Monday, October 12, 2009

Overcoming public sector hurdles to Gov 2.0

Having now spent around three years listening to colleagues across federal, state and local government, I hear remarkable consistent themes raised as barriers to successful Gov 2.0 implementations.

The number one theme I have heard raised is the lack of Gov 2.0 commitment and experience across senior public service management. This reflects similar views in the private sector – people are generally most comfortable with the technologies they grew up with and senior management in both public and private sectors is commonly still of the 'TV generation'.

This barrier seems to be lowering as senior management gains personal experience with internet technologies and begin to see the benefits. It's a long road, but it appears to me that we're on the way.

The second set of barriers I hear about related to Gov 2.0 is more concerning to me. It relates to the governance framework and policies inside which public servants have to operate.

Like the private sector it appears government systems are struggling in some areas to keep up with the rate of change in the community and in technology. If our systems can't support Gov 2.0 initiatives then it is unlikely that our senior management will.

Some of the examples I've been given - together with some of my approaches to address them are below,
  • Procurement policies
    Government procurement processes designed for acquiring the best value software and hardware products don't always translate as well to the sourcing of online systems.

    Many online vendors do not have presences in Australia and would not be aware of, or simply not bother responding to, Australian tender processes. This risks potentially excluding the best value products from consideration, leaving Departments to choose from local integrators with their own products or reselling an otherwise cheap solution.


    To address this, Departments need to consider ways to make it easier for online services to participate in procurement processes, via panels, industry reviews and other approaches that identify a set of potential providers who can be appropriately considered within a tender process – within the government's guidelines of course.

  • Credit card use online
    Some Departments restrict the use of credit cards online - a common payment avenue for many online services. This could lead online teams into grey areas of the system, using work-arounds such as paying a third party a premium for using their credit card to pay the service online or by providing credit card details by phone – which are then directly inputted into the online form by the service provider. These workarounds can be onerous for monthly subscriptions.

    These workarounds may increase the financial risk that the regulations are seeking to mitigate – and may also add extra costs to the public purse.


    My recommendation would be to encourage Departments to allow online credit card use under appropriate circumstances – either to a delegated amount per transaction, or via an approved list of suppliers (reviewed annually). This would help minimise the risk of online transactions while not encouraging inappropriate actions.

  • Reg 10
    Secondly, formal regulations such as FMA Regulation 10 (PDF) - known as Reg 10 - can add significant red tape to the use of both free and paid online services.

    Reg 10 approval is formally required for any service for which a contract or agreement is formed and the service cost or potential contingent liability stretches into future financial years - even if the chance of a liability arising is remote.

    This means that the use of a service such as a free online mapping product requires Reg 10 approval in case someone in a future financial year sues the Department due to use of the product.

    Getting Reg 10 approval generally adds extra steps to the process of delivering Gov 2.0 outcomes – and for a full community engagement site may require five or more Reg 10 approvals (one per 3rd party tool used).

    While it is not generally prohibitive to get Reg 10s approved, they commonly require signing by people outside the sections involved with online initiatives, which can slow things down – or even block them where senior management doesn't understand the risks.

    Also, a new Reg 10 may be required for each separate use of an online service. This could add further administrative burdens and create situations in Departments where some uses of a service are approved but identical uses in other areas are not, based on the views of specific managers.


    There may be ways to streamline Reg 10 approvals for frequently used online services by maintaining a central Departmental record which is simply amended with any additional risks regarding additional uses of online services. Where there are no additional risks for a new use, the Reg 10 would require limited scrutiny as the Department had already accepted the risks.

  • Access to and use of social media
    Many Departments technically prohibit access to social media in the workplace on the basis of it being a misuse of Commonwealth resources (though personal phone calls are not similarly restricted through PABX systems).

    While a few authorised staff may be allowed access to social media tools (such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube) to monitor and, in a few cases respond, to online comments about the Department - or to manage the Department's own online accounts - most staff are not allowed to see the Department's online presence.

    This can leave staff blind when a customer or stakeholder calls to discuss a Department's social media presence. It can also cut them off from various government and professional social media communities and prevent them from asking their peers for work-related help in a cost-effective and productivity-enhancing manner.

    Finally it prevents the Department from developing widespread internal skills in the use of social media and may discourage potential employees, who expect to be able to tap into online professional knowledge to remain current and employable in their professions.


    I'd suggest that Departments consider shifting their response from technically prohibiting access to social media to providing clear guidance to their staff on appropriate use of social media and using existing management and technical monitoring systems to audit adherence. This would enable staff to 'get on with their jobs', while leaving inappropriate behaviour detectable and actionable in the same way Departments manage telephone communications.

  • Government Campaign Advertising Guidelines
    People from several Departments have told me that under the interpretation of the Government Campaign Advertising Guidelines ( used by their Departments they are not able to use social media techniques in campaigns.

    This is related to 'control of message' – which is interpreted by their Departments as meaning that messages cannot be collaboratively developed with community involvement or redistributed by the community through online friend-sharing systems (which place these messages outside of government control). One of the main risks outlined to me was that government messages may reach people they were not targeted to – and offend them unnecessarily.

    This interpretation reflects the newness and speed of online systems. For example, if the government distributes messages in print brochures there are no safeguards to prevent the brochures being passed on to friends. This also applies to TV and radio material – which is often redistributed by the community through services such as youTube. For example, the famous ten-pin bowling Grim Reaper ad about AIDS from NSW was released in 1987, but is still viewable on youTube 22 years later – even though YouTube didn't exist until 15 years after the ad screened.


    In this case I recommend Departments speak directly to the Campaign Advertising team at Finance for clarification and some examples of how government campaigns can stay within the Campaign Advertising Guidelines but still make use of social media tools. They can potentially look at how other Departments are using social media tools for examples of how to manage risks around messages and stay within the Guidelines

Are there any other barriers or hurdles to Gov 2.0 initiatives that you've encountered?

Share them - even anonymously. You never know, someone else may have a solution!

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