Thursday, January 31, 2013

Let's crowdsource the Style Manual for government

The Australian Government Style Manual:
For Authors, Editors and Printers, 6th Edition
image via Wiley Press
 
When I joined the Australian Public Service in 2006, one of the first manuals I was made aware of was the Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers.

The Style Manual was the bible for communications professionals and senior executives in the APS, containing detailed advice on how to plan, design, write, structure, edit and publish content that met the standards expected of Australia's Government.

The Style Manual was, for the most part, practical; clearly and concisely written while covering a vast range of material in a relatively short 550 pages.

From my perspective the Manual only had one major flaw - it was a print-only publication with a price tag for purchase ($44.95).

What this meant, in practice, was that agencies never had enough Manuals to go around.

While Communications team always had quite a few, and many senior executives had their own copies, many people across departments, who wrote policy, program documents, business cases and other materials for a living, didn't have ready and ongoing access to a Style Manual.

Sure the price wasn't that much (and many people bought their own), however when an agency has hundreds or thousands of staff who could benefit from access to the Style Manual, the cost quickly added up.

Another issue caused by the print-only nature of the Style Manual was the speed at which it updated.

At the time I joined the public service the latest edition, the 6th, was four years old. It was already out-of-date due to rapid changes in web communications. Now the 6th Edition of the Style Manual is over ten years old, it is far out of touch with modern writing approaches and channels.

The first Style Manual was published in 1966 and, on average, editions had been published every six years. That may have been fine in the 'old days' when there were three mass media and before desktop computers and the internet, however it fails to meet the speed of change today.

So I was please earlier this week to see that the Australian Government was going to be going to market to update the Style Manual. However, when I looked into what was initially proposed I was concerned:

The Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance) is preparing for an approach to market in mid 2013 seeking to form a joint arrangement with a suitably qualified provider to develop, publish and distribute the 7th edition of the Style manual for authors, editors and printers (Style manual). 
Phase 1 of the project involves consulting with industry in order to explore and better understand potential business models under which the 7th edition could be produced, published and distributed. Finance is particularly interested in business models where the provider recovers development costs through collecting revenue from selling the Style manual, rather than Finance providing the capital to develop the 7th edition....
Government News summed up the situation well in their article, Paywall to surround official government Style guide.

I believe it is time for a rethink of how the Style Manual is constructed, managed and distributed, matching the modern technologies we now have.

Here's my proposal.

Let's crowdsource the Style Manual

The principles under which the government Style Manual should operate, in my view, are as follows.

The Style Manual should be:
  • developed by the people who most understand it and need it - development of the new edition should involve writing and media experts, but also should involve the people who use these mediums for government every day, the users of the current 6th Edition Style Manual. Many of these people have suggestions for improvements and ideas for extensions to the Manual which aren't commonly captured or respected in a centrally managed updating process.
  • readily available - to all government officials and to all organisations and individuals who engage or contract with government on the platform and in the place of their choosing.
  • continually current - a 'living document', updated on an ongoing basis to reflect changing communication channels and language usage.
  • relevant - a communal document, with communications specialists (particularly those in government who rely on it) able to participate in its development and ongoing updating so that it addresses their needs and reflects best practice, prompting engagement and use.
  • accessible - meeting the WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility standards
  • useful - providing examples, templates and allowing people to pose challenges and respond with advice and ideas in an active communal way.
  • open and transparent - the style guide should support and reinforce the government's stated open government agenda.
On this basis, I see the 'native' format being a cross between a wiki and an online community, a living Style Manual where people can search for and reference all the content, plus additional examples and templates that cannot be delivered effectively in a print publication.

Every piece of guidance in the Style Manual would support a discussion, with the community of public servants able to ask questions, debate points of style and offer improvements, which could be implemented through a managed consensus and voting approach.

To support people who needed an offline Manual, or who prefer a printed version, regular (perhaps annual) print versions could be released from the website for departments and other organisations to print (at their own cost or via the site) as books or distribute as ebooks across mobile platforms.

If a revenue model is critical, perhaps the site can charge government departments - not individuals - an annual subscription fee based on their headcount. With around 260,000 public servants, a charge of $2 per head would be more than sufficient to cover the running costs of the site, meaning a large agency with 20,000 staff would pay only $40,000 for an annual subscription for all staff, equaivalent to buying 800 copies of the current 6th Edition Style Manual book (one book per 25 people), while a smaller 500 person agency would pay only $1,000 per year.

This subscription fee would allow full access to the online Style Manual and the right to print as many copies as they chose (at their own cost), as well as including full access to enewsletters and the ability to both suggest edits to the guide and to participate in the community, asking and answering questions related to 'gray' areas in style.

Outside organisations may be able to pay for this access as well, at a higher rate.

In summary, we need a government Style Manual. It provides a basis for standardisation of language and common understanding within and without government.

It needs to always be current and accessible, to engage and support the community by going beyond what a book or website can do by fostering a community of communicators within government - whether they use paper, video, voice or the web as their mediums for communication.

We have the technology today to do this in a cost-effective and managed way. It doesn't require a book publisher or distributor to achieve this goal. In fact these companies are often the worst placed to deliver the outcome as they are tied to legacy investments.

Finally, we need the Style Guide to demonstrate and support the government's open government agenda - something a book publisher, seeking profits, would be disinclined to do.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Eight business models for government open data

Alex Howard has written an excellent article over at the O'Reilly Radar listing eight business models for government open data, a handy list for those in government agencies attempting to justify to senior management or Ministers why releasing government data is important and valuable.

The models listed in Alex's article, Open data economy: Eight business models for open data and insight from Deloitte UK, were identified by Michele Osella, a researcher and business analyst in the Business Model & Policy Innovation Unit at the Istituto Superiore Mario Boella in Italy.

(Note that these are classified in Europe as Public Sector Information (PSI) reuse cases.)

I've included the list of eight business models below and embedded Osella's presentation on the topic as a reference - it provides more detail and case studies on each.

From the article:
  1. Premium Product / Service. HospitalRegisters.com
  2. Freemium Product / Service. None of the 13 enterprises interviewed by us falls into this case, but a slew of instances may be provided: a classic example in this vein is represented by mobile apps related to public transportation in urban areas.
  3. Open Source. OpenCorporates and OpenPolis
  4. Infrastructural Razor Blades. Public Data Sets on Amazon Web Service
  5. Demand-Orientated Platform. DataMarket and Infochimps
  6. Supply-Oriented Platform. Socrata and Microsoft Open Government Data Initiative
  7. Free, as Branded Advertising. IBM City Forward, IBM Many Eyes or Google Public Data Explorer
  8. White-Label Development. This business model has not consolidated yet, but some embryonic attempts seem to be particularly promising.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

LiveBlog from Open Gov miniconf

Today I'm at the Open Government miniconference at Linux Conf 2013.

I'll be liveblogging part of the day.


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Can governments crowdfund (some of the time) rather than tax?


Taxation has become the accepted approach used by most governments to raise most of their funds.

In its simplest form it involves taking a percentage share of the income earnt by citizens and other eligible entities, such as corporations and putting all this money in a big pool for the government's use.

The government then decides how to spend this money - providing public services and infrastructure, welfare and health care, and paying for the machinery of government.

Taxation is often supplemented by other revenue raising approaches including 'user-pays' tolls or levies and the sale or rent of goods, public assets or rights.

While there's plenty of debate over how the money in government's pool is spent, the main approaches used to raise these funds have remained largely unchallenged for centuries.

With the rise of the internet, however, another approach to funding government is becoming more viable - crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding involves asking people to provide funds for worthwhile projects on a micro-scale, many individuals each donating a small amount.

This isn't a totally new approach. Rich philanthropists have donated millions for worthwhile causes, communities have come together to fund (and build) small public works and individuals have adopted park benches and potholes for many years.

However the internet has lifted crowdfunding to a new level, with the potential to cost-effectively raise millions of dollars through tiny individual donations in a managed way.

The practice is already beginning to grow in the US, as illustrated in the video below. US platforms like Neighbor.ly already exist and new ones, like Citizinvestor are sprouting.

A european platform, Brickstarter, is being built with a pilot planned with the Finnish city of Kotka later this year.

In the Netherlands, a foot bridge is being crowdsourced by Rotterdam's government, testing the concept for broader use.

There's even some use in Australia. ScreenWest (WA's government film financing body), has a crowdfunding project in partnership with Pozible to support the funding of WA films.

While it is still too early to tell how useful crowdfunding will be for governments, the crowdfunding approach has been successful in raising funds for arts projects and commercial products, even for establishing the world's first Tesla museum (which I've invested in).

Micro-financing, a related approach supporting people to lift themselves out of poverty with loans too small for banks to bother with, has also proven successful in many cases (I recommend checking out Kiva, which I use).

Perhaps, over the next few years, rather than debating tax increases or expenditure cuts, governments will consider broader, internet-enabled options for funding some activities or infrastructure - such as crowdfunding.

All it takes is an open mind and a willingness to innovate in revenue raising.  As the video below illustrates, this is already starting to get underway.




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Friday, January 25, 2013

How much of Australia is represented by federal politicians tweeting?

Recently Twitter announced (as reported in Mediabistro) that 100% of elected US Senators and 90% of Representatives were using Twitter, and mapped the country to show electorate coverage by state.

I track the use of Twitter by Australian federal politicians  through my Australians Politicians on Twitter Google spreadsheet (about 66% use the service), and decided to similarly map Twitter use across Australian electorates and states.

I found there are some major holes in Twitter use outside of metropolitan areas, as shown in the map below by electorate.

Note that my data is current as at 21 January 2013.

Australian House of Representatives Twitter users by electorate

Zoom in for city electorates and click on an electorate for the details of the tweeting member.

Representative tweeters by tweets
I've scaled the map below by number of tweets to show the level of activity by member.



Representative tweeters by followers
The picture looks a little different by followers, which has been scaled by member in the map below.

Australian parliamentary Twitter users by state (Senate & Reps)

At least by state, every jurisdiction has at least a few federal twitter users, and the maps below take in Senators as well as Representatives, giving a total level of tweeting by elected members by state and territory.

Federal parliamentary tweeters by state/territory by tweets
Click on the map to see the total tweets by all elected members in a state or territory. 


Federal parliamentary tweeters by state/territory by followers
Again the picture is a little different by followers, due to the impact of Kevin Rudd (Queensland) and Julia Gillard (Victoria), the most followed Australian politicians.


More to come...

I am in the process of mapping tweeting levels by political party and identifying the 'tigers' who are using the service very actively, compared to other politicians.

I am also mapping government agencies in a similar way - crosschecking around 840 tweeting federal, state/territory and local governments to find out who are the most active and most followed tweeters.

Keep an eye on my blog for more of this information over the next few weeks.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Register now for the first free Gov 2.0 lunchtime event in Canberra for 2013

Canberra's free Gov 2.0 lunchtime events continue for the fourth year in 2013, with the first monthly event featuring two great presentations:

  • “R.I.P. to the media release, hello crowd sources” on the use of social media in real-time emergency communications by Darren Cutrupi of the ACT Emergency Services Agency, and 
  • "The British Invasion - how Gov 2.0 is taking the UK by storm" on the state of Government 2.0 in the UK, from British-based Ben Fowkes of Delib UK.
Update: Note that Ben isn't able to give a presentation on the UK GovCamp that was scheduled on 19 January as it was delayed due to snow.


For more information, or to register, please visit the Eventbrite page at: http://gov20february2013.eventbrite.com/

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Is it time to abandon the term 'Government 2.0'?

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare 
The term 'Government 2.0' was coined a number of years ago now, as a way of describing a set of new opportunities and activities for governments and citizens enabled by digital technologies and the internet.

While many definitions for Government 2.0 are out there, the basic premise is that new technologies can improve the effective governance of nations.

This can occur both through governments reforming their activities, processes and transparency to be more 'citizen-centric', focused on the outcomes for communities than on ticking procedural boxes, and through citizens having greater involvement and influence over how they are governed.

However beyond this basis premise, Government 2.0 is a catchall for a range of very different activities - the release of data in reusable forms, the development of improved citizen engagement approaches and platforms, more direct political involvement by citizens via websites and social networks, the innovative use of digital technologies to redevelop government services, the breakdown of silos within agencies and more.

Many of these activities also have their own names, open data, connected government, digital democracy, crowdsourcing, open government, egovernment, digital innovation and so on - and these terms are often confused with or used instead of the term Government 2.0.

In my experience many public servants, media commentators and the majority of the public are unaware of or have different understandings of what Government 2.0 actually means. The term is not in any dictionaries I'm aware of and is used very differently by different governments and agencies.

If a term, such as Government 2.0, doesn't have a common meaning within government or with citizens, can it communicate what we want to say effectively?

I'm still undecided over whether Government 2.0 remains a useful term. It certainly helps bring together a disparate group of people working in closely related fields - citizen advocacy, open government, community engagement and egovernment, finding points of similarity and synergy that support all their work.

The term has a basis in reality - we can see the changes occurring in society, from the increasing influence of epetitions and online advocacy to influence policies, the move towards open data and copyrights across government, changes in both how government agencies and politicians engage, communicate with and influence their constituents and, more critically, changes in how citizens engage, communicate with and influence politicians, political parties and government agencies in turn.

Social media has helped citizens to form groups and movements and has allowed governments to win (or lose) hearts and minds. Increasingly agencies and politicians are bypassing mainstream media to communicate directly with citizens, cutting out an unreliable middleman.

So we need some kind of term or terms to describe how our society, government and politics is changing - and will continue to change.

But should that term be Government 2.0?

If not, what should it be?

Below is a great webcast from Tim O'Reilly, widely credited with creating the term 'Government 2.0', speaking about what Gov 2.0 means to him and why he created it.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Infographics: How does Australia compare on government open data released?

I've developed several infographics (below) comparing the open data performance of nations, looking at which have national open data sites, how many sites they have across different government levels and how many datasets have been released through their national sites.

It's not a way to judge 'winners' and 'losers' - or even to compare the relative performance of countries. However it provides useful information on who is doing what and how deeply open government has been embedded in the thinking of agencies. This said...

There are 41 countries listed (by data.gov) as having open data websites, out of almost 200 nations.

In their national open data sites, in total, these nations have released at least 1,068,164 data sets (I was unable to get a count from China, Timor-Leste, Tunisia or Sweden's national open data sites), for an average of 28,869 and a median of only 483 - due to a few high release countries (US, France, Canada).

How do Australia and New Zealand rank?
As people will look for this anyway, based on the number of datasets released as of January 2013, New Zealand is 9th (with 2,265 datasets) and Australia 11th (with 1,124 datasets).

Between us is Estonia, with 1,655 datasets.

The top nations above New Zealand are, in order: US (378,529), France (353,226), Canada (273,052), Denmark (23,361), United Kingdom (8,957), Singapore (7,754), South Korea (6,460), Netherlands (5,193).

Infographics




And finally, as a tree map showing the relative size of nations by datasets...




Raw data
The raw data is available in a spreadsheet at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0Ap1exl80wB8OdFNvR3dja3E4UGtVVi1LMU11OFBmR1E&output=html

Caveats
When it comes to nations and states there's few absolute measures, there's simply relative performance - across jurisdictions or across time.

These comparisons are often flawed due to variations in data collection, lack of information or differences in approach, however there can still be value in 'placing' nations, identifying opportunities, challenges, flaws and risks.

My work above is not a measure of the success of open data itself, but provides a relative indicator of which governments have been more successful in embedded open government principles in agencies, and how deeply. It also provides insight into wich nations are working in this space.

My data spreadsheet is also a useful 'point in time' reference to track changes over time.

Note that I was unable to count open data released outside of national open data sites - there's a lot more of this, however it can be harder to locate. Due to the sheer number of state-based open data sites (210), I've not yet done a tally of the datasets they've released, only of the 41 national sites. Watch this space :)

The data may not be 100% accurate due to differences in the approach to releasing data. data.gov provided the list of data sites and I drew specific information on datasets and apps from all 41 national open data sites, each with a different design and functionality and across over a dozen languages.

Please let me know of any inaccuracies and I will endeavour to correct them.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Considering copyright in a digital world - the 2013 Australian Digital Alliance Copyright Forum

Copyright is one of the battlefields of the digital age, with the ability to rapidly copy and distribute works via digital channels challenging 20th century industries that have relied on traditional copyright laws to profit and thrive.

It is also a key area for governments, who vary in their approach to copyright around the world.

From the US where material created by their Federal government is, by default, owned by the public, to the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and others, where governments are transitioning from closed copyright systems (what the government creates with public funds is owned by the government) to more open ones (the government owns the copyright but assigns the right for the public to reuse it with caveats), to closed systems which exist in many other jurisdictions around the world (what the government creates with public funds, the government owns and can sell to the highest bidder).

There's continuing scrutiny, review and debate over the 'right' setting for copyright - with the companies who only exist due to copyright (book publishers, movie and music producers) often at odds with their own customers, who wish to share books, music and video material they enjoy.

The current Australian Law Reform Commission's review into the topic, Copyright and the Digital Economy, is still ongoing (until November 2013), and copyright is likely to remain an area of contention for decades as digital continues to evolve and force a rethink of who owns or gets to exploit the value in created works.

So it is timely that on 1 March this year the  2013 Australian Digital Alliance Copyright Forum is being held in Canberra at the National Portrait Gallery to consider how Australia's copyright framework fits in with the 'digital world'.

This impacts on government agencies in as profound a way as it impacts on the commercial sector. Governments across Australia still sell significant amounts of copyright material and, despite progressive transition to open licensing, most of their 'back catalogue' remains under restricting copyright rules.

So I suggest that anyone interested in copyright consider attending this forum - there's a great line-up of speakers and likely to be much thought-provoking discussion.

For more details visit the Australian Digital Alliance's website: http://digital.org.au/content/2013-australian-digital-alliance-copyright-forum

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Transcribe Australia's archival records - earn points towards publications and posters

Late last year the National Archives of Australia launched a global first for national archives, allowing the public to collaborate in the digital transcription of Australian archival records.

The system, at transcribe.naa.gov.au, basically allowed the public to register for an account, pick from hundreds of digitally scanned public records and correct any errors in the automatic text recognition (of which there's lots!)

For each record corrected, a user earns points, which accumulate on a leaderboard so they can compare themselves to others in a competitive way (I'm currently 40th).

This approach by itself is innovative and has only been previously used in Australia by the National Library, which has operated its newspaper archives in the same crowdsourcing way for around six years.

However the National Archives have taken an additional exciting step. Users can now use the points they gain from correcting archival transcripts to earn copies of Archives' publications, posters and files.

Essentially, rather than spending money on publications from the NAA, the public can 'earn' those publications by improving Australia's historic record.

Now that's a fantastic example of how to both involve the public and to reward them for participation in a meaningful way.

There might still be some further need required to tweak the system so that people feel the level of work they do is appropriate to the rewards - currently the cheapest reward, the Collections booklet requires 50,000 points - which only the top eight leaderboard members have reached. However this is the first time a government agency has taken this type of step, so some refinement is to be expected.

That said, I'm motivated  to get back to work improving Australia's historic record and earning myself a material reward in thanks for doing so.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

When (if ever) is it appropriate for a government agency or politician to delete a tweet or post?

While a sideshow to the fire disaster sweeping Australia, there's been reports in traditional media and conversations online over the last day regarding the decision by the Australian Government Housing Minister, Brendan O'Connor, to apologise for and delete a tweet that claimed that a tweet from Australia's Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, was a political stunt as it highlighted Abbot's volunteer fire fighting activities.

Without delving into the politics of this discussion, the topic raises an interesting area for both politicians and public servants. 

When (if ever) is it appropriate for a politician or government agency to delete a tweet, post or comment they put on a social network?

Let's start by putting this in a broad context. Politicians and agencies make public comments all the time through many different channels. 

Occasionally these comments may contain mistakes, be factually wrong or otherwise erroneous, accidentally (or deliberately) insensitive, cause concern or harm.

Many traditional channels have methods for officially retracting these incorrect/inappropriate comments. 

In parliament politicians can request that comments be 'struck off' Hansard, the official record of parliament, a gesture regularly used as part of an apology for becoming too heated in a moment and, I suspect, the reason Minister O'Connor deleted his tweet - he was following the protocol of parliament when apologising. 

Striking off is no longer an infallible way to remove a comment from public view. Members of the press gallery and people observing parliament in the visitors gallery can repeat or publish comments made by politicians, now in real-time using social media. The video recording of parliament is also unedited so someone could go back over these videos and Hansard to identify which comments were retracted, and why.

Equally government agencies (and companies) who issue incorrect media releases can and do retract them, often done when information in the release wasn't fully accurate. Historically journalists have respected this right as they want the right information and respect the ongoing relationship, though this isn't infallible either. I can personally think of several occasions where journalists have used a retraction to run a 'gotcha!' story, portraying an organisation as incompetent for making a minor mistake.

The ability to retract comments also extends, to some extent, to verbal statements to media by senior officials. Where a piece of information was incorrect, a Ministerial office or agency may issue a 'clarification'. In some cases these may more closely resemble a 'correction' instead, and again while media may respect having the correct information on the record, a 'gotcha' story opportunity might tempt them into ignoring the clarification, or publishing both versions.

So retractions are an established part of public engagement - simply a reflection that we're all human, capable of misreading a situation and saying something that offends or that, despite copious checking, sometimes the wrong numbers, dates or words get used.

Social media platforms recognise this as well and most have methods to allow people to delete or hide messages they post accidentally or regret after the fact, with Twitter and Facebook in particular having robust systems for deleting tweets and posts.

These system are also not infallible. Any comment, once recorded on the internet, may be copied, stored and republished by others. 

While this may not be a major concern for the average citizen, for public figures, institutions and corporations, they can never rely on being able to successfully delete a social media comment.

Twitchy, a site that acts as a newswire for social media comments by politicians and celebrities, even publishes a list of the top 20 deleted Tweets about US politics each year and the Sunlight Foundation runs an entire site dedicated to exposing the deleted tweets of US politicians, Politwoops.

So - is it ever appropriate for politicians or agencies to delete a tweet, post or comment online, given they can't guarantee it will disappear without a trace?

I think it is - though only in specific instances.

If an agency or a politician publishes a social media comment that is factually incorrect then it is OK to delete the comment, provided they do so within a short time period (a few hours) and reissue the correct information.

I hold this view because if an agency or politician places a factually incorrect comment online it will be indexed in search engines and become part of the permanent record of what they've said - potentially doing future harm to individuals who rely on information from that trusted source. Factually incorrect comments can also cause confusion,if different information is published through another channel, so deleting the incorrect comment reduces the potential for user confusion when presented with two different sets of 'facts' from an agency or politician.

Alongside this retraction by deletion, the agency or politician should also publish a correction notice via the same social media channel they used to publish the original incorrect message. While this could be seen as calling attention to and damaging the organisation or politician's credibility, what it actually does is highlight that, while a mistake was made, it was corrected as soon as possible. People respect a good recovery and the majority will respect an organisation or individual for being willing to admit fault in order to ensure that the public has the right information.

Other cases, such as my original example, where an online comment is perceived as offensive, political or otherwise upsets people - but is either opinion or is factually correct, I don't recommend deletion. These are the messages that people look for to call an organisation or individual's credibility into question and deleting them only adds fuel to the fire (as it did in this case).

Instead I recommend that the organisation or politician issue an unconditional apology, using the same channel used to make the original comment, and, if necessary, post a correction, but leaving the original comment live.

While there can be a strong temptation to make the offense 'disappear' by deleting the offending comment, it is better to offer the apology as suggested above and, if someone specifically was offended, to reach out to them personally to ask if they would prefer the original comment deleted as part of the process - giving them some control over the situation.

If they do wish it deleted, then delete it, and if subsequently criticised for the deletion, the organisation or politician can simply acknowledge the concern and highlight that it was deleted at the request of the offended party. That tends to shut down criticism quite quickly.

So, in summary, when do I believe it is appropriate for agencies or politicians to delete a social media comment?

When the original comment is factually wrong in a way that could cause future harm for people who rely on it, and the comment has been live for only a few hours.

Otherwise the agency or politician should issue an apology and, if necessary, a correction. Then if a person or organisation was specifically mentioned in the comment, they should be asked if they wish the original comment removed.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Victorian government releases its Digital Innovation Review

Late last year I completed a piece of work with the Victorian government reviewing and benchmarking their digital innovation performance by agency, compared to other governments in Australia and around the world.

For the purposes of the report, digital innovation was defined as:
Involves the use of digital channels, tools and relevant methodologies to improve the operation of organisations and the delivery of services.
Within government this includes the use of social media and Government 2.0 approaches and channels, as well as broader use of online tools to improve agency management, policy development and service delivery.
The report reviews how Victorian citizens and the Victorian government have adopted digital channels, surveyed Victorian public servants on their online and digital innovation activity and included a series of in-depth best practice case studies of digital innovation by Victorian agencies.

It also provides suggestions for fostering digital innovation within government and improve the consistency and cost-effectiveness of services to citizens and capabilities across agencies.

The Victorian government has publicly released the Digital Innovation Review in full, and it can be found at: http://www.egov.vic.gov.au/victorian-government-resources/trends-and-issues-victoria/information-and-communications-technology-victoria/the-victorian-government-digital-innovation-review.html

I hope it is useful for governments and agencies around the world.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Looking back, looking forward - where now for the eGovAU blog

Stepping into the fifth year I've operated the eGovAU blog, I wanted to take a look back into its history, and a look forward to what readers can expect in the next year.

I started eGovAU in 2008 to help access and share information and experience across the online communications space within government, as I found there were few formal networks or forums for people working in this space to get together and share their expertise and challenges.

At the time few agencies employed social media or Government 2.0 in their official activities, there was low awareness of the options and considerable concerns about the risks of new media channels. Public servants who used social networks personally kept a low profile, while many middle and senior managers I spoke to simply didn't see the value of social media in government communications, service delivery or policy work.

Now, just into 2013, I've published 1,259 posts (including this one), ranging on topics from open government and social media to how new media can and is changing the process of service delivery and policy development. I've had 1,353 (non-spam) comments in my blog, though many more through content syndicated in other sites.

Monthly page views to the eGovAU blog
eGovAU has had over 400,000 page views and, with content syndicated or republished on five continents, the actual traffic has been much higher - as has the number of comments.

While this isn't amazingly high, there's realistically a small core audience for my main topics, and I've received enough positive feedback in person and via other channels to feel that eGovAU is worthwhile.

Traffic to eGovAU has grown consistently over the years, despite decreasing my post rate from five per week in 2008-09 to three per week in 2010-12.  I like to think this correlates with the growth in interest in Gov 2.0 and social media within governments in Australia.

In the same period of time - 2008-2013, we've seen the majority of state and federal agencies, and many local councils, adopt social media channels as a core part of their external communications and engagement. Many have mandates, support and guidance for social media, open data and Government 2.0 activities - though there's a few tail-enders still resisting the trend.

Gov 2.0 and government social media groups have been established in many jurisdictions, with regular free events helping to formally and informally help public servants to share successes, seek experienced help to address individual agency challenges and to help share and build on good work, improving processes and outcomes for governments.

My blog has also become more cumbersome - with over 1,200 posts, finding older (but still relevant) content is tough - even for me. While I use largely standard tags to organise posts, I can't easily divide content into different types - product reviews, case studies, resources, thinking.

As such it's time for my blog to change tact, from the goal of building the Gov 2.0 community, to a focus on supporting the existing community, helping it to expand beyond its digital communications and IT roots into every corner of the public service.

So this year you'll see a number of changes to eGovAU, starting soon.

This will begin with a change in the blog platform (and by necessity the location), to one that provides better control over the design and layout of content. This aims to make information structurally easier to find and read, allows me to improve commenting, rating and sharing systems and to address comments about the colour scheme (FYI John).

Following this change I'll begin providing a broader range of content posts, designed to both help people new to Gov 2.0 and social media in government and to provide useful content and resources for experienced practitioners. This will include (but not be limited to):
  • product/service reviews to help busy public servants understand the options available to them, 
  • topic briefing papers to help middle and senior managers make quick sense of specific areas, 
  • a searchable resource centre indexing useful third-party papers, articles and research reports, 
  • templates and tools to help agencies 'hit the ground running' with specific social media projects, and
  • an improved calendar of public-sector relevant Gov 2.0, open data and social media events.
I've also begun working with an editor to develop a series of free eBooks, each focused on a different Gov 2.0 theme, to make it easier to find and absorb information on particular topics. These are based on my blog posts, but will include additional content updating them and linking them together.

I will also be pushing into video and audio posting, to provide a different way to access content,  providing a regular snapshot of what is happening in the Gov 2.0 space and allowing me to support interviews and video case studies with various people involved in open government and Gov 2.0 around the world.

Looking back, I'm proud of what I've achieved with eGovAU and of how actively many across Australian governments have adopted digital channels to help their agencies continue to be relevant and effective in a networked world - often despite great internal resistance.

Looking forward, I want eGovAU to continue to help public servants to realise the promise of new media, to amplify communication, increase transparency and accountability, inform debates and bring more citizens 'inside the tent' on developing and implementing government policies and services.

As always I welcome suggestions and comments - positive and negative - of what you'd like to see more or less of. I'm almost always available for a chat on Twitter and will be around in person as well.

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