner, and sometimes an overloaded desk – as they had a reputation at being ‘able to get things done’, so often got more to do.

    The public service – and this may not be a popular view – in certain departments allows certain people to coast (which the corporate system does differently) and this stems in part from various cultural aspects of those departments.

    This means those innovators – those who do take risks, get more work – and those who don’t get their leave approved! Or to read the trading post/eBay.

    Or as a senior public servant once told me – “let’s not make a rod for our own backs.” This has the result of demoralising people who try to innovate.

    However, I have another point beyond the obvious here. Actually, perhaps the culture of ‘contract management’ of outsourced duties has actually increased the public sevrice. And outsourcing to big firms has weakened the public service of its core skills of service delivery in areas like transport or health.
    In my view we need to examine whether Government should actually provide services, and this seems caught up in many ideological battles of the 70s and 80s and 90s.

    Fortunately we may have some generational change now, which Govt 2.0 is part of, and this also seems to be bringing out all of you public service innovators – who have survived taking risks in those decades!

    So we need, in my view, to look at the true costs of continual outsourcing and re-align the public service (in SOME departments) with actual service delivery. Then we need to examine innovation teams, and other corporate approaches – which then must examine the risks of change (law of unintended consequences) – before implementing.

    Oh, and if I was in some sort of Wizard of Oz world remove the politicisation of the public service. Of course, Open Data/Gov 2.0 etc provide opportunities in this area. Non-sensitive data should be in the public domain.

    I have extensive experience dealing with Government – good and bad – but there needs to be a reality check. Big consulting firms/investment banks are given a free pass to extract as many fees as possible, whilst small firms/employees end up quibbling over $400 or whether they bring their own instant coffee.

    On one occasion, I once had a client with a heated debate over $400 at the lowest government rate, removed the charge but refused all work on our firms behalf, and the next firm charged then 400% times our charges. But they were ‘corporate’. I then refused another contract which was awarded for 300% times our charges to a big name vendor. I don’t think they disputed the magnitude of that firm’s charges.

    I for one, think the system of fee extraction by large firms pretty much is one of the key drivers of blocks to innovation, as simply put, the ability to drive outcomes is replaced by contract management.

    Those are just my top of the head thoughts. I’d love to do an analysis paper on this, but quite frankly, I live in the commercial world and have to go earn an income!

    The key point – is that perhaps public bureaucracy likes to deal with corporate bureaucracies, and bureaucracy rarely leads to innovation or even creative approaches. And the system from tenders to meetings is set-up to reward that. Other governments – like the U.S. and increasingly in the E.U. – are challenging this approach and supporting smaller firms that innovate.

    Keep innovating,

    Christopher Hire
    Executive Director of Innovation

  5. 2009 November 13
    Neil Henderson permalink

    Well said Christopher – especially your points about service delivery. We desperately need some part of government to design a capability which makes government look like one entity to our clients when they are looking for or using government services. We need some body, project, agency, committee to stand up and initiate this work IMO.

    • 2009 November 13
      Kevin Cox permalink


      If you open up the sources and allow government services to advertise their wares anywhere they see fit then you are likely to serve the public more effectively than trying to have a single source for government contact.

      I am not convinced that separating government sources from other sources is necessary and may be less usable for the citizenery as tend to be concentrated on assistance or services not necessarily on government assistances or services uniquely. In other words people search for tax matters, information sources, health matters – rather than looking at all the things governments might do. E.g. put links to passports on travel sites, links to medicare on health sites, etc.

  6. 2009 November 13

    Thanks Neil

    I tend to be of the view that we should integrate I.T. back office operations in government and remove duplication, but keep the departments operationally separate in their core competencies. So, Dept of Finance, is – according to what I heard at CeBIT eGovernment in May – working on this.

    But I take the view that operations should be decentralised, but admin centralised, and the key is getting the balance right.

    I’d love to formulate an analysis on the topic.

    I hope that Government agencies don’t again hire McKinseys/Allens/ etc to do these things – and get the same results through the same management-thinking 1990s paradigm written by MBA graduates with no operational experience. I take the view we need more bottom-up decentralised solutions, and less top-down. The internet is fundamentally decentralising, and being stuck in centralism ‘if only we had more control’ is an affliction of many decision makers and management consultants. The alternative is decentralist pragmatism. It’s also scary for command and control, but it’s how networks work. The risks can be lower, because costs are lower.

    That’s my broad view of innovation – tension between central objectives and decentralised tactics.

    Keep innovating,

    Christopher Hire
    Executive Director of Innovation

  7. 2009 November 13
    Kevin Cox permalink

    We are working with the Australian Access Federation (AAF) to allow the Universities to share identification verification services as part of their Authentication Services. AAF is using the Shibboleth standards. Federated authentication services are a good platform for the sharing of data via single signon and via trusted gateways to other Federated organisations. This approach decentralises service provision but within a standard framework. It also allows any trusted parties to participate.

    The Universities could provide a good test bed for the sharing of data both between Federated entities and with the general public. Simple examples are access to research papers and results and even to some library resources.

    The linking between a group of Federated government departments with the Universities Federation could provide a mechanism for the public to access much of government data.

  8. 2009 November 18

    Interesting comments Christopher…the ‘covert maverick’ rings somewhat the public service people with ideas or a desire for change can even be viewed as ’subversive’.

    My two cents worth.

    A system that does not encourage new challenges allows stagnation of skills and motivation, hence ‘coasting’ is just a rational response.

    All is not lost, however.

    The majority of public servants I know have are more likely to listen to people who have ‘been around’ a while having demonstrated long term commitment to their sector. We need to win over potential influencers, one at a time, by helping them in developing applications targeted at their own interests, and getting them to a point where they are comfortable enough to then talk to their friends in a way that demystifies the technology and theory.

  9. 2009 November 18

    I would add Yvonne, that in some aspects I agree.

    The loss of valuable operational experience throughout restructures of departments/outsourcing has seen departments. And I would add that a lot of the innovators, the covert mavericks, were more often than not experienced public servants.

    In short they knew how to get things done inside the department, and probably, it seemed as an outsider they also had a healthy dose of peer respect.

    I would add that both corporate and government innovators I have met, have tended to have a firm grasp on operations. Not an MBA (unless as an adjunct to operations), nor management consulting experience, nor spin doctoring – which seems in vogue at the state level. The superior innovations came from less focus on politicisation/message control and more on operations. i.e. actually what the department was chartered to achieve in real terms.

    So in my view it is the lack of on the ground operational experience – in some departments – that reduces the potential innovation.

    Those are just some more quick thoughts.

    Keep innovating,


  10. 2009 November 19

    David .. nice ideas: underneath the four suggestions you make lie ideas like communities of interest/practice, rhizomatic networks and (as the ensuing comments, and the last decade of web 1-> 2 have shown) behaviour change.

    concepts like engagement, both inside gov and across the gov/citizen divide.

    Engagement isn’t created by introducing new technologies or platforms alone. In fact, these actions often exacerbate the situation… but they also often uncover the kinds of practices and behaviours required to make the kinds of interaction you describe possible.

    Implementation matters, and people like Andrew McCaffee have been thinking about this in the E2.0 arena – check out his post on the elements of an E2.0 perfect storm

    hope this helps

  11. 2009 December 8

    I just read the article in this mornings age and cannot beleive the governments potential reliance on the current fads of social media. In any organisation, to dilute your brand is a big nono. It is important the government control the content put on face book and others to bring readers back where they can be qualified as real people and not unknown techies with a half a dozen email accounts that spam and waste your employees time and de rail any future efforts for the governt to create a reallife community more localised to not only australia but its communities that make this country. Please by all means look at and read our web site and see what we are doing for small business, imagin this concept working for the government. Have a great day Michael…

  12. 2010 April 10
    Madeleine Kingston permalink

    Absolutely. Forgive this late response from a newcomer to the Gov2 site and a novice blogger to boot without the impressive technical background of many contributors.

    Firstly I acknowledge Stephen Collins’ 11 September 2009 blog in response to Lisa Harvey’s article What about the rest of us? (tags: community, engagement, ethics, public service).

    In replying to Elton’s blog, Stephen disagreed fundamentally with Elton on the issue of generational distinction “which are progressively more being proved not to exist in anything except marketers’ minds.”
    I agree. Marketing theory is evolving. Text theory relating to generation distinctions previously relied upon may need to be reviewed.

    There has been progressive blurring of boundaries with generational distinctions. Not all of us can be conveniently labeled in the way that earlier texts of marketing suggest. Welcome the 21st century, including the unsettling effect of comfort zone views of how consumers and other stakeholders perform and think.

    Stephen Collins has suggested that:

    “It will be the motivated and connected – an ever-growing proportion of society in spite of the notion of the digital divide – who will engage with government this way, but we very much aren’t the product of any generation, rather we are the product of situation – needs, wants, desires, motivation”.

    I am living proof that my motivation to connect and somehow traverse the “digital divide” is driven but such utter disillusionment with formal consultative processes wherein the very process is calculated to cripple even the most stoic, obstinate, motivated and passionate of us with incurable consultation fatigue. Even more demotivating is absence of feedback as to outcomes, given the huge amount of effort invested in the consultative arena by those who can in the first place find the incentive and motivation.

    After four solid years of consistent input into formal consultative processes and with four or five pending formal submissions with overlapping deadlines, none of which I will be to respond to with quality in mind, I find myself spending more time cyber-spacing as a novice with few required technical skills, rather than devoting wasted energies responding to formal consultations wherein pre-empted decisions are made, minimal if any courtesies are extended in acknowledging the tireless efforts of those who do continue to participate in such arenas.

    Therefore, generational gaps and technical skills aside, the Gov 2 Forum has the potential to cross what may a decade ago, according to traditional marketing theory have been considered insurmountable barriers
    Having set that straight, I relate to the view expressed by David Eaves as a member of the International Reference Group in his Guest Blog of 2 November 2009 (above) that:

    “If we focus exclusively on the external strategy we risk only changing how our governments communicate with the public and miss out on the real gains of transforming how our governments work.”
    Gov2 needs to work on a premise that extends far beyond communication strategy, innovative media technology and information exchange.

    It needs to be the catalystic platform through which real change at operational level is achieved
    “there is huge value, learnings and efficiency gains to be had in adopting web 2.0 internally. If we focus exclusively on the external strategy we risk only changing how our governments communicate with the public and miss out on the real gains of transforming how our governments work.”

    Wish I had started my blogs here but will refrain from repetition as I have made three blog postings on “The Faceless Bureaucrat” attracted by the brilliant graphic mime image of a suited and bowler hatted but faceless figure representing the title role.

    In various formal submissions to the public arena, including the Commonwealth Treasury’s Unconscionable Conduct Issues Paper in December 2009 in referring to possibly misguided perceptions of impediments to responsible Commonwealth Government intervention, especially within the energy arena I cited the views of Roger Wilkins.

    (see citation by Adams D, 2001. Sir George Murray Essay Competition Winner “Poverty – A Precarious Public Policy Idea.” Australian Journal of Public Administration 69(4) 89-98 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration).

    By way of background, Roger Wilkins, AO is Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, a position he has held since September 2008. Prior to his appointment as Secretary of the Department, he was Head of Government and Public Sector Group Australia and New Zealand with Citi and was Citi’s global public sector leader on climate change from 2006-2008. From 1992-2006, Mr. Wilkins was the Director-General of The Cabinet Office in New South Wales where he played a leading role in areas of reform in administration and law, corporatization and micro-economic reform. Other areas included Commonwealth-State relations, negotiation of agreements on competition policy, international treaties, mutual recognition, electricity, the environment, and health reform.

    Both sought answers to vexing questions as to how the debate may impact on timely implementation of many of the PC’s recommendations.

    “The current situation where the commonwealth raises 80 per cent of total revenue in Australia but is only responsible for 60 per cent of expenditure is bad for political accountability.

    There is a massive transfer of money from the commonwealth to the states and territories.
    This means that the states and territories are not answerable to the electorate for the taxes raised to support their expenditure. And the commonwealth, which raises the taxes, is not accountable for the way the money is spent.”

    Since 2008 Secretary of the Federal Attorney-General’s Department, Roger Wilkins, AO, further expresses his views on federalism and the roles and responsibilities of government at both commonwealth and state levels and clear accountability parameters, suggesting clarity in these roles as pre-conditions for democratic accountability; for good policy; for efficient government; for sensible determination of revenue allocation; and clarification of expenditure responsibilities. He explains how crucial it is that clarity is adopted in defining those roles and responsibilities.

    In that paper Roger Wilkins expresses the following views on the roles and responsibilities of governments at both commonwealth and state levels and clear accountability parameters.

    “The roles and responsibilities of different levels of government in Australia are becoming increasingly unclear. This lack of clarity has allowed ad hoc arrangements to emerge, and encourages sub-optimal policy in vital areas including human services and infrastructure development. “Ambiguity makes lines of accountability unclear, has inhibited incentives to produce good policy, has confounded efficient government and undermined the appropriate determination of revenue allocation.”

    “How should Australian federalism be reformed? State and federal roles need to be structured so that they are clear, distinct, and work well and the right incentives must be created to support sound policy development.”

    “…The High Court has removed limits on commonwealth power. Indeed ad hoc federalism reached its apogee with Prime Minister Howard’s Millennium Speech (Howard 2007), which announced an intention, or preparedness, on the part of the commonwealth to intervene directly at any level or in any area of government activity where the commonwealth thought it in the public interest to do so.

    Roger Wilkins recommends that the following reforms:
    a) The Subsidiarity principle: Responsibilities for regulation and for allocation of public goods and services should be devolved to the maximum extent possible consistent with the national interest, so that government is accessible and accountable to those affected by its decisions;

    b) The Structural Efficiency principle: Increased competitiveness and flexibility of the Australian economy require structural reform in the public sector to complement private sector reform: inefficient commonwealth-state divisions of functions can no longer be tolerated;

    c) The Accountability principle: The structure of intergovernmental arrangements should promote democratic accountability and the transparency of government to the electorate (Heads of Government of the States and Territories of Australia, and representatives of Local Government in Australia 1991)
    The turf war issue is if great significance here.
    It cannot be easy for jurisdictions to relinquish control of policies and provisions that have historically resided “on their turf” whether this refers to trade measurement, energy provisions or any other provisions.

    It is high time for the turf wars to end and for a truly national single regulator to take control, whilst recognizing the risks involved in making isolated decisions that do not take into account other regulatory schemes.

    Having said that, this does not imply blanket endorsement of approaches within the federal arena. Indeed it has been by direct experience at least within the energy arena that much is left to be desired.
    A massive cultural adjustment is required to say nothing of addressing the more difficult issues of nurturing the political will to take a different braver approach.

    In an earlier Gov2 blog today (9 April), I referred to the opinion article by Eddie Molloy in the Irish entitled “Seven things the public service needs to do.”

    That article discussed under seven headings the issues of



    Under this heading Molloy discussed the trend for
    “General grade staff move in and out of support functions such as human resources management, finance, economics, corporate services, operations management and even information technology, as if anyone can do this stuff. There is a need to establish attractive career paths for these and other specialisms.”


    I have briefly discussed Molloy’s findings elsewhere on Gov 2 (#comment-12923; The Faceless Bureaucrat, response to Mia Garlick’s captivating wordless article 17 Aug 2010 one of three blog comments, barring Item 4 “Abandon the Belief in Gifted Generalists).
    I will refrain what has already been discussed.

    However, I must refer again to Andrea Muys brilliant submission to the Towards Government 2: An Issues Paper, in which he spoke of

    “…open consultation and perpetual beta, errors and omissions become matters of public record. As such public servants need to be provided room to fail, if they are not to be forced into paralysis or subversion of the access policy.

    To operate successfully Gov 2.0 must accept the existence of errors and implement tight corrective feedback loops seeking a trajectory of increasing accuracy. It cannot work if public servants are in constant fear of criticism and rebuke for the errors and omissions that are a natural part of any drafting or problem solving process.”

    So, on that note, let us strive for best practice, consider blurring the boundaries; forget about placing people and groups in boxes and move forward towards a more effective collaborative democracy.



    Individual Stakeholder and Novice Blogger

  13. 2010 April 11
    Madeleine Kingston permalink

    I would like to continue the theme started above regarding structural reform, having already referred to Professor David Adams’ notable contribution to the debate about methodology in his award-winning essay Poverty – A Precarious Public Policy Idea

    (Australian Journal of Public Administration 69(4) 89-98 National Council of the Institute of Public Administration, 2001).

    In that essay Professor Adams covers a huge amount of ground in a mere nine pages, often with a twist of irony as he makes observations about how people and groups operate.

    Though this competition essay for which he claimed the award, and his more recent work A Social Inclusion Strategy for Tasmania (2009)

    are predominantly focused on social infrastructure issues, his insights can be extrapolated to almost any arena where assessment needs to be made regarding people and structural management.

    Professor Adams was a key architect of “A Fairer Victoria,” the Victorian Government’s social inclusion strategy. instrumental in Victorian policy initiatives captured in the “Growing Victoria Together”
    Prof. David Adams was announced as the inaugural Social Inclusion Commissioner for Tasmania in late 2008. He is eminently suited to commenting on management principles within government.

    His witty remarks about Federalism are encapsulated on his wry observations about the concept of the Mexican Standoff as cited by me elsewhere including in submissions to the Productivity Commission. I hope he will excuse such liberal citation with the aim of promulgating his ideas in this topical climate of major reforms.

    Mexican Standoff: (according to David Adams (2002, p92)
    “State to Commonwealth: Your low rates and highly targeted income support payments cause poverty Commonwealth to State: Your pricing policies on your inefficient state services mean people can’t afford access to them that cause poverty.”

    Adams asks about whether new Governance and delivery systems need to be re-defined. He says (p96)
    “Some of the old institutional boundaries are no longer appropriate and many never worked well anyway. The simple idea of the Commonwealth being responsible for income support and the state for a mix of universal and targeted welfare support (for example, housing health concessions) needs to be revised.

    In our new joined-up integrated and partnership world these old settings don’t seem so sensible.”

    Adams holds that the track record is not good for getting the institutions to work together (p96). He points out to the possible need and renewed debate about institution design, referring to the work of Kuhnle (2000).

    He also holds the view that COAG and ministerial councils are “creatures of government for government”.

    He believes that:

    “Broader forums and structured arrangements are needed to focus effort. Despite being a rather exclusive and tightly managed club COAG still represents the most obvious forum within which the states and territories and the Commonwealth could canvass a national approach. However a truly national forum where the policy community clans can meet with other partners (such as business and local government) would be a good way of testing the new settlement.

    Whilst still on the topic of Mexican standoffs and turf wars, I quote from Peter’s Kell’s 2005 National Consumer Congress speech, during which he analyzed the Productivity Commission’s Draft Report on the Review of National Competition Policy.

    “Finally, it would be very disappointing, as I said earlier, if any national review was to be used as a vehicle for cynical and unproductive turf wars between different agencies. There are few things more depressing for consumer activists than seeing reform agendas hijacked by agency self- interest, so we have got to make sure that does not happen.”

    Earlier in the same talk, Peter Kell cited directly from the PC’s Review of National Competition Policy.

    “The Australian Government, in consultation with the States and Territories, should establish a national review into consumer protection policy and administration in Australia. The review should particularly focus on: the effectiveness of existing measures in protecting consumers in the more competitive market environment; mechanisms for coordinating policy development and application across jurisdiction, and for avoiding regulatory duplication; the scope for self- regulatory and co- regulatory approaches; and ways to resolve any tensions between the administrative and advocacy roles of consumer affair bodies.”

    At a broader level there is some concern about how principal objectives are described in the last annual report given reference to “capturing the benefits of competition for consumers.” One would hope that no enshrined consumer rights will be sacrificed in an endeavour to capture such benefits.

    Welfarist approaches to public policy:

    A crucial component of Adams’ George Murray Essay 2001, (published 2002), though with the focus on poverty, he asks some challenging questions about inter-governmental structures and communications and focuses on the issues of federalism and anti-federalism, in such a way as to make his essay absolutely pertinent to almost every arena where a “joined-up” government is envisaged.

    The Lens Approach (David Adams (2002:95)
    Therefore these insights are as relevant for instance to the Consumer Policy Framework recommendations. Here’s an extract from that essay regarding the “lens” approach in evaluating policy parameters based on governments’ past issues and bad experiences

    a) Lens Approach (according to Adams (2002, p95)

    b) Seeing like a State (p96 Adams (2002)

    c) What is it that we are talking about (agreeing the meaning)?

    d) What do we understand to be the causes and consequences?

    e) What are the outcomes we have in mind?

    f) What levers do we have to make a difference?

    g) Who else should we work with?

    f) What does the public expect us to do?

    g) What works?

    h) What is the cost and risk?

    i) Is there a minister who should be accountable?

    Of particular relevance to the Consumer Policy Framework, still relying on Adams’ work and views is his analysis of the reasoning often undertaken in considering reform measures. He says:

    Most present their empirical evidence and then focus on either macro solutions or community empowerment or structural reform of the welfare state) or a suite of micro level program solutions (e.g. dental health, concessions, etc.

    Macro solutions are seen as too complex and risky by most governments whereas micro solutions are seen as important but partial and difficult to justify one over another. The policy terrain of government tends increasingly to be exploring the middle ground.

    Adams refers to the tendency to embrace universal rather than inherently “welfarist” approaches. Adams tackles various concepts about engaging the public, whether they are prepared to pay more taxes to tackle, for example child poverty? He refers to some evidence to support this (e.g. Australian Social Monitor 2001; c/f Adams p07). /52 Adams talks of “deliberative democracy” techniques for engaging these issues, referring to the Canadian Policy Research Networks 2001 (Adams (2002), p97).

    In speaking about poverty as a precarious public policy idea and of issues of public accountability and leadership, David Adams, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria, says:

    “Good ideas tend to be simple to understand; resonate with people’s experiences of live; have leadership and a policy community around them; fit into program and resource structures of governments and seem capable of solving immediate problems.

    The idea of eradicating poverty has lost these features. For example for the past 20 years poverty ideas have been knocked off their perch by economic reform ideas. Not only are there these competing economic ideas (which are claimed to be a solution to poverty) there is also a raft of new social capital ideas making claims on policy resources. The idea of poverty has been obfuscated such that we can’t agree what it means any more or how to measure it or who is responsible for tackling it. Which of course means no one can be held accountable.

    Having some national goals and agreeing some basic language and targets would be a good start (to going forward) and “making the idea influential again.

    I emphasize the findings of SSC in 2000 as a reminder to all concerned with upholding adequate levels of consumer protection. The SCC had found the following

    a) Lack of understanding of NCP policies;

    b) A predominance of narrow economic interpretation of the policy rather than wider consideration of the externalities

    c) A lack of certainty between States and Territories as differing interpretations of the policy and public interest test, result in different applications of the same conduct;

    d) Lack of transparency of reviews; and

    e) Lack of appeal mechanisms

    Referring again to the 2002 Senate Select Committee findings more fully discussed in subdr242part2, during its extensive examination of public concerns about the application of competition policy, reform agendas and community impacts, I deal with a few of these concerns briefly. Besides these findings I reiterate concerns that:

    “The Senate Select Committee had found that social services were not shown to improve during NCP.
    The SSC took seriously the suggestions in many submissions that some aspects of NCP and its administration would appear to be in conflict with the principles of good health community and social welfare service provision. That Committee’s findings in terms of competition policy and its impacts are further discussed elsewhere.

    Whilst the Senate Select Committee did not seek to duplicate the work done by the Productivity Commission and the Committee confirmed that there were overall benefits to the community of national competition policy it found that those benefits had not been distributed equitably across the country. Whilst larger business and many residents in metropolitan areas or larger provincial areas made gains residents from smaller towns did not benefit from NCP.”

    I hope the goals for productivity identified will remember to consider the findings of the Senate Select Committee as far back as 2000 (see subdr242part2).

    “An unintended consequence of changes to the way social welfare services are funded would appear to be these additional administrative costs. Further it is evident that narrow cost/benefit analysis is not capable of examining many of the social factors involved the application of NCP in the social welfare sector.”
    I repeat that all regulatory reform needs to be considered in the context of corporate social responsibility and the public interest test.

    That includes any reform measures that either enhance or have the potential to hamper access to justice, or any regulatory measure that may, in the interests of lightening the burden on the courts for example, impose obligatory conciliatory demands on the public, and particular those most affected by the power imbalances that exist – the “inarticulate, vulnerable and disadvantaged.”

    I repeat the findings of the Senate Select Committee’s 2000 enquiry effective management of hardship policies as implemented by the government or contract out had not been adequately addressed by shifting of financial responsibility to “bloody awful agencies which ought to be defunded”

    In previous submissions I have addressed in some detail by citing the findings of others, and especially in relation to energy matters, that competition policies, and their interpretation have not always brought positive outcomes for consumers, and this was particularly of concern in the area of essential services and financial services.

    Written some two years after the Senate Select Committee Inquiry of 2000, David Adam’s essay comments as follows on the welfare state:

    “Then we discovered the crisis of the welfare state. In public administration we also discovered public sector reform, markets, competition, and public choice reasoning as a new focus Now there is relative silence.

    Tim Costelo keeps a lonely vigil in the media but as Horne (2001) notes there is generally a lack of political leadership on social issues in Australia.

    There is really no public debate on Australian poverty anymore. There are plenty of seminars and workshops and an occasional conference. There is also a lot of research. Most debates involve the same people. Mostly our researchers and a small number of community sector opinion leaders. In particular, church-based organizations flying the flag, but many of those are struggling with their identity (Lyons 2001), and with the legacy of contracting where the price paid does not equal the cost of service There is an occasional feature article in the media, usually triggered by another report on poverty, most recently the Uniting Care Report (Leveratt) and the St Vincent de Paul Report (July 2001)”

    Adams comments that:

    “without leaders and a public profile and a simple set of key themes to promulgate the chances of recognition meaning and understanding and the propensity for action is more limited.”

    This is an indictment. Social policy depends on superlative leadership.

    Adams refers to the “trickle-down theory.” This is described as one where the assumption is made that Greater productivity creates wealth and that the distribution of increased wealth would ultimately benefit all Australians.”

    He further claims that redistribution is not a term that is associated with the legacy of the 1980s and 1990s. Worse still, he says that social justice was seen as a “failed legacy of the 1970s.”

    So we are back to discussing Universal Service Obligations and whether there is a role for these at all in considering corporate social responsibility. Public presentations by economic regulators at home and abroad gain mileage from such titles, whilst the consumer policy framework is forced to consider options that may take us all back to those “bloody awful services” that the SCC found unproductive and damaging to the social fabric of the Australian society and any real commitment fairness and justness principles.

    Whereas I believe that it is the responsibility of the community as a whole to support those who are more disadvantaged for whatever reason, the distribution equation is about making sure that private investors and corporations gain maximum profits whilst shifting these corporate social responsibility to the government or contracted services that may repeat past history. Adams as referred to popular buzz wards like “the poverty trap,” “disincentives to work” and to philosophies that believe that “productive economies with high employment are the solution and that welfare payments lead to dependency.” (p4)

    Before launching into discussion about regulatory matters and complaints mechanisms seen to be deficient on a number of counts, and repeating skepticism that reliance on a combination of generic law and existing industry-specific complaints schemes somewhat revamped, I refer again to the work of David Adams. Though the topic is poverty as a precarious public policy idea, many of the philosophies are as applicable to other arenas.

    David Adams in the abstract to his award-winning essay discusses the “rebuilding of a cohesive epistemic community with an outcomes focus.”

    Under this heading, (p95) Adams speaks of a poverty community in terms of fragmented clans. The same principles may be applied to other arenas of service provision. He identifies:

    The Research Clan

    The Third Sector Clan

    The Government Clan, divided into Commonwealth and State clans

    The Commentator’s Clan (basically divided into the media clan and the academic clan)

    On the fringes of membership are the social entrepreneur’s clan (only recently organized as a clan in Sydney some 12 months back) and the new Social Theorist’s clan (place management and community building clan meetings Other clans such as the philanthropic clan and the local government clan tend to move in and out of the policy community Rarely do the clans meet together except for ‘networking; at the occasional Social Policy Research Centre or COSS conference There is an umbrella clan called the National Coalition Against Poverty, but it mainly constituted by the Third Sector clan. There is no common plan uniting the clans and no forum for them t meet Meeting to think about the future would seem a sensible idea. I can’t remember the last time representatives of the clans met to discuss poverty, but I suspect it was many years ago.

    Adams recommends canvassing:

    A suite of outcomes and targets that would be useful” in terms of “the sort of Australia we want to see in 5-10 years and what our respective contributions might be to get there.

    In his more recent work Professor Adams

    At the core of the approach suggested in the report is the importance of shifting from a deficit to an assets model for people and places:

    a) promoting enterprise solutions to build capacity and sustainability for groups and places

    b) devolving responsibility locally as much as possible through a focus on place management

    c) supporting families in communities to have greater choice and responsibility over their futures

    d) changing the way government works

    All of these during consideration of cultural and operational change that will bring public service provision into the 21st century.

    My thanks to Professor David Adams and Peter Kell for inspiring me to quote their views – yet again.

    More on public policy another time.



    Individual Stakeholder

    PS Ooops. revised copy – failed to proof read first one sorry

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