Thursday, June 11, 2009

How are governments overseas using Government 2.0? (Public Sphere Camp Series)

Government 2.0 is a global trend and many governments around the world are already deep into online initiatives of this type.

Below I'm going to touch on three examples which demonstrate some of the potential benefits of government 2.0 - accessibility, collaboration, transparency and engagement.

If these only whet your appetite, there are further examples at the Government 2.0 Best Practices wiki, which has aggregated a list of examples from around the world.

US's Data.gov
One of the first actions of President Obama when he took office in the United States was to make it clear to the senior executives of US federal government agencies that he wished them to make public information available online using the latest and most appropriate technologies and formats.

One of the key areas his administration focused on was data and statistics. Under US law data collected by the federal government using public funds is copyright-free and should be made freely available to the public unless if there are strong reasons to not make specific data sets available (such as national security matters).

The challenge was to make the data freely available online via a central point, in formats that could be readily reused by other websites, organisations and the public.

Recently the US government launched the Data.gov site, which intends to aggregate hundreds of thousands of US government data feeds in machine readable forms online.

As an initiative supported centrally by the President's office, the site launched with about 49 datasets from a variety of agencies, however has been adding new feeds regularly. Eventually this site will become the data hub for the US government with citizens and organisations able to access any public federal data from it quickly and easily.

Even more importantly the data feeds can be reused by other websites, web applications and even mobile applications in ways that add value, such as superimposing data on maps or combining different datasets to provide new insights.

While data.gov is still in its infancy, the US government has demonstrated its commitment to accessible government through this approach and it will become very difficult for a future president to turn back the clock to the fragmented and difficult to access government data of the past.


New Zealand's Policing Act wiki
During 2007-08 New Zealand reviewed its Policing Act, updating a piece of legislation that had grown old and out of touch with the community.

Alongside traditional consultation approaches the New Zealand government decided to provide the text of the legislation in a wiki which would allow anyone who registered to make changes directly to the text, add comments and have conversations and debates over the content of the Act.

The Police Act wiki, which used a simple set of moderation principles received an "overwhelming response" and became a major influence in how the updated legislation was crafted.

The wiki was extremely low cost to run and manage and attracted a range of participants that would not have the time or inclination to attend physical consultation events.

This example demonstrates how governments can practically and successfully use web 2.0 approaches to collaboratively engage citizens in the democratic process.

Rather than relying on a small set of experts and expensive and time-consuming physical consultations, governments are able to quickly, simply and cheaply get feedback and input on proposals online.

UK's Lords of the blog

Finally, the UK the House of Lords is commonly considered old and stodgy. However the UK's Upper House is also one of the most active groups of bloggers in government - with their Lords of the Blog site featuring the posts of 15 Lords discussing the workings of UK government and the specific legislation they are considering.

The blog, which accepts comments from the public (again under a simple moderation policy), was initially trialled as a way to build public engagement in UK democracy and illustrate the valuable role played by the House of Lords.

It has now been operating successfully for 18 months and has been credited with reinvigorating public interest in the democratic process.

This type of approach makes politicians and government processes more accessible to the public, creates greater openness and transparency on the part of the government and leads to increased engagement and participation in democracy by the public.

Blogs can also become tools for testing concepts or introducing news that traditional media outlets do not tend to carry. Essentially they become a direct personal link between the blogger(s) and their constituents.

1 comment:

  1. Planning an (un-)conference on this? Announce it on http://govCamp.org

    ReplyDelete