Friday, May 31, 2013

Australian open data goes CKAN - but remains fragmented by jurisdiction

In the run-up to GovHack this weekend, Australian governments have been hard at work preparing new or updated open data sites, many using CKAN as their base technology.

This includes the new Australian Government beta data.gov.au site, the new South Australian government's data.sa.gov.au and the NSW government's new data.nsw.gov.au/data/.

We also have Queensland's data.qld.gov.au, Victoria's data.vic.gov.au and the ACT's data.act.gov.au (which uses Socrata) at state level.

Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have yet to launch open data sites, although I know at least two of these jurisdictions are considering how they begin.

It's fantastic to see Australian jurisdictions opening up their data, as well as the increasing mandate at political levels, highlighted by Queensland's appointment last year of an Assistant Minister for eGovernment, and the recent Australian Government announcement that they were joining the international Open Government Partnership (OGP).

However, let's hold the horses here a moment.

Why are Australian jurisdictions each launching their own open data site when we could have a single whole-of-government site - which would provide easy access to any data, from any Australian jurisdiction, side-by-side?

Why not set common naming conventions for datasets across jurisdictions, common data formats for its release and common field (and field names) in each common dataset?

Unfortunately this fragmented approach is still the reality for Australia - even when there's a commitment to the same direction or approach, various governments prefer to 'go their own way' rather than work together to save costs and improve efficiencies.

Each jurisdiction sees itself as a 'special case' and there's limited capability across governments to coordinate a single solution that wouldn't get mired in politics - at both political and bureaucratic levels.

So while Australia is stepping forward with open data, it's also revealing the issues in our system of government. Cost-efficiency is often trumped by political advantage or concerns that certain jurisdictions are not carrying their 'fair share' of the load.

Given it is unlikely that jurisdictions will solve these issues quickly - what I would really like to see out of GovHack this year is a project that aggregates all of Australia's open data into a single repository, matches it and presents it in a common data format.

This would allow people seeking common datasets from different jurisdictions to find them all in one place and use them easily due to a consistent format, rather than having to go to six or more sites to find the data and having to convert it for use.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Australian academia beginning to learn to crawl in 2.0 social channels

I've long lamented the speed at which academia was embracing the internet, social channels and 2.0 approaches - with limited courses available on modern online techniques for under and post graduates, old fashioned-approaches to research and publication.

There's been hints of brilliance overseas - with US universities placing courses online and UK universities embracing social in a major way - however Australia has largely remained a backwater for higher education in a 2.0 world, with individual exceptions at specific universities, such as Dr Axel Bruns and Julie Posetti.

To demonstrate some of the impact of this Australian academic drought, a few months ago I was approached by a European professor about identifying an Australian academic working in the Gov 2.0 field to write a chapter in an upcoming book on Government 2.0. 

This professor, who I had previously worked with on a major report on global Gov 2.0 for the European Parliament (unfortunately not publicly available), had failed to identify anyone in Australia working in the Gov 2.0 space through her academic channels.

I made initial enquiries through a number of my Gov 2.0 contacts in government, as well as to a range of academics and universities, however was unsuccessful at finding anyone through their systems. In the end I was very lucky to encounter an academic in South Australia with relevant expertise at an event I was speaking at in Adelaide. This academic is now working on the book project and I'm very interested in how it turns out.

We have seen some recent stirring towards greater acknowledgement of 2.0 approaches in the recent ARC (Australian Research Council) moves towards open access publishing of public-funded research, however this is still a very small step.

We have also seen some good debates on the role of the public in science, and some pilots such as the Peer-to-Patent, which strike at the commercial end of the spectrum, and the Atlas of Living Australia, which involves citizens in mapping Australia's biodiversity.

We're also now seeing some steps to move beyond the traditional peer review process to consider new ways of measuring the reach and impact of academic research, with the 'altmetric' movement gaining steam.

What are altmetrics? I admit I hadn't heard about them until recently and when I first encountered the turn found the name little more than marketing buzz. 

Essentially the term describes the use of online social metrics to assist in measuring academic success - mentions on Facebook and Twitter, the level of reuse of raw research datasets via APIs, 'semantic publication' of specific passages and references to academic articles in blogs and forums, and more.

The term altmetrics was developed by the founders of one of the first companies that is spruiking altmetrics solutions to academics, and the biggest supporters of the term are other companies seeking to profit from the same rush to web statistics. Therefore I am still inclined to regard the term itself as marketing buzz for the types of social metrics commercial and public sector organisations have been using for years (see the chart below on the growth of use of the term in Google searches).

However it does signify an important and major change in how academic research is measured and valued.

If academics begin measuring their success in how well discussed and commented on their work is in the public sphere, they will likewise begin talking more about their research publicly in order to grow their buzz and their recognised academic prowess.

This will encourage academics to get out from their lecture theatres into the community, become more proficient at communicating their thoughts and work to a broader layman audience and making research more accessible, interesting and influential in public debates and policy work.

I also hope more publicly available research will also lead to more people interested in pursuing these careers, greater commercialisation of research work, improved scrutiny of findings and better social outcomes.

However I hope that at some point academics will realise that 'altmetrics' are simply no more than metrics - ones that are already becoming business-as-usual in commercial and public sector spheres - and focus more on involving people in and sharing their research than on the marketing buzz.

For more information on altmetrics, see:

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Where are all the public sector web analysts?

It's not unusual for agencies to spend millions of dollars on a new program supporting some group in society and hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and research to ensure that the new program is designed to be successful, to track its progress and audit it over time.

It's not unusual for agencies to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an online presence to educate people (such as on a new program) - a website that may provide information, eligibility and application processes as well as a couple of social media channels for engagement.

However it is rare for an agency to spend even thousands of dollars on social media monitoring and website analytics to determine whether the website and online presence for a new program is being effective, where improvements could be made, to track its progress and audit it over time.

I've worked in several government agencies which had some kind of research unit, who spent their time analysing customer and program information to provide insights that help improve policies and service delivery. Unfortunately, even in the five and a half years I spent in the public sector, I saw these units cut in responsibilities, reduced in size, even turned into contractor units simply managing external research consultants.

These units were still new to online when I entered the public service, unsure of how to analyse it or how to weigh the insights they might receive. However when I left, although online had been recognised as an important channel, the capability of research units to integrate it into other analysis had been sadly diminished due to budget cuts.

This trend towards outsourcing or simply disregarding data analysis, at a time when society has more data at its fingertips than ever before, is worrying in government. What trends are going unnoticed? What decisions are being made without consideration for the facts?

However I have a special concern around how government agencies regard web and social media analysis, which in my view are increasingly useful sources of near real-time intelligence and longer-term trend data about how people think and behave.

As I've never been able to afford to have a web analytics expert in one of my teams in government, I've spent a great deal of my own time diving into website and social media stats to make sense of why people visited specific government sites, what they were looking for and where they went when they didn't find what they needed.

I've also used third party tools - from Hitwise to Google Trends - to help identify the information and services people needed from government and to help present this information to agency subject matter experts and content owners to help inform their decisions on what information to provide.

I know that some agencies have begun using social media analysis tools to track what people are saying online about their organisation and programs, often to intervene with facts or customer service where relevant, and this is good and important use of online analytics.

I'm even aware of web and social media analytics being provided back to policy areas to help debunk beliefs, much as I used to give different program areas snapshots of their web analytics to help them understand how effective their content was with the audiences they targeted (when I had time).

With the rise in interest in open data, I guess what I'd like to see in government agencies is more awareness of how useful their own web analytics can be to help them to cost-efficiently understand and meet citizen needs. I would also like to see more commitment of resources to online analytics and analysts within agencies to help their subject matter experts to keep improving how they communicate their program, policy or topic to layman citizens.

It may also be a good time to look into the intersection of open data and online analytics - open analytics perhaps?

I would love to see agencies publishing their web traffic and social media analytics periodically, or  live, allowing government websites to be held accountable in a similar manner to how data on crime statistics helps keep police accountable.

Maybe certain web statistics could even be published as open data feeds, so others might mash-up the traffic across agencies and build a full picture of what the public is seeking from government and where they go to get it. This could even allow a senior Minister, Premier or Prime Minister to have full visibility on the web traffic to an entire state or nation - something that would take months to provide today.

This last suggestion may even overcome the issue agencies have in affording, or for that matter finding, good web analytics people.  Instead external developers could be encouraged to uncover the best and worst government sites based on the data and provide a view of what people really want from government in practice, from how they engage with government online.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Australia is joining the Open Government Partnership

As reported in Peter Timmins' Open and Shut blog this morning, the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, has announced that Australia will be joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP) - the leading global organisation for states working towards more open government.

Australia is the 59th country to join the OGP, following Ireland (who sent a letter of intent last week) and excluding Russia, who has just withdrawn their application.

It makes us the fifth country in the Asia-Pacific region, behind South Korea, the Phillipines, Indonesia and Mongolia.

This is a timely (if not overdue) commitment by Australia, particularly considering how well-developed our government transparency regime is already. We're ranked 4th in the country list of the Open Knowledge Foundation's Open Data Census (see below).

Now the questions we'll see answered to over the next few years are: how will OGP membership influence the level of attention and mandate for open government in Australia; how will it affect how Australian Government agencies operate, and; will New Zealand follow suit?


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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is there really an open data El Dorado?

I was reading a tweet yesterday from Australia's CTO, John Sheridan, and it raised an interesting question for me.
Is government open data really a new goldmine for innovation?

The Economist's article, A new goldmine, makes a strong case for the value of open data through examples such as GPS, the Global Positioning System which is owned by the US government (who owns the satellites), but has been provided free to organisations around the world since 1983.

I've also seen fantastic studies in the UK and Australia talking about the value in releasing public sector information (PSI) as open data, and great steps have been taken in many jurisdictions around the world, from Australia to Uruquay, to open up government silos and let the (anonymised) data flow.

I agree there's fantastic value in open data; for generating better policy deliberations and decisions, for building trust and respect in institutions and even for stimulating innovation that leads to new commercial services and solutions.


However I do not believe in an open data El Dorado - the equivalent of the fabled city of gold - where every new dataset released unveils new nuggets of information and opportunities for innovation.

Indeed I am beginning to be concerned that we may be approaching a Peak of Inflated Expectations (drawing on Gartner's famous Hype cycle chart) for open data, expecting it to deliver far more than it actually will - a silver bullet, if you will, for governments seeking to encourage economic growth, transparency and end world hunger.

Data is a useful tool for understanding the world and ourselves and more data may be more beneficial, however the experience of the internet has been that people struggle when provided with too much data too quickly.

Information overload requires humans to prioritise the information sources they select, potentially reinforcing bias rather than uncovering new approaches. Data can be easily taken out of context, misused, distorted, or used to tell a story exactly the reverse of reality (as anyone closely following the public climate change debate would know).

Why assume that the release of more government data - as the US is doing - will necessarily result in more insights and better decisions, particularly as citizens and organisations come to grips with the new data at their fingertips?

A data flood may result in exactly the reverse, with the sheer volume overwhelming and obscuring the relevant facts, or the tyranny of choice leading to worse or fewer decisions, at least in the short-term.


The analogy of open data as a gold mine may be true in several other respects as well.

The average yield of a gold mine is quite low, with many mines reporting between one and five grams of gold per tonne of extracted material. In fact gold isn't even visible to the naked eye until it reaches 30 grams per tonne.

While several hundred years ago gold was easier to find in high concentrations and therefore easier to extract - leading to many of history's gold rushes - over time people have mined most of the highest gold concentrations.

Extraction has become laborious and costly, averaging US$317 per ounce globally in 2007.

There is definitely gold in open data, value in fresh insights and innovations, opportunities to build trust in institutions and reduce corruption and inefficiency in governance.

However if open data is at all like gold mining, the likelihood is that the earlier explorers will find the highest yields, exploring new datasets to develop insights and innovations.

By the gold mine comparison we are currently in the open data equivalent of the gold rushes, where every individual who can hoist a line of code can dig for riches as a data miner, while data analysis companies sell spades.

Following the analogy, data miners will shift from open data site to open data site, seeking the easy wins and quick insights.

However as the amount of open data grows and most of the easy wins have been found, it will get more expensive to sift increasing amounts of data for fewer insights, requiring greater and greater investments in time and effort to extract the few remaining nuggets of 'gold'.

At that point many government open data sites may become virtual ghost towns, dominated by large organisations with the ability to invest in a lower yield of insights.

Alongside these organisations, only a few tenacious data mining individuals will remain, still sifting the tailings and hoping to find their open data El Dorado.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Register for the May Gov 2.0 event in Canberra

I've realised I'd not yet blogged about this month's Gov 2.0 event in Canberra, which is being run by the Department of Finance and combines the Gov 2.0 crowd with the Australian Government's  Cross Agency Social Media Forum.

The event - which is coming up next Thursday, 23 May at DEEWR's auditorium on Marcus Clarke street, features four speakers on social media in the public service:

  • Tom Burton from the ACMA to discuss his work and strategy;
  • Evan Hill from PM&C to present about the APS Policy Visualisation Network;
  • Felicity Lawrence from ACT Government to present about her PhD research project on social media in the public service across Australia; and 
  • Pia Waugh from the Department of Finance to briefly present about the APS online engagement courses Finance are running. Please see below for more information.
For more information and to register visit the EventBrite page at: http://casmmay2013.eventbrite.com/

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How governments in the US and UK are using crowdfunding

Delib UK has taken my thoughts on crowdfunding within government and researched a number of other examples where local governments are using innovative ways to engage citizens in paying for communal facilities.

Worth a read at How councils are crowdfunding community projects.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Can an 'open' government site be open if it is poorly designed?

I was chatting with Paul Davis on Twitter recently about the The State Decoded, an open source US-developed platform for accessibly and openly exposing state legislation online (see the platform in use at Marylandcode.org).

He suggested that the tool was effectively a US version of Austlii, which is a repository for Australian federal and state law.

My view was that there were significant differences between the two approaches.

The State Decoded is an open source platform being crowd developed, which anyone can replicate for any jurisdiction. It contains APIs, presents all content as accessible web pages and is nicely designed to be easy for casual users to access.

Austlii, on the other hand, is a closed platform developed by two universities. There's no APIs, much of the content is available only as PDFs and documents, and the design - well, minimalist is possibly the right term, with the site difficult to navigate for all but university professors (who developed it) and lawyers.

When I made this comparison (in brief given Twitter's character limits), Paul said to me...
This made me think a little - do I consider visual design a criteria for openness in government?

And my answer was:
I thought in this post I would expand a little on my view.

For some technically orientated people design can be an afterthought. Their focus is on making a system or machine work as it should, able to take in data and spit out information correctly and quickly.

For these people, design is a 'nice to have' added towards the end of the process, with sites and systems made 'pretty' to appease the communications and marketing people, but is otherwise non-functional.

I've participated in many IT-led 'design' processes, where the focus was on how entities within the system should interact with each other, and the testing focused on 'user-acceptance' - which basically is designed to answer the question 'do the system's features work as intended?'.

In these processes there was little or no consideration regarding the visual appeal of the solution, whether the terminology was understandable to the audience, the search results expected or the navigation logical for non-experts and non-programmers. At best there was some commitment to making the site accessible - however this often meant 'bare bones' lists of text on a white background, rather than using alternative methods  to provide a pleasurable experience for all users.

Of course it is essential that websites and system respond quickly and as intended. However if users don't find them appealing, intelligible or intuitive, they will use them unwillingly, if at all.

I like to compare this to the car market. Originally cars were designed to be functional only - with little in the way of 'frills' to appeal to the public. The hard part was in getting the mechanics to work right and to last and car developers (blacksmiths, bicycle and train makers) weren't concerned about appeal.

Today, however, you'd be hard pressed to find any car maker who doesn't strive for visual perfection as much as for mechanical perfection.

Yes we expect cars to perform flawlessly, but we also expect them to look good. All things being equal (mechanically and safety wise), more attractive cars outsell less attractive cars, people develop more attachment to them, use them more and stick with the brand.

So to with products on supermarket shelves. In many cases people are selecting between products which differ little in their composition (or they don't understand the technical differences), simply choosing on the basis of how the packaging looks and makes them feel. Companies build their brands around their visual and emotional connection with customers, with ingredients a secondary (though still important) consideration.

So it is for software and websites. Well designed software systems and sites attract more use - even where they may be technically inferior (who can tell if a site is a few milliseconds slower than a competitor).

And so it is for open government sites. It is certainly possible to make an open government site with brilliant functionality and the best data - however if it doesn't visually resonate with the audience, if it isn't appealing for them to explore and use, it won't be broadly used.

Governments who seek to be open should recognise that it isn't simply about exposing lots of data, or opening the doors for user participation on a mass scale online. Design must be core to the thinking, how sites are designed, how users interact with the system, the structure of the language and of the navigation.

For openness to succeed in attracting broad interest and active participation from citizens, governments must not only think about what they release, how they release it and how they invite citizens to participate.

They must equally consider the citizen-experience, whether citizens can access information or participate in an intuitive and comfortable way, how citizens feel when using the site - excited, engaged and empowered (for a well-designed site), or frustrated, marginalised and stupid (for a poorly designed site).

Design is important and needs to be involved from the start of the development process. How people should feel when engaging should help drive the features and their operation, rather than trying to 'retroengineer' a clumsy system to meet user needs (a far more expensive and unsatisfying process).

So I stand by my view on open government - a technically open site that is unusable for casual users due to inconsistent, inaccessible & generally poor design isn't open.


Indeed, if a government is only playing lip service to openness (forbid the thought), poor design might be an effective tactic to hide things 'in plain sight', reduce the number of user and 'tick boxes' without revealing anything they are required to publish, but don't want easily found.

So where a government, or agency, releases poorly designed open data or engagement sites (particularly as a second or third version), just as they may release a 'bad news' media release under cover of a major news story, or an old report deep in their site (so they can say it is public even though no-one can find it), citizens really need to consider whether there really is a government commitment, or simply the appearance, of openness and transparency.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Clinging to a comfort zone

Everyone has a comfort zone. Whether it is a favourite book/movie/restaurant that you return to again and again, that old pair of shoes you'll never throw out because you've worn them in, or the route you take to work each day, we all like to follow familiar patterns, and avoid potentially unsettling, discomfortable, change.

So to in the work place we like to cling to what is familiar and known to us, the systems and procedures established many years ago and the communication channels we know well. Our comfort zone affect the types of careers and jobs we choose, and the approaches and techniques we use to execute them.

This pattern-based approach is employed for sound biological reasons. The human brain consumes 20-25% of our metabolic energy, enormously out of proportion with its size.

Following a routine requires less active thought and therefore less exertion. Thinking is hard work and, as organisms, the tendency is to minimise thinking in order to conserve energy. That's why the more tired people get, the harder it is for them to think clearly or of new things, and why you can accidentally drive home instead of to a friend's house, following your routine.

In other words, moving outside our comfort zone is hard work. We can no longer rely on the known and familiar, we must develop new strategies, identify new risks, consider new opportunities - deal with change and uncertainty, using more energy and creating stress on our systems.

Coping with change becomes even harder and energy-consuming when it is imposed on us outside our control, when events or other people force us outside our comfort zone against our will.

In many cases people resist the change, because habits and routine are easier. Even when the world has changed many people attempt to cling to the past, denying or shutting out the changes in order to continue to exist in a comfortable (and lower energy expenditure) state.

So what does this have to do with Government 2.0 - well everything really.

Government 2.0 represents a set of changes to how government employees engaged with citizens, and how citizens engage with government.

Over the last sixteen years I have seen all kinds of views and behaviour adopted by otherwise intelligent and good people to preserve their status quo - even in the face of overwhelming and highly public evidence to the contrary that the media and public engagement environment had changed, and they needed to change with it.

From denial ('social media is just a fad'), to dismissal ('social media isn't going away but it is only for young people'), to active opposition ('we can't use social media because of these thirty year old rules') - across government and companies alike.

Unfortunately some of this resistance to reality still exist, not because people are bad people, but because they are clinging to their comfort zones.

People such as community engagement professionals claiming that they would never use online consultation because 'face-to-face is best', even while acknowledging that their public events attract few citizens, most being retired.

People in IT teams who want to do everything in a specific software platform, rather than using user-centric, much better and sometimes thousands of times cheaper cloud-based solutions, because they are familiar with the software and prefer costing the organisation time and money to investing their own energy in thinking about new solutions.

People in Communications and Marketing teams who still raise reasons as to why they could never use online  channels to engage citizens and customers, 'we don't know if our audience is online', 'we don't know which tools to use because they keep changing', 'we don't understand the risks' and 'we don't understand the technology'. Isn't it their job to learn what communications options available to their organisation so they can pick the most appropriate for their goals?

Ultimately, however, these individuals will be swept aside as the world keeps changing and the nature of work changes.

Today we see well-developed social media teams in organisations that didn't have a social media channel five years ago. We see agencies reshaping their processes and services to suit online channels, the Victorian government gradually adopting a 'mobile-first' strategy, the UK government a 'digital first' approach.

In the US the President has just issued an executive order requiring all agencies to make all data open and machine-readable by default, while appropriately protecting privacy and confidentially. The order also requires all agencies to publish a list of all the data they could make open but that they, as yet, haven't - an 'open first' strategy for data (watch video below featuring the US Government's CTO and CIO.



The mandates from governments in the UK and US will force more agency staff from their comfort zones. The change programs they employ will help individuals make the changes with minimal energy expended on thinking (most has been done for them).

In Australia we're a little further behind, largely grappling with guidance and policies rather than instructions and mandates. However it is my view that this will change, that governments in Australia will soon follow overseas leads to mandate openness for agencies, not just recommend it.

Is your agencypreparing for this change? Designing and placing the systems, support and training in place in your agency to facilitate it?

Or is your agency clinging to its comfort zone, with senior management secure in the knowledge that such a change could never happen, or if it happened, your agency could ride the storm with minimal impact, or even oppose it because your data is too sensitive/commercial/private/valuable/worthless for it to be mandated for release?

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Register now for GovHack 2013

GovHack is on again this year and it's gone national, with eight locations across Australia.

With over $160,000 in prizes, the organisers anticipate over 400 participants in 150 teams - and due to venue sizes, entry is limited.

If you're interested in mashing up open government data for prize money, or simply interested in watching the event unfold, to find out more and to register go to: www.govhack.org/2013/05/03/govhack-2013-a-national-approach-for-inspiring-government/

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Monday, May 06, 2013

City of Sydney commissions open data art to communicate progress towards Sustainable Sydney 2030

Information is beautiful, as others have said, and the City of Sydney, working with Carbon Arts, is now seeking proposals for a temporary public artwork that engages with open data on Sydney's progress towards Sustainable Sydney 2030.

Not part of GovHack, this initiative is part of 'Sensing Sydney' a program to communicate sustainability through the arts, open data and public space - aiming to "bring historic and real time data alive in ways that celebrate our collective efforts to address environmental challenges."

To be presented as part of Art & About Sydney 2013, the artwork will be placed on display from
Friday 20 September to Sunday 20 October 2013.

The open data on sustainability available for the artwork is available temporarily as an excel sheet, Data-repository-for-Sensing-Sydney-compiled-by-City-of-Sydney.xlsx, while the City of Sydney establishes a Cosm site for the data.

Prospective artists may also request or propose additional or alternative sources of data.

The project may be valued up to $25,000 and the deadline for proposals is 20 May 2013.

More information is available at the Carbon Arts website.

The application form is available here.



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Friday, May 03, 2013

When senior public officials use online platforms to lead social change, we're witnessing a paradigm shift in government

I don't think this has been widely noticed in government yet, but Australia achieved an interesting Gov 2.0 first this week on the back of the Myers disability scandal.

The backstory: after the Prime Minister announced that DisabilityCare, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), would be partially funded through an increase of 0.5% in the Medicare levy, the CEO of Myer, Bernie Brookes, was reported to have told a Macquarie Investment seminar that the levy was a bad idea as it was '' something they would have spent with us [Myer]''.

This led to a social media protest using the hashtag #boycottmyer, a number of critical articles in newspapers and roughly a 6% drop in Myer's share price. These reactions led to a 'backdown' by Mr Brooks, who made a (non)apology ''to those who may have been offended or hurt'', but didn't back away from his comments.

However what is really interesting from a government perspective was what happened next.

An epetition was started on Change.org as a reaction to Mr Brook's comments. This epetition asked Mr Brook and Myer to make a "real commitment to people with disabilities", by increasing disability employment to 10% by 2015.

Within 24 hours this epetition amassed over 24,000 signatures (including mine).

It might be hard to see in the image besides this text, but below the epetition is the name of its creator, Graeme Innes.

Graeme Innes happens to include his title as well 'Disability Discrimination Commissioner for Australia'.

That's right, Mr Innes is the federally appointed Disability Discrimination Commissioner and has been since 2005, a senior public servant working in the Human Rights Commission, a statutory body solely funded by the Australian Government.

So let's consider this again. The CEO of one of Australia's largest companies makes a comment at a fairly small event about his views regarding how disability care should and should not be funded.

He learnt, as Mitt Romney did earlier this year, that due to technology and empowered citizens, there's now only one room, and everyone can be in it all the time, as his comments get reported in the media and on social media.

The government's most senior official responsible for the disabilities area responds by officially creating an epetition on a leading online platform for fostering civic participation - an epetition specifically designed to attract and attracting a significant level of public engagement and support.

Can anyone remember how this type of scenario would have played out before the internet or, more recently, before the rise of social media and digitally engaged citizens (as long ago as when Mr Innes took up his present role in 2005)?

Firstly, the CEO's comments would likely not have been recorded and reported. Even if reported in the newspapers there would have been limited, if any, ability for the community to react to his words in a public manner other than letters to the editor the next day.

If reported, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner would have (at most) released a media release calling the comments 'inappropriate'. Or, post-internet, issued the release and added it to the Commission's website, and that would have been the end of it.

There would likely have been no public backlash, no public (un)apology by the CEO and the Disability Discrimination Commissioner would have not made an attempt to bring the weight of public opinion to bear. There simply wasn't a way for the Commissioner to do so - even for Mr Innes in 2005.

So what we've seen this week isn't simply a minor spat fed by an out-of-touch and close to retirement CEO making comments that appear to place his company's profits ahead of a significant social issue.

What we've seen is a senior public servant step out of the shadows to lead and shape community sentiment - engaging and leading the crowd through the use of an online social media platform specifically designed to foster social change.

To my knowledge that has never happened before in Australia.

When governments and their appointed or elected officers begin engaging and empowering the 'crowd' to aid social change we're witnessing a major change, even a paradigm shift, in how governments interact with and engage their citizens.

Expect to see much more of this type of engagement as Government 2.0 and social media become business as usual across Australia, and around the world.

In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a'changin.

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