Thursday, November 25, 2010

Storming the gates of the policy makers

On a recent visit to Melbourne (for pleasure) my partner and I stayed in a hotel near the curious sculpture pictured below.
Great Petition by Susan Hewitt and Penelope Lee. Burston Reserve, Melbourne.
Reading the plaque, we learnt the sculpture was a representation of the "the great petition", a document signed by 30,000 Victorian women and presented to the Victorian government in support of allowing women to vote in the state.

The petition was presented in 1891. However Victoria didn't grant women the vote until 17 years later in 1908.


Following this, while we were attending TedxMelbourne on Saturday, one of the speakers used a slide depicting Rosa Parks who was arrested, tried, and convicted for disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance after refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger on 1 December 1955.

Rosa Parks sits in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 after the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled segregation illegal on the city's bus system.
Behind Parks is Nicholas C. Chriss, a UPI reporter covering the event.
Source: United Press photo. Location of Original: New York World-Telegram &
Sun Collection.

This event was a trigger for the African American Civil Rights movement. Rosa's act and the subsequent Montgomery Bus Boycott led to a change in the local ordinance within 381 days (by cutting bus revenues by 80%).

However this was a local change only. The Civil Rights movement is not considered to have ended until 13 years later, with the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (excluding the Black Power Movement which lasted until 1975).


Another TEDxMelbourne speaker, Tania Major, mentioned the long struggle of Indigenous Australians to be fully recognised as Australian citizens. From Federation to full voting rights in 1965 took 64 years, with full recognition in the Constitution occurring only after the referendum of 1967.

Source: New Matilda, The Myth of Aboriginal Voting Rights

In these and other cases of major social change, while some individual members of established authorities were sympathetic, institutions were bound by precedents and processes which made change slow and, in some cases, torturous.


On Wednesday evening (24 November), there was an event at the University of Canberra about Employee 2.0, featuring a panel of speakers including Mike Higginbotham, the Senior Social Media Advisor for Telstra (via Skype), Simon Edwards, Microsoft, Director Corporate Affairs, John Sheridan, First Assistant Secretary, Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) and chaired by Michael de Percy, Lecturer, Faculty of Business & Government, University of Canberra.

Panel at Employee 2.0 event (#emp2au)
Photo: Leigh Blackall


Following the twitter feed for the event, several of the comments struck me:

Web 2.0 as a social movement?

In many respects I can see this being a fair view. To quote the wikipedia definition,
Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals and/or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change.
In this case the social issue might be the equitable access to information and to the capability to create and share content fairly in support of social (and organisational) goals. Gov 2.0 could be looked at as the right to increased participation in government processes (engagement and collaboration), an improved understanding of how governments operate (transparency and openness) and greater capability for individuals and communities to choose self-determination (government as a platform - empowering, but not controlling citizens).


When thinking about Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 as a social movement, it is useful to reflect on how long it took for other major social movements to effect real change.

The examples I've given above took, respectively, 17, 13 and 64 years to reach a, more or less, final resolution.

Given that the term Web 2.0 was coined in 2004, and Government 2.0 in 2005, the fact that these terms are already on the lips (and in some cases in the hearts) of our politicians and senior public servants is a sign of how far the 'Web 2.0 social movement' has already come.

To speak emotively, the 'Web 2.0 movement' has stormed the gates of policy makers. The rising tide of internet users have already had a profound impact on how businesses operate and how nations are governed.

For everyone already engaged with this 'movement', you can be proud of the degree of change that has taken place in such a short period of time, effectively 5-6 years.

However storming the gates is only the first step. We need to work together to define a long-term vision of what the world beyond the gates should look like.
  • What should a 'Net-empowered society' look like? 
  • How do individuals and businesses operate successfully within it? 
  • How do we govern ourselves effectively, adapting digital tools to best serve the needs of citizens?
This need to 'image the future' is, in my view, a pressing and necessary step if we wish to collectively choose a path towards a future that we collectively want, rather than stumble blindly into a future which marginalises or limits our choices.

That's one of the main reasons why I'm involved with the Australia's Government 2.0 Futures project, collecting and collating the views of a desired future from a broad international group of thinkers and practitioners to provide input into the most important debate the internet faces:

Now that we've stormed the gates of policy-makers, what do we tell them we want for a collective future? 

What do you imagine the future should look like?

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