Government 2.0 Taskforce » Innovation in Service Delivery 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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Innovation and Government 2.0 Sat, 19 Dec 2009 14:28:22 +0000 Nicholas Gruen Government 2.0 is integral to delivering on several agendas that the Government has running at present.  It’s central to delivering on Innovation in Government – and that’s the subject of a review which with I have been involved being conducted within the Department of Innovation under the auspices of the Management Advisory Committee which is a forum of Agency Heads established under the Public Service Act to advise Government managing the Australian Public Service.

As part of our own exercise I asked the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) to have a look at the data it compiled for its State of the Service Report this year.  It has only come out in the last few weeks, so there was no time for them to do the analysis and for us to get it into our draft report.  In fact we’ve not included this in our final report for reasons I’ll explain.  But it’s interesting and deserves to be on the record.

The APSC were somewhat anxious about cross tabulating the two surveys because cross tabulation gives much looser correlations. To understand why, consider that social media is likely to be being used in just some parts of the public service.  My guess is that, of the 26 agencies that reported using social media, most used it in only small pockets within their operations – for instance their marketing and/or communications units would be candidates for using it. So many, perhaps most, perhaps almost all employees working in some of these agencies might well have no access to them, may not even know about them, and yet come up in the survey as employees with access to social media. We’ve spoken to the APSC about bringing social media issues into their employee survey which we hope they will do.

Another concern I have is that the question asked tends to emphasise social media platforms rather than the interactivity of use. The question in the survey of agencies was this:

“Does your agency officially use any of the following social media and networking tools in engaging with external stakeholders? (Multiple Response). Then there was this list of possibilities

  • Facebook
  • My Space (sic)
  • You Tube (sic)
  • Twitter
  • Other

Now these are definitely Web 2.0 tools, but, (and this isn’t a criticism of the APSC as they were just dipping their toe in the water here) they don’t demonstrate to me Web 2.0.  All are often used as Web 1.0 broadcast tools. So a Department’s using the capabilities of any of these tools to broadcast isn’t of much interest to us.  I’d be more interested to know if the agency or any of its staff maintained a blog which had professional content about matters that were within the purview of the agency. That would signal something more interactive going on (although even here, one really needs to look closely to see whether there’s real interaction going on and judge it’s quality).

Anyway, given my reservations I expected the data might not be much use, but thought it was worth seeing what the numbers suggested, however tentatively.

I asked them how the agency answers correlated with perceptions in answers to the employee survey around four issues.

  1. The quality of management
  2. The culture of innovation within agencies
  3. The culture of collaboration with other agencies
  4. Engagement with outsiders.

In short the answers came back as follows.

  1. The quality of management (no result)
  2. The culture of innovation within agencies (strongest result of positive correlation – see table below)
  3. The culture of collaboration with other agencies and/or outsiders (no result)
  4. Job Satisfaction (a negative correlation see table below)

So the results were probably pretty unreliable in any case, but confirmed my priors in one case and were inconsistent with them in the other. Here are the two relevant tables.

Does your agency use Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or Twitter (social networking) in engaging with external stakeholders * q18g. My current agency encourages innovation and the development of new ideas. Crosstabulation



q18g. My current agency encourages innovation and the development of new ideas.



Neither Agree nor Disagree


Not Sure

Does your agency use Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or Twitter (social networking) in engaging with external stakeholders No social networking






Social networking












Does your agency use Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or Twitter (social networking) in engaging with external stakeholders * q17a. I enjoy the work in my current job. Crosstabulation



q17a. I enjoy the work in my current job.



Neither Agree nor Disagree


Not Sure

Does your agency use Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or Twitter (social networking) in engaging with external stakeholders No social networking






Social networking












The latter negative correlation surprised me, and I don’t believe it.  I asked the APSC to do some digging around to find out whether the answers were different in different sized agencies which it seemed to me might be driving the results. Sure enough the closer you looked at the results the less sure you were that there was anything much going on at all, other than the random differences between agencies.  I didn’t do the same with the earlier (positive) correlation as we’d tested the patience of the APSC enough and they were flat out.  In any event, it will be interesting to see the results next year when, with any luck the APSC will include some social networking questions in their employee survey. I’m also hoping some questions will be slanted towards seeking out how much online interaction there is, and not just whether certain platforms that can be used for online interaction are being used.

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Advancing Public Sector Innovation Mon, 07 Sep 2009 02:07:12 +0000 Patricia Kelly Patricia Kelly is a Deputy Secretary at the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and  Chair of the Steering Committee overseeing the Public Sector Innovation Management Advisory Committee Project.

One of the issues that the Gov 2.0 Taskforce is looking at is how to “build a culture of online innovation within Government”. However, online innovation is only one component (albeit at important one) of the “innovation system” within the public sector. There is innovation in policy making, in program management, and in service delivery. There can be innovation in how the public sector interacts with citizens, stakeholders and clients outside of the digital realm. There can be innovation in how public problems are thought about and in how the public sector works with others to solve them. It may involve innovation at the organisational level. Many of these innovations overlay the Gov 2.0 sphere but the innovation system is broader than that.

The Review of the National Innovation System Venturous Australia: building strength in innovation identified public sector innovation as an area to be explored with significant potential for gains. Out of this, the Management Advisory Committee of the Australian Public Service is looking at the questions of how innovation in the public sector can be fostered and embedded in the culture. The Management Advisory Committee is a forum of Secretaries and Agency Heads that advises the Government on matters relating to the management of the APS. This project is liaising closely with the Gov 2.0 Taskforce, and will be reporting in a similar timeframe.

We have released a discussion paper setting out some of the main outstanding questions about how innovation in the public sector can be carried out more broadly. The discussion paper, and the associated call for submissions, can be found here. We would be grateful for any submissions entered by close of business on Friday 11 September – this is a complex issue and we are keen to get a number of different perspectives to inform the report.

The project team is also looking to form a loose network of people interested in these issues of the practice of innovation in the public sector. If you are keen to be involved, please email noting your interest.

Let me finish this post with a question – if you had just one suggestion for the Management Advisory Committee on how innovation could be embedded in the culture of the APS, what would it be?

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Inquiries 2.0: Part 2.0 Sun, 06 Sep 2009 03:58:10 +0000 Nicholas Gruen I enjoyed writing my previous post “Inquiries 2.0” and am very pleased that it seems to have been enthusiastically received.  Well there’s nothing like a bit of encouragement.

I was discussing the way in which the post was launching us on our own little journey of discovery in this sense.  I posted it before the secretariat had worked out how they might be able to implement one of the ideas in the post which is to make the submissions more easily searchable. I was emailed with the caution that we might not have the resources to do it (things are pretty flat out).  I replied “well if we can’t do it we can ask the community”.

So I posted and then we had to solve the problems – not huge problems I grant you – but it’s not the way the things are usually done in government.

In discussing some of this the next day with Peter Alexander of the secretariat we agreed that this was a slightly edgier but in this case more productive way to work.  And he told me that some solutions were already being sorted by our technical people.  Then an idea came to us. Right now we plan to email all those who have sent us submissions seeking permission to post their submission in the normal html format with a comments facility for each submission.  Then we thought it would be good to build a plugin to Wordpress to handle some of what we’d have to do manually. Ideally it would

  • invite people to submit their submission in any acceptable format
  • convert submissions into a range of formats for downloading from the site
  • contain some tick boxes with which people could give us the various consents that we would like – to display their submission in different formats and append a comments threads to their submissions.

It could also invite them to provide metadata in tags and attend to various other possible ‘housekeeping’ matters.  There are probably other things such a facility would be useful doing.

Of course this is beginning the process of turning inquiries – well . . . kind of inside out – user driven inquiries where not only are costs for governments somewhat lowered and processes simplified, but, more importantly, those making submissions come to control just a little more of the process.

Anyway it seemed obvious from that point that that was just one idea.  It seemed obvious that we should see if anyone out there wanted to build such a plugin.  But not before we’d asked the community for other ideas that would be particularly good for Government 2.0. And then we thought we could have a competition to identify and perhaps build such tools. While we think about that, feel free to comment on these ideas, and if you want to propose ideas for other plugins for Government 2.0 and we mount a competition, any comments below will establish priority in proposing an idea.

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Inquiries 2.0 Tue, 01 Sep 2009 02:16:20 +0000 Nicholas Gruen At a roundtable in Sydney, Miriam Lyons of the Centre for Policy Development (CPD) mentioned the idea of ‘inquiries 2.0’.

As I said to her at the roundtable, I’ve been giving a fair bit of thought to that question myself. Having spent some time on the Productivity Commission. We were proud of the transparency of our inquiries. Indeed the foundational rationale of the Commission championed by the modern ‘official founders of the Industries Assistance Commission of 1974, Alf Rattigan and Bill Charmichael, was the idea that people should not come to government asking for favours – tariffs and bounties in the case of the Commission and its predecessors – without being able to defend their case publicly and subject to independent scrutiny.

Now we have the tools to turbocharge that openness and transparency and to take it further – perhaps a lot further. We’re trying to model what an Inquiry 2.0 would look like though I’m being made painfully aware of our shortcomings – of which more in a moment. I know this blog could be improved in various ways, and a blog is not the ideal collaborative tool for building towards a complex and integrated position on a suite of issues as various commentators have pointed out. We are starting to do that offline – I promise!

But I think our blog is already a site for frank friendly and respectful exchange of information and views, and for dialogue and debate. But as the CPD submission which was not up on our website when I was writing this but may be now points out, there are plenty of ways we can take things further.

The [Henry] tax review is one of the most important inquiries held by the Rudd Government so far, with over a thousand submissions. Yet a member of the public who wants to find out what ideas other people have submitted about the future of Australia’s tax system [on the Henry Review website] has nothing more to go on than the fact that ‘AAFCIS’, ‘ACT Peak Oil’ and ‘Adams, James’ made submissions that are 1.2MB, 51KB and 9KB in size, in November, May and April.

On the bus home the next day, reflecting on the inspiring ideas of the #publicsphere presenters and on Lindsay Tanner and Joe Ludwig’s encouraging words on the role of the new Taskforce, one of my fellow noodle-eaters tweeted to ask the name of the inquiry I’d been complaining about. He then proceeded to scrape the PDFs from the url I sent him, and turned them into a searchable database at It’s a pretty basic site, but overnight, purely for the hell of it, Ray Haleblian transformed an obscure, inaccessible mountain of data into something that is just that little bit easier for an interested citizen to use.

In fact a standard internet search engine can do some of this work, particularly if all the files exist in the same folder on the relevant website.

Still it’s clear that it wouldn’t take much to provide much better searchability and access to searchability than is available. I’m happy to join in the CPD’s implicit criticism of the Henry review if only it’s understood that it is a criticism of us too. We had no plans to do anything particularly different on this site.  Actually we hadn’t planned to address the specific point raised in the submission, but I have already suggested internally that each submission have its own comments thread so that people could focus on particular issues raised in them. As has been pointed out to me, my suggestion raises a further issue of consent. People weren’t told that this would happen to their submissions. I agree with the point which suggests ethical and possibly legal concerns (for instance with copyright). So I’ve suggested that we contact people who have sent us submissions offering them an opportunity to opt out.

As I was thinking about this I was registering online for the Government 2.0 Summit in Washington D.C. run by the redoubtable O’Reilly Media, Inc between the 8th and the 10th of September. And as I did so, the web page I was on didn’t just get me to give it my details. It gave me a profile. In fact the system didn’t invite me into a rich world of blogs and wikis hosted for the Summit itself (not that I could find), but it allowed me to set out some things about myself in the usual kind of way that a social networking site would. And I expect the only reason that the site doesn’t invite us all into a Summit specific blog is that the Government 2.0 community is already generously serviced (your increasingly time-poor Chairman thinks over-serviced) by a range of online communities with their profiles, blogs wikis and so on.

But that’s not always the case. And inquiries always generate their own communities. In addition to the blog we’ve provided here, there are plenty of other ways in which steps could be taken to help the community develop. The National Centre for Vocational Education and Research has recently published a paper of mine where I bemoaned the extent to which we suppress the release of data on student opinions about the quality of their higher education providers where the British take very similar data and broadcast it on a rich online database – This site enables students to ask questions like “Which pharmacy school (or any other type of school) has the most satisfied students?” and “Which pharmacy school rates best on the question ‘I was always able to get help with an assignment”. In Australia, we have similar data, and it’s made available to participating educational institutions, but then suppressed in the case of the general public.

In any event, my paper pointed out that we could take things a lot further than even the British have. The journey I sketched out – and I’m sure some people on this blog could help me sketch it out further – would be the transition from Gov/Web 1.0 to Gov/Web 2.0. This is how I concluded the essay (with apologies for the length it adds to this post):

One could permit users [of a site like unistats] to adopt ‘avatars’ or internet identities chosen by them which presented them on the Internet as a specific person, whilst preserving their anonymity to other users. However this is a structured and not absolute or anarchic anonymity. To acquire an avatar they would undertake to communicate truthfully and in good faith. Their identities would be known to ‘the system’ so that their privileges could be modified or removed for misbehaviour and they could be pursued in the event of defamatory comments. They would also be warned that it may be possible for other users of the system to work out or speculate as to their true identity.

For the sake of our example we have a student who is at the Mildura TAFE doing hospitality. He gives himself the avatar ‘Sunraysya’. When ‘Sunraysya’ contributes to discussion forums about the hospitality course at the Mildura TAFE, the system verifies that he is indeed qualified to comment – i.e. that he is or has been a student in the relevant course.

Scientist Michael Neilson has commented on “the untapped creative potential existing in latent connections between scientists, and which could be released using suitable tools to activate the most valuable of those latent connections”. Of course this is just an aspect of the greater value of human connectedness, something which is going through a epoch making step change. Once this system of avatars and permissions is established, it becomes possible to facilitate the evolution of very socially, professionally and educationally useful networks of information and communication.

They do not exist currently because the necessary ‘social networking’ technology is only just coming into common use on the Internet, and because to date, statistical systems established by governments have typically imposed a ‘one size fits all’ set of privacy protections on users. Thus most statistical agencies have strict protocols for preventing the release of any information that might enable the identification of someone contributing data. Yet amongst those whose privacy is being protected, there exists a possibly substantial number who would be prepared to forego some privacy in return for others’ doing the same. Indeed the way relationships typically develop, whether in our normal social lives or in cyberspace, is by a process of gradual and reciprocal revelation of information which remains private to others.

Thus people could choose to establish ‘profiles’ either in their own name or in the name of an avatar and to allow others to search them. They could elect to allow people to e-mail them (either directly or via their avatar which would still protect their anonymity) if viewers of the profile wished to contact them. They would then be able to respond as they wished – outing their identity, responding still in the name of their avatar or blocking the sender and/or ignoring the advance.

Such a system would facilitate the evolution of communities of interest and communities of common experience. A student having problems with an aspect of a course could search for mentors or seek private tutors ad hoc tutorial assistance. And it would enable the deep mining of the database, where people might interrogate the system to identify whether a course or a teacher had been well regarded by ‘people like them’ in some specified respect(s) or search for those who had made the transition from one area of professional training to another. It would likewise enable teachers and course administrators to identify some of the strengths and weaknesses of an existing course and/or teacher in terms of their appeal to different kinds of students at a much greater level of detail than is possible today.

Of course this may remind readers of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Facebook began in a tertiary institution – Harvard – with the initial goal of facilitating social, professional and pedagogical networking and communication. It has been built into a vast network with over 150 million users. And Facebook now hosts applications, of precisely the kind – though I doubt yet of the scale – of what is being proposed here. It may well be that the most efficient and effective way to build the capability described here is not to build it on the analogy of Facebook, not to build it like Facebook, but to build it as an application in Facebook.

I wrote the concluding paragraph not to necessarily advocate the course of action contemplated, but to get people thinking. On reflection and taking the example explored in this post, I expect that while individual inquiries are likely to benefit from using facebook there are plenty of good reasons why it may not be sensible to migrate such a central feature of the running of inquiries to Facebook.

But my experience registering for O’Reilly made me realise how easy and cheap this stuff has become – as one would realise on a moments reflection – if it’s being found useful by a lot of parties, particularly parties who have a penchant for open source software, pretty soon it will become commoditised and accordingly cheap. O’Reilly presumably has adapted some software package to its needs and there it is – a capability that can be wheeled out for next to nothing for every function it runs.

Shouldn’t Australian Governments build a similar Inquiry 2.0 capability – not to mention Parliaments which conduct their fair share of inquiries? What other ways could would it be worth moving towards Inquiries 2.0.

Postscript: there are two follow up posts to this post here and here.

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