Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rather than 'why' ask 'why not'

The US government uses to involve citizens in designing innovative solutions to government and civil challenges.

The UK government has adopted a digital-by-default approach and has mandated that agencies follow this, providing detailed guidance on what they must do and by when (even open sourcing service design guidance on GithHub for citizens to improve).

The Finnish government has adopted a crowd-sourcing approach to legislation, amending their constitution a year ago to allow citizens to develop laws which the parliament must consider and put to a vote.

Iceland's government went a step further and crowd-sourced a new constitution.

The Canadian government used the free open source mediawiki platform to create a whole-of-government wiki for information sharing within government (the site isn't accessible from the outside). In May 2012 it had over 32,000 users and contained over 18,000 pages of content.

58 countries (roughly 25% of all countries in the world) have joined the Open Government Partnership, making committed steps towards openness and transparency in government.

There's many other examples of both commitments and actions taken by governments around the world to increase openness, transparency and accountability and engage citizens more centrally in civic decision-making processes.

The challenge for agencies and governments in Australia, when faced with the level of innovation and progress being made in pockets around the world, is to shift the debate from 'why' to 'why not'.

Why doesn't Australia adopt one or more of the approaches above?

What are the barriers - cultural, financial, legal, bureaucratic, education - that we need to surmount?

Rather than seeing innovators across departments and councils put on the stand and forced to justify why a step should be taken, facing internal inertia and fear of change, let's see the tables turned and those who wish to preserve the status quo justify why remaining the same is the better strategy, delivering improved outcomes to governments and citizens.

Often intertia has much as many, or more risks, short-term and long-term costs than changing to reflect our fast changing society and environment.

While the temptation for many is to 'flee to the past' when budgets are cut, perhaps we more often need to 'flee to the present', recognising that changing citizen behaviour and channel choice means that government can only do better by whole-heartedly adopting the new technologies that their constituents now use.

The next time someone asks you 'why' - to justify an innovation, a channel, an approach - turn the question back on them and ask them to justify why not.

Ask them how repeating the past will result in different outcomes in the future, what makes their approach still relevant and appropriate when the world has changed.

You might find they have reasons, which might stand up, or that may be countered by your own evidence.

Either way, at least you'll have more information to help construct the why case.

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