Government 2.0 Taskforce » Best Practice http://gov2.net.au Design by Ben Crothers of Catch Media Tue, 04 May 2010 23:55:29 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.8.6 en hourly 1 Guest Post: The Victorian Department of Justice and Web 2.0 http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/12/31/guest-post-the-victorian-department-of-justice-and-web-2-0/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/12/31/guest-post-the-victorian-department-of-justice-and-web-2-0/#comments Thu, 31 Dec 2009 01:55:53 +0000 Nicholas Gruen http://gov2.net.au/?p=1750 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.
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Video Killed the …. ? http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/18/video-killed-the/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/18/video-killed-the/#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2009 00:49:54 +0000 Jimi Bostock and Silvia Pfeiffer http://gov2.net.au/?p=1348 Jimi Bostock and Silvia Pfeiffer have been commissioned by the Taskforce to undertake a scoping study into the feasibility of a whole-of-government online video service.

So, yes, please shout out with any thoughts, let’s get this right. What have you seen has worked for your agency or similar organisations – what hasn’t worked? Any expectations that you have toward a video.gov.au site?

While not belittling what governments have achieved, the steps into the video world have been tentative. We must remind ourselves that many of the steps we take today that we think are big steps will be seen in the future as almost trivial. Such is life in the digital revolution.

Most agencies have an enormous amount of existing or potential video material – educational content, marketing content, news content, recordings of events etc. Most of this content barely makes it to the Web. Even agencies that would seem a natural fit for mass online video effort seem to have not rushed headlong into it. As example (and not singling them out), the National Archives in the USA are somewhat restrained in their use of YouTube and their official site does not seem to feature video at all. We can only imagine how much video they would hold and how much public interest there would be in it.

So, what is the hold up? Kids are making and uploading videos at a startling rate. None of us live long enough to watch even a day’s effort. Video is, by far, the fastest growing media being consumed online. So, why are we not seeing from government anywhere near the volume that general trends would suggest we should be seeing?

Agreeing that government needs to publish more video, the next step is a decision on how to publish all this content.

Most agencies have decided to use video sparingly on their site – only where it is absolutely called for to make it a modern presence. For example with the introduction of a new service as an addition to a press release. One such example of an Australian federal agency’s video effort is the recently launched Social Inclusion Website, which features videos of conferences and launches around Social Inclusion.

Other agencies have decided to step away from having to solve the technical challenges associated with hosting video and make use of the free YouTube service, even though YouTube has been blocked for many government departments. The Department of Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy for example runs such a YouTube channel.

Incidentally, YouTube is very good at making sure the videos get a wider exposure, since YouTube is the default video search engine on the Internet, but may be a precarious situation for a government agency to be potentially seen to endorse a third party service.

In any case, it is actually a big challenge to even find videos that have been published on government sites – and they can help make government so much more accessible, which is our main motivation in analysing the possibilities of a video.gov.au. For an agency, the motivation may be different and part of it may be to take away the need to solve the technical issues related to publishing videos.

So, let’s assume that the call is made by the powers to be that a video.gov.au site be developed. How would people in the Gov 2.0 community go about this? Should we go with a mega-YouTube presence and does it have the tools to make for a flexible and well-structured video.gov.au? Or should we be thinking one of the more ‘commercial’ service offerings? Could we build it from scratch? Would this be commercial or open-source? Could we find an off-the-shelf offering that could get us underway instantly? Should it be a centralised hosting site, like a “YouTube for government” or should it be an aggregation site that pulls in feeds from all the agencies and makes content available in a standardised and searchable format?

Or should it be a hybrid of all of these with a Twitter on top?

We would love input on these questions!

So, wish us luck and please do let us know your thoughts on the stuff we have raised here or any other areas you think we should be looking at, remembering the scope of our brief. Please feel free to post here or email us directly.

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If I could start with a blank piece of paper… (part 2) http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/11/blank-piece-of-paper-2/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/11/blank-piece-of-paper-2/#comments Tue, 10 Nov 2009 23:43:24 +0000 David Eaves http://gov2.net.au/?p=1338 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.

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If I could start with a blank sheet of paper… http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/02/if-i-could-start-with-a-blank-sheet-of-paper%e2%80%a6/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/02/if-i-could-start-with-a-blank-sheet-of-paper%e2%80%a6/#comments Mon, 02 Nov 2009 00:06:10 +0000 David Eaves http://gov2.net.au/?p=1256 David Eaves is a member of the Taskforce’s International Reference Group.

Recently, Martin Stewart-Weeks posted this piece on the blog:

“…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?”

While the Taskforce is looking for suggested guidelines for how employees should interact on the web like those found here (a lot of these are great – I was impressed with DePaul University’s guidelines) I wanted to take a step back. Guidelines are important, but the post implicitly suggests the focus of a government’s web 2.0 strategy should be focused externally. If I had a blank slate I would write guidelines, but my emphasis would be to get public servants to start using Web 2.0 tools internally. This approach has several advantages:

  1. Start with a safe environment for individuals to learn: As a medium the internet is a notoriously complicated place to communicate. Flame wars, endless and pointless discussions, and even simple misunderstandings are commonplace. I’d like a place where public servants can get comfortable with both the medium and the different web 2.0 tools. People forget that only a tiny fraction of people have embraced Web 2.0 and most public servants are not part of that early adopter group. Throwing public servants into the deep end of the Web 2.0 pool risks setting them up to drown out of frustration. Creating Web 2.0 tools behind a government firewall gives public servants a lower risk environment to get comfortable and learn to use the technology.
  2. Start with a safe environment for institutional to learn: Developing a new communications culture, one where more public servants are accustomed to engaging with the public directly will take time. Giving public servants an opportunity to practice using social media behind the government firewall enables the organization to assess its strengths and weaknesses and determine what policies should be in place as it further ramps up its public facing engagement.
  3. Make mistakes internally first: For better or for worse, many government agencies are deeply sensitive to communication mistakes. An innocent gaffe that goes viral or is picked up on by the media can quickly temper a ministers or deputy ministers appetite to experiment with social media. Every ministry or department will, at some point, experience such a gaffe (most probably already have). Better that these initially happen internally where they can become learning experiences then having them happen publicly where they become communications crises that risk shutting down Government 2.0 experiments.
  4. Internal focus will drive much needed structural change: Building off point number 2, I frequently tell government officials interested in having their organizations “do” social media to stop thinking of this as a communications exercise. Rather than trying to get an analogue government to talk to a digital public – why not make the government digital? Adopting Web 2.0 tools internally is going to change how your organization work for the better. Social media allows people to more effectively exchange information, identify critical resources and avoid the duplication of effort – all of the types of things siloed, hierarchical governments aren’t good at. The fact that adopting these tools will make engaging in the online world much, much easier is only one of many much larger benefits.

All this isn’t to say that Governments shouldn’t engage with the public via social media/web 2.0. They should (they need to!). It is to say that 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.

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Making Government Data More “Hack”able http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/28/making-government-data-more-hackable/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/28/making-government-data-more-hackable/#comments Wed, 28 Oct 2009 04:56:18 +0000 Pamela Fox http://gov2.net.au/?p=1262 At Google, we think it’s pretty awesome that the government is holding a contest to mash government data. As a company with a lot of APIs, we love when people use them to make mashups, and as a company with a mission of making data universally accessible and useful, we love to see governments opening up their data. So we’ve arranged a couple of events in support of the contest. We held a 3-hour “MashupAustralia HackNight” on October 14th, we’re holding another one tonight, and we’re hosting the OpenAustralia HackFest from Nov 7-8. At our first hack night, we started off with talks on the contest, mashups and APIs, and putting data on maps. Then, since we conveniently had a representative from data.australia.gov.au at the event, we took the opportunity to search through their database and find useful datasets. We found a couple really good ones — the NSW Crime set and the Victoria Internet locations set — but we also found a lot of really hard to use sets. Since part of the goal of this contest is to figure out what characters define a useful dataset, and to encourage governments to adopt those, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give a few basic tips:

  • Format: Generally not a good idea to share data in a binary format. It is more compact, but it is less accessible to developers. The best format is an API (REST or XML-RPC) or more simply, an RSS feed with all the entries. The next-best format is a well-structured CSV or spreadsheet, as many database systems can easily input those. If you are going to use a more obscure format, provide tips on how to use it. (This is something that the data.australia.gov.au site could also provide).
  • Size: Some data sources provided zip files that were around 300 megabytes. Most developers aren’t going to download 300 megabytes if they don’t know what the data looks like, and what makes up that size. If you are going to provide a large file, I suggest also providing a preview file.
  • Geo data: The vast majority of the data sources are related to geographic regions or points, but the vast majority also didn’t provide enough geographic data. If possible, you should provide the address and the latitude/longitude coordinate. If the data describes a region, provide an array of coordinates. A great example of this is the NSW fire feed – it provides an address, a point, and a polygon.

These are simple suggestions, but they can make a world of difference in terms of making data useful. We hope to see more government agencies opening up their data for developers and evaluating how they’re doing so. But we also hope to see developers using the current data as much as possible, and coming up with more ideas. Please join us at one of our future events!

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Our input wanted: Key challenges in government content discoverability and e-service accessibility http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/24/our-input-wanted-key-challenges-in-government-content-discoverability-and-e-service-accessibility/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/24/our-input-wanted-key-challenges-in-government-content-discoverability-and-e-service-accessibility/#comments Fri, 23 Oct 2009 14:32:09 +0000 Nicholas Gruen http://gov2.net.au/?p=1239 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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2020 Summit : What might have been http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/02/2020-summit-what-might-have-been/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/02/2020-summit-what-might-have-been/#comments Fri, 02 Oct 2009 03:00:23 +0000 Lisa Harvey http://gov2.net.au/?p=1126 At the time of the 2020 Summit last year I blogged a lot . It was an unprecedented gathering of thought and optimism and a demonstration of how a grand idea can become a reality, and also a demonstration of how momentum can be lost in the process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recognising the volunteers: Jhempenstall is my hero – who is yours? http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/09/29/recognising-the-volunteers-jhempenstall-is-my-hero-who-is-yours/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/09/29/recognising-the-volunteers-jhempenstall-is-my-hero-who-is-yours/#comments Mon, 28 Sep 2009 16:07:35 +0000 Nicholas Gruen http://gov2.net.au/?p=1093 I’ve been aware for some time of the National Library’s project for digitising old Australian newspapersBut I only recently read the great story of the project told in this article by Rose Holley (pdf) who was appointed in 2007 to manage the program.

From establishing the project at the beginning of 2007 with no idea about inviting the public in to correct errors in the optical character recognition (OCR) done by machines on contract to the NLA, the project is growing into a fabulously successful venture in which unpaid volunteers from the public play a major role in correcting the errors that fancy OCR software can’t get right (though it’s much improved from an aborted attempt to digitise newspapers in 1996).

Here are some highlights from Rose Holley’s write-up.

  • In the first month of use over 200,000 lines of text was corrected in 12,000 articles, by the end of 6 months 2 millions lines of text had been corrected in 100,000 articles.
  • At no point since release of beta has there been a time when text correction is not taking place. It continues 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
  • 78% of users were based in Australia but there was also a growing international community with users in the United Kingdom, United States of America, New Zealand and Canada. One of the top ten correctors was based in USA.
  • The top ten text correctors were correcting significantly more text than all other users spending up to 45 hours a week on the activity. The top corrector at the end of 6 months had corrected 101,481 lines in 2594 articles. The same correctors remained in the top five for the first 6 months.
  • No vandalism of text was detected in 6 months so no roll back to previous versions or moderation was required.

Reading about it, I’m struck by the way in which the NLA stumbled upon the idea. If they’d not got a $10 million allocation for what is undoubtedly a very worthwhile program, would the structures of the public service have been flexible enough, would they have encouraged innovation from the ‘bottom up’ sufficiently to have allowed something like this to have gradually emerged from low level experimentation without some imperative to do the project from above?  I mention it because Wikipedia had been around for a good while before the project got going – so one imagines some people had thought of it somewhere. And what’s the best institutional arrangement to spread the skills that the NLA have acquired with this project.  The NLA itself seems to be keen to spread the value of its accomplishments, posting the code it has developed which seems a great start.  But would housing less of the project within the NLA also be a good move?  Might some more generic unit within government (or perhaps outside it) provide a better way of spreading those skills?  I ask those questions quite naively and in full blown enthusiasm for the achievements of the project, not by way of criticism.

But one thing I want to do here is less tentative and more specific. I wanted to pay tribute to the volunteers without which, quite literally, none of this would be possible. The ten biggest contributors to the project – volunteers from outside that is – contribute more than the nearly 1,300 other volunteers who make their own valuable contributions.  (I’m one of them as of a couple of days ago, but so far I’ve only corrected a few lines!)  Go and sign up yourself!

Naturally I want to pay tribute to those people out of gratitude that they’re serving the public interest. I expect you do too. Like Wikipedians, they do it for a variety of motives. For some of them it just bugs them when they can see an error!  But the fact that what they are doing is of public benefit is a substantial motivator for many if not most. And when asked how the project can be made better, as Holley’s paper makes clear, many of them say things like this.

Recognize achievement ‐ Make a point to recognize achievements one‐on‐one and also in group settings. We like to think we are being noticed and are making a difference. Show us how we fit into the big picture.

So that’s what I want to do here.  Here is a table of the top eight contributors at the time Rose Holley published her article.

1 Jhempenstall 101,481 lines corrected, 2594 articles

2 Cmdevine 90,823 lines corrected 1585 articles

3 Fwalker13 80,437 lines corrected 642 articles

4 Mrbh 79,248 lines corrected 1439 articles

5 Maurielyn 72,129 lines corrected 1192 articles

6 John F Hall 59,111 lines corrected 1632 articles

7 Jdickson2 28,796 lines corrected 2407 articles

8 JamesGibney 25,106 lines corrected 479 articles

So good on you all you good people.  Good on you Julie Hempenstall from Bendigo whom the NLA tells me is now up to more than a quarter of a million lines. I’ve seen a list of the current top five and Julie’s held her top spot, with all of the rest having been stayers, who were also in the top eight above.  The least this Taskforce can do is to acknowledge your fantastic work. I think that one thing we (the community) should definitely do is to encourage a culture of recognition and public support and approbation for such efforts.

But of course this new world we’re in of open source endeavour is full of such people making their contribution. I wanted to invite readers to nominate other leaders in other projects who have selflessly volunteered large amounts of their time to build the public goods of Web 2.0 in Australia.

If Julie Hempenstall is my hero, who is yours?

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When Goliath Does Social Media… http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/09/26/when-goliath-does-social-media%e2%80%a6/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/09/26/when-goliath-does-social-media%e2%80%a6/#comments Sat, 26 Sep 2009 06:33:04 +0000 Mia Garlick http://gov2.net.au/?p=1097 We’ve had a couple of posts so far looking at cultural challenges in achieving government 2.0:  Nic wrote about “The Theory of SPIN: Serial Professional Innovation Negation”, I blogged earlier on “Faceless Bureaucrats and Web 2.0”  and Lisa wrote recently about a community ethic of government engagement … I wanted to turn to another aspect of the culture challenge: what compromises do we legitimately need to make to the vision of Web 2.0 (as we understand it in the commercial and community space) because the very nature of government requires it?

The general tenor of discussions to date (pardon me if you feel I am mischaracterizing them) seems to be that government 2.0 is a logical progression of public engagement, so let’s just do it already. However, there are some things that are different; and, more importantly, there are some things that should be different about how our government functions and engages, even in a 2.0 way. This, I think, is important to acknowledge as part of the ongoing work towards realising successful government 2.0.

Many open government or Web 2.0 enthusiasts have a high regard for the Obama-Biden campaign because of its effective and successful use of social media tools. However, since coming into office, new media experts, in a poll conducted by the National Journal, gave the Obama Administration a C+ grade.

Some of the reasons for this have been explored by Peter W. Swire, an attorney who advised the New Media team of the Obama-Biden transition, in an article entitled “It’s Not the Campaign Any More” (pdf). The New Media team operated the change.gov.au website and developed whitehouse.gov. Swire argues that there are three key differences between a campaign and a government:

“There are three key differences pre- and post-election: scale, the clearance process, and the limits on how the government can authorize actions.”

The difference between the use of social media tools in a campaign v. in government, seems to me to illustrate an argument that Joe Trippi made when he was visiting Australia earlier this year.  He cited the book “An Army of Davids” by Glenn Reynolds which discusses how changes in technology are empowering “an army of Davids” to take on the goliaths of Big Media and Big Government.

The trend of social media (per Reynolds and Trippi) is not just a change of medium from television and radio, it is also causing a shift in power; a shift from the top to the bottom. When television was big, part of the sales pitch was that Goliath was good – you wanted to be the biggest party, the biggest company. The bigger you got, the more powerful and successful you were in the world. The new medium of social networking creates an environment in which armies of Davids can self-organise and self-form and take on the Goliaths who stand in the way of issues they care about

If this is true (to continue paraphrasing Trippi), then a big cultural shift needs to happen at the top of our institutions to adjust for the armies of Davids. As we look to the future, it’s important to think differently about how you provide the tools to the people out there because they will take them, grab them and use them

Taking on board Reynolds and Trippi’s argument, the power of social media was successfully harnessed by the Obama campaign to create an army of Davids to help him win the presidency. But this compares with the apparently less successful efforts of the Obama Administration to do likewise. This, I think, highlights how, in some instances at least, social media tools may not be a natural fit within government/ by Goliath.

This, I think, begs the question: which of the challenges to making government more 2.0 are simply a factor of government not yet knowing how to provide the tools and empower people? And which are a factor of the tools being an ill-fit for Goliath?

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A League ladder of PSI openness? http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/09/19/a-league-ladder-of-psi-openness/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/09/19/a-league-ladder-of-psi-openness/#comments Fri, 18 Sep 2009 15:03:54 +0000 Nicholas Gruen http://gov2.net.au/?p=1065 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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