Government 2.0 Taskforce » Guest Blogger 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 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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Emergency 2.0 Australia http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/11/emergency-2-0-australia/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/11/emergency-2-0-australia/#comments Tue, 10 Nov 2009 22:18:33 +0000 Maurits van der Vlugt http://gov2.net.au/?p=1330 Maurits van der Vlugt works for NGIS Australia, who have been commissioned by the Taskforce to undertake a project regarding the use of social media for emergency management.

Emergency 2.0 Australia is a project examining how Social Media can assist in Emergency Management. It is about how Web 2.0 tools and technologies, emerging all around us, can help improving location enabled information sharing between Emergency Management Agencies and the affected community.

For example, how do Twitter, Facebook and Mash-ups help getting flood-warnings, information on evacuation routes etc. out to the community better and quicker? Conversely how do agencies further improve their Common Operating Picture with timely community input on roadblocks, damage reports, or stranded cattle? This story contains a more extensive example.

The project website is here to inform about the progress and outcomes of the project. But, more importantly, it is here for your input. In true Web 2 fashion, we will (and quite frankly: have to!) rely on the community to show us what is needed, what is happening, and what can be done in this area.

We therefore ask for your help. Whether you’re working in the emergency services, are a volunteer or an interested citizen, we are looking for your ideas, comments, or pointers to any leading or emerging practice examples. Throughout this site there will be opportunities to leave your thoughts online. Of course, you can always contact the team directly.

The project is supported by the Government 2.0 Taskforce, and will deliver a report on leading and emerging practices in Australia and abroad, recommendations for follow-up activities, and (with your help), a vibrant community of interest.

On behalf of the project team, I am looking forward to working with you all, and help Australian Emergency Services do an even better job for the community.

Maurits van der Vlugt, Project Lead

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Whole of Government Information Publication Scheme http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/09/whole-of-government-information-publication-scheme/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/09/whole-of-government-information-publication-scheme/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2009 04:18:38 +0000 Eric Wainwright http://gov2.net.au/?p=1321 Eric Wainwright of eKnowledge Structures has been commissioned by the Taskforce to undertake Project 7 regarding a Whole of Government Information Publication Scheme.

Not a topic that has inspired much discussion so far! But here at eKnowledge Structures, Dagmar Parer and I have been wrestling with our brief under Taskforce Project 7.

The proposed new Freedom of Information legislation, together with the Bill establishing the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) are scheduled to come into Parliament by 2009. If the Bills are passed, the Commissioner will have some fairly wide powers relating to Commonwealth information management. The Information Publication Scheme (IPS) will be mandatory for all Commonwealth Departments and agencies. Queensland has been in the forefront with such Schemes, basing its approach on the UK model. It has clearly influenced not only the new Commonwealth legislation but also the Government Information (Public Access) Act in NSW, and the Right to Information Bill in Tasmania.

We are considering how these schemes might be constructed and implemented in a way that actually results in assisting the Government’s objectives for more pro-active and open disclosure of, and around, information held by Government agencies.

Some questions to kick off discussion are:

  • There is a risk that the IPS will be seen by agencies as just an additional compliance chore to add to their existing list – Annual Reports, Senate lists of files, etc. How can we minimise this risk?
  • Can the IPSs be implemented so that they act as a catalyst for more integrated agency information management planning and practices, and clearer information pathways for the public?
  • The Bill (section 8A) refers to ‘operational information’ which must be published, and allows that ‘the agency may publish other information held’. Is there a right balance between maximum pro-active disclosure under these clauses and the potentially extra costs of publishing and maintaining very little used material on agency websites?
  • Can we use IPS’s to advance the visibility, availability and utility of government data from a much wider range of agencies?
  • How best can the OIC create initial momentum for a positive roll-out of Schemes across government, and then assist agencies in the on-going plans required by the new Act?

Or any other comments!

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GovHack: govt data + hackers + caffeine == good times http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/05/govhack/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/11/05/govhack/#comments Thu, 05 Nov 2009 00:53:24 +0000 John Allsopp http://gov2.net.au/?p=1297 John Allsopp from Web Directions was an organiser of GovHack, an event sponsored by the Taskforce. It was held on the 30th and 31st of October 2009 to encourage greater use and availability of government data in support of the MashupAustralia contest.

Govhack

For those who’ve not heard of them, the rather ominously sounding “hack days” are events that have been gaining popularity with developers around the world. They bring together web focussed designers, developers and other experts to build web applications and mashups in a 24 hour period.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, no Government at any level anywhere in the world has been willing to not only open up their data for people to “hack” but actually host a “hack day” to bring people together to do so.

At least not until last Friday and Saturday, when GovHack, an initiative of the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce was held at the ANU in CSIRO’s ICT Lab and the ANU’s Computer Science department. Around 150 “hackers” (hacking, btw, is a typically positive term among developers, it’s only in mainstream usage that it tends to have negative connotations) from all over Australia came together and built numerous incredibly sophisticated web applications and mashups, some, like the Judge’s overall winners “Lobby Clue” by teams of people who’d never even met before the day.

Govhack kicked off with an hour or so of short sharp presentations, by members of the Government 2.0 Taskforce, and the developer community, along with “data owners”, both in Government and commercial, spruiking their data wares to the assembled hacker community.

Teams then got down to business, exploring the growing number of government data sets available online, “speed dating” to find hackers in search of teams with skills they needed, and planning their hacks.

Throughout the night, teams coded away, fuelled by caffeine (and it must be said excellent food, fruit, juices, and camaraderie.) Even well after midnight, a couple of dozen remained working, with a palpable buzz in the air, while Taskforce chair Dr Nicholas Gruen was still to be found discussing the merit of various sites and hacks at 2am. A dozen or so hardy souls even managed to hack all night.

Saturday morning saw new teams arrive, and the less hardy return from hotel rooms and home to restart their development. Senator Kate Lundy, now dubbed the “Patron Senator of Geeks” spent quite some time interviewing various participants, with the video hopefully available soon. As the 4pm deadline loomed, frantic (geek speak alert) XML to JSON conversions, JavaScript debugging and API reverse engineering were occurring throughout the CSIT Building on the ANU Campus.

Just what was achieved for all the effort? Before turning to some of the genuinely outstanding projects, a few outcomes from the event illustrate the breadth of the achievements. A few teams found themselves in need of postcode to Local Government Authority conversions, but while the data was sort of available, it was far from easily usable. Stephen Lead from LPMA in NSW took the less than ideal data and transformed it into a far more usable format. Then Mark Mansour from Sensis created a database and API (an Application Programming Interface is a standardized way of applications talking to one another) for the data, to make it much easier for anyone to use. Within an hour or two, two teams at GovHack were actually using this API. In a similar vein, Rob Manson, from MOB created a single JSON API to many of the disparate data sources available on data.australia.gov.au. Meanwhile, the NSW State Government launched their new data catalogue to make sure the data was available for GovHack.

So what exactly did people build? In all there were around 20 projects presented at the end of the 24 hours, almost all of which were conceived and built at the event itself. Many were geo/mapping focussed, but others focussed on data visualisation and exploration, the next wave of web applications in many people’s opinion. The level of complexity, sophistication, and novelty of many of the projects was extraordinary, given the tight time constraints. Projects that you can actually use right now included (keep in mind their alpha state)

  • The overall winners LobbyClue, by a team comprising members many of whom had never met before the event. LobbyClue is an in-depth visualisation of lobbying groups’ relations to government agencies, including tenders awarded, links between the various agencies, and physical office locations
  • Know where you live, a stylish presentation of ABS data (along with Flickr Geocoded photos), pulling in relevant information for a particular postcode: rental rates, average income, crime rates, and more. Built by a team of developers who work at News Digital Media.
  • What the Federal Government Does, an enormous tag cloud of the different functions of government, combined with visualisations of government functions shared between departments.
  • Rate A Loo demonstrates a community engagement idea, seeded with government provided data. Allows users to locate and then rate the condition of public toilets.
  • It’s buggered, mate, In true Australian style, allows you to report buggered toilets, roads, etc, with an easy-to-use graphical interface overlayed on a map. Their idea was to combine this with local government services to fix issues in the community. Built by a team of developers from Lonely Planet.
  • Many more fantastic projects can be found at the GovHack site.

A huge thanks to AGIMO and the Taskforce for enabling it all, CISRO’s ICT Lab and the ANU Computer Science Department for providing a venue and network facilities, to Microsoft, whose Project Fund helped make GovHack a reality. Numerous volunteers from AGIMO and the web developer community helped ensure the success of GovHack, and a big thanks to them as well. And of course the participation of so many developers from all over the country ensured that the event produced lasting value. Hopefully more than a few of the 24 hour hacks turn into applications we’ll be using for years to come. Above all thanks to you.

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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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The Three Laws of Open Data http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/20/the-three-laws-of-open-data/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/20/the-three-laws-of-open-data/#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2009 05:40:40 +0000 David Eaves http://gov2.net.au/?p=1190 David Eaves is a member of the Taskforce’s International Reference Group.

Over the past few years I have become increasingly involved in the movement for open government – and more specifically advocating for Open Data, the sharing of information government collects and generates freely towards citizens such that they can analyze it, repurpose and use it themselves. My interest in this space comes out of writing and work I’ve down around how technology, open systems and generational change will transform government. Earlier this year I began advising the Mayor and Council of the City of Vancouver helping them pass the Open Motion (referred to by staff as Open3) and create Vancouver’s Open Data Portal, the first municipal open data portal in Canada. More recently, Australia’s Government 2.0 Taskforce has asked me to sit on its International Reference Group.

Obviously the open government movement is quite broad, but my recent work has pushed me to try to distill out the essence of the Open Data piece of this movement. What, ultimately, do we need and are we asking for.  Consequently, while presenting for a panel discussion on Conference for Parliamentarians: Transparency in the Digital Era for Right to Know Week organized by the Canadian Government’s Office of the Information Commissioner I shared my best effort to date of this distillation: Three laws for Open Government Data.

The Three Laws of Open Government Data:

  1. If it can’t be spidered or indexed, it doesn’t exist
  2. If it isn’t available in open and machine readable format, it can’t engage
  3. If a legal framework doesn’t allow it to be repurposed, it doesn’t empower

To explain, (1) basically means: Can I find it? If Google (and/or other search engines) can’t find it, it essentially doesn’t exist for most citizens. So you’d better ensure that you are optimized to be crawled by all sorts of search engine spiders.

After I’ve found it, (2) notes that, to be useful, I need to be able to use (or play with) the data. Consequently, I need to be able to pull or download it in a useful format (e.g. an API, subscription feed, or a documented file). Citizens need data in a form that lets them mash it up with Google Maps or other data sets, or analyze in Excel. This is essentially the difference between VanMaps (look, but don’t play) and the Vancouver Data Portal, (look, take and play!). Citizens who can’t play with information are citizens who are disengaged/marginalized from the discussion.

Finally, even if I can find it and use it, (3) highlights that I need a legal framework that allows me to share what I’ve created, to mobilize other citizens, provide a new service or just point out an interesting fact. This is the difference between Canada’s House of Parliament’s information (which, due to crown copyright, you can take, play with, but don’t you dare share or re-publish) and say, Whitehouse.gov which “pursuant to federal law, government-produced materials appearing on this site are not copyright protected.”

Find, Use and Share. That’s want we want.

Of course, a brief scan of the internet has revealed that others have also been thinking about this as well. There is this excellent 8 Principle of Open Government Data that are more detailed, and admittedly better, especially for a CIO level and lower conversation.  But for talking to politicians (or Deputy Ministers or CEOs), like those in attendance at that panel discussion or, later that afternoon, the Speaker of the House, I found the simplicity of three resonated more strongly; it is a simpler list they can remember and demand.

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Lots of Gov 2.0 learning still to do… http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/09/lots-of-gov-2-0-learning-still-to-do%e2%80%a6/ http://gov2.net.au/blog/2009/10/09/lots-of-gov-2-0-learning-still-to-do%e2%80%a6/#comments Thu, 08 Oct 2009 22:31:40 +0000 Anna York http://gov2.net.au/?p=1155 Anna York is a second year Masters in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she is co-Chair of the Government 2.0 Professional Interest Council and Executive Editor of the Kennedy School Review. Before enrolling in her Masters, Anna worked in the NSW Government, and she is looking forward to returning to Sydney after her graduation in May 2010.

As a Masters student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, I have been very surprised at the relatively limited discussion about the principles, challenges and opportunities of Government 2.0 on my campus.

It seems that for many of my classmates and faculty, the idea that technology might revolutionise the way government works is a strange and distant concept. Or perhaps the underlying principles often touted as the foundation of Government 2.0 – openness, transparency, democracy, and engagement – are a little threatening to students being trained in traditional forms of bureaucratic management.

In an effort to broaden the discussion about Gov 2.0 and expose more faculty and students to these ideas, my classmate Yasmin Fodil and I have started the Government 2.0 Professional Interest Council at the Harvard Kennedy School. We have been working over the last few months to invite Gov 2.0 experts and practitioners to campus, facilitate debate and discussion and help students develop the skills they will need to be able public servants in the context of a growing innovation culture in government.

As more citizens seek their news, information and access to government services online, it will be increasingly important for public service leaders of the future to be well equipped to respond to – and take full advantage of – the challenges and opportunities new technologies present.

Indeed, I recently had the opportunity to meet the former Australian Public Service Commissioner (and now head of Medicare) Lynelle Briggs, who articulated this view forcefully in a speech about the future of the Australian Public Service:

The modern day world is requiring some new styles of leadership to be blended with those that have often been the norm in the public service. Leaders will have to become more innovative, actively seeking, encouraging and leveraging ideas from all quarters.

I hope these are issues that the Government 2.0 Taskforce can address. If Harvard is any measure, these are questions US educational institutions are just starting to grapple with.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not a technology evangelist who believes that social networking tools and multi-purpose databases are a panacea for every ill experienced or perpetuated by each one of the world’s governments.

But I do agree with the US General Service Administration’s Darlene Meskell’s argument (PDF):

The arrival of the Internet created new opportunities for citizen engagement through its powerful ability to organize. Online town meetings, social media, chat rooms, bulletin boards, deliberative processes for e-rulemaking, and feedback mechanisms for soliciting citizen input. All of these tools have a positive impact on public policy development because when people get involved everyone learns from each other, relationships are built, trust is established and the final outcome is improved.

I also believe that as new technologies are developed that can help make government services and administration more efficient and less costly, there will continue to be large scale investment in these new tools. We might as well get on board and exert influence to ensure these investments support enhanced democracy and improved citizen engagement – in addition to the eternal promise of cost savings and efficiency.

In the meantime, there is much that countries who are starting to take the less travelled Government 2.0 road can learn from each other.

As part of our Masters requirements, my classmate Yasmin and I are working with the US Federal Communications Commission to support their research and recommendations regarding how the national roll-out of broadband infrastructure can support improved civic engagement.

Many of the questions being raised by the Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce are simultaneously being considered by the FCC’s National Broadband Taskforce. In particular, we will be looking to international examples of national level governments have successfully deploying social media tools to enhance citizen engagement and participation. (If you have any interesting leads along these lines, please don’t hesitate to contact me!) I also hope that our work might be of use to the Australian Taskforce as it develops its final report.

While there are countless exciting prospects and many daunting challenges ahead as we work to improve the quality of our governments and strength of our democracies through the deployment of Government 2.0 principles, there are also opportunities to collaborate in learning across boundaries, borders and jurisdictions.

It is also important that we properly equip our public service leaders of the future with the skills and experiences they will need to harness the potential of true innovation and engagement in government.

Now that our Gov 2.0 group is up and running at the Kennedy School, we would love to make contact with other faculty, student and university groups in Australia and around the world working on these issues.

Do you know of tertiary institutions – courses, clubs, curricula – that are dealing with Gov 2.0 issues? Are there other opportunities for research students, faculty and government to work together on shaping the future of government? Do you agree that future leaders in public service will need different skill sets – and if so, what are the educational models we can look at to prepare them? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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