Government 2.0 Taskforce » Ideas Design by Ben Crothers of Catch Media Tue, 04 May 2010 23:55:29 +0000 en hourly 1 Strategy and surfing the wave of serendipity Wed, 30 Dec 2009 13:47:19 +0000 Nicholas Gruen When preparing for a talk to HOCI – the Heads of Collecting Agencies – I checked out this piece on “the National Library of Wales’ development of a strategic approach to meeting user needs in a post-Web 2.0 world.”  This is what the author says:

Whilst what distinguished success from failure in these instances was often not a paper document outlining what was to be achieved but a combination of organisational support, a willingness to experiment (and to fail) – and most importantly – a clear understanding of what was achievable.

Now there are things that I clearly agree with here – particularly the need for ‘permission to fail’.  What about the insistence that the most important thing was to understand what was achievable: well who could object to that? It seems the very acme of commonsense. Now if we take it as a piece of commonsense then perhaps it means that if you set up a social media site, don’t expect that volunteers are going to start solving all your problems.  But if that’s the case, then it’s also a pretty empty thing to say. If it’s making a strong claim to insight – which the body language of the paragraph suggests it is, I think it is both wrong and that it contradicts the earlier injunction to be prepared to experiment.  If an experiment is anything, it seems to me it is something that one cannot have a “clear understanding” of what it might achieve.

In fact there’s a paradox here because I salute the National Library of Wales for even having a Web 2.0 strategy, and a closer look shows me that there’s much to like about their actual strategy. I still think the sentence above is at least a little wide of the mark, but my real concern is that I see an awful lot of nonsense swept into the bromides about strategy and strategic alignment in other, less worthy contexts.  All too often in my experience, top management talk a lot about strategic alignment but it becomes a kind of hand-waving exercise – on its own strategic alignment is an empty expression.

And while a formal Web 2.0 strategy for an organisation might provide a worthwhile fillip to those in the organisation who really want to get some Web 2.0 things done, and while at some stage it will be a precondition for really grasping the opportunities in a big way, the risk is that such a strategy is put together and agreed by people who have little passion for it, or perhaps no real knowledge or even familiarity with it. In this situation, I’d rather see progress being made, at least initially, at least until some critical mass of opinion forms, by allowing those who do want to do things a little more scope to do it.

The other things that tend to go with strategy – like specifying outcomes and then measuring them may not just slow things down, they may gum up the works if invoked too soon.  And one of the lessons of Mashup Australia for me anyway is that play and free association, throwing the doors open can achieve a great deal – though the catch is you can’t really know until you try it (so much for a clear understanding of what’s achievable).  If some ’strategic’ process must be invoked in order to authorise such things, well and good. But beyond that I’d proceed slowly on strategy, including on expectations of what’s achievable with education, experimentation and lots of learning about others’ experiments and attempts to emulate the successful ones until there is a fair bit of familiarity within an organisation.

I was listening to this interview with Paul Buchheit yesterday and as he notes, all the social media platforms – like Twitter, Facebook and his own FriendFeed (recently acquired by Facebook) are highly adaptive strategically. All of them are doing a whole lot of things which are not what their original strategy called for. For them strategy is a highly dynamic process – something to help them surf the wave of serendipity, not beyond that, a planning process which is likely to slow them down.

And to surf this wave it’s necessary for organisations to open themselves up – to ideas, capabilities and potential connections throughout their organisations and beyond. That’s why Dell opened up Idea Storm and why Google and Atlassian have 20 percent time giving employees sufficient autonomy not only to work on new ideas of their own for the company but also to make the associations of interest and enthusiasm within (and perhaps outside) the organisation which might turn out well.

In so far as strategy is invoked to provide authority for this kind of thing, then that makes a lot of sense to me, but the language of strategy, the language of setting goals, expectations, measuring outputs tends to suggest other things, most of which have ‘top down’ overtones.  If it’s really true that Web 2.0 is serendipitous, then at the very least strategy can’t be the prime mover of the process. Strategy, it seems to me has a role in authorising some process of search. It’s also OK to have some preconceptions of what you’re looking for.   That’s like a hypothesis in science. But you also have to be ready to be surprised – not just surprised that something that was tried or not tried worked or not, but surprised that worthwhile things quite different to those that had been planned and hoped for emerged from the endeavour and to be ready to reorder your strategic priorities and do it quickly.

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Online engagement as a public service pathway: the column Fri, 18 Dec 2009 04:53:35 +0000 Nicholas Gruen Here’s today’s column in the SMH, which the SMH slightly edited down.

Who is Julie Hempenstall? She lives in Bendigo and she likes reading Australia’s historic newspapers. The National Library has hoisted its collection on the net and had them digitised by computers. I can see what keeps her there. Hard at work drafting this article I just spent the last hour reading about early Sydney – about the Governor’s plan for a school for aboriginal boys and girls to “improve the Energies of this innocent, destitute, and unoffending race.” It wasn’t a raging success.

Anyway, the computer digitisation of that article was full of mistakes. Why? Optical character recognition isn’t perfect even with clean print and certainly not with two hundred year old, stained, yellowed newspapers with antiquated fonts – or fontfs as it was printed in 1788. But people like Julie have pored over the articles and the Library’s clever ‘crowdsourcing’ website allows them to correct mistakes they find.

It’s addictive. I found the obituary of an extraordinary Englishman William Stanley Jevons who was an architect of modern economics. He turned up in Sydney in his teens in 1854 and was a busy fellow. He became assayer to our mint, was newspaper photographer in Australia (strictly a hobby) and the first to document the El Nino effect. Reading all the digitised mistakes I just couldn’t help myself. He didn’t gain an honorary degree from the “Umversity of Odinburgh”. It was the University of Edinburgh. Anyway it’s fixed now.

This bit of crowdsourcing has been a huge success. Without so much as an official launch:

  • In the first month in 2007 over 200,000 lines of text were corrected in 12,000 articles. By the six month mark 2 million lines had been corrected in 100,000 articles.
  • At no point since the first few days has there been a time when text correction is not taking place. It goes on 24/7.
  • Over a fifth of users log in from offshore – with growing communities of participants from the United Kingdom, United States of America, New Zealand and Canada. One of the top ten correctors was based in the US.
  • The top ten text correctors were correcting significantly more text than all other users spending up to 45 hours a week on the activity.
  • No vandalism of text was detected in 6 months so no roll back to previous versions or moderation was required.

Oh – and our Julie from Bendigo emerged as a leading contributor from early on in the project. When I last heard she’d corrected over a quarter of a million lines of code.

All this is a microcosm of how the world’s governments are starting to get with the vibe of ‘Web 2.0’. Web 1.0 comprised websites and e-mail. Today Web 2.0 is a platform of blogs, wikis and social networking tools for collaboration between all and sundry – often people who’ve never met and never will. Who knew that we’ve had an encyclopaedia in us just waiting to get out on a wiki? We all know now.

But we’ve only just begun thinking about what Web 2.0 might mean for the business of governing. Julie Hempenstall gives me a way of explaining just one set of possibilities considered by the Government 2.0 Taskforce.

For there are a two things we know about Julie’s work. We know she does it for its own sake – after all no-one’s paying her. And it’s very likely that, in addition to this intrinsic motivation, she’s also motivated by making some small contribute to the community. (All the respondents to the National Library’s survey of major contributors listed this as one of their motivations).

Now intrinsic motivation and civic mindedness are valuable things pretty much anywhere – but particularly around government.

We still don’t understand that much about intrinsic motivation or of how to maximise it in the workforce, but it seems clear that it is critical to highly skilled activity. The author of a groundbreaking book on volunteer built open source software (like Linux and Firefox) Eric S. Raymond, attributes much of the superiority of open source modes of working to intrinsic motivation:

‘Fun’ is . . . a sign of peak efficiency. Painful development environments waste labor and creativity; they extract huge hidden costs in time, money, and opportunity.

In the world of open source the ethic of voluntarism and the improvisational and open nature of online collaboration have led to a culture in which social recognition is a function of the quality of contribution as judged by the community around a particular project whether it’s Wikipedia, Linux software or some community congregating around a blog or blogs. Formal status doesn’t rate as it does within organisations.

In the future I’d like to see governments draw volunteer enthusiasts from the community more closely and explicitly into their own activities in policy design and service delivery. And they can go further still. Shouldn’t the best volunteer contributors – whether they’re correcting text or discussing policy alternatives – be afforded greater recognition? Over time we could see if they were interested in being given greater responsibility just as public servants are offered promotions? This could widen the pool of available talent to the public service and provide alternative pathways for recruiting people and developing their skills and authority.

If those pathways of promotion were built, as structures of authority are built in the world of Web 2.0 they would be based on self-selection, enthusiasm and a record of aptitude and contribution in the field. Firms in the Web 2.0 world are successfully experimenting with means of adapting aspects of this kind of volunteerism to their own organisational structures.

Thus for instance Google and the Australian global software maker Atlassian allow employees to spend one day a week on projects which are for the firm’s benefit, but which they are free to choose. Those with a creative idea can work on it and, equally important persuade others to use their own time to collaborate. The process can create many of the organic possibilities and associations typical of the undirected spontaneous activity of markets and civil society. It’s certainly created a lot of Google’s myriad products.

Introducing “Google time” by edict into the public service would probably just reduce productivity. So we recommended a much more incremental approach, proposing that government agencies give their staff opportunities to experiment and improvise with Web 2.0 tools to enhance their agencies’ work.

I wonder how long it will be before we get our first head of a government department who first came into the orbit of the public service as an ‘online Web 2.0 volunteer’.

Julie Hempenstall where are you?

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The column of the draft report Wed, 09 Dec 2009 05:35:51 +0000 Nicholas Gruen Here’s yesterday’s column in the Financial Review coinciding with the release of our Draft Report. The Fin’s headline was “Web and open government a way to a better world” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

The expression Web 2.0 connotes the internet as a platform for collaboration of all kinds. It also connotes openness. Open standards permit interoperability allowing people to build on each others’ work. This makes the net the world’s first truly serendipitous network. It regularly bombards us with wonderful surprises – like blogs, Wikpedia, Flikr and Facebook. The potential of Web 2.0 to transform the ‘open government’ agenda – now itself identified by the term ‘Government 2.0’ – has been evident for some time. Obama made open government a centrepiece of his administration.

Australian government agencies have produced some wonderful Government 2.0 initiatives. But in the draft report we’ve just released, the Government 2.0 Taskforce found that Australia had yet to give the Government 2.0 co-ordinated, whole of government attention as the US, UK and New Zealand governments have done. And public agencies continue to act like owners rather than custodians of public data and information. Thus, although the Australian Government went to great lengths to get the word out about its last Budget, its inside asserts that “no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission”.

On Web 2.0 or collaborative web, search engines ensure people collaborate – even if they don’t’ know it – by harvesting the knowledge embedded in internet links and the preferences embodied in users’ choices about what they link to from search results to build ever more relevant search results. And collaborative web is serendipitous web, connecting people in improbable ways, enabling highly specific, local and ephemeral knowledge to be discovered and tapped.

US Federal Reserve research recently quoted ‘Tanta’ on the sub-prime mortgage market. Who was Tanta? She was a literature lecturer who’d recently worked in the mortgage market, meticulously – and hilariously – anatomising the practices of her industry on the blog Calculated Risk. And the Fed knew of her because she’d quickly become a must read for economist bloggers – Nobel Prize winning and otherwise – trying to nut out what was happening.

Web 2.0 platforms like Google Calendar, Microsoft Earth and Swivel also provide incredible new tools for ‘mashups’ in which data from multiple sources is combined on some ‘platform’ for doing so – like a map. Mashups add value to data. They can make practical tasks more convenient – for instance when I mash my own online calendar up with my wife’s. Sometimes mashups seem frivolous – as the collaborative map of magpie swoop hotspots was to me – until a cyclist friend pointed out its contribution to bicycle road safety. And important policy insights are emerging from mashups mapping the co-location of social pathologies like crime and poverty.

Government 2.0 embraces all these possibilities within government. In digitising its collection of historic newspapers back to 1802 our National Library ‘crowdsources’ the correction of errors that computer digitization has made. Since its launch in 2007 the site has corrected over seven million lines of text and has worked round the clock – literally never been idle. Nearly a quarter of volunteers log on from offshore. Between them they’ve corrected over seven million lines of text. Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum released historic photos on Flikr (a world first) eliciting a wealth of contextual information and complementary photos from those familiar with the relevant subject of the photos. The National Archives does likewise on its site commemorating World War One diggers.

Out Taskforce ran competitions bringing volunteers together to build mashups of data that we’d persuaded government agencies to open up. Why did the volunteers come? To build a better world; to give themselves a chance of winning (modest) prizes; to meet others and to have fun. (The members of the winning team at our GovHack weekend got on so well that each discovered just before the presentations that the other members of their team weren’t already good friends!). Mashup Australia teams built

  • My Representatives which lists all your local, state and federal government representatives upon your entering your address;
  • It’s buggered mate which enables citizens to notify maintenance problems with government infrastructure and track governments’ progress in fixing it (The UK has had functioning equivalents of both the above sites for several years); and
  • LobbyLens which mashes up data from the lobbyist register with data on winning government tenders.

Oh – and seventy nine other mashups! (What data does your workplace hold? Is it useful to others? Release it and find out!)

Our draft report is a roadmap for getting to Government 2.0 – and in doing so making our government more open, participatory, informed and citizen centric. Government 2.0 will help improve the quality of all those things where governments are major players as service deliverers, information providers or regulators. It can improve our schools, our hospitals, our workplaces and indeed our lives.

For that reason it holds the key to several existing government agendas, from building an innovative public service that is the world’s best to making the most of our huge national investment in broadband.

Government 2.0 is about more than Web 2.0 technology or even policy. It’s about governments letting the community into its workings, letting them see and contribute to their own governance. And so it requires culture change. That won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight.

But it’s the kind of thing we do well once we get organised. We need only the courage, the perseverance and the imagination to grasp the opportunity.

Please visit us on (OK, so you’re already here!) and tell us how we can improve our draft report.

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Data data everywhere but not a scrap of sense Mon, 16 Nov 2009 02:04:21 +0000 Pip Marlow It was exhilarating to see the enthusiasm around the GovHack event as hordes of developers enjoyed pulling together data sets in new and innovative ways. It is certain that it will provide enthralled users with not only access to, but also insight from, the resulting information combinations.
It was also heartening to see Pamela Fox provide some best proactive tips for developers and data owners in her post stressing the value of structure and standardisation where possible. But I was reminded yesterday in a discussion about social software how much of our total information is now in an unstructured format, where the value lies in the ability to understand the context and meaning of data and its relationship to other information which is not supported in a nice neat way.
This became apparent at the Public Sphere event that Pia Waugh championed earlier this year where everyone struggled to consolidate the extremely valuable – but vast and unmanageable – variety of input in all sorts of different forms. Oral, written, blog posts, tweets, videos,… and many more.
The team did a great job at pulling together a useful summary and set of recommendations but I was left thinking that the increasing torrent of data is leading to diminishing returns as individuals initially try to monitor the real-time fire hose of information and secondly, as they pause to reflect, analyse, and try to derive value from a range of inputs.
So, what am I saying here? Basically that the agenda of Gov 2.0, and of the whole project of providing transparency and openness in government data, cannot be met unless we deal with the challenge of finding the “jewels”, the “gems” in the unstructured data itself. Surely, given that we have a range of companies working with us on the Gov 2.0 project, and we have recognised that utilising the power of semantic technologies is going to play a big part in allowing us to address this issue, would it not be sensible and timely to integrate some of the processes that are already being developed into the way the Gov 2.0 Task Force itself operates – the whole mantra of “eating our own dog food”. A radical thought but perhaps with some merit.

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Our input wanted: Key challenges in government content discoverability and e-service accessibility Fri, 23 Oct 2009 14:32:09 +0000 Nicholas Gruen As announced in my recent post, ‘Inquiries 2.0: Part 3.0’ here is the first of what we expect will be a series of bleg posts from people who are working with us on one of the several research projects on the go right now. The ‘point’ is of course that, just like that cliché about its people being an organisation’s greatest asset, the community that we’ve built together here is a great asset. It’s not one we plan to keep to ourselves, but rather in the spirit of the new freedom of information legislation, we intend to manage it for public purposes, and [as] a national resource. (pdf)

So beneath the fold is the first such guest post on this blog from Mark Neely at Hyro.

Making use of government services online presents a number of challenges.

If you know the name of the relevant department, and the service you are looking for, you can try Googling. But with over 800 web sites for the Federal government alone, it can be frustrating trying to work out the best starting point.

The more complex the need, the more effort (time and mental) required to reach your goal.

These are precisely the issues that Hyro has been tasked by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce to investigate.

We’ve been asked to prepare a report identifying the challenges involved in trying to locate and use government services (or information about a service) online, and to suggest possible solutions.

As the Project Lead within Hyro, I’d like to hear your views and opinions about the key challenges that exist today in accessing (or delivering) government services online.

In particular:

1. What lessons can be learnt from the private sector (for example, how would eBay or Amazon or Google solve this problem)?

2. What innovative service or technologies should be considered?

3. What should be the priority areas? High volume services (like payments), high interaction services (like medical and disability services), or high impact services (like community services), or some other starting point entirely?

4. What would a successful solution look like?

I am also very interested in hearing about international case studies (government or private sector) addressing these issues.

Please forward your thoughts, recommendations, or pointers to published articles, papers etc. to me at:

mark DOT neely AT hyro DOT comXXX (and remove those ’X’s!)

or via the comment section of this blog.

Alternatively, if you have printed materials that you wish to share, please forward to:

c/- Lv 7, 10-14 Waterloo St,

Surry Hills, NSW 2010

Mark Neely, Head of Strategy, hyro. +61 2 9215 4350

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Inquiries 2.0: Part 3.0 Fri, 23 Oct 2009 07:35:06 +0000 Nicholas Gruen Here (.doc) are the notes for the talk I gave to the Government 2.0 conference in Canberra on Monday. In it I further expanded the idea of Inquiries 2.0. I’ll leave it to you to read the notes I made for the talk which are attached. In the meantime, I thought I’d abstract two more ‘2.0’ aspects of this inquiry. Just as the new FOI act states that public information is to be managed “for public purposes, and [as] a national resource” (pdf) so it seems to us that we should manage our blog, and more particularly the community that you’ve helped us build around it “for public purposes and as a national resource”.

So we’ve told those parties who have won tenders to provide us with research projects that they are welcome to send us drafts of guest posts if they wish to use our blog to consult the community or pose any blegs to the community.

And we’ve also put together an international reference group of prominent people ‘in this space’ as people have become fond of saying – namely pundits and practitioners on Web 2.0. And if those doing projects feel an introduction to one of the members of the group would be worthwhile, we’ll consider it (though we’ll think carefully about it because they’re busy people.)

Anyway, since you asked, here are the names of the people who’ve agreed to be on our group.

  • Richard Allan (Director of Policy, Facebook Europe)
  • Charlie Beckett (Director of the LSE’s media think tank, Polis)
  • Steven Clift (Online strategist and innovator)
  • David Eaves (Writer and speaker on public policy)
  • Ed Felten (Director Centre for Information Technology Policy Princeton University)
  • Michael Geist (Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law at University of Ottawa)
  • William Heath (IdealGovernment.Gov)
  • Andrew Hoppin (CIO of New York State Senate)
  • Eric Ketelaar (Emeritus Professor of Archivistics, University of Amsterdam)
  • Charles Leadbeater (Authority on innovation and creativity)
  • Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (Associate Professor of Public Policy, National University of Singapore)
  • Ed Mayo (CEO of Consumer Focus)
  • Michal Migurski (Technology Head at Stamen)
  • Laurence Millar (Former NZ CIO)
  • Geoff Mulgan (Director, Young Foundation)
  • Cameron Neylon (Biophysicist, Senior Scientist, Science and Technology Facilities Council)
  • John Palfry (Professor of Law at Harvard Law School)
  • Jason Ryan (State Service Commission, NZ)
  • Tom Steinberg (Founder and Director of
  • Hon. Mozelle W. Thompson (Facebook – USA)
  • Nat Torkington (Writer and chair of the O’Reilly Open Source Convention)
  • Joe Trippi (Writer and political strategist)
  • Carol Tullo (Head of the UK Office of Public Sector Information)
  • Tom Watson (Labour Party MP for West Bromwich East)
  • David Weinberger (Fellow, Harvard’s Berkman Institute for the Internet and Society)
  • Dr Andy Williamson (Director of the UK Hansard Society’s eDemocracy Programme)

Their duties? Returning the email I sent them, and agreeing to put our blog on their feed readers and to read a post at least once a week and to comment if they’re feeling energetic. And to respond to the odd email seeking advice. I’m looking forward to running some of the ideas we’re working up for our report past them.

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Over the Rainbow – Not for Profit PSI Project Ideas Fri, 09 Oct 2009 00:08:58 +0000 Peter Alexander [Taskforce Secretariat] The not-for-profit sector constantly juxtaposes visionary ideas for improving society against a reality of limited resources and expertise – including cheap and timely access to relevant public sector information.

But what if we could change one of the ground rules by opening up public sector data sets for use in a not-for-profit setting?  What possibilities for improving our society and our democracy would this seemingly simple mind-shift open up?

Rather than waiting around for this to happen, the Taskforce has decided to run another contest to fast-track the generation of ideas for using public sector data in a not-for-profit setting, and help the winner turn this idea into a project proposal.

Category Prize

The Taskforce will select the best idea(s) for using public sector information in a not for profit setting and award a cash donation of $5,000 to a charity/not-for-profit organisation of the winner’s choice.  The winner(s) (or their nominated not-for-profit organisation) will be provided assistance from Connecting Up Australia to scope their idea as project proposal that the Taskforce can consider funding from the Project Fund.

Entries for the competition are due by 5pm, October 30 5Pm, November 6, although after that we’ll leave the IdeaScale page open and running for continued discussion and participation.

Also note that as before all submissions will be subject to the IdeaScale Terms and Conditions, which also has instructions about how to create an account for our IdeaScale page.

Visit Government 2.0 Taskforce Ideas – Not For Profit PSI

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Policy 2.0: towards whole-of-government policy development Thu, 08 Oct 2009 07:46:25 +0000 Martin Stewart-Weeks Charlie Leadbeater, UK-based writer and thinker on innovation and public policy, was recently in Australia for a series of workshops and conversations with government, business and community leaders. At a workshop hosted by the Eidos Institute in Brisbane, I met Paul Henman from the University of Queensland and we got to talking about the application of some of the new tools of social networking and collaboration, which Charlie was talking about primarily in the area of service re-design, to other core functions of government. And one in particular – policy development.

In our discussion, Paul and I agreed that policy analysis and development are central activities of government, yet the use of information, communication and collaboration tools are often not as well developed, Perri 6’s excellent book e-governance being a rare contribution in this area (E-governance: Styles Of Political Judgment In The Information Age Polity)

Web 2.0 technologies in particular offer innovations for policy development to better address complex policy problems, particularly those that cross departmental or portfolio responsibilities, and even government jurisdictional boundaries. And these are increasingly the problems with which governments are confronted, especially those we like to call “wicked”.

The advent of the internet and the associated evolution of e-government have driven a debate about the capacity for new networked ICTs to break down the silos of government, and to build more joined-up or holistic government. One stop shops and shared services have provided more joined-up service delivery. But the missing piece is developing more joined-up policy.

Interdepartmental Committees and inquiries are the traditional ‘technologies’ for cross-agency policy development. Such activities could be enhanced with web 2.0 technologies, for example via a private government website that brings together data and discussion from relevant agencies. Wiki tools could be used by actors for developing and drafting policy documents, summarizing policy settings and stresses, and identifying possible directions.

This could be supplemented by data mashups that draw data from the different sources to provide a more whole-of-government perspective on the policy problem. Presentation of that data geographically would be further advantageous. Blogs could be used by policy developers to debate and discuss such things as emerging findings, policy solutions and implementation arrangements. In this way, the collective intelligence and expertise from separate, but interlinking, agencies, policy domains and jurisdictional areas, could be enabled to better understand and respond to difficult policy problems.

Of course, the technology component is likely to be the least of our challenges. For the most part, the tools and platforms that would give rise to this kind of collaborative model of policy development are all available right now. And there are some examples you could look at to give a hint of what’s possible – the story around the Intellepedia solution adopted by the homeland security agencies in the US might be one (

The real challenge will be cultural and organisational. After all, in order to maximize the capacities of such technologies, government agencies would need to ensure, for example, that experts with the appropriate knowledge are able to freely contribute, and not be restricted through the traditional filtering of seniority. This approach – which Peter Drucker once described as a bias in favour of “contribution, not status” – ushers in a stringent doctrine for work and interaction in government which could test some of the more entrenched instincts that experience suggests might work in exactly the opposite direction.

And on top of that, “policy 2.0” would have to come to grips with the fact that in many cases, the ‘evidence’ and ‘expertise’ that good policy needs will come not from traditional experts or sources of apparently authoritative knowledge, but from customers, service users and their families or carers and a much wider range of genuine expertise across the community than we might normally assume. This ability to make our policy systems both smarter and more open at the same time is the focus of recent work by Beth Noveck, now running the open and transparent government program in the Obama administration (Wiki-Government: How open-source technology can make government decision-making more expert and more Democratic. Journal of Personal Democracy, Issue #7, Winter 2008)
The implications of “policy 2.0” are every bit as demanding and full of promise as the other dimensions of government 2.0. Their capacity not just to change the rhythms and practices of policy making but, in the process, to end up with better policy, is an enticing prospect.

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A League ladder of PSI openness? Fri, 18 Sep 2009 15:03:54 +0000 Nicholas Gruen I attended a function at Parliament House on Wednesday night which was designed to showcase a number of things Google have on the boil, not least the usefulness of their product offerings to governments. Such things as Google Apps and Google’s general capacity to deliver the cloud not just to retail users but also to corporates. (Alan Noble attended today’s TF with a Google bumper sticker on the cover of his laptop which read “My other computer is a data centre”.)

I also got a better look at Wave. It looks more intriguing the more I see of it.

Google is making good progress getting hold of data to make its products – particularly Google Maps – even more useful, but it’s also hard for them not to be frustrated by the silly things which mean that data that you and I have already paid for governments to collect, data collected with the sole purpose of generating public benefits, is not simply, easily, quickly released into a serendipitous world in which we find out (so often to our own surprise) how useful it can become. Google can’t get good data on toilet maps despite the Federal Government’s having it (we earmarked this as an early win when our Taskforce began but at the halfway mark, I guess its status as an early win is running into ontological trouble.  Now we’re fairly confident of a ‘better late than never’ win).  And Google can’t get good data on the precise location of bicycle paths.

Then I had an idea. Since I conveyed it to Google, it seems only fair that I convey it to you. Why doesn’t Google report on governments’ preparedness to release data. It could produce a methodology and apply it consistently. Since Google Maps is an Australian originated product it would make sense to develop the methodology here where it could be applied in ‘beta’ form to Australia’s state governments.

One thing I’ve observed is that State Premiers like to claim that their state is the best or one of the best at something. State Oppositions also spend their time drawing attention to the ways in which the government they are opposing is sending their state to the dogs, choosing whatever comparative stats demonstrate their government’s relative under-performance. And of course there’s no reason to stop at state governments. National governments could also be compared.

The political obstacles to releasing most public sector information are not ‘hard’ ones. By that I mean that in almost all cases, releasing the kind of information that Google is after is not like raising a new tax or closing a school. The reason that the information has not been released is just that it’s a lot easier for a lot of people for it not to be released. Releasing it may involve legal advice and changes to copyright policy. It may involve some cost or inconvenience. And who knows what the information might be used for? Can officials be sure that the information can’t be used to embarrass them or the government? Usually they can’t be sure, and so they decide they’d better be on the safe side. So the reason the data is not being released is not because there are any clear political roadblocks to its release, but because any decision to release it must run the gamut of the that dark dank place which I call the Hall of a Thousand Cobwebs where so many worthy proposals die slowly, quietly and anonymously.

When there’s no political ’story’, no transgression by the government in not releasing the data it’s just so easy not to – even if it’s no real life or death issue for the government. But given the ’softness’ of the obstacles to release, the counterweight provided by a league ladder of openness of public sector information could often provide sufficient visibility for the issue  to make a substantial difference.

I expect that Google would probably like someone else to run such a league ladder – like Transparency International.  But in the spirit of releasing early and releasing often, it seems to me that Google (or anyone else who wants to) could get this ball rolling fairly quickly with a view to handing it over to others once they were ready to carry the baton.

Your thoughts?

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The Vox Pop 2.0 Learning Journey Thu, 10 Sep 2009 01:40:21 +0000 Nicholas Gruen We’ve just finished a couple of weeks of full on touring the country.  There’s more to come, but we’ve visited Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.  I’m in the States this week and then we’ll get onto some regional visits.  I think there’s a bit of a buzz about.  Of course what really matters is if we live up to it, but so far so good.  My last visit comprised a great couple of sessions in Adelaide with some great discussion – for instance on whether or not identity and authentication was a Web 1.0 or a Web 2.0 issue.  Taskforce member Glenn Archer and I didn’t agree to start with, but I think we managed to work it out as we discussed it. And is ‘joined up government’ even possible?  And what role can Web 2.0 play in helping to join up government?

We took recordings of those sessions we could and we’re hoisting them up on the site. Now within government this raises some ticklish questions. Since we haven’t recorded all the sessions, some people could complain that they’ve got the rough end of the pineapple (either by virtue of being recorded or not, depending on their perspective).  More importantly it would be best to be able to post the recordings with transcripts, particularly for those who need these to properly access the material (for instance for hearing impaired people).  But we have the recording now.  So since we have plans to get a transcript into existence should we wait till the transcript is available before we release the MP3s? That seems silly to us.  So we’re releasing the MP3s when we can.

And in fact that can help us generate the transcripts.

  • Perhaps you are willing to help transcribe them into text in a range of  languages to improve their accessibility for domestic and international purposes, or have another suggestion in this area?
  • Perhaps you can suggest an audio format that would produce smaller files (still with clear audio)?
  • Perhaps you can suggest an innovative way of analysing these sizeable chunks of information to uncover some common threads or new insights?
  • Perhaps you have had previous difficulties accessing government information online and know of helpful tools and technologies we can use for this and other such transcription tasks.

If you have an idea to suggest, then post it as a comment below or email it to by the end of next week – Friday 18 September. Please don’t send us any commercial proposals though – this is strictly an experiment in crowdsourcing and collaboration (and another chapter in our attempt to learn by doing, something it seems to me governments need to get more comfortable doing if we’re ever going to get Government 2.0 living up to its potential).

And if we can’t crowdsource or collaborate to find a solution, we have a backup plan. If we don’t have transcripts within two weeks we’ll arrange to have them made ourselves.

Taskforce Roadshow audio files

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