Thursday, June 18, 2009

Government 2.0 initiatives in Australia Part 2 (Public Sphere Camp series)

Following on from my post on Wednesday, below are some of the federal and non-government initiatives in the Government 2.0 space.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics is responsible for collecting and providing access to a large proportion of data collected by government in Australia.

Before the internet the reports produced by the ABS were available on paper, floppy disk or CD to help business and other government agencies understand and manage the changes occurring in Australia.

With the arrival of the internet the ABS took its data online, providing downloadable data tables as well as reports, initially at a cost but finally free.

Recently the ABS took the next few steps, introducing Creative Commons licensing to permit greater flexibility in the reuse of its data and launching the CData system, which allows individuals and organisations to delve deeper into the ABS's census data, creating and customising their own data tables for viewing online or free download.

The system is a large step towards totally automating machine readable government data and making it freely available for reuse. While only census data is available at present, it would not be an overwhelming challenge to expand the data sets over time, providing employment, economic activity, industry and other subsets.

Openly accessible machine-readable data is one of the most commonly cited government 2.0 characteristic as it supports government openness while stimulating innovation. The ABS's efforts are a giant step in supporting Australia in achieving these goals.

ABS BetaWorks
One of the hardest steps for any organisation to take is to expose some of its inner decision-making processes to external scrutiny. However that is what the ABS has done with BetaWorks.

ABS BetaWorks is a collaborative design site the ABS is now using to support the ongoing development of the ABS website. The site contains a selection of the projects the ABS is considering, or has underway, and encourages visitors to participate by providing their thoughts, suggestions and ideas for how the ABS could improve various website features.

While not fully collaborative - as you cannot hold conversations through the site in anything approaching real time - the comment approach helps the ABS build a better picture of how people use their site and would like to see features developed. This in turn helps the ABS better serve it's customers.

Government 2.0 initiaitives are not limited to being created by governments. In many instances independent individuals and organisations are also creating online services that support the government 2.0 approach.

A particularly good example is the OpenAustralia site which replicates the Hansard record for Federal government in a much easier to read, search and comment format. This allows people to subscribe to receive email notices when a particular MP speaks or to make comments on specific debates for others to reflect on.

The site also includes the register of members' interests - which previously was only available on paper from a specific office in Canberra. Not many people had the inclination to travel to Canberra to view this list - or even knew how to access it - so placing it online has enormous utility for citizens who wish to know a little more about their parliamentary members.

The site, similar to the UK site it was based on, lowers the barriers for citizens to scrutinise parliamentary debates and increases their ability to learn about specific MPs, effectively raising the transparency in our democracy.

It also has been supportive in identifying inaccuracies in the official Hansard record, as noted in's article Open Australia highlights parliamentary errors.

Open Forum
Open Forum is a platform for presenting information and discussions around political topics.

It supports a blog mechanism, used by many politicians, which provides a way for them to provide their thoughts and insights without the filter of the media. It also provides an online forum, or bulletin board, feature which allows community discussion on specific topics, such as on human rights.

By providing an independent venue for discussion outside of government control, Open Forum is an important site for enabling online democratic conversations across Australia.


  1. I just wanted to check, you mean ABS Betaworks, right? Not ATO :-)

  2. Spot on James - I must have had a brain fade when writing and editing the post!

    I have corrected this in the post as it is significant.