Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What would occur if the STOP sign was invented today?

Public Sector Marketing 2.0 has published an online video looking at the process government would go through if it was first inventing a STOP sign for traffic intersections.

While cynical, perhaps there's a few grains of truth in the message that sometimes in government we focus on our own importance and processes to the expense of the customer and outcomes. What do you think?

What would happen if the STOP sign was invented in 2008?

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Involved in eProcurement? European eprocurement forum looking to build international ties

The European eProcurement forum (an initiative supported by the European Commission) is seeking to build international ties to improve its understanding and build collective knowledge about what is occuring in the eprocurement field, what works and what doesn't work in different jurisdictions around the world.

If you're involved or interested in eprocurement, check them out at the eProcurement Forum community.

Also of interest is the new eProcurement Map released by the forum, which is a map of activities having an impact on the development of European interoperable eProcurement solutions.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Is traffic the wedge into effective Australian egovernment data mashups?

Dave Fletcher has published a post on his Government and Technology Weblog about how the community is making use of Utah government traffic data to create innovative tools to help drivers.

Covered in If it could all be so effective as this, Dave covers how the information is shared with the public - much in real-time - via Commuterlink.

It can the be reused by other websites such as Hello Salt Lake City.

With traffic being a key concern for residents of most big cities, and given the success of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in allowing mash-ups of weather (another big citizen concern), I wonder when we'll see state governments in Australia allowing this form of use of their traffic data.

As Dave concludes, due to allowing community mashups of government data,

The end result is that Utah government data actually has much broader disemmination and utility than just what is presented on the state's website. With hundreds of information systems, there are many more examples where this kind of sharing could be valuable, but it doesn't happen. It's a big opportunity.

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Europe showcases 40 innovative egovernment projects

The new Smart Regions website showcases 40 European egovernment initiatives between 2002 and 2007.

One of the primary messages of the site is the need for government to connect and work together, across teams, agencies, departments, levels of government, with business and with community. Only by doing so can states and councils become more productive and service focused.

All the governments, research institutions or voluntary organisations depicted on this website have one shared goal: to make their region better, stronger and smarter. And the secret to regional development is actually very simple: co-operation. The Smart Regions share infrastructure, exchange methodologies, copy succesfull achievements, have built strong stakeholder structures and managed to involve other sectors of society. Smart regions not only work together, Smart Regions are smart because they work together.

The site also points out that,
E-Government is as much about changing mindsets, building a vision on service-delivery and showing leadership in getting organisations to work together, as it is about technology.


Let's hear more of that here in Australia!

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Newcastle council online community hijacked by hackers

As posted in the Online Community Consultation blog, Newcastle Council was recently stung by having hackers take over its online consultation community and redirect the site to an independent site containing adult content.

As discussed in the post, Red faces in Newcastle, the lesson to be learnt is to ensure effective security is in place to prevent hacking.

There's a secondary point discussed around the length of the sign-up process, which needs to be as short and as simple as possible to keep the barriers to participation low. I didn't see the Newcastle Council community site, so cannot personally comment, however from the post it appears that a more complex sign-up process had real impacts on the number of participants.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

WebAim conducting survey on screen reader usage

WebAim is currently conducting a survey looking at the usage of screen readers and the personal experiences of their users.

If you're a user of a screen reader, or are interested in accessibility for vision-impaired people and use of screen readers (as all government web and intranet managers should be), the survey is available from the Webaim blog post, Screen Reader Survey.

There's some interesting comments already on the issues around use of captcha technology (even audio equivalents).

Results will be published in a few months.

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National Diabetes Services Scheme releases

The National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS), an Australian Government initiative administered by Diabetes Australia, last month released the a national online map of the spread of diabetes in Australia.

Located at www.diabetesmap.com.au), the service is a wonderful example of how online map systems (in this case Microsoft's free Virtual Earth tool) can be 'mashed-up' with data to provide new ways of visualising and understanding data.

More details are available in the NDSS's media release, National Online Map Launched to Track Diabetes in Australia.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have a great holiday season & New Year!

To the over 7,000 unique visitors my blog has received in the last six months, have a fantastic and safe holiday season and I look forward to further conversations in the Australian egovernment space in 2009.

With many international voices in the egovernment space indicating that government needs to build more connections and networks to improve and innovate online policy and service delivery, I hope to meet and work with many of you in the future in cross-agency and whole-of-government initiatives - through peer-based networks, not just top-down driven projects.

In case you haven't read them, the most popular posts on my blog have been:


Keep an eye out for Santa (NORAD tracks Santa)!

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Australian government Digital Futures blog now closed

The Department of Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) has now closed its blog on Digital Futures, with a Thanks and so long... message.

The majority of responses to the blog (and yes I systematically read all the comments that the Department published on the site) related to concerns around the government's mandatory internet filtering plan.

Other comments indicated a strong positive response to the idea of the government blogging and using the online channel for greater consultation.

I'm hopeful that the DBCDE will consider upgrading their platform to one more effective for blogging and dedicate resources to the maintenance of an ongoing blog to create a conversation with the public, rather than a brief (14 day) consultation. Ongoing conversations tend to start strong, fall off and then build over time - the first two stages of which are visible in the DBCDE's effort.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Interim protocols for government online media participation released

Back on 8 December the APSC released Circular 2008/8: Interim protocols for online media participation.

I was waiting to hear about them officially before posting about them. However as I've not yet seen any coverage through these channels, I figured that it was time to post about them to raise some awareness for those of us in the egovernment space and for other public servants blogging.

The interim guidelines have been released in support of the current online consultation trials taking place in the Federal government, with the Department of Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy's Future Directions blog being one of these trials.

The guidelines cover both official and private use (such as this blog) of online communications and are broadly inline with similar guidelines in the US, UK and New Zealand.

In summary these are,

Official use of online communication
When using online communication for official purposes:
  • ensure that you are appropriately authorised to do so. Let people know who you are and what you want to achieve. You should disclose your position as a representative of your agency, unless there are exceptional circumstances such as a potential threat to personal security
  • be accurate and informative in explaining Government policies and programmes and be responsive to public views and comment. You should, however, avoid any statements that might be interpreted as advocating government policies or criticising the policies of other political parties or groups
  • be objective and impartial. Avoid any comment that could be interpreted as a personal political view
  • be honest, cordial and professional at all times
  • don’t commit your department or agency or the Government to any action or initiative unless you have authority to do so
  • don’t disclose official information unless you are authorised to do so or unless it is already in the public domain. Be aware of laws covering libel, defamation, privacy and the protection of intellectual property
  • avoid any statement or comment that might bring the APS into disrepute.
Private use of online communication
As a citizen, you are entitled to comment in a personal capacity on public issues, including through contributing to online discussion and debate. You should remember, however:
  • that Commonwealth resources must be used in a proper manner. You should not use work internet or email for private blogging or other forms of online comment;
  • that you should avoid any comment that might be interpreted as an official statement on behalf of your agency or that might compromise perceptions of your ability to do your job in an unbiased and professional manner. You should also be careful about posting comment or material that might bring the APS into disrepute.
Final guidelines are planned to be released in 2009.

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MP interests to be published online

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald a few days ago, Open Australia has requested, and plans to soon publish, the register of MP interests.

Per the article, Interests of MPs to go online - it's about time, while the register is publicly available, currently 'public' means that,

As things stand, if you want to know which MPs has been given trips abroad, who has investments in mining or pharmaceutical companies, or who has real estate holdings in areas ripe for development, you have to go to Canberra, get into Parliament House, find the Senate or House of Representatives offices where the registers are held and leaf through vast volumes of forms.

The cost and effort of such an exercise mean that while politicians claim the document is public, few members of the public ever see it.


When the committee responsible for the register, the Privileges and Members Interests Standing Committee, was asked why it had not previously been placed online, the Chair, Brett Raguse said to SMH,

When asked why his committee had not simply put the register online, Raguse said it was "a good question" but was "something no one had really thought about" until now.


I hope other departments and committees are thinking about whether they should put their public information online.

Where government information is already available publicly, surely using the internet for distribution is logical and supports the credibility of a serious egovernment agenda.

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US Federal Web Managers Council recommend egovernment strategies for new US Administration

The US Federal Web Managers Council have developed a white paper recommending strategies for revolutionising the US Government's provision of online services for citizens.

The paper, Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government, contains some very practical ideas that are also worth considering under Australian conditions, including,

  • Establish Web Communications as a core government business function
  • Help the public complete common government tasks efficiently
  • Clean up the clutter so people can find what they need online
  • Engage the public in a dialogue to improve our customer service
  • Ensure the public gets the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, print, or visit in-person
  • Ensure underserved populations can access critical information online


To quote the conclusion of the paper,
By harnessing the collaborative nature of the web, the new Administration has the potential to engage the public like never before. The web can foster better communication and allow people to participate in improving the operations of their government. By listening to our customers we can provide better services, focus on their most pressing needs, and spend their tax dollars efficiently. We’re confident that President-elect Obama will appoint leaders who will invest in the web as a strategic asset and make these goals a reality. The millions of Americans who interact with their government online expect and deserve no less.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Transforming local government using Web 2.0

As discussed in the Online Community Consultation blog, the CTO of Seattle, Bill Schrier, has made an interesting post in his blog discussing How Web 2.0 Will Transform Local Government

Bill's post runs through a broad set of tools and how they can be applied by local government - equally of value for at state and federal levels.

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A better name for Government 2.0

I'm not a fan of terms such as Web 2.0, which seems to refer to any internet development since 2001. The web is an evolving medium, just like any other. We don't see the term 'Television 2.0' (or 5.0 considering all the generational changes) used to refer to reality TV.

I'm even less comfortable with the term 'Government 2.0' - which refers nebulously to government use of 'Web 2.0' technologies - a slogan on a slogan.

Government 2.0 isn't quite an entire rethink of how democratic government works. Government remains an elected institution designed to provide 'public goods', infrastructure and services more efficiently than would be provided by private concerns. It also has a critical role in regulating and balancing competing economic and social forces to ensure the needs of a community are met with minimal disadvantage to specific groups.

What government 2.0 involves, in my thinking, is significant changes to mindsets, business processes, infrastructure and funding models to adapt how government listens to and engages the public, customers, clients and other stakeholders.

These changes mirrors the social and economic changes already occurring in the community to exploit potential benefits derived through technological innovation.

(Feel free to tell me that my definition is wrong)

So if we need an alternative term to Government 2.0 what should it be?

Personally I favour terms such as 21st century government, modern government or connected government - which reflect that the goal is to reconnect government with its stakeholders using modern techniques and tecnologies.

Dr Mark Drapeau, from the Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the National Defense University in Washington, DC., recently asked people for a few ideas and presented them in his blog at Mashable in the post, Rebranding Government 2.0.

DO you think any of these terms will catch on?

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Computer hackers plundering Brazilian rain forests

As reported in the Wired blog post, Hackers plundering Brazilian rain forest, a hacking ring controlled by logging companies has been alleged to allow harvesters to unlawfully access government logging databases and issue extra 'transport permits' to remove resources (trees) from the Amazon.

This has been a challenge for Brazilian authorities, who have arrested 30 suspects and have another 200 people under investigation.

Environmental group Greenpeace estimates 1.7 million cubic meters of illegal timber has been harvested because of the hacks. The group says that's enough wood to fill 780 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Federal authorities are also suing timber companies to recoup an estimated $883 million in purloined resources, Greenpeace said.


These type of left field social and economic issues driven by technology innovations are likely to increasing challenge governments to be agile and responsive and build their own online capabilities.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Paper on Web 2.0 and the Public Sector

Paul Johnston has posted in the Connected Republic a blog post, Web 2.0 and the Public Sector, discussing Cisco's draft paper on Government 2.0, Realizing the Potential of the Connected Republic (PDF) from the US Public Services Summit in December.

The paper provides many examples of practical uses of Web 2.0 tools and techniques by governments across the world and argues that, as government organisations are the most organised and rigidly hierarchically structured (and therefore the worst at innovation, less agile and have more difficulty dealing with sudden change), they have the most to benefit from Web 2.0 approaches.

Still in draft, Paul is welcoming comments before the final paper is released in early 2009.

It is a very interesting read.

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A wonderful time for public sector recruitment and big egovernment infrastructure projects

While speaking to a colleague earlier in the week about the rush on access to government support in some areas of Australia due to the current economic conditions, I realised that it is a very good time for the public sector to build capacity and skills.

The IT skills crunch has affected Australian government for some time, with the private sector able to be more flexible and agile in adapting job descriptions and remunerations to suit market needs. International pressures have not helped, with many of Australia's top people drawn overseas due to the challenges and financial opportunities.

Now that private organisations around the world are feeling the financial pinch, there is the opportunity for the public sector to reinvent itself as a stable and reliable employer, emphasising the value of stable jobs within a less stable global economy.

This would have the following benefits for the Australian public,

  • Accelerate the development of egovernment services and infrastructure that would provide lasting support to the community.
  • Beef up the government's capacity in service delivery at a time when access to government services are becoming more critical for the welfare of many Australian citizens and businesses.
  • Keep skilled people productively employed within Australia, rather than potentially losing them over time to other countries as they recover from the crisis.
  • Keep money flowing in the Australian (digital) economy - well designed large IT infrastructure projects could have economic flow-ons in similar ways to moderate sized physical infrastructure projects.

There are also direct benefits for the APS,
  • Address the current skills shortage issues by draw from a larger pool of skilled people who have abruptly become available in the market.
  • Assist the process of updating and improving the capacity of the public sector in the IT space, transferring skills that can be kept once projects ends and many of these skilled people transition back into the private sector (when the economic crisis ends).
  • Supports the need for government agencies to transition to a new level of egovernment service delivery and better IT systems (many of which remain firmly rooted in the last century).
  • Support the recommendation in the Gershon review to shift public sector IT workforces towards more permanent APS staff (less contractors) due to people seeking stability in an uncertain climate.

It does require government to move quickly to resource key government agencies to expand their capabilities. This kind of agility has been difficult for government in the past without clear political leadership.

Most of the above benefits for government recruitment stretch beyond egovernment to other aspects of public sector service provision. If we can draw in the skilled people looking for stability and ensure that government provides a positive employment experience, we can build lasting capacity across the public sector.

What do others think - should government be growing in a time of recession?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How Australia ranks on broadband penetration, price and speed

I've just found the 2008 broadband rankings report (PDF) from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The Foundation draws from OECD and other data to form a picture of how various countries are tracking in terms of broadband penetration, speed and cost.

Australia doesn't do too badly overall, ranking 12th out of 30 on the table, mainly because of our high broadband penetration rate.

However Australia had the 4th slowest average broadband access speed at 1.7Mbps. Spain (1.2Mbps), Mexico (1.1Mbps) and Greece (1.0Mbps) were the only listed countries with slower average speeds, whilst the leaders were significantly ahead, Japan (63.6Mbps) and South Korea (49.5Mbps) - the average broadband speed was 9.2Mbps, five times as fast as Australia's average.

If other countries did nothing to their networks while Australia introduced the proposed 12Mbps network, we'd reach 6th on the table. More likely, assuming this network takes 5 years to introduce, I'd anticipate that other nations would be improving their network speeds, leaving Australia in the bottom half of the list.

The cost comparison compared the minimum monthly cost per Mb in each country. This looked at connection charges NOT download limits, therefore does not represent Australia on the same playing field (most countries do not have Australia's download restrictions such as excess charges or speed capping, it's 'all you can download' for the same monthly price).

My take-away from it is that Australia requires some serious and fast work in restructuring both our internet pricing arrangements and network infrastructure improvements to adequately remain competitive in an increasingly digitally-driven economy.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Australian first - Court documents served by Facebook

As reported in Friday's Sydney Morning Herald in the article, Australian court serves documents via Facebook,

Today in what appears to be a first in Australia and perhaps the world, Master Harper of the ACT Supreme Court ordered that a default judgement could be served on defendants by notification on Facebook.


Previously both email and SMS text messaging have been accepted as legitimate means for serving certain court papers.

However this appears to be a world first, lifting the status of Facebook in the eyes of the law.

It has some potentially interesting applications by government. For example where people are travelling or otherwise have no fixed address, but do keep in touch with friends via online social media, this is now a potential channel for sending at least some forms of official documentation.

Certain Australian agencies already use internet tools to track schemes and persons of interest - both for fraud and for criminal investigations, and in the future the platform may become more accepted, particularly as more people drop their landlines or in the case of people who are difficult to track down physically.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

The learning curve for Web 2.0 - resourcing is the key

I'm closely watching (and reading) the new Department of Broadband and the Digital Economy blog. It is seeing a number of thoughtful and constructive comments from organisations and individuals.

The blog is highlighting to me one of the often overlooked key issues for organisations when implementing Web 2.0 tools - resourcing.

With 912 published comments as of Friday morning (7am), and an unknown number of unpublished ones (including several from me), the task of moderating the comments is enormous.

Add to this the complexity of actually responding and you're looking at an enormous resourcing cost for an organisation.

So should organisations steer clear of Web 2.0 due to resourcing issues?

I don't think so. I think it means that we must re-assess government processes and business models to meet the needs of our constituents, clients, customers and community.

If engaging and interacting with our audiences is regarded as important (as it should be), then government, and private organisations, need to appropriately resource and fund the right capacity to service this function, rather than attempting to funnel the public into channels that government feels comfortable with.

Perhaps this means reducing the number of staff working phones (to put them on online), or using outsourced contact centres for the online channel. It may mean totally reshaping jobs, policies and legislation to suit the needs of community.

There's nothing new about this. Where are the typing pools today? We've totally reshaped the workplace in the last 30 years - it will be totally reshaped again in the next 10.

While I see many fighting a rearguard action to defend 'the way we've always worked' - the bottom line to me is that, as public servants, our obligation is to serve the public, under the guidelines of the APSC.

When the public changes, so must the public sector. That's what is known as being 'customer centred'.

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WCAG 2.0 (finally) released

The W3C has finally released the final version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

Announced in a press release this morning Australian time, W3C Web Standard Defines Accessibility for Next Generation Web, the W3C states that,

This new standard from the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) will advance accessibility across the full range of Web content (such as text, images, audio, and video) and Web applications. WCAG 2.0 can be more precisely tested, yet it allows Web developers more flexibility and potential for innovation. Together with supporting technical and educational materials, WCAG 2.0 is easier to understand and use.

AGIMO was surveying Government agencies regarding their views on mandating WCAG 2.0 for the Australian government. I'm looking forward to the outcomes from this.

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ABS to release most website data under Creative Commons licensing

In a first for an Australian Commonwealth government agency, the ABS is set to release most of its website data under Creative Commons licensing on 18-19 December.

Announced in their Website changes coming soon page, the ABS states,

Creative Commons provides a spectrum of licensing for the use of intellectual property between full copyright and public domain – in essence 'some rights reserved'. The ABS is poised to introduce Creative Commons licensing for the majority of its web content.

The relevant Creative Commons logo (which will link to the Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence) will be included at the bottom of every page on the ABS website.

This will allow greater legal reuse of ABS data, placing the organisation inline with similar central statistical agencies in other democratic countries.

This was previously recommended in the VentureAustralia report, reviewing the National Australian Innovation System. Released by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Recommendation 7.8 stated that,
Australian governments should adopt international standards of open publishing as far as possible. Material released for public information by Australian governments should be released under a creative commons licence.

Is this a big deal for Australia?

I think so, it makes it legal to make greater use of Australian public sector data from the ABS and, through the Bureau's trailblazing, provides a case and greater comfort for other Commonwealth departments considering the same route.

The Queensland government already supports Creative Commons, and I've previously talked about the topic in the post, How does the government maximise information distribution while minimising copyright risk?.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

UK wikipedia ban dropped

In one of the more misguided approaches to internet regulation, the UK government banned the majority of UK citizens from editing Wikipedia earlier this week.

This was done, according to the SMH article, Wikipedia added to child pornography blacklist, due to the identification of a photo in one article (of the more than 2.6 million articles in Wikipedia) as being of a sexual nature and the entire site being added to the child pornography blacklist (ironically the same list that Senator Conroy has discussed using in Australia).

Fortunately this block was dropped very quickly, as reported in PC World, U.K. Wikipedia Blacklisting Dropped.

The image in question, of a 1976 German album cover, has not been banned elsewhere in the world, was publicly available in a physical form (as the cover of an album) and is digitally available at many other websites including Amazon.

Per the PC World article, in a facesaving effort, which ironically emphasises the difficulties of filtering the internet, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the nonprofit group that blacklisted the Web page, stated that,

The image in the Wikipedia article is hosted outside the U.K., an issue addressed by the IWF in its statement Tuesday. "Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted abroad, will not be added to the list. Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted in the U.K. will be assessed in line with IWF procedures."

The IWF lamented that while its goal is to minimize the availability of indecent images of children on the Internet, its decision to blacklist the Wikipedia article "had the opposite effect."

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How well does government serve our children?

Being a parent with school-aged children, their education and future prospects are of significant interest and concern to me.

I want to ensure that my children are prepared for the world as it will exist in ten, twenty and thirty or more years.

The government should be at least as concerned. The impacts of effective or ineffective education have long-term ramifications for a nation, which can be experienced as a shortage of skilled workers, falling innovation and company/job creation, slower economic growth, inadequate leadership and even, in extreme cases, the disintegration of a nation's fabric.

I am acutely conscious that the majority of WHAT I learnt at school 30 years ago has not provided significant benefit in the areas I have worked in. The majority of my practical knowledge came from outside official learning channels.

Even at university in the late 80s, though the subject matter was more useful, the teaching techniques (large lecture halls and crowded tutorials), were not an effective environment for many people to learn.

The jobs I have worked in since the mid-1990s did not exist ten years before - in most cases the organisations and their business models did not exist either.

So how do we prepare our children to be effective, successful and happy contributors to a future economy?

This is one of those big hairy audacious problems for which I don't see simple solutions - predicting five years into the future is hard, let alone 30 or 40 years.

Two things I experienced at school did prepare me for the future world (of today). A passion for learning and an understanding of how to seek out information and process it.

These two skills are in my view the most important that can be taught to any children. They lead to flexibility and adaptiveness, skills that our current and future economy will need in abundance. They also lead to individuals that are confident, able to effectively assess risks and willing to build new things, not simply propogate the old.

So the question for me becomes - does our current schooling system still foster these two skills amongst our children?

Or does the system we have today focus on subject matter (curriculum) rather than individual learning capacity and outcomes?

I believe that the biggest learning factor in any education are the teachers. The second biggest factor are the other students. Third is accessibility to information and the actual material or curriculum is a distant fourth.

In my view if adequately trained teachers are not available, or if students are not encouraged and supported to work together collaboratively it does not matter how good the curriculum is - the learning outcomes will be poor.

So are we paying enough attention to education in government, even with the 'education revolution'?

I'm not sure yet - however the following video from Professor Michael Wesch, brought to my attention by Stephen Collins of Acidlabs in his post, Connect.Ed - The story of a girl, raises real questions in my mind.

And so does Mark Pesce's post, Those Wacky Kids, on his blog the human network and the post by Harriet Wakelam, Connect.ed or Once upon a time there was a boy... at her blog Technology Twitter.

How do others feel about the adequacy of our education systems?

And is the current debate over 'Gen Y' workers at least partially related to the education they were given?

Do we need an 'e-education revolution'?

Read full post...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Almost 20% of Australians are on Facebook

About this time last year Laurel Papworth reported that Facebook listed over 2 million Australians as members in a post in her blog titled, Australia has over 2 million Facebook members.

I've just rechecked this figure, using the same approach as Laurel (via Facebook's ad tool), and found that Facebook now lists 4,252,860 Australian members - a growth rate of over 100% for the last twelve months.

Of these, 3,957,900 are over the age of 18, 1,400,900 are over the age of 30 and only 185,780 are over the age of 50.

It seems that women are more active users (2,407,200 females versus only 1,724,340 males) and only 93,100 confess to being university (college) graduates (versus about 200,000 university students) - though education level can be left blank by members and does not provide a full picture.

It is also possible to look at Facebook members by city/town, marital status and sexual preference, but with less accuracy.

What does it mean for a government when 20% of it's population, and almost 4 million voters, have chosen to use a particular medium?

Governments regularly advertise their initiatives and engage constituents in mediums with a fraction of this 'readership'.

Perhaps we need to see greater government involvement in social media as well.

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The first official Federal consultative blog

The eGovernment Resource Centre has tipped me off that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has set up a consultative Future directions blog for two weeks with the purpose of soliciting public comments that will contribute to the development of a Future directions paper for the digital economy.

It's good to see that some time has gone into thinking about having a Terms of use, Moderation policy, specific Privacy policy (rather than relying on the general policy for the site).

There's also a feedback tool for people who wish to comment on the blog itself rather than on the policy.

What is not good to see is that the approach isn't using an effective blogging platform and the moderation approach has meant that in 11 pages of comments so far, not one commenter has referenced other comments, which means that no cross-dialogue is occurring. There's also been no official responses to blog comments as yet, but it is early days (less than 24 hours since it went live) - hopefully we'll see more conversation than talking past each other.

Given that the aim of the initiative is to collect community views and reactions, fed by a series of posts by the department, a blog is a reasonable, if not the best, choice of tools and the Future Directions blog at least gets the ball rolling.

Working in government, I've encountered the difficulties in using a real blogging tool, also commented on in this APC Magazine article, The 10 sins of Senator Conroy, the blogger, and hope that as the government's acceptance and experience of the internet improves, so shall it's capacity to engage.

I am also hopeful that the Department will look further afield than at direct responses in this blog at the posts on other blogs, forums, wikis, micro-blogging channels, timelines and other Web 2.0 mediums related to the topic (here's an example).

There's already a large number of comments on the blog - dominated by the Filter discussion, which is a topic I have been developing a post on, focused on how internet users have self-organised via Twitter, blogs and forums to oppose the initiative, culminating in a series of rallies in all Australian capital cities this Saturday 13 December.

It will be interesting to see whether, with the current focus on the Filter debate, many people will respond on the specific topic of the Digital economy.

I will also find it interesting to see whether the community perceives there to actually be a 'digital economy'. Personally I think there's one economy but with a range of different communications and distribution channels (but I'll say more on this in one of my comments on the Future Directions blog itself).

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Is self-organised government coming?

Reading the Connected Republic this morning, Paul Johnston has written an interesting post, Us Now: On the Road to Self-Organised Government?, about the new documentary, US Now, which explores the power of self-organising groups and what they might mean for society and the public sector.

The film has just previewed in London, however clips, a blog and other information is available at the Us Now website and the Us Now Youtube channel.

Read full post...

Storing and exposing public data sets

Governments collect and distribute a massive amount of public data each year. It is a continual challenge to make this data accessible and usable for citizens, commercial organisations, researchers, scientists and policy makers.

This challenge isn't limited to a few dedicated statistical organisations, such as the ABS. Many other government departments collect, collate and publish extensive public data about their customers, about the market and about their operations.

Putting on my previous private sector hat, public data can be difficult to locate, download and use in a meaningful way to add value to an organisation. I have struggled at times to discover all of the data I needed and combine the different datasets (from different public providers) with internal data in ways that add value to my employers.

The challenges around public data have led Amazon to launch Public Data Sets on its Amazon Web Services platform.

Described as a "convenient way to share, access, and use public data", the system is designed to provide "a centralized repository of public data sets that can be seamlessly integrated into AWS cloud-based applications."

Why is this significant?

The approach makes it much faster and easier for organisations to locate, download, customise and analyse large public data sets - such as census, scientific or industry data.

Using Amazon's system,

Now, anyone can access these data sets from their Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances and start computing on the data within minutes. Users can also leverage the entire AWS ecosystem and easily collaborate with other AWS users. For example, users can produce or use prebuilt server images with tools and applications to analyze the data sets. By hosting this important and useful data with cost-efficient services such as Amazon EC2, AWS hopes to provide researchers across a variety of disciplines and industries with tools to enable more innovation, more quickly.

Amazon has already exposed data sets such as the US Census and various labour statistics. Shortly it will also provide transport databases and economic databases.

All of these are public data sets being provided by US government bureaus.

Also available are scientific information such as Human Genome data, a collection of all publicly available DNA sequences and chemical structures.

Amazon is also working to provide further public domain or non-proprietary data sets and invites organisations to submit applications for data to be included.

Given that this data capacity sits alongside Amazon's cloud computing service, providing an expandable virtual computing environment, it becomes possible for a range of organisations, researchers and individuals to access and make more effective use of large sets of public data, supporting innovation and democratising the marketplace.

It also allows for the creation of data mash-ups, combining data across different agencies with other data sources, maps, graphics, charts and analysis tools to generate new ways of experiencing data and new insights.

I don't expect Amazon to be the only provider of this type of capacity, Google is very committed to cloud computing and organising the world's data. Microsoft and IBM are also moving rapidly into these spaces.

In the long run I see this type of platform as a very valuable distribution tool for governments seeking to make their public data accessible and usable by the broadest possible group of citizens and organisations.

In turn this will broaden and deepen innovation and permit new realisations based on cross-referencing data from different providers - becoming a competitive advantage for countries savvy enough to make their public data more accessible.

What would it take for Australia to make its public data available via this type of channel? A phone call or email to Amazon and some work in structuring our datasets.

That's a low entry cost compared to the challenge of building a replica system.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

US Army gets a SecondLife

The US Army is about to set up several islands in the virtual world Second Life to explore the effectiveness of the medium as a recruiting tool.

Reported in The Inquisitr, the article, titled U.S. Army to setup camp on Second Life, the army is looking to provide virtual experiences, such as parachuting and using a weapon to entice new recruits to sign on.

Given that the US army is already using unmanned remote controlled robots, and the airforce is using remote controlled planes, some soldiers are already working in a video game-like experience, making this not too far a leap from virtual to real soldiering.

From the article, the US army is exploring these types of avenues in order to go where their audience is and start conversations, they cannot simply set up shopfronts or phone lines and wait for eager recruits to walk in the door anymore.

To quote,

What I find really facinating about these types of things involving the Army is that they seem to get what all this social mdia and technology is about better than most of the people trying to market it to businesses. They understand that social media isn’t about just setting up shop somewhere and controlling what happens. The Army understands that it is about going to where the people they want to talk with are and then creating a valid reason for a conversation to begin.

For the Army it isn’t a matter of finding a way to make money off of social media interaction. They are looking at purely from an outreach and conversation point of view. This doesn’t mean that they are seeing it as some pie in the sky either but instead are being quite realistic about its potential.
Can anyone think of other (public or private) organisations seeking to attract the best talent who might need to move beyond traditional recruitment methods?

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What is your view of Web 2.0 use in Australian government?

Following AGIMO's Web 2.0 in government seminar this morning, what is your opinion on how well Australian government has been implementing Web 2.0?

I'm writing this before the event and will not be attending due to other commitments (but are sending several of my team), and so are very interested in what others thought.

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List of US government Twitter users

The eGovernment Resource Centre has posted a link to a new resource listing government Twitter users from the US.

Named GovTwit, it lists over 100 accounts from US government agencies, over 30 US Senator and Rep tweeters and 40 from US states.

There's also a set of international tweeters, including three from Australia (Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, Mosman Council) and our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

It's a useful resource for understanding the breadth of use of the system in the US and potential local applications.

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How Web 2.0 will transform local councils

Given that a case study on Mosman council is being included in today's Web 2.0 in Government seminar being run by AGIMO, I thought it was worth referring people to this article in Govtech by Bill Shrier, the CTO of Seattle.

The article, per its title, discusses How Web 2.0 will transform local councils.

Rightly or wrongly, Bill draws a strong connection between the core goal of local government and the intent of Web 2.0 technologies,

Government is, by its very nature, all about community. Government is a group of people - citizens or constituents - doing together what they can't do as individuals or otherwise obtain from private business. I believe most of us wouldn't want individuals or private businesses to manage street networks, maintain parks or operate police and fire departments. In the end, government is community.

Therefore, Web 2.0 - community building tools - seems tailor-made for government, at least theoretically.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Global Intranet Trends for 2009 report released

Jane McConnell of NetStrategy jmc has released the Global Intranet Trends for 2009 report.

As one of the participants in the survey, my agency received the report last week. I personally found the report provided an excellent insight into current intranet best practice and the shared challenges of intranet managers around the world.

It's worth taking a look at the free sample pages (available on the NetStrategy website) and I expect that Jane will provide further insights from the report in her various presentations and online articles.

I also encourage organisations to take part in next year's global intranet trends survey. While it is reasonably easy to benchmark websites, intranets are generally hidden within organisations and difficult to view, let alone benchmark.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

What governments could learn from Mumbai - citizens now control the flow of information

Like many other Australians I have a direct link to the recent attacks in Mumbai.

One of my family's friends was trapped in the Taj Mahal hotel. She managed to avoid being taken hostage - or worse. Her husband was out of the hotel at the time and found shelter elsewhere.

Fortunately both of them remain safe. My thoughts go out to all who lost their lives, were injured or who lost loved ones in the attacks.

During the siege it was difficult to get accurate and timely information about what was occurring from Australia's traditional mainstream media. This was repeated in many other countries around the world. Events unfolded too fast for television crews or print reporters to get onto the scene or file stories. When they did they were not able to access people at the heart of the crisis, their access was controlled by Indian authorities.

Due to this many people around the world turned to the online channel for information, finding a wealth of eye-witness reports, videos, photos and maps, with many citizens self-organising to support those in Mumbai and the people who care for them.

Commentators have called it the first crisis where the internet completely dominated other media channels.

Where were governments? They were left waiting for official updates, providing limited information in pre-packaged messages via traditional media, while citizens took control online.

If the communications experience of Mumbai can be learnt from, I believe it teaches governments that they must become more nimble and open to use of public online channels, or lose control, influence and relevance.

Mumbai is a wake-up call - in many ways.

People used many online channels to self-organise and share current information and personal accounts as events unfolded. This included sites such as blogs, Youtube, NowPublic, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google Maps, Google docs (a complete list of dead and wounded) and Twitter.

This frequently involved live updates from people in Mumbai directly experiencing the events, or repeating local news reports that did not get picked up outside India.

There was so much information that, on Twitter alone, CNN Online reported that at peak there were an estimated 80 messages (or tweets) sent to Twitter via SMS every five seconds providing eyewitness accounts and updates.

Traditional mainstream media relied heavily on citizen journalism to understand what was occurring, contacting Indian bloggers, using on-the-scene photos from Flickr and amateur video published on the web. Several traditional media players were able to tap directly into citizen journalism, such as the BBC and CNN.

However most mainstream media played catch-up, particularly in Australia where online commentators quite vocally criticised the slow reactions and poor coverage by local outlets.

It appears that even the terrorists involved in the attacks made use of the internet, using Blackberries to monitor world public opinion during the attacks.

With all this online activity, how were most governments communicating to the community?

Via traditional mainstream media outlets.

This highlights to me the disconnect rapidly emerging between how citizens choose to communicate and how comfortable and skilled governments are in using new media channels.

More and more citizens are seeking timely, relevant, plain english and personalised information. Whereas governments remain focused on traditional methods to assure accuracy and message management.

By the time a government assesses events, writes appropriate messages, gets approvals and distributes their views via traditional media channels (hoping they get a 15 second grab), the public has moved on, relying on personal, on-the-spot accounts.

Traditionally this approach has served government well. It maintains their appearance of authority, dignity and accuracy, preventing disturbing rumours or information from spreading in an uncontrolled way.

However the world has changed. Many eyewitnesses can publish their personal accounts directly without going through 'official' channels.

Using traditional approaches governments can appear slow to respond or even painfully out of date, particularly where events progress rapidly.

Similarly in organising a response and support for people, while governments do an invaluable job behind the scenes (organising counseling and transport), publicly the self-organising online citizen groups are more nimble and responsive.

The perceived slow response from governments can reduce the trust and faith of citizens. Over time this leads more people to seek more responsive channels and, though receiving timely eyewitness accounts, reduces citizen satisfaction with the language and messages of government. Governments become less relevant.

People who relied on traditional media or official reports to stay informed during the Mumbai seige probably find it hard to believe the impact the online channel had on global communications.

Fortunately no-one has to rely on my opinion.

The failure of traditional media has become a topic of much debate, by the media itself, such as in Wall Street Journal's Live Mint and Yahoo News, as well as by well-known bloggers including David Henderson (Emmy award winning former CBS news correspondent) and Laurel Papworth (one of Australia's top experts on social media).

To finish with a quote from Laurel's post (link above),

As someone who doesn't have Cable TV I can - hand on heart - swear that I learnt nothing about #Mumbai from Australian MSM [Mainstream Media].

I relied totally on Twitter. Not because I wanted to, but because TV wouldn't interrupt Kerri Anne Kennerly or children's morning TV with real news.

Twitter filtered to me websites, and tidbits I couldn't get elsewhere. ALL news was broken to me by Twitter and the links they sent.

In amongst retweeting MSM were the REAL stories. Someone hearing the bombing while lying bed. Someone else driving past a hotel as it was attacked. A guy worried about his friend. I realised this: who on earth ever said that social commentary is not News? O.o

For me, MSM doesn't make the news, they simply report OUR stories. Just another filter. After people-in-crisis are interviewed on CNN India (I watched online, thanks to link sent by Twitter) they tell a friend, who puts it on Facebook or Twitter or MySpace. More links to real stories.

Australian Media is dead. It failed to meet my needs (I channel hopped from 9:30am until about 4pm hoping for new News) and by the time the 6 O'clock News came on, MSM was simply retweeting what I had already seen and heard through Twitter links.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Small steps into online consultation for government

It can be a challenge for government agencies to get the level of buyin required to build or buy the infrastructure required for online consultation.

Questions get asked at senior levels around security and privacy, the risk of consultations being hijacked, the level of resourcing required, the concern about publicly getting few (relevant)responses or contrarywise the risk of getting to many and the risk of excluding groups who do not have access to the Internet.

Plus there may be resistance from IT, limited understanding of the medium (which gives rise to many of the earlier concerns) and the education curve required to lift senior executives to an appropriate level of understanding to feel comfortable with initiatives.

However there are approaches which take small steps toward online consultation that can aid in building organisation comfort. These are easier bite-size ways for government agencies to begin 'eating the elephant' that is online consultation.

Email feedback
One of the easiest steps is adding an email channel for feedback which allows interested parties to more readily respond with views on a service or program. This is a cheap and easy approach to introduce with limited management overhead as it simply http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifmirrors a non-digital mail respond mechanism.

Online surveys
There is also the online survey approach, which asks visitors to a government website or email recipients their views on a given topic. Appropriately targeted and promoted this can provide valuable input,key audience insights and new ideas, aiding in setting the terms of a broader consultation.

These are reasonably easy to set up using commercially available products such as Surveymonkey or Questionpro.

User ratings
Next is the ability to ask audiences to supply their key priorities and then rank them communally, using tools such as Uservoice, which I have implemented on this site to give me guidance on the topics you'd like me to talk about (see the feedback tab at the left of the screen).

These systems can be moderated to manage user comments and can be used to gather a prioritisation of different approaches using a simple voting approach.

Participation in existing online communities
Next it is possible to engage with pre-existing external communities and ask them to ask their audience about your initiatives and programs. This is more confronting for a government agency as the moderation is left in someone else's hands - usually unpaid volunteers. However it can uncover some of the deep seated issues very quickly, allowing an agency to develop the material required to correct mistaken impressions or mitigate external fears.

This can also feed into other public debates, allowing the agency to provide Ministers and other spokespeople with appropriate pointers on how to address various concerns.

A key consideration is that these discussions are very much on the public record and outside the agency's direct control - which can be scary for many senior public servants and officials. However these discussions will happen regardless, therefore, in my view, it is better to turn over the rocks and develop an understanding of the real concerns before they are raised by the media or 'on the record' on the floor.

A key benefit of these discussions is that an agency can issue a 'thank you' at the end of the process, which makes people feel heard. This can also address some of the key issues or misunderstandings, thereby also placing the correct information on the record (provided it is in clear english).

Commercially moderated forums
The next approach is to use a commercially moderated forum, which provides some safety around how the moderation is managed, via an organisation such as Bang The Table.

This is a more controlled environment, but still out in public. Appropriately supported and managed it can provide a venue to elicit strong audience views with less control issues for government.

'Owned' forums
Finally agencies may create their own forums (which could be a blog, online forum, wiki, video feedback or other type of social media tool) to elicit feedback, as has been done with Future Melbourne.

This requires significantly more ongoing resourcing and commitment by an agency, and can also suffer from growth pains as many in the audience have to learn about and then build trust in a 'government mouthpiece'.

If these issues are handled well this can become a sustained community whereby the agency can converse with audiences, not just on spot consultations but over time.

Choosing the options
So clearly there are many different option for government to 'get its feet wet' which can reduce the risk, cost and commitment by agencies while they decide when, and if, online consultation will work for them.

Most important is to start using at least one approach and building some organisational knowledge, confidence, and small wins that aid in the future as departments are pushed to become more active in this space.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

eGovernment best practice from Utah's CIO

Ari Herzog has begun a series on social media best practice in his blog, AriWriter.

Kicking it off is a fascinating interview with Utah's Chief Information Officer, David Fletcher, providing an insight into how Utah has implemented its online strategy, taking it to win the Best of the Web award for US state governments twice (so far), in 2003 and 2007.

Drawing a few highlights from David's piece...

The state has over 830 services online, was an early adopter of blogging by public servants, services such as Twitter (as covered by USA Today) and online chat (24x7) and the use of video online via Youtube. Do I need to also mention they use wikis?

For many of these initiatives Utah is leveraging free online technologies rather than reinventing the wheel and spending large amounts of public funds. And Utah isn't keeping the performance of Utah.gov a secret - they publish their analytics online.

In August this year the state instituted a 4-day work week for public servants, based on Utah's ability to provide so many services on a 24x7 basis online.

Amazingly, although the state only has 2.6 million residents, the Utah state portal receives over 1.1 million unique visits per month. That's a much higher rate of citizen online participation with government than we see in Australia (for example Australia.gov.au reportedly gets around half this number of visitors (not even unique visitors) for 8x as large a population).

The state has also cut down the time for businesses to register at local, state and federal levels - cutting what could be a several week process down to 30 minutes.

A number of their services have over an 80% adoption rate - which I take to mean that under 20 percent of registrations come via other channels.

And if you want to learn more about the state of Utah's online presence, you can visit David's blog or find him on Twitter at @dfletcher - he's truly walking the talk!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From the TV to the net - politics in evolution

I've been following the blog of the Hon Penny Sharp MLC, Red Leather, as one of the best examples in government of blogging and a strong proponent of the use of the online channel.

In late October she gave a speech to the NSW Parliament regarding the level of online engagement by NSW MLCs.

Published at her site under the title, Politics online, the speech flagged the enormous influence the online channel has on voters today, and the level of attention NSW politicians were giving the channel.

In it she asked the following question of the NSW Members of Parliament (my bold),

Political participation of all citizens is being transformed by new media; 80 per cent of Australians have access to broadband and of those, 75 per cent are regular Internet users. For them this is the most important source of information. Without change the traditional ways of gathering and communicating information, such as newsletters, television advertising, direct mail and traditional mainstream news media, will become less relevant as large portions of the population no longer get their primary information through these mediums. This will have a significant impact on the participation within our democracy. The question I ask tonight is: what are we, the elected representatives in New South Wales, doing to make ourselves part of the transformation of political participation?
She also answered this question, having had an intern research NSW MLC use of the online channel,
Only 39 of the 136 members of the New South Wales Parliament have personal websites. Only 12 of the 39 websites had recently updated information; 18 others had media releases as their only current information; three were a few months old and were out of date, and five were a few years out of date. Only seven members of the Parliament are using Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs, polls and online petitions.
As a comparison (also from Penny's speech),
As a comparison, 655 out of 746 members of the House of Lords have their own website. It is also worth noting that the House of Lords recently launched a combined blog from numerous Lords from various parties. The www.lordsoftheblog.net is worth a look. In the United States, all 100 senators have their own website.
Many people may remember the first televised political debates in Australia - they were only around 30 years ago - and how awkwardly politicians first engaged the medium.

Compare that today with the picture perfect polished performances of our pollies (most of the time).

I believe we will see a similar curve with online usage. The 2008 US Presidential election represents the first electoral watershed - equivalent to the first televised debate.

It will be very interesting to see how future internet politicians use the internet - and how their departments and public officials will be expected to embed the medium into their day to day activities at departmental and agency levels.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

How much would your department pay for a 10% improvement in customer satisfaction?

I've been reading an article in the New York Times regarding the public competition Netflix has been holding.

The competition, named the Netflix Prize, has a prize of US$1 million for the individual or group who can improve their movie/TV recommendations engine by 10%.

The article, If you liked this, sure to like that, discusses how Netflix's programmers had gone as far as they could with their available resources and skills, so the company decided to make a large slice of their information available publicly (anonymised to protect privacy) and see where others could take it.

There are now over 33,000 teams around the world competing to come up with insights and algorithms to improve Netflix's recommendations, with a public leaderboard tracking the top forty (the best is currently at 9.44%) and a forum where the teams collaborate on improving results, sharing tips and code.

I can't help but think about this in the context of government.

Every agency struggles to provide the best possible outcomes and customer service with the resources they are given. However few departments or agencies look outside for help - even to other government bodies.

I'm sure there are many complex problems in government that could be looked at in a similar context to the issue Netflix is facing - ranging from simple IT programming issues, to customer service maximisation (such as the most effective placement of face-to-face locations to cover audience needs) and those huge thorny issues, such as devising fair policies or reforming tax regimes.

I wonder if government would be more effective if it allowed talented people to devise potential solutions (for kudos or prize money), which could then be tested, reviewed and the best solutions potentially adopted.

This isn't just a pipe dream. The UK government is running a competition at the moment, asking the public to come up with innovative ways to use government data to add value. The US and Japanese Patent Boards are piloting having the public examine patents and provide views before they are granted and New Zealand had the public write the Police Wiki Act 2007 (on how the police are to act towards the public).

I cannot think of any Australian examples - if anyone know of some let me know.

Clearly there's all kinds of guidelines and governance required for Australian governments to feel 'safe' in inviting outsiders to assist us in improving governance in Australia - but what do we really have to lose?

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Government etiquette on Twitter

Neil Williams of Mission Creep has published an interesting question around how government should use twitter in a post, Government Twitter etiquette: talk but don’t follow.

It talks about the agency twitter account his employer runs - which is working well - and whether they should 'follow' others (which allows you to see what others are saying on twitter) or whether this is too Big Brother.

The post doesn't answer the question, but does present some views on the topic.

Here's mine....

Twitter is a very loose two-way mechanism. Its design does not foster the level of debate that is supported via a forum or allow for the level of indepth personal commentary (with comments), as does a blog.

The two things it does really well are placing short stream of consciousness messages, announcements and comments into the public eye and allowing for brief Q&A style exchanges of views, without enormous depth or follow-on.

This has made Twitter an increasingly popular medium for government (and for corporations), particularly in the US, to announce VIP schedules, status information (such as traffic status) and notices pointing to indepth website or media information.

It it less used as a method to respond to customers and constituents - but in its two-way mode can be used to gauge public satisfaction and collect top-of-mind responses as part of a consultation process.

It is important to have a goal when using any tool and, depending on the goal and level of resourcing, following has its place.

If it is being used solely as a one-way mechanism (as the BBC, CNN and NewsCorp do for article notices), there is little value in following others.

However if you wish to engage and extend the reach of the channel for your agency, following and responding to direct questions/comments, humanises your organisation and integrates you into the Twitter community. It does require ongoing resourcing and monitoring, which is beyond the capacity of many organisations - but perhaps not Mosman council.

I think the big brother concern is more linked to unwanted follows - following someone before they follow you, however if someone chooses to follow your government department's Twitter feed, if appropriate for the goals of your agency, you should follow them back (perhaps with a notice somewhere to state that you do so).

I can only think of rare occasions where a government department on Twitter should follow individuals who have not followed them - though following some of the one-way twitter feeds.

What do you think?

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

How do you sell the idea of a social media strategy in government?

Nick over in the WA egovernment blog Web 2.0 showcase, posted an excellent article back in August entitled, Selling the idea of a social media strategy.

This focused on approaches for encouraging government departments to look at social media - at least as a research tool to understand what people were saying.

Nick referred to an article from Jeremiah Owyang, How to overcome social media scare tactics.

The basic approach Jeremiah recommended was to understand how the market was using social media, set a goal and, where possible, experiment internally where failure costs less.

This is a good approach, but the third step is not always appropriate or desirable.

For example, my agency has been participating in a public forum for some months as a pilot online engagement strategy. The approach taken followed the first two steps recommended by Jeremiah but not the third.

Firstly our communications group had already spent over a year following forums and blogs as part of our monitoring of public channels. This was part of the agency' broader ongoing work to understand the general mood and key issues of our customers.

Secondly the agency set a clear goal as to what it aimed to achieved through forum participation - and communicated this in the forum so that other participants could understand the basis on agency engagement.

However, due to the nature of the discussions taking place, and the technology available within the firewall, it was not practical for the agency to trial a similar approach internally. Plainly speaking, your staff do not always act in the same way as your customers, particularly on different technology platforms.

Moving back to Nick's article - selling the idea. I was actually surprised at the level of support to establish the pilot.

The research previously conducted via reading blogs and forums had helped build the agency's understanding of these channels and reduced concerns around entering unknown waters. Through this it had also become clear that the online discussions were robust and that sometimes complex questions or issues were raised that the agency may have found difficult to fully address via the intermediary of traditional media.

Therefore the agency's decision to conduct a pilot was based on a number of factors, such as a genuine need to broaden our understanding and commitment to a medium growing in influence (amongst others).

As a particular bonus, what the agency learns via the experience will help if there are future needs for crisis management via the online channel.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How does the government maximise information distribution while minimising copyright risk?

It has always struck me as a little contradictory that while one of the government's primary goals is to build citizen awareness of various services, issues, initiatives and opportunities, at the same time many government communications and publications (than need to be) are protected under rigid copyright disclaimers.

I've even seen situations where government agencies require that organisations formally request permission before linking to their websites, although this is almost totally unenforceable and contrary to one of the primary reasons for using the internet.

These copyright disclaimers and reuse permission processes were designed for a useful purpose, to stop the misuse, misrepresentation or reselling of government material.

This is fair enough. However in many cases the copyright restrictions go so far (all rights reserved) as to work against government communications objectives, making dissemination of government information more difficult, costly, slower and less effective.

Who loses out? The public.

Who benefits? I'm not sure anyone does.

Do legitimate approaches exist to protect government interests but still allow appropriate reuse of information?
At least one does, Creative Commons licensing.

This issue of how do organisations and individuals allow selected but not universal reuse of content is not unique to government. It matured in the open source software area, with a solution devised by the Free Software Foundation named GNU General Public License.

This license was specifically developed for software, but prompted the creation of a similar licensing arrangement in 2002 for other creative works such as websites, audio, video and print publications named Creative Commons. Creative Commons is now in use in 43 countries around the world (and growing), including Australia, to allow selective reuse of otherwise copyright-protected content.

What is Creative Commons licensing?
Creative Commons is a flexible form of copyright designed for the evolving copyright needs of the modern world.

It allows a copyright holder to retain some of their rights, while permitting greater latitude for others to redistribute, extend and reuse licensed material in ways permitted by the holder.

Six main types of Creative Commons licenses exist, depending on the level of control desired by the copyright holder (with a seventh type permitting totally open access). Licenses are country specific and a new version of these licenses for Australia recently completed consultation and is in draft.

Has Creative Commons been considered by the Australian government?
It has been discussed by government over a number of years - and adopted in Queensland.

For example it states in the Stanley Declaration, 13 July 2007, Australian National Summit on Open Access to Public Sector Information,

"The adoption and implementation by governments of an open access policy to public sector information (PSI) will ensure the greatest public benefit is derived from the increased use of information created, collected, maintained, used, shared, and disseminated by and for all governments in Australia."
More recently it was recommended in the Federal Government's VenturousAustralia report Review of the National Australian Innovation System released by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (Recommendation 7.8) that,
"Australian governments should adopt international standards of open publishing as far as possible. Material released for public information by Australian governments should be released under a creative commons licence."
This was also commented on by the Minister, Senator Carr, in what others have termed a fairly strong endorsement.
"We are and will remain a net importer of knowledge, so it is in our interest to promote the freest possible flow of information domestically and globally.

The arguments for stepping out first on open access are the same as the arguments for stepping out first on emissions trading – the more willing we are to show leadership on this, we more chance we have of persuading other countries to reciprocate.

And if we want the rest of the world to act, we have to do our bit at home."

Where can Creative Commons copyright licenses be used on government products?
While the Queensland government has permitted use of Creative Commons Licensing for several years under the Queensland Information Licensing Framework, other jurisdictions are not as advanced.

Victoria is considering Creative Commons in the Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data, but this will not report back until 30 June 2009.

AGIMO is apparently looking at the national framework, though I have no information on their timeline or prioritisation of this work.

I am not aware of the situation in other jurisdictions - can anyone tell me?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's in a name? Choosing the best web addresses for government

The other day I absentmindedly typed in 'victoria.gov.au' to go to the Victorian state government's main site.

However I was surprised when my browser threw up an error, saying there was no such site.

I realised my mistake, it should have been vic.gov.au instead, however this got me thinking about all those people in Australia and overseas who would expect to type 'victoria' to find Victoria, rather than 'vic' and not have the experience that I do to find the right location.

I did a check on other states, from Western Australia to New South Wales, and found that in every case the state abbreviation was the only address accepted to get to the state portals.

In every case I received an error like this one (for tasmania.gov.au):



Given the small cost of registering another .gov.au address and pointing it to the same location, would it not make sense to register tasmania.gov.au, victoria.gov.au and the rest rather than take the risk of people getting it wrong and being directed to the wrong website by their web browser?

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Is there a groundswell of demand for collaboration tools in your agency?

This is based on some thinking (and rewriting of a reply) around a post by Stephen Collins from Acidlabs on the topic of how and why to implement 'Enterprise 2.0 technologies in organisations, entitled Enterprise 2.0 - Identify problem. Determine solution. Then tools.

Stephen was making a good point - that it is important to identify the needs before introducing the solution (or the tools), also noting that it was necessary to engage in some experimentation and 'intrapreneurship', rather than spend months on painstaking research.

In my travels and conversations with peers I've become aware that many of them are seeing needs emerging within organisations for better collaboration tools - people are seeking better and more cost-effective ways to work together to achieve organisational objectives than via shared drives, email, telephones and cross-country business trips.

However in most cases this need is forming in a 'lumpy' manner. Some groups in the organisation are happy with the tools they've used for years, others are seeking something better - particularly where budget limitations and rising costs are making old ways of working too expensive.

Within my agency I've had around eight groups approach me over the last few months seeking tools to allow them to collaborate or communicate more effectively within the agency or with external parties.

Most of these groups were not aware of the others.

Each by themselves did not have a strong enough business case for an organisational investment in new technologies.

However by aggregating their needs I'm close to a position where I can demonstrate a strong organisational ROI to senior management.

I can picture other agencies being in a similar position. Many small groups expressing needs that could be met by 'Enterprise 2.0' tools, but without a clear big picture view across the organisation of the overall need.

I recall a story I once heard regarding a large bank back in the early days of personal computing. They brought in someone to audit the use of computing technologies across middle management and discovered that hundreds of line managers had individually bought Mac personal computers because the Supercalc spreadsheet was so compellingly useful for them in their jobs.

These purchases were not authorised by the central computing department (who managed the mainframe). The individual purchases were made out of petty cash as each manager could not demonstrate sufficient need to have the central department take notice.

This was a collision between rising staff costs, increasing demands on managers to perform more complex calculations, greater technology availability and growing workforce skills. It led to the perimeter of the organisation knowing more about staff needs than the centre.

I think that we are in a similar time now. Traditional collaboration and communications approaches are rising in cost, while agencies are being asked to increase their collaboration and transparency. (Free) social media tools are growing in popularity on the internet and more and more of the staff joining the public service are experienced users of these tools.

Therefore I believe it's important for government departments to review what staff need to do their jobs and aggregating the needs of different groups to build effective organisational business cases.

Otherwise we'll see agency staff doing as the bank managers did - finding what they need elsewhere.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Disintermediating government online

Governments are being disintermediated online by citizen networks and private companies.

This reflects the self-organising and distributional capabilities of the web and raises some serious questions regarding what governments should focus on online.

The Bureau of Meteorology collects data from hundreds of weather stations across Australia. It is a Federal government bureau.

Weather Underground also collects data from weather stations across Australia - and around the world - but these are owned by citizens. It is privately operated.

Hansard captures the business of government, making transcripts of proceedings from the houses of parliament available to Australians online. It is a Federal government agency.

OpenAustralia also makes Hansard transcripts available, together with statistics on how often politicians speak, the ability to subscribe to get updates when your favourite member speak and more. It is a not-for-profit citizen operated website (and does all of this despite having to cope with government changes).

Google rivals (and is used by many more people than) Australia.gov.au for searching online information about government.

These examples reflect a growing trend on the internet - for citizen-led or private sector initiatives to equal, or surpass, the services offered by government online.

Some of the online services providing alternatives to government information are even able to be profitable, while the government service is simply a cost on consumers.

So why should government provide these services online at all?

Would we be better off simply providing the data and letting innovative citizens and companies repackage it for the public?

Could the government turn some online data into revenue? For example, allowing research companies to repackage ABS data into unique online analysis tools (while providing ongoing access to a free basic level.

Whatever the case, one thing is clear to me - government will be disintermediated online if it does not lift its game or make the choice to become a 'data warehouse' rather than a 'retail outlet'.

This topic has also been raised by the Gartner group, releasing a press release stating, Gartner Says Citizen Social Networks Will Complement, and May Replace, Some Government Functions.

Your thoughts
Should government continue to invest in online services where not-for-profit or corporate solutions exist?
Or should government focus on the areas where competition does not exist?

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Guest post: How you can increase traffic to Government websites with Government Press Releases

Today I welcome a post from guest blogger Cheryl Hardy, of the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development (DIIRD), State Government of Victoria, Victoria, Australia.

Cheryl manages eGovernment Research in DIIRD and is a prime operative behind the Victorian eGovernment Resource Centre, which was one of the global top ten nominees for the World e-Democracy Awards 2008, winning a Special Mention, just behind award winners such as mybarackobama.com.

The eGovernment Resource Centre is, in my opinion, the single best resource for egovernment and online channel information in Australia.



How you can increase traffic to Government websites with Government Press Releases

You are a government web manager. Imagine you live in a perfect world. (Suspend reality for just a few minutes!) Imagine you had control over government press release content - (wow like that is going to happen!) then you could optimise its content and potentially bring a substantial increase in traffic to your website.

Keep imagining - To do this successfully you must use keywords (especially those that your target audience are using), in the content of the press release, and link these to strategic content pages on your website(s).

For example, the following press release was published on 15 September 2008 on a State Government website in Victoria: "BRUMBY GOVERNMENT UNTANGLES PLANNING RED TAPE".

There is some really great content in this release, but there are no links to where people can find out more information. Here is how I would have written this release (in my imaginary world) using keywords with links to relevant content, provided by Victorian Government websites, while making the content useful to the residents of Victoria:

Victorian Government untangles planning red tape

The Victorian Government has acted to remove unnecessary planning permits for some residential and commercial work, including rain water tanks and sheds in regional areas of the state.

Acting Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, said the Cutting Red Tape in Planning exemptions are part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to cut planning red tape.

It is estimated that up to 2,000 planning applications will no longer be required as a result of these changes. Victorians are encouraged to contact their local council to confirm what permits are required before they start any work so they fully understand the changes.

The implementation of Cutting Red Tape in Planning coincides with a reduction in permit application numbers from 54,788 to 49,587 over four years despite strong activity in the building industry.

During 2006-7, applications for residential alteration and additions, specifically targeted by the cutting red tape initiatives, dropped by over ten per cent. However, in the same period there has been ongoing increase in the number of building permits now at slightly over 100,000 reflecting Victoria’s growth.

The new exemptions will mean that:
  • Rain water tanks in rural areas no longer need a planning permit regardless of size;
  • Rain water tanks in industrial areas on longer need a planning permit provided they meet site and height requirements;
  • Domestic sheds under 50 m2 no longer need a planning permit in farming zones (This document requires the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader). You can also convert PDF documents into alternative formats; and
  • Minor domestic building work such as a pergola, deck, swimming pool no longer need planning permit in most areas that are not in a flood prone, heritage or environmentally significant area.
Cutting Red Tape in Planning is the Victorian Government's plan from which key improvement in planning have originated including:
For more information visit the Planning section on the Department of Planning and Community Development website.


Forgetting search engine ranking for now, providing links to all this content provided by the Victorian Government achieves two things:
  1. the reader of the press release can find out more information about the topic very easily if they choose to; and
  2. visitor traffic is then driven out to the content providers. This is traffic they would not have received using the existing format of the press release
Which press release do you think visitors to this site would like to read and which one do you think will drive traffic to government website(s)?

Do you have examples of press releases which could be rewritten to provide more usable content? Send in your examples - we could start a competition!

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