Monday, March 31, 2014

Content Management for Government - watch the webcast

Below is the video from the live webcast on Content Marketing for Government that Content Group managed, hosted by David Pembroke with Gina Cianco of the Australian Government Department of Human Services, Kanchan Dutt and myself as guests.

It's an interesting watch.


I'll buy a drink for anyone who accurately counts the number of 'ums' I say!

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Friday, March 28, 2014

What should agencies do when online services change their terms of use?

Governments around the world now rely on social media services to reach and engage citizens, disseminate information, to monitor what people are saying and source intelligence to help address crises.

Many businesses also rely on digital channels for revenue and engagement reasons.

So what happens when an online service that an organisation uses updates its terms and conditions in a way that gives them rights that are uncomfortable for an agency or business - such as when a service claims ownership over anything published on its service, or takes an unlimited right to people's personal information?

Organisations can choose to stop using such a service, however it can be difficult to do so.

Firstly the practicalities of removing all the legacy data you've saved on the service - be it posts, presentations or documents - can be tricky. Some services may not even allow you to delete, or keep copies in the background.

Secondly organisations will need to find another place - an acceptable place - to put all the content they removed - noting that they may have to move again if a second service changes its terms.

Thirdly there's the issue of abandoning the organisation's community. Both the people who were already using the service and used it to interact with the organisation and the people who joined the service specifically to interact with the organisation. How does the organisation access them if it's not using the service anymore?

If you think this is just a theoretical exercise, sorry - we've seen this type of issue before, when online services have modified their terms and faced a huge backlash from their users.

And I think we're about to see it again with the release of the new LinkedIn and Slideshare terms.

LinkedIn recently changed the Terms of Use for all of its properties (including SlideShare which they own) to state, in part (bold italics are mine):

2.2. License and warranty for your submissions to LinkedIn 
You still own what you own, but you grant us a license to the content and/or information you provide us. As between you and LinkedIn, you own the content and information you provide LinkedIn under this Agreement, and may request its deletion at any time, unless you have shared information or content with others and they have not deleted it, or it was copied or stored by other users.
Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques and/or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties.

What does this mean in plain English?

The first bit sounds OK "You still own what you own, but you grant us a license to the content and/or information you provide us." That's pretty standard for an online service. They need a license to publish the material online on my behalf, so no problems there.

However when an oganisation says that I am granting them "a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right", red flags start to fly.

Anything that is irrevocable, global, perpetual and free is potentially likely to cause issues at some point down the track - but the term by its wording removes any ability to retract that right, such as by deleting a file or discontinuing my account.

The next part is even worse - the right LinkedIn and Slideshare is taking (on an irrevocable, worldwide basis) is to not only display my presentations or information, but to "copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize,  in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn".

In other words, I may own the original work, but LinkedIn can make a derivative work, publish it and then charge people for it and I can't do a thing about it. Suddenly any slides I've put up on Slideshare with useful data becomes a revenue stream for them - and I lost my recourse by publishing it on their service, even if I did so before they changed their terms.

Not only this, but they don't only get the right to take my slides, delete a few and sell the rest, they can also turn them into any any format and monetise them as well. If I told a good story in a slideshow, LinkedIn could publish it as a book, if I published a slide with the design for a cold fusion reactor, LinkedIn could build the reactor and sell it - paying me nothing in return.

Now that's scary - but it even gets worse... "including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques and/or data to the services"

So if I publish a presentation about my new start up concept to Slideshare, now LinkedIn can take my concept or technique and use it themselves, royalty-free, in any way they see fit.

And they never have to compensate me, or even tell me that they've done it (per "without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties.")


Any organisation with intellectual property or data should carefully consider whether they're prepared to continue to use Slideshare or LinkedIn to publish information about their services, products, potential products or data - because simply by publishing it in one of these platforms, LinkedIn takes ownership.

Even worse, as their new terms came into force when they were published, anything you've already published on these platforms is now theirs.

I'm going to be far more careful about how I use Slideshare and LinkedIn in future - and will be advising the organisations I work with to similarly think carefully before they publish anything on these channels.

Any government agency or business who wants to retain control over their own content - including whether it can be copied, restructured and sold by an online service - should now be very careful about publishing in either LinkedIn or Slideshare.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Can governments support crowdfunding?

This is a topic quite close to my heart at present, as I'm running a Kickstarter crowdfunding project myself - at www.kickstarter.com/projects/socialmediaplanner/social-media-planner (please check it out!)

It's teaching me a great deal about the challenges involved, and I'll be reporting back on this at the end of the process.

A broader question is whether governments in Australia are able to support crowdfunding, whether simply backing a project they wish to see funded or as an approach for investing money in new projects with community backing.

The first scenario is potentially the hardest for agencies under existing procurement frameworks.

Except in NSW and soon Victoria (which have the notion of unsolicited proposals), governments across Australia have quite a rigid process for buying 'stuff' (goods or services).

First they must identify that they need it. Next they must try to figure out if they can afford it. Then they have to go to market to buy it.

Within these constraints there is a fair bit of flexibility - there's many ways to identify the need, fund the 'stuff' and even to buy it.

As part of this process governments even buy 'stuff' which hasn't yet been developed all the time - such as when they ask someone to design new software, build a custom ship, develop a road or provide a structural review.

Crowdfunding generally works this way - people back a project that hasn't yet been completely developed in order to fund final development.

However governments often struggle to 'buy with friends' - to join in a joint purchase process as just one of the participants. They always want custom assurances and contracts, have specific requirements and otherwise make it difficult for themselves to participate in group processes - such as via crowdfunding.

Despite this, several Australian governments have found a way to participate in crowdfunding exercises, with both WA and Tasmanian governments now actively involved in the process.

Arts Tasmania has teamed up with Pozible, Australia's leading crowdfunding service for the Crowbar funding initiative. The initiative offers approved art projects the opportunity to receive up to $2,000 in funds from Arts Tasmania (capped at 50% of the funds raised) if these projects are successfully funded on Pozible.

On top of simply matching cash, Arts Tasmania is also offering one-on-one campaign development support, additional promotional opportunities from Arts Tasmania and having their projects presented in the Arts Tasmania Collection on Pozible.

It's a great opportunity for artists, who only have to find funding for 50% of their project, and for Arts Tasmania, which gets to support more projects (as the public funds part of them), as well as gets a community view on whether a particular project is worth funding.

The initiative also opens the door to new artists with new ideas that don't necessarily fit into other grant programs.

So far Crowbar has only supported one project, the Cranky Ladies of History. This has exceeded it's Pozible target, which is great to see.

I hope to see more projects funded in the same way - though I appreciate there may also be a learning curve for artists, who are not used to pitching their ideas to the public in this way.

ScreenWest in WA has run a similar program for film makers called 3 to 1.

Also involving Pozible, the program offers three dollars in funding for every dollar contributed by the public to crowdfunded film projects, up to an overall cap of $250,000.

This project has seen almost 30 projects try to raise the funds they need to proceed - with mixed success.  Overall it is achieving the same thing for ScreenWest as Crowbar is for Arts Tasmania - helping them to prioritise projects that have significant community interest while allowing them to stretch their grants funding further.


Besides these approaches in Australia, the UK Government has become a significant supporting of the crowd loan scene. The UK government has partnered with a number of crowd loan services including Funding Circle and Crowdcube through its Start Up Loans initiative to provide up to 20% of the funds from the government.

Essentially organisations looking for a start-up or business development loan can use a crowd site to tell their story and provide their numbers. Individuals then loan money in small amounts, setting the interest rate they want to receive.

Once a loan reaches a certain threshold (80-95%), the government will provide the rest of the funds at the average interest rate.

The loan is then managed as any other and paid back over an agreed term.

The benefit of this system is that it reduces risk for government, by ensuring that the community supports a loan before they put money in. It also is very low cost, even profitable, for government, as they get their money back plus interest and can choose to reinvest it each year.

This is, in my view, a very strong model for businesses, and I can personally testify to its effectiveness as Delib used this last year in the UK for additional product development funds.


We're also beginning to see crowdfunding supported by governments in the US as a way for businesses to raise money beyond the equity or debt models.

Washington State recently passed a very interesting bill (through one house at least) allowing businesses to raise up to a million dollars per year via crowdfunding.

Some other US states are also considering legislation.

Australia is a bit further behind, but the Australian Government is starting to make interesting noises in this area.

As reported in the Saturday Paper, Federal government encouraged to free up crowd funding,
Malcolm Turnbull recently wrote on his blog: “Crowd funding has become an increasingly popular way of promoting financing for innovative projects, allowing start-ups and rapidly growing companies to access diversified sources of capital … however, regulatory arrangements in Australia are not particularly tailored to this type of capital raising. The government is determined to see if we can match the regulatory environment that’s present in the US, here in Australia.”

Of course noise is one thing, changing financial regulations and laws is quite another - and can take some time.

However as the Arts Tasmania and ScreenWest examples show, there's opportunities right now for government agencies to consider crowdfunding, if they're prepared to think outside the square.





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Monday, March 24, 2014

In which circumstances should a democratic nation ban access to social networks?

During the UK riots in 2011, the UK Prime Minister suggested shutting down social networks in future riots to prevent information sharing amongst rioters.

Now Turkey has blocked access to Twitter, stating the service was 'biased' and did nothing to stop the 'character assassination' of politicians in the current ruling party accused of bribery.

Like the UK, Turkey is a secular democracy, with a constitution that guarantees freedom of expression, in fact Turkey's constitution goes much further than Australia's constitution, where freedom of expression only covers certain political expression.

Turkey is also a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an international organisation of nations committed to fostering increasing accountability in government through openness and transparency. Though it should be noted that Turkey has fallen behind in their OGP openness commitments.

Australia committed to OGP membership under our last government, however has not completed the tasks necessary to join as yet.

The question this raises for me is when is it appropriate for nations - particularly secular democracies - to block access to social networks and thereby limit the ability for citizens to share information and organise?

The normal practice for nations seems to be to say that if the information shared is illegal, inaccurate or might lead people to commit crimes, there is a place for the courts or parliament to restrict expression across, or access to, any form of media.

This is the position taken both in the UK and in Turkey and has been expressed by democratically elected politicians in other states as well.

However what happens when the law makers decide to legislate to make content that is potentially true, but embarrassing to the government, illegal. Or what happens when a head of state, by degree, bans content that could damage a political party or individual politician?

While there is a case to say that content that is illegal should be unavailable online, and this is a practice Australia already follows with a secret blacklist of banned content and websites (which currently has no review process and no public scrutiny of what gets added to it), it becomes problematic for a democracy when the legislators make laws to block content that is simply 'uncomfortable' to them or their major backers.

This uncomfortable content only becomes illegal because it might affect the interests of individuals or groups linked to the ruling party if the population knew about it - which is also an argument as to why citizens should be told, so they can factor it into their future voting decisions.

There's little evidence that blocking social networks does much to prevent the spread of information - certainly the blocks in Tunisia and Egypt did not change the outcome for the former governments of those countries and looks to be doing little to put allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Turkish politicians back in the bottle.

At times blocks could have the reverse effect, inflaming situations by calling attention to both the content in question and throwing a harsh light on the politicians calling for and implementing blocks. An issue that could otherwise be managed, could easily become unmanageable once a government begins demonstrating it is not as open as it claims to be.

In fact this is precisely what appears to be happening in Turkey, with Twitter use actually increasing following the ban and increasing international attention on the claims being made.

So when is it appropriate for democratic governments to temporarily or permanently ban entire online services?

I would recommend that this is only appropriate when the service is designed and used solely for illegal purposes, such as a social network purely for sharing illegal pornography or buying illegal drugs.

However most services are simply designed to allow people to share content and make no distinction between the type of content they carry. These services should never be blocked by a government, as the damage in preventing legal discussions and content sharing far outweighs the cost of a level of illegal activities and enforcement services can at least track and address illegal activities, which would otherwise disappear underground into places harder for police to uncover.

Discomfort to politicians or prominent people should never be a reason to take any service offline, although there might be legal recourse to address the conduct of individuals using the service - which Australia's defamation laws already covers.

At the end of the day, nations committed to freedom of expression, whether explicitly stated in their constitutions or not, need to reconcile themselves to the increased volume of conversation via social channels and find a balanced path which punishes anti-social behaviour while supporting free expression.

It is clear this is still an area in flux and I trust and hope that politicians around the world recognise that shutting down debate is no longer the best or most appropriate solution to a situation, and could cause them greater harm than good with their constituents.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Government stakeholders and citizens see different priorities for open data release

Socrata has released an interesting benchmark study on open government data, which looks at the state of open data from the perspectives of citizens, developers and government.

It is interesting to compare which data government stakeholders consider important to publish, compared to what citizens feel is important.

Looking at Very Important from the tables (below) it is pretty clear that government puts a higher priority on data about themselves - for example the location of government services. This tends to be easier data to release as governments know where their shopfronts are and want citizens to find them.

However from a citizen perspective there's a priority on data that supports communities and increases transparency - public safety, financial data and accountability ranking 1st to 3rd for 'Very Important' (compared to government stakeholders who rated them 3rd, 8th and 7th). Government service locations is still relatively important but only 5th on the list for 'Very Important' and even lower at 8th when 'Moderately Important' is considered as well).

Census data is perceived as far more valuable by government stakeholders (6th) than the community (13th), possibly because governments consider the business value and individual citizens only rarely directly need access to broad demographics (such as when buying a house).

Education data is also in an interesting position. It is 4th for citizens but only 10th for government stakeholders on 'Very Important' - however when 'Moderately Important' is added, it shoots up to 2nd for citizens and for government to 8th place.

This could be reflected in how there's been quite a bit of political opposition to myschool.gov.au, but plenty of community buy-in. Someone's getting the sentiment wrong here, and I don't think it is parents.


It would be very interesting to see governments hold this type of study in Australia - looking at government stakeholders, citizens, businesses and civic hackers (maybe media as well), to understand the differences in expectations and how different data is valued.

Unfortunately we may be a little immature culturally to ask this as yet, open data has not had a significant impact on most people's lives and hasn't consistently been championed at a political level or put 'on the agenda' in more than a niche way.

It is clearly important for people inside and outside government to appreciate that government stakeholders may have very different views to others in the community on what open data is a priority to release and governments take appropriate steps to engage and consult with other groups in the community on an ongoing basis to understand the differences.




And a tip for politicians seeking to get elected or a Ministerial slot - there's clear support in this survey from citizens for politicians who advocate for open government and walk the walk. In fact three out of four citizens said they'd be more likely to vote for a politician who was an open government champion.


Citizens also see open data as worth investing public money in. I'm sure our Treasurer will consider this in his upcoming budget statement - which will be released under Creative Commons and as reusable data of course!

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Keep an eye out for the live webinar at 12:30 (AEST) on Content Marketing in Government

Live Webcast poster
From 12:30-1:30pm (AEST) today, Content Group is holding the second of its live webinars, this time on Content Marketing in Government.

The webinar features a panel including Gina Ciancio, Senior Social Media Advisor at the Department of Human Services, Kanchan Dutt, Senior Manager Media and Communications at ACT Government, and myself.

It will be broadcast on Canberra Live and available after the event if you don't have time to watch today.

It should be a very interesting look at an area that government still struggles with - how to develop and provide the right content, at the right time, to the right people, through the right channels to influence in the right ways.

There will be a particular focus on Community Engagement and on mobile content.






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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Guest post: We should be celebrating our victories

Hi, today I'm featuring a guest post by Gian Wild of AccessibilityOz

Gian is Australia's leading specialist in accessibility and was on the working group that designed the WCAG 2.0 guidelines that agencies must follow.

Gian will be speaking at a series of free breakfast seminars at the start of April in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney with Texthelp Ltd on products available to improve the accessibility compliance of your site. This include BrowseAloud (an assistive technology) and OzPlayer (an accessible video player).

For more information visit www.accessibilityoz.com.au/2014/03/accessibility-breakfasts-melbourne-canberra-and-brisbane/

Or register here



We should be celebrating our victories

Recently AGIMO released their Progress Report into the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy. I have sat back and watched as a number of commentators have focused on the negative; that Government web sites are still not fully accessible. A rumour has been doing the rounds that accessibility compliance is just too hard and that AGIMO is backing away from the National Transition Strategy and that web sites won’t need to meet the Level AA deadline of December 2014.

A recent study on assessing and promoting e-accessibility has been released which compared the accessibility of the EU27 countries, Australia, Canada, Norway and the US. In terms of the overall test scores, as seen in the graph below, Australia ranks second of all 31 countries, just behind the UK.

Bar graph of overall percentage test scores for each country, long description at the end of the article
Bar graph of overall percentage test scores for each country, long description at the end of the article (click to enlarge image)
Countries were given a score of zero, one or two, depending on their accessibility compliance pertaining to a particular test. Zero means the accessibility requirement was not met, 1 point means the requirement was partially met and two points means the requirement was fully met. Australia has the third lowest percentage of zero scores (no accessibility), behind the UK and Canada.

Bar graph showing the percentage of each test score (0, 1 or 2) for each country, long description at the end of the article
Bar graph showing the percentage of each test score (0, 1 or 2) for each country, long description at the end of the article (click to enlarge image)

When we look at Australian statistics, we see an impressive increase in the accessibility of Government sites. The 2010 NTS Baseline Report indicated 4.7% of Government web sites met WCAG2 at a particular level. At the end of 2012, 26% of Government web sites met Level A of WCAG2; that’s a 450% increase! And another 46% of sites are aiming to meet the Level AA requirement at the end of December 2014. In addition to this, 73% of all agencies have re-evaluated their web publishing processes, with an additional 21% intending to do so in the near future. Over half (58%) of agencies have changed their CMSes, with an additional 27% intending to do so in the near future. In procurement - the one area of accessibility where agencies have little control - over 97% of agencies are intending to or have already reviewed procurement strategies. More than 80% use an automated accessibility testing tool regularly.

Australia is certainly not alone in having Government requirements around accessibility, but, as this recent study suggests, we are leading the world in terms of accessibility compliance. We should be celebrating our victories; yes, there is a long way to go, but look at what we’ve done!


Overall scores for each country long description:

The highest ranking country is the UK with approximately 72% of the maximum score, followed by Australia with approximately 67% of the maximum score. The average score for the EU27 countries is approximately 52%. The lowest scoring country is Greece with 30%


Distribution of test scores for each country long description:

The country with the lowest percentage of 'zero' test scores is Canada, with an approximate percentage of 25% 'zero' scores, approximately 24% of 'one' scores and 51% of 'two' scores. The country with the second lowest percentage of 'zero' test scores if the UK with approximately 28% 'zero' scores, 1% 'one' scores and 71% 'two' scores. The country with the third lowest percentage of 'zero' test scores is Australia with approximately 29% 'zero' scores, 11% 'one' scores' and 60% 'two' scores. The country with the highest percentage of 'zero' test scores was Greece, with approximately 68% 'zero' test scores, 3% 'one' test scores and 28% 'two' test scores.

For more blog posts from Gian visit www.accessibilityoz.com.au/accessibility-blog/

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Learning how to crowd fund - and launch of Social Media Planner Kickstarter

This morning at BarCamp Canberra I gave the presentation below on how to setup a crowdfunding campaign, based on my personal experience setting up a Kickstarter for Social Media Planner.

For people interested in crowdfunding I've embedded my presentation below.

If you're interested in learning more about Social Media Planner, and potentially backing it, see: kickstarter.com/projects/socialmediaplanner/social-media-planner


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Friday, March 14, 2014

Launching my Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign at BarCamp Canberra

Tomorrow is BarCamp Canberra, a festival of ideas and experiences, where participants decide what to present and attend on the day.

While it is hard to predict what people will talk about, I expect topics will range from technology and design to open data and social change, with a seasoning of personal experiences and interactive workshops.

For my own contribution to BarCamp this year, I decided to talk about crowdfunding - but not just from the position of someone who has looked into it and spoken to people who have done it before.

What I have done is created my own crowdfunding initiative, around a card-based tool I designed and have been using in social media training and consulting for about eight years.

As a result my talk at BarCamp will share my experience in setting up this campaign, from concept through to launch.

In fact I will be pushing the button to launch the crowdfunding campaign at the end of my presentation, seeking to raise the funds required to commercialise my tool, Social Media Planner.

That will give attendees a chance to follow my crowdfunding experience through to success, or learning experience. There's also a few early bird specials which people at BarCamp will get access to before anyone else.

So if you're interested in learning more about the process of setting up a crowdfunding campaign, any of the other topics likely to be discussed at BarCamp Canberra, or simply want to hang out with interesting and thoughtful people, come along tomorrow.

BarCamp Canberra is being held at Gungahlin Library from 9am on Saturday 15 March.

It is being sponsored by Inspiring Australia, a joint initiative of the Commonwealth and ACT governments.

Register at: https://barcampcanberra2014.eventbrite.com.au

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Time has run out for Australia to meet its April 2014 Open Government Partnership commitment

Last year the Australian Government (under the Labor party) made a commitment to the international and Australian community that it would take the necessary actions to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP) by April 2014.

The OGP is a group of 63 nations committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. It was co-founded by nations such as the US, UK and India and is currently co-chaired by our nearest neighbour, Indonesia, which is hosting the OGP's Asia-Pacific Regional Conference this year.

As one of the fourth wave to join the OGP, along with nations such as New Zealand, Australia was hardly an early adopter of this agenda. Our efforts to join started three years after the organisation was founded and at a time when many OGP members were already working on their second set of open government commitments.

Joining the OGP may not be like joining the UN's Security Council or another highly influential international body. Its aims are very specific.

However Australia is an obvious nation to be a member, as a liberal democracy with strong FOI provisions and well recognised for our past work in the Government 2.0 field, it would seem a natural fit.

Despite this, and many attempts by various journalists and civic organisations to discover how Australia's OGP membership efforts were progressing, there's been almost total silence from the Australian Government on the topic over the last six months.

There's even now an FOI request underway to discover what steps the Australian Government has been taking in regards the OGP.

The requirements for OGP membership include developing an action plan containing concrete and measurable commitments undertaken by the participating government to drive innovative reforms in the areas of transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement.

This plan must be designed through a multi-stakeholder, open, and participatory process.

These types of processes take months, not weeks. In fact nations have taken up to a year to develop their OGP action plans.

In fact there's a great post online about the 12-month process the UK ran to develop its 2013-15 plan, Story of the UK National Action Plan 2013-15.

Australia has not yet begun the process of consulting and, given the membership intake is in April 2014, I don't see there is sufficient time for even an abbreviated process.

Even if the Australian Government began public consultation this week, the UK recommends allowing at least three months for this process - plus additional time for refining the feedback, detailed consultations with the civic sector and for actually writing and approving the plan.

The only nation thus far to withdrawn from its commitment to join the OGP has been Russia, which decided it was not able or willing to meet the requirements of membership.

Will Australia join Russia, becoming the second nation to withdraw?

Or will it simply delay membership - one year, two years or more?

Perhaps we'll find out with a government announcement in the next month regarding its OGP commitment.

Or perhaps all we can expect is ongoing silence.

Either way, it is disappointing to see the Australian Government fail to live up to the high standards of openness and transparency that our politicians espouse as a core requirement for our national democracy.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Are you prepared for Australia's new privacy law?

Today Australia's new Privacy law comes into force, affecting Australian Government agencies, businesses with a turnover of more than $3 million or trading in personal information and all private health service providers.

As the first major change in Australian privacy law in 25 years, there's been numerous changes and updates to reflect the major changes in society over this period.

Since the last Privacy Act was introduced in the late 1980s we've seen the digitalisation of most records, the introduction of the world wide web, the rise of Web 2.0, the spread of mobile devices and the greatest increase in public expression by Australians in history.

The notion of privacy has also changed. I've always considered privacy as a transaction rather than an absolute - people trade aspects of their privacy in return for services, benefits or convenience. This has become far more widespread as an approach as organisations increasingly use personal information to shape peoples' experience of products and services, particularly online.

Generationally we've seen very different views of privacy take hold. Younger people are far more willing to share information that their elders consider 'private' and have new concerns around information that their elders share without a thought.

The new Privacy law (Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Act 2012) contains a number of stronger provisions on organisations to protect and communicate how they protect the privacy of individuals, as well as more ability for individuals to ask organisations what they know about them.

It also does a great deal to revalue personal privacy. Whereas Telstra was recently fined about $10,000 for accidentally releasing private information on about 12,000 people - valuing their privacy at 0.83c each, under the new law the penalties may be much higher - up to around $1.7 million.

If you're unfamiliar with the new privacy law, you're probably in the majority.

There's been little promotion of the change and limited information available for the public or organisations to test their current privacy approach.

There is a media release on the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner's (OAIC) site and the OAIC has done what it can - without a significant budget - to get the word out to those affected by the changes.

Unfortunately the changes haven't been promoted by any Ministers or the Prime Minister - the law was changed under the last government and the ownership may not be there.

However regardless of the promotion or not of the new law, it is now in effect. Every Australian has new rights and many organisations have new obligations they must meet in collecting, holding, sharing and protecting the private information of Australians.

To learn more about the new Australian Privacy law, visit the OAIC's guidance on the reforms at the following pages:

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Crowdfunding gaining strength as an FOI tool - but will governments seek a seat at the table?

As reported by Peter Timmins in his Open & Shut blog, and as I have commented on Twitter, crowdfunding is beginning to become an interesting tool for fundraising the cash requested by government agencies for fulfilling FOI responses.

Where governments are still using charging for FOI searches as a cost-recovery tool (and potentially occasionally as a barrier to releasing information), crowdfunding offers the advantage of spreading the cost across a range of people and organisations in a structured way.

Peter points to an article in FreedomInfo, Crowdfunding FOI Requests Gains in Use, Seems to Work, which highlights how this tactic is being used in four jurisdictions.

Where these crowdfunding approaches are public, which is the usual case, they also draw greater attention to these FOI requests, potentially marshalling a range of interested parties around the release request.

While it is still very early days for this approach, it does raise the prospect of a new wave of organising around areas where government is perceived to be secretive or evasive - where interested individuals, activists and even business interests can raise public and even media attention for a range of topics that otherwise would remain under the radar.

There's a few permutations of this approach likely to emerge involving 'crowd' but without always being about 'funding'. For example we've already seen crowdsourcing of insights from FOI responses (including by The Guardian in the UK and Fairfax in Australia) and have also seen FOI requests around a given topic being coordinated by grassroots groups seeking a full understanding of complex situations.

There's also the potential to establish collaborative funding models - where there's X dollars placed in a pool to fully or partially fund different FOI requests each month or year, and contributors to the fund can vote on which FOI requests these funds are applied to.

I also expect to see crowdfunding mechanisms built into more FOI platforms, such as Right to Know in Australia, and increasing use of 'crowd' approaches to FOI across by individuals, activists and media outlets.


The most interesting question is whether governments will seek to have some influence in these processes by implementing their own central platforms for crowdfunding FOI requests, or will continue to pursue a 'hands-off' fragmented process to FOI as the majority do today.

Given the success of the US and UK governments' ePetition platforms, and the steps into collaborative law making in Scandinavian countries, I would tip these jurisdictions as the most likely to take a step into providing an FOI request and crowdfunding platform.

This would also allow governments to realise cost benefits through standardising and streamlining FOI request and review processes within and across agencies as well as aggregating similar FOI requests and providing centralised access to already released information, thereby saving agency time and money in attempting to discover this or telling people manually that information is already in the public domain.

Establishing their own FOI management and crowdfunding system may also allow the governments concerned to allocate a monthly budget offsetting legitimate FOI costs, which could be accessed by individual FOI requests through approaches such as collaborative budgeting or an 80/20 approach (if 80% is funded, the government contributes the other 20%), as has been used in the UK successfully for other crowdfunding.

If governments decide not to enter this space, larger civic groups will, leading to a situation over time where governments will increasingly find increased public scrutiny over what is released, to whom and for how much - as well as what is refused release or where charges appear high.

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