Government 2.0 Taskforce » Social Design by Ben Crothers of Catch Media Tue, 04 May 2010 23:55:29 +0000 en hourly 1 Guest Post: The Victorian Department of Justice and Web 2.0 Thu, 31 Dec 2009 01:55:53 +0000 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.
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What data should we be releasing? Mon, 17 Aug 2009 13:10:10 +0000 Nicholas Gruen Andrew Leigh, freakonomist, econometrician and indefatigable crusader for the power of data has sent us a short and sweet submission (rtf) by email. I was going to ask him to work it up into a guest post, but then I can just quote it here.

Government 2.0 Taskforce Emailed Submission

Author: Andrew Leigh

Submission Text:

From the standpoint of researchers, one of the things that the Taskforce should strongly support is more data. A few examples are below.

• State and territory governments should release geocoded crime statistics of all crime reports. See for example this website created by the New York Times:

• FaHCSIA should release all data (including prices and quality ratings) from its annual Child Care Census.

• The Taskforce should encourage projects such as the digitisation of MP interest registers by

I’d like to open this thread up as a kind of repository to which anyone can add to an inventory of data sets that should be made public. Andrew has mentioned data held by state government agencies. Of course our only clear jurisdiction is in the Federal arena but I think we should be prepared to both talk about and make suggestions/recommendations regarding data held by other agencies – it’s up to them whether they want to accept them. In that spirit I’ll reiterate something I’ve argued previously namely that we should publish (pdf) data on individual companies workers compensation premiums where this provides reasonable information about their past safety record.

So please feel free to use this thread as a record of all the data you, the community think does, should or might exist that we should be trying to get freed to enable us to lead slightly more informed, and so slightly better lives.

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Government 2.0 – It’s the Community, Stupid Tue, 11 Aug 2009 02:25:43 +0000 Tim Watts One of the primary tasks assigned to the Government 2.0 Taskforce is to find ways for Government to use Web 2.0 tools to consult and collaborate with the public. At first blush, this sounds simple. It’s easy to point to dozens of innovative, cheap and practical Web 2.0 apps that could be employed to improve interaction between Government and citizens. However, while Web 2.0 has lowered technical barriers to communication, there are still a series of just as significant social barriers that remain.

As we’ve learnt from previous Australian online consultation trials , Web 2.0 is great at aggregating an enormous number of individual contributions. It enables thousands of people to publicly have their say. However, Web 2.0 can’t turn Ministers into omniscient beings able to conduct thousands of simultaneous conversations. Further, there are both physical and professional limits to the capacity for public servants or political staffers to engage in these conversations as representatives of the Minister. While Web 2.0 has provided the technology for the public to have its say, social limitations remain that prevent it from being heard.

Government needs to learn new skills to be able to effectively listen to the public via Web 2.0. In particular, it needs to learn that the key to listening in the Web 2.0 world is to focus to the community, not individuals. If there’s no functioning community to sort and moderate the contributions aggregated by Web 2.0 technologies, it will be impossible for Government to digest this information.

The good news is that if Government creates an environment that allows them to emerge, there are likely to be viable communities of interest across the gamut of the Commonwealth’s activities. To quote NYU academic and Web 2.0 darling, Clay Shirky:

“Every webpage is a latent community. Each page collects the attention of people interested in its contents, and those people might well be interested in conversing with one another, too. In almost all cases the community will remain latent, either because the potential ties are too weak… or because the people looking at the page are separated by too wide a gulf of time, and so on. But things like the comments section on Flickr allow those people who do want to activate otherwise-latent groups to at least try it.”

People who interact with government via the web often have strong interests in the subject matter of the government website that they share with others using the site. Someone applying for a licence from the government may rely on this interaction for their livelihood. Citizens looking at a niche area of government regulation may share an in-depth knowledge of the subject. If they had the opportunity to talk to each other over a period of time, these common interests might sustain an on-going community.

Where an environment has been provided in which they can form, communities of this kind have emerged in the most unlikely of places. For instance, one of the most successful examples of Government online community building was the US Transportation Security Administration blog which successfully activated latent communities revolving around travel security requirements and the administration of different airports. Once established, these communities can be extremely valuable sources of User Innovation, Eric von Hippel’s brilliant an increasingly important model of bottom up innovation.

However, these latent communities won’t become active unless Government actively creates an environment that encourages their emergence. Unfortunately, as Steven Clift (the Founder of E-Democracy.Org) points out in his contribution to the Personal Democracy Forum’s fantastic Rebooting Democracy series, Government is currently not very good at this:

Government websites don’t have sidewalks, newspaper racks, public hearing rooms, hallways or grand assemblies. There are no public forums or meeting places in the heart of representative democracy online… The typical e-government experience is like walking into a barren room with a small glass window, a singular experience to the exclusion of other community members. There is no human face, just a one-way process of paying your taxes, registering for services, browsing the information that the government chooses to share, or leaving a private complaint that is never publicly aired. You have no ability to speak with a person next to you much less address your fellow citizen browsers as a group.

If the Government wants to effectively listen to the public via Web 2.0, it needs to find ways to allow these ‘fellow citizen browsers’ to collaborate with each other and form on-going communities of interest. Luckily, it’s not in uncharted waters here. We already know a lot about how these communities can be nurtured from the experiences of the business and community sectors. In fact, the recently released First Report of the Smart Services CRC “Social Media: tools for User-Generated Content” project (partly supported by my employer, Telstra) would provide an excellent starting point to inform Government efforts at community building.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the ‘cool’ factor of Web 2.0. The potential of the technology is so amazing that sometimes we can forget that at the end of the day, it’s still people on either end of the tubes. It’s important to remember that Web 2.0 is all about people. As Michael Wesch has said, “The Machine is Us”. The Government 2.0 Taskforce could do worse than to follow the lead of one of the great political campaigners of our time and hang a sign in the group’s (virtual) war room constantly bringing it back to this fundamental theme. It could read; It’s the Community, Stupid!

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Accessibility and Government 2.0 Sat, 11 Jul 2009 21:56:48 +0000 Lisa Harvey Guest Blogger Post from Scott Hollier: Media Access Australia

Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
Ron Mace

One major issue to face the Government 2.0 taskforce will be how to meet the needs of people with disabilities.  In my role as Project Manager for Media Access Australia and as a person with a vision impairment, I’ve been fortunate to have both a profession and personal perspective on access issues so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the topic.

The challenge here will revolve around the use of universal design in the delivery of accessible government information via Web 2.0 technologies.  While the principle sounds good, two questions need to be asked:  what is universal design, and can it realistically be achieved?

One of the easiest mistakes to make is assuming that universal design means that everything has to be approached using a ‘one size fits all’ model.    This would be very difficult, not to mention impractical to actually do.  For example, if the government decides that Facebook is a good medium for communication, should the popular website launch a text-only interface to ensure complete access?  Would this meet universal design requirements?  How would current Facebook users feel about that?

An alternative is not to see universal design as an impossible dream, but to use the concept in practical ways that make mainstream products reach the largest possible audience.  The Center for Universal Design looked across a variety of disciplines, and focused on things like equitable use, flexibility in use, emphasis on simplicity and intuitiveness, the need for perceptible information and tolerance for error.  When we think about the Facebook example, can all these concepts apply without making a text-only site?  I’d argue yes.  Will this make Facebook accessible to every Australian with one or more disabilities? Probably not, but it will get close enough that specialist solutions would be required on such a small scale that it can be provided to the remainder of the population at minimal cost.

The third option is to put it all in the ‘too hard’ basket, which is what has previously happened in Australia.  Other Federal governments around the world like the United States of America have legislation, Section 508, that requires products produced or sold to the government meet accessibility criteria.   Our equivalent legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act, has no comparable requirement.

So what do you think?  Should the government find a one-size-fits-all solution to access?  Should the focus be on making government resources as accessible as possible using mainstream technologies, or is it all just too hard?   Add your thoughts.

About Dr Scott Hollier: Scott Hollier is the Project Manager, New Media for Media Access Australia (MAA), a not-for-profit, public benevolent institution.  Scott’s work focuses on making computers and Internet-related technologies accessible to people with disabilities,  Scott also represents MAA on the Advisory Committee of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organisation primarily responsible for developing and promoting access standards to media through technology for people with disabilities.   Scott has completed a PhD titled ‘The Disability Divide: an examination into the needs of computing and Internet-related technologies on people who are blind or vision impaired’. Scott is legally blind and as such understands the importance of access at a personal level.

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Government 2.0 and Society 1.0 Wed, 08 Jul 2009 00:42:03 +0000 Lisa Harvey At the Personal Democracy Forum in New York last week danah boyd (now spelled correctly) spoke on the way people access online tools such as Myspace and Facebook. I recommend reading the full text of the talk. She notes that it applies specifically to a US audience, but there are lessons for us.

Her premise is that the divisions that exist in society exist in on-line society. The truth of this has important implications for engagement online:

One thing to keep in mind about social media: the internet mirrors and magnifies pre-existing dynamics. And it makes many different realities much more visible than ever before.

The clearest divisions are between Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. In terms of age distribution, Ben Shepherd crunched Nielsen Netview numbers for Australia: 32% of Facebook users are 25-34; 43% of Myspace users are 12-24, 60% of Twitter users are over 35.

Each community has its own voice, its own language and its own ettiquette. For many, other online communities are foreign places. boyd argues that these differences reflect the differences that exist in sociey.

Social stratification is pervasive in American society (and around the globe). Social media does not magically eradicate inequality. Rather, it mirrors what is happening in everyday life and makes social divisions visible. What we see online is not the property of these specific sites, but the pattern of adoption and development that emerged as people embraced them. People brought their biases with them to these sites and they got baked in.

 While the race and class dynamics are different in Australia than they are in the USA, we can reasonably expect that the essential demographics that create divisions of age, gender, socio-economics, geographic location, education, ATSI (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) and CALD(culturally and linguistically diverse) background in our society also create divisions online.  

boyd also notes that people participate in social media with their existing off-line networks rather than engaging with new people. This creates another puzzle for governments wanting to engage with people online – how to engage using social media when the networks are essentially social. One exception to this pattern are people with a business, career or cause agenda. These people are active connection makers. For the most part I expect that people reading this blog fall into this category.

Adding to the problem is that the networks are fundamentally corporate and competitive. Sharing friends and information across networks is not possible, and third parties crossovers are incomplete and often unsatisfactory. This separation reinforces the boundaries between communities and therefore the social divisions that led to the divided participation in the first place. Twitter is different to Myspace and different to Facebook and different to Bebo and Second Life and so on.

Online participation is, for many, unpredictable and inconsistent. People have different reasons for participating in networks and different levels of participation, and participate at different times. It should be no surprise that the level of engagement in online public life reflects how people engage in public life. It is important that government engagement considers this context.

But here’s the main issue with social divisions. We can accept when people choose to connect to people who are like them and not friend different others. But can we accept when institutions and services only support a portion of the network? When politicians only address half of their constituency? When educators and policy makers engage with people only through the tools of the privileged? When we start leveraging technology to meet specific goals, we may reinforce the divisions that we’re trying to address.

This is the critical challenge that faces government online engagement: Whether through social networking communities or through other Web 2 mechanisms we risk new inequalities, add to the division between those who can and want to participate online and those who don’t, and re-inforce, or worse legitimise, the online reflections of existing divisions, in our society.

This complexity in the context should not be seen as a dealbreaker. Understanding online dynamics is not so different to understanding the dynamics in society, but it is critical that we understand them. It could also be seen as an opportunity to create bridges across some of the boundaries.

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