Thursday, November 04, 2010

Benefits and risks of online collaboration with citizens (Workshop 1 CEBIT Gov 2.0 Conference)

Following on from our last exercise, Reasons for not releasing data in government, we've been discussing the benefits and risks of increasing (online) collaboration and consultation with citizens.

Below is what the room came up with (and discussed). Please add your own in the comments.

Note this is a raw dump - I've not sorted or categorised them.

  • Good source of expertise
  • More engaged audience
  • Better market research
  • Target tools and services better by understanding clients better
  • Meets desire of Ministers and top executives to get ideas from outside traditional channels/sources
  • Increasing interest, access and understanding of information
  • Provide a public face for agencies
  • More effective way to get real-time information and warnings to communities
  • Able to centralise queries – mitigate email traffic and reduce resourcing
  • Increase public understanding of what agency does
  • Find out ways and means different to those we use to get information out there
  • Increasing transparency and accountability
  • Providing a fair and reasonable process
  • Ongoing 'focus' group
  • Low cost engagement
  • Allows agencies to understand how community wants information presented / services designed
  • Allows 'completing the circle' engagement through a process (policy development/service design/etc) as there's an ongoing relationship with participants
  • Reach more audiences than by traditional communications
  • Helps attract high-performing staff (as agency is seen as proactive, forward-looking, collaborative and open)
  • Can use a pre-registration process to determine potential response rate and demographics of interested parties, thereby allowing provisioning of right level of resources for management and analysis of collaboration outcomes
  • Can provide context and explain complex issues in depth
  • Can moderate responses – before or after publication (not possible in a face-to-face consultation)
  • Can identify critical flaws in legislation/policy before becomes a major issue

  • Muddied by media involvement
  • Uninformed people commenting
  • Administrative issues
  • Generate too much work (too much work)
  • Too few responses – embarrassment
  • Security and privacy of participants' details (if agency runs collaboration)
  • Afraid that people will be rude or abusive
  • Lobby groups will dominate
  • We won't do what some people say they want
  • Public don't understand the context
  • Content is not easy to absorb
  • It will be hijacked by a particular issue in the consultation and other issues don't get enough time
  • It will be hijacked by an unrelated issue (one that doesn't align with our policy framework)
  • Slow and highly involved approval processes (both speed of response and cost of senior time)
  • What if staff contribute as individuals
  • Our staff won't be able to see the consultation (due to our internal security framework)
  • Staff don't have experience in managing an online consultation
  • Equity issues
  • Accessibility issues
  • Media might get hold of it
  • Belief that any content on the web can be changed
  • Could be hacked
  • Can identify critical flaws in legislation/policy which become major issues
  • Agency responses could be construed as providing advice which has legal implications
  • Timing issues (election cycle and alignment with other consultation activities)
  • Too many people involved and they don't agree with what an agency believes
  • Too short a time allowed to build audience and discussion
  • People will criticise the Department
  • People will criticise the Minister
  • May expose the lack of consultation
  • The risk of NOT doing it (won't reach enough/right people, creating issues in the future, government looks like it is not consulting
  • Accidental release of confidential information by agency
  • Technology failure (Hardware/software issues and loss of information)
  • Lack of staff social media guidelines
  • Incorrect data
  • Data breaching copyright (not our data)
  • Differences in view on which agency/area is responsible and should manage the consultation

Any more that should be added?


  1. This is covered in a few points separately but a benefit I see is that statistics and reports will show the level of citizen engagement and what they are concerned about. This will allow us to focus on those issues.

  2. 1) Related to the "incorrect data" point I guess:
    - Duplicate responses from the same household (both a risk and a benefit)
    - Survey loading / spam

    2) The risks and benefits of the anonymous-vs-named-responses argument

    3) Lack of follow through/feedback by government, cannibalising future engagement

  3. Nice list Craig, and the interesting part will be in what these benefits or risks actally mean in terms of individual businesses. Much depends on the nature of the business.

    Many government folks are not yet ready for online engagement. I hear from worried and time pressured people with a lot of competing pressures. For many the benefits are not accessible, do not seem tangible in terms of their own business or job, their activities or organizational priorities, or how their performance is measured. The things I hear are along the following lines:

    We aren't that kind of organization
    it's not relevant to us
    That's good for some parts of government but we are not a customer service oriented business
    we need to keep a low profile.
    I know we should "do something on social media" but we just don't have time.
    It'll just let the flies in, we'll spend all our time swatting them.
    We know our business, there is nothing we can learn from the public.
    We need to control the message, social media can't be managed.
    We can't think what we'd use it for , we have all our bases covered already.