Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Using Gov 2.0 techniques to save money across government

Around the world governments are tightening their belts. After the recent global financial crisis many countries' governments have borrowed heavily from financial markets and released these funds as stimulus packages - placing them in deficit.

Australia is no different, although we have very successfully kept our deficit to a smaller percentage of GDP than most other western nations.

For government agencies, long used to efficiency dividends and a philosophy of doing more with less, it is important to constantly 'health check' their budget decisions to ensure that public money isn't wasted and is most effectively spent.

The US, UK, Canada and other governments have begun more intensively involving citizens and public servants in the process of identifying waste and potential efficiencies - a process which has produced some large results in a short time in some jurisdictions.

How are they doing this?

By employing Gov 2.0 techniques, providing access to budget and revenue data online in machine-readable formats and by engaging their staff and the community via social media tools.

Here's a few examples.

UK Spending Challenge
The UK recently launched a public 'Spending Challenge' asking UK citizens to contribute their ideas for reducing their national deficit.

Managed through a website and a Facebook group, the Challenge has attracted more than 31,000 ideas so far, with the government aiming to include the best in their October 2010 budget review.

The US is holding their second annual SAVE award which allow public servants to submit and vote on ideas for cost savings which can be applied within government departments.

Last year SAVE attracted 38,000 ideas and President Obama says (in the video below) that many are being integrated into agency budgets. The top four entries were voted on online by American citizens and the winner got to meet the President and received national acknowledgement.

For the 2010 SAVE award, so far there have been over 17,000 ideas submitted and 153,000 votes.

Canadian public sector data used to expose a $3.2 billion tax fraud
David Eaves has written a fabulous case study on how the release of public data in Canada uncovered systemic tax fraud within the charity sector and helped legitimate charities and the government close down these operations.

It is a very powerful case for making public data available to allow people outside governments to apply their expertise to assist governments.

How many of these techniques could be applied in Australia?

I'd argue that all of them have merit and could be applied in appropriate ways by our Federal, State and Local governments - potentially on an ongoing basis.

None of the examples above involved enormous government expense and, where the processes have been concluded (for the 2009 SAVE awards and in the Canadian example), there have been significant measurable returns on investment.

In other words, they've saved the community money in net terms - with the cost of running the different initiatives a tiny fraction of the savings to the public purse.

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