Government 2.0 Taskforce » social media Design by Ben Crothers of Catch Media Tue, 04 May 2010 23:55:29 +0000 en hourly 1 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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If I could start with a blank piece of paper… (part 2) Tue, 10 Nov 2009 23:43:24 +0000 David Eaves 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 Tue, 10 Nov 2009 22:18:33 +0000 Maurits van der Vlugt 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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Do we have a Best Blog Post in our midst? Mon, 09 Nov 2009 12:38:37 +0000 Nicholas Gruen In 2006 I read a review of Black Inc’s The Best Australian Essays. As an enthusiast for the new medium of blogging, and thinking that the selection of the essays had been somehow unadventurous, I initiated a process whereby a few of us got together, advertised that we’d put together a collection of best blog posts for that year and, as is the way in this new world, within a few weeks Best Blog Posts 06 was done.

As we explained in 2006

The process embodied the strengths of blogging and more generally of the new wave of “user-produced content” on the Internet – the most spectacular examples of which are open source software such as the Linux/GNU operating system and the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

Where it had taken Black Inc many months to produce its anthology of essays, BB06 was compiled in a little over two weeks. And you won’t have to pay to read them. They’re all already available right now on the Internet – if you know where to find them. And you’ll know where to find each of them as they will be published again in On Line Opinion throughout January.

Of course there were the obvious arguments. We were being elitist, we were being partial, etc etc. The complaints were true of course, the collection came from a particular perspective and was thrown together by a bunch of people many of whom had never met (physically anyway). And all other anthologies suffer from the same problems to a greater or lesser extent.

Anyway, Best Blog Posts is now in its fourth edition! Yes, that’s right folks, in January On Line Opinion will be hosting the forth annual collection of best annual blog posts.*

I mention this because I think we’ve come up with some really good posts here, and I wanted to invite suggestions from you guys as to which posts you think are the best. I already know a thread I’m going to nominate, not really for the post itself (though of course it’s a fine post) but for the really extraordinarily high quality discussion it engendered.

What are the highlights of this blog for you. And since Best Blogs has always had an unfortunate bias towards the political/cultural interests of the old farts on the judging panel who these days are usually only ever seen on Anzac Days down the pub reminiscing about the good old days of the Battle of the Somme, I expect we’d be interested in the best Australian blog posts from the Web 2.0 and Govt 2.0 communities posted anywhere on the net this year and not published in the MSM.

* Declaration of interest, I am the Chairman of National Forum which is the non-profit that runs On Line Opinion.
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If I could start with a blank sheet of paper… Mon, 02 Nov 2009 00:06:10 +0000 David Eaves 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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If you could start with a blank sheet of paper… Wed, 21 Oct 2009 11:03:13 +0000 Martin Stewart-Weeks For many, the challenge of spreading the impact and value of Government 2.0 is not about the technology (although there are plenty of challenges there of course) but about the way public servants behave in the more open and collaborative world of social networking. Culture change is key, we’re told.

Only this week, at a conference in Canberra on Government 2.0, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner (one of the Ministers who commissioned this task Force) said that public servants “should feel free and encouraged to engage in robust professional discussion online.” Yet as discussion later in the conference bore out, the reality is that doesn’t always happen.

The question then becomes how best to provide guidance to public servants so they can be more active and confident as contributors to the conversations and interactions in the spreading online communities of influence and practice?
Many organisations in public, private and community sectors have developed guidance about social media and online engagement ( And there are guidelines already in place from the Australian Public Service Commission, currently under review (Circular 2008/8: Interim protocols for online media participation).

But 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?

We’d like to hear your ideas about the kind of guidelines you think would be most useful. You can either write a full set of guidelines or just offer some ideas or items that you think could form part of a larger set of guidelines. And if, in the process, you have any thoughts about the underlying values which the guidelines should reflect and reinforce, feel free to say something about those too.

When you are offering your thoughts, please keep these three constraints in mind:

  1. The guidelines and values statement should be as short as possible – probably no more than one sentence for each principle, with maybe a few sentences to explain if you think that’s needed.
  2. Write the statements themselves in a clear, simple style that avoids too much jargon
  3. Put your ideas to a simple test – would the statements provide useful and reliable guidance to a public servant who wants to get involved online, to be engaged, but wants to do it with confidence and impact. And feel free to illustrate in ‘cameos’ which could be incorporated in supporting materials.

Look forward to your ideas and suggestions.

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When Goliath Does Social Media… Sat, 26 Sep 2009 06:33:04 +0000 Mia Garlick We’ve had a couple of posts so far looking at cultural challenges in achieving government 2.0:  Nic wrote about “The Theory of SPIN: Serial Professional Innovation Negation”, I blogged earlier on “Faceless Bureaucrats and Web 2.0”  and Lisa wrote recently about a community ethic of government engagement … I wanted to turn to another aspect of the culture challenge: what compromises do we legitimately need to make to the vision of Web 2.0 (as we understand it in the commercial and community space) because the very nature of government requires it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Capturing and preserving authentic and accessible evidence of Government 2.0 (Part Two) Mon, 14 Sep 2009 00:58:19 +0000 Adrian Cunningham This is the second of two blog posts about what Government 2.0 means for the world of archives, records and information management. I’ve gone back and added a “Part One” to the title of the first post.

Government archives are institutions with split personalities. On the one hand they are heritage and research centres with a strong cultural focus. On the other hand they are key institutions of accountability, integrity and good governance. Archives hold the evidence of public administration (both good and bad). As such, and in the words of Senator John Faulkner, they are the ultimate accountability institutions.

These days archives don’t just sit at the end of the information life cycle and sweep up the detritus of long-forgotten activities and provide them with a safe home – although there are of course times when we are required to do just that. Because good recordkeeping is an essential enabler of efficient and accountable democratic governance, and because archivists have records and information management expertise, today’s archives are active participants in current public administration.

Talking to government agencies about the need to take recordkeeping and information management seriously can often be a thankless task – but it is one that has to be done. It is not just tomorrow’s archives that are at stake here, it is the very foundations of our democratic system of government. The Government 2.0 focus on maximising access to and use of public sector information helps highlight the importance of good information management in government. You cannot make PSI available if you don’t know what you’ve got and your systems and processes are incapable of managing those resources properly. The role of audit and compliance here is also critical and includes both the Australian National Audit Office and the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner.

Good information management does not just ‘happen’. It requires a supportive organisational culture and it requires the clever design of systems and work processes that can make it easy for the organisation to capture and manage its vital information assets as a natural and organic part of the running of the organisation’s business. Web 2.0 technologies provide both challenges and opportunities in this context. See for instance a book recently published in the UK by Steve Bailey called Crowded Out: Records Management and the Web 2.0 Phenomenon (Facet, 2008). How to capture and preserve dynamic web-based resources as records has been a challenge that has occupied the minds of records professionals for a number of years now – and the spread of blogs and wikis has not made this challenge any easier to resolve.

Success will require collaboration between creating/hosting organisations and archival institutions. Mere web harvesting, while it has a role to play, is no real solution. Indeed treating such resources as static information objects to be preserved is probably the wrong paradigm altogether. A better approach is to abandon object-oriented thinking and instead adopt event-oriented thinking. Users experience the Web (indeed also any digital platform) as a series of event-based interactions or performances. Identifying the important events for which evidence needs to be captured and retained is the key here.

This can be done through a mixture of research and analysis of legal and administrative requirements for records, process analysis, risk analysis and stakeholder consultation where useful and possible. Once you have done that it is a relatively simple matter of designing systems and processes for capturing that evidence together with sufficient metadata documenting the context of these events. All events that are enabled by Web technology, regardless of how dynamic and interactive the wider process might be, generate traces (stings of zeros and ones) that are capable of being captured as records. This kind of thinking is, however, yet to catch on and until it does we will all continue to struggle with making and keeping records of web-based activities in all their various and evolving manifestations.

An interesting resource in this context is a short paper on preserving blogs (PDF – 243k) prepared by Digital Preservation Europe. I am grateful to Mark Brogan of Edith Cowan University for alerting me to this source.

Persistent access to web-based resources is another challenge – not only because the Web places a premium on the currency of information but also because regular changes to the machinery of government and regular overhauls of agency websites mean that URLs are unlikely to persist for more than a year or two. We have all been frustrated by ‘link-rot’, where hyperlinks take you to a non-existent webpage. Various attempts at designing persistent URL resolver services have failed to catch on, so we probably have no choice but to accept link-rot as a fact of life. Ever-changing URLs are bad enough – but the total disappearance of web resources is much worse.

Once again archives and libraries have to collaborate with authoring/publishing agencies to help ensure the persistent availability of government web resources – the essential evidence of online governance in our democracy. If a government agency says something over its website today, citizens whose rights and entitlements can depend on this advice are entitled to expect that information will still be available tomorrow if it ever needs to be referenced, questioned or cited.

The longevity and interoperability over time of digital information resources is of course a major professional concern of archives. The accepted wisdom is to encourage use of open, standards-based file formats and to build and maintain distributed networks of ‘trusted digital repositories’. But that is a whole other topic and I think I have rambled on quite long enough in this blog post.

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Access to PSI – Who is doing what? Sun, 12 Jul 2009 07:26:06 +0000 Brian Fitzgerald We know that there are many people already working (both in and outside of government) on making PSI more accessible and useable.

For example over the last five years I have worked closely with a number of government projects designed to develop policy, technical and licensing solutions – such as the Government Information Licensing Project (GILF) (see its Stage 2 Report).  Our team has also worked closely with federal agencies such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics who are now providing free PSI under CC licences, AGIMO and the Cross Jurisdictional Chief Information Officers Committee (CJCIOC). 

I know that most governments in the country are now doing work in this area and many individuals and industries are also active.

Can people let us know what they are doing, proposing to do or want to do in this space?  Preferably for the record, make a comment on this blog but if you wish communicate with us is in some other way. 

(Note, this is intended to be a first cut at a project which the Taskforce may wish to do in a more systematic way, and as a result we’re likely to return to the subject more formally. But in the meantime, I thought this would be a useful preliminary exercise).

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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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