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.

Guest Post: The Victorian Department of Justice and Web 2.0

2009 December 31
by Nicholas Gruen

Darren Whitelaw is what I call a public sector entrepreneur – which means nothing more nor less than that he’s someone tries to get things done including new things. He’s with the Department of Justice in Victoria and is very active in Government 2.0 in that state. I suggested to him through Patrick McCormick who is similarly a public sector entrepreneur and recently moved to Justice that a guest post on what the Department had been up to would be welcomed. And so here is his post.

A journey of discovery

The Gov2.0 Taskforce’s final report provides a compelling roadmap for the Australian public sector’s future online journey and contributes new insights and ideas to the global Gov 2.0 conversation. As online service delivery becomes commonplace, and citizen expectations for more efficient and effective public services increase, the role of Web 2.0 in government cannot be underestimated.

The challenge for the public sector, much like the private sector, is not only to make use of these emerging technologies, but also to ensure there is the cultural change to support them. Victoria’s Justice Department has been using various Web 2.0 technologies over the past 18 months – to help respond to Black Saturday bushfires, reduce the impact of problem gambling, tackle excessive drinking, show public support for emergency service volunteers, help people assess their level of fire season readiness, and demonstrate transparency around speed cameras. These efforts have delivered tangible benefits but it hasn’t always been a smooth journey.

We’ve learnt that adoption of community collaboration takes time. Creating online communities built on credibility and trust is a big job, one that involves tinkering, listening, revising and trying again. It’s more a slow burn, than an explosion. And if we are going to fail, it’s best to fail small and fast, so we can adapt and try again. It’s an iterative process.

I can think of three things that have been instrumental to this journey:

1) Provide access to information
2) Enable user-generated content
3) Go where people are

Provide access to information

The horrific bushfires that swept Victoria in February 2009 placed immense pressure on our emergency services. Not only in fighting fires, dispatching equipment and personnel, but in responding to the public’s thirst for information. To help alleviate pressure, we responded by developing a widget (now decommissioned) to provide easy access to latest news, info and pictures about the crisis. This was built using a white-label software solution, spread virally, and used RSS, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Only around 130 people installed the widget on their social networking page, but that small base led to more than 80,000 unique views, and more than 26,000 people interacting with it. Not too bad for our first attempt, I reckon.

In August 2008, we launched a new website that mapped the location of all the fixed speed and red light cameras in Victoria. The site also included evidence demonstrating when each camera had last been calibrated and tested, as well as telling motorists with a good driving record how they could apply to have their fine revoked with an official warning.

There’s a major overhaul planned for early 2010, this time using Google Maps to display the camera locations. A lot of effort has gone into busting many of the myths around speed enforcement, driving safety and traffic cameras – recognising people want credible, authoritative information on topics of interest to them – and if we don’t fill that void, others will.

Enable user-generated content

Another path we took on our Web 2.0 journey was user-generated content. Our first attempt was earlier this year on a revamped website designed to help problem gamblers. Along with the usual information to help gamblers and their loved ones, the site gave people the chance to share their stories. Despite a slow start, there have been some really positive and emotional stories.

User-generated content was key to our campaign to give people the chance to show their support for Victoria’s emergency services volunteers. A modern-day twist on an old-fashioned letter writing campaign, instead of dumping a mail bag full of correspondence on a desk, we got people to stick a virtual post-it note on a wall of thanks. This campaign leveraged the benefits of microblogging (contributors were limited to 250 characters) making it quick, and easy, for people to say thanks and also learn about the kind of person it takes to be an emergency services volunteer. Visitors to the site also had the chance to create a blog, post longer messages, and upload photos.

To date, there have been 556 messages of support, and nearly 20,000 people have visited. I encourage you to check out the site
and scroll through the message wall – the posts are inspiring and really show the level of heartfelt appreciation in the community.

Go where people are

The volunteer campaign showed us how important it was to go where the crowds gather. We had a healthy interest in the microblogging message site, and the biggest success was on Facebook, where more than 9,000 people have shown their support by joining the fan page. Hundreds have also taken part in a conversation about how valued our volunteers are by leaving messages on the wall. Twitter users were also quick to show their support, and stay up-to-date with emergency volunteer news, with 1,206 followers to date.

Facebook is also being used to help spread the fire ready message in preparation for this summer. An app has been developed, as a quick test for homeowners and others in fire-prone areas to gauge their level of preparedness. The idea is to raise awareness, then get people to go to the CFA website to complete the detailed self-assessment.

The success of Facebook and Twitter has shown us how important it is for public services to move out from behind our websites and to go to where the people are.

So where to from here?

So what have we learnt? New paths along unfamiliar territory are unlikely to be smooth and trouble-free. That’s why it is vital to be agile and flexible, so failures will be both small and short. It’s also important to tinker first, to always keep listening, to continually revise, and when you’re done, go back and try again.

Perhaps the first step is tackling the biggest barrier: cultural change. The key to accepting Web 2.0 within government relies on a cultural change within the public service itself, rather than a change within technology.

Government’s traditional role-based authority can only get us so far. The input of communities, peers, and others through an authentic and meaningful conversation is vital, and Web 2.0 technologies allow this to happen on a scale never seen before. This two-way interaction is vital for policymakers because of the persuasive authority that comes from fostering this conversation. People like it because it’s not just big-government telling them what to think, feel and do – it’s their family, friends, neighbours and peers as well. It’s not Government vs Citizens, but Government AND Citizens.

This kind of engagement isn’t free. Sometimes, it comes with a significant cost. Not just a financial cost, but on other valuable resources such as time and people as well. There’s also a cost to reputation if the risks aren’t minimised. But the bigger thing to calculate is the cost of not doing it.

As the taskforce wraps up its work, how can we in the Australian public sector use this as a catalyst for our own conversations? How do we mobilise those exploring the Web 2.0 space and continue to share the experiences of our journeys? Not just the good, but the bad and the ugly as well – to learn from our fellow travellers, collectively find our way in this new space and seize opportunities as they arise. By doing so, not only will we be able to deliver more tailored, effective and efficient public services, but be able to foster stronger community engagement and social innovation as well.

Darren Whitelaw (@DarrenWhitelaw) is the General Manager of Corporate Communication at Victoria’s Department of Justice. The views expressed in this post are those of the individual and do not represent those of his employer.
11 Responses
  1. 2010 January 22
    Kishan permalink

    “We’ve disabled posting on Facebook…” Please elaborate on why this precautions/strategy/ was adopted. If my gov unit is to have its own Facebook page i would like to know why you’ve disabled this function yourself and redirected them to your blog.
    Does this mean that its better for us to have a presence on FB but get people to participate actively in a separate blog?

    Thank you.

    • 2010 January 25

      Hi Kishan,

      The Taskforce discussed their online activities, including their Facebook page, in chapter 7 of their final report to the Australian Government. You may also be interested in the outputs of a project commissioned by the Taskforce before it disbanded to review those online activities.

      • 2010 April 25
        Madeleine Kingston permalink

        Kishan

        I too would like to know more about the pros and cons of Facebook usage, and have noted Dave’s comments and reservations.

        It may surprise the Team that despite my attitude of openness, seeking on publication of my own full name, by phone number and my email address in all of my public submissions for formal consultative processes, and as far as possible in digital dialogue, I have not yet opened a Facebook account.

        This is because I do have qualms over the negative reports about Facebook and some of the publicized damage.

        On the other hand, I note from Gov2’s Final Report Chapter 7 that Facebook was disabled without spelling out the reasons.

        I believe that demographic considerations will dictate people’s preferences for where they wish to post.

        My style is long-winded and micro-blogs such as facilitated by Twitter and perhaps Facebook do not suit me. I prefer to go into more depth, to be faced with liberal and permissive moderation policies (that are clearly iterated), and seek a more in-depth engagement with Government than other blogging activities would give me a chance for.

        Recently I had a negative experience of blogging that I have described on another Gov2 page in which what appeared to be a fairly insular and “like-minded” group seemed intolerant of blogs that were of more depth and not calculated to target the “30-second attention span” (their phrase). I felt uncomfortable with his and also with what deteriorated into a mud-slinging match associated with the topic under discussion – the plight of international students, with my views being very much in the minority.

        I believe blog forums that are set up with the idea of forming collaborative partnerships with the “passionate few who wish to engage” need to accommodate all sorts of styles and approaches to reach a wide demographic population, and to understand the deeper reasons motivating some bloggers.

        Many are content with one-liners – on Twitter I have responded occasionally in this way as quick responses to news items.

        Otherwise, for my needs and expectation I seek to develop a relationship with Government on issues of concern to me and to attempt where possible to influence policy in the spirit of embedding the deeper policy goals of Gov2.

        Having said that the demographic sweep that needs to be caputred needs to be considered when devising strategies for digital engagement. This no doubt will bring challenges.

        To return to the Facebook issue – I have heard much of thee downsides. Since I am not directly involved on Facebook it is hard to comment, but clearly there are difference perspectives to take into account and evaluate.

        I have responded, however to the posting by Asa Letourneau’s (forgive me for reversing the name and calling you Dave instead of Asa and calling Dave Asa – slip of the digital pen).

        I explored the Victorian Department of Justice site, participated in their survey and provided my feedback in a similar way in which my posting on this page is articulated.

        It is clear that my desire for engagement is established and that I have views that may hot be shared by others – but for what they are worth…..

        Finally Darren, than you very much for an article that has stimulated thought and discussion – the only way to nut out pros and cons.

        The key is implementing policies that are flexible enough to change in response to stakeholder needs and expectations or if other factors prove that a new direction is warranted.

        Regards

        Madeleine

        Victorian Individual Stakeholder

  2. 2010 February 2

    The success of Facebook and Twitter has shown us how important it is for public services to move out from behind our websites and to go to where the people are.

    Darren, so great to hear about the initiatives you have been involved in. I’m especially interested in the challenges involved in changing a “You come here” to a ‘We’ll come to you” culture in which government is just one of many contributors to conversations taking place on the digital front. In our own small way PROV is testing the water with new ways of engaging with researcher communities in an effort to understand their changing expectations and needs. The frustration comes from the lag in acquiring those skills to implement all the new ideas. Fortunately there seems to be just enough third-party support out there to help us along!

    Asa Letourneau, Online Exhibitions Officer, Public Record Office Victoria

    The views expressed in this post are those of the indivdual and do not represent those of his employer.

    The views expressed in this post are those of the individual and do not represent those of his employer.

    • 2010 March 25

      “The Success of Facebook….” well can someone tell me exactly what value an organisation has gained by being “on” Facebook? Other than the fact that every one else is on it. Which is why so many people took up smoking in the old days.

      The damage that has been done to numerous organisations who’ve launched onto Facebook with little thought for risks to their reputation.
      Recently the Newcastle Knights NRL team turned off their forum after defamatory and outright abusive posts. The mixed up graphic user interface of Facebook places some of this rubbish right under their major sponsor and right alongside an add for adult sex dating. These are the risks that are inherent in the platform.

      Twitter I get! For organisations this is more manageable and can be a great avenue for small bites of information to be broadcast, republished and questioned. Though few people use it wisely.

      • 2010 April 24
        asa letourneau permalink

        “The Success of Facebook….” well can someone tell me exactly what value an organisation has gained by being “on” Facebook?

        Dave, looks like some of the answers (aa far as Victoria is concerned) may be found here:
        http://www.vic.gov.au/social-media/facebook.html

        • 2010 April 25
          Madeleine Kingston permalink

          Hi Dave

          I am so glad that I saw your comment in response to Asa Letourneau’s question.

          The link you provided allowed me to find out what Victoria was doing to connect with the community. The survey monkey invited me to respond with feedback on the my experience of the site at

          http://www.vic.gov.au/social-media/facebook.html

          I reproduce the essence of my survey response.

          The site looks most inviting. It provides a great opportunity for community connections to be formed and timely information to be provided.

          The purpose of my visit today was simply to explore, given the link you provided in your posting.

          I am just beginning to explore the world of digital communication as a tool that has enormous potential to break down seemingly entrenched barriers to forming effective partnerships with the wider community.

          The policy goals of Gov2 go well beyond informat9on provision and accessibility.

          I am hoping that as things develop, a webpage may be created for each government department at all three tiers of government to allow feedback both positive and negative on matters of concern that may assist addressing issues as they arise on a stitch in time basis.

          One of the most effective ways in which negative perceptual barriers can be addressed is direct reach to stakeholder constituents whose opportunities for engagement would otherwise be denied.

          I applaud Gov2 and the Victorian implementation of this innovative communication initiative. I have made a note of the links that may help me keep up to date on matters of interest and now know where to find the Victorian Department of Justice easy-access site.

          You will note from my numerous postings on line the level of my personal enthusiasm and instant engagement.

          I am about to explore the openaustralia site, which has a list of policy matters in a drop-down box to which citizens are encouraged to make comment or to provide information. This is an initiative endorsed by the Minister for Deregulation The Hon Lindsay Tanner.

          I plan to learn how to use the openaustralia site. The suggestions include providing attachments or links with blogs which I think is a great idea.

          I believe that some written online guidance should be made available to those less familiar with web usage to help hurdle technical barriers in providing information or using the web facilities.

          One issue may be showing the public how to attach documents in support of briefer blogs; how to embed links and how to generally navigate a site where a two-way dialogue is envisaged.

          You will see from my comments of 23 April on Comment on Access to PSI – Who is doing what? in response to Amanda Lawrence’s posting as Editor of Australian Policy Online how much I have appreciated timely digital access to excellent social policy data, including research papers.

          Since my new excursion into the world of social media blogging I am discovering the potential use of these innovative initiatives to reach target audience and open up the dialogue with those who may form neither part of the not-for-profit sector as it is formally defined; nor the bureaucracy.

          I believe strongly that effective data sourcing and management is a central role in ensuring access to pertinent research and other data that may help to improve policy considerations on topical matters of interest.

          My underlying reasons and expectations of Gov2 and all similar initiates goes well beyond access to information. I am looking to see true embedding of the policy goals behind Gov2.

          A leaf may be taken from openaustralia. Direct encouragement is provided on their site to comment on any matter of governance and policy or other matter of concern that constituents wish to bring to the attention of Government in addition to exchanging views with fellow citizens.

          This type of collaboration is the only way in which a stitch in time policy response may be made, emerging issues nay be identified and disillusionment pre-empted before the problems become entrenched and difficult to address.

          I for one will look forward to expansion of the level and nature of communication that is achievable in the era of digital media.

          Technical and budgetary barriers aside, which I feel sure can be surmounted, can Australia afford not to avail itself of these opportunities for engagement, feedback and collaboration in addressing policy issues across the board?

          The 21st century brings many challenges. This one represents one of the more positive. Seize the day!

          Madeleine

  3. 2010 March 2
    Carol Kelly permalink

    Enjoyed this article, stimulating and challenging. I look forward to continued thought provoking material to assist with building change within my own area of work.

  4. 2010 April 7

    Harnessing social media (web 2.0) is vital for the future of government control. Basically, they lose more control without actually embracing it, because the public majority accesses it more frequently than any other publication.

    The problem i see is the public trusting Government media pages such as those in Facebook, and of course the page owners have to trust the visitors. It creates a public forum, but in all honesty the forum is there anyway – so moderation i agree with, but disabling goes against the grain. Out of site, out of mind approach.

    It will be interesting to see how the Gov progresses and encourages internal usage. The process might be organic based on the demographic of users and stats on usage.

    • 2010 April 25
      Madeleine Kingston permalink

      Fabian you have raised an important issue of mutual trust. Please see my comments in response to Asa’s and Kishan’s today 25 April.

      I have qualms about Facebook and the negative press that it ahs received, but also recognize that that is where a certain demographic of the population spends much time and there are considerations about the “mounting going to Mohammed”

      Undertaking with an open mind and a spirit of flexibility in creating “living documents and policies in devising methods for community engagement and leaving the door open for re-consideration of policies as indicated by experience or feedback will allow evaluation of systems in place and their efficacy.

      If the goal is to target numbers of people seeking information or short tweets and blogs “in the moment” certain types of social media are good.

      Deeper goals of forming ongoing community engagement in more depth requires a different forum.

      I greatly prefer to blog on the Gov2 site than anywhere else and appreciate the leeway given to me with length of postings since brevity is not my strength and I prefer a more in-depth communication. For that reason alone, leaving aside any consideration of safety, bad press or the downside of online for a like Facebook, I am far less likely to use that particular form of social media.

      However, I do post on the APO website, on Gov2 and other places, and am considering openaustralia, which for me represents a few initial technical challenges in terms of ease of use and under-developed skills with embedded links, attachments etc.

      My view is that the ultimate goal should be to develop a two-way communication with the wider community and identify and encourage in-depth dialogue with those interested enough to participate at that level.
      Nicholas Gruen as Chair of the Taskforce has referred to Layered Participation – and I have made my response in the usual way.

      Finally keeping a presence, re-visiting pertinent editorials and demonstrating interactive dialogue will all help to enhance the impression of a live and living platform for proper engagement.

      Cheers

      Madeleine

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