Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Australian Gov 2.0 Taskforce publicly releases final report - and most project reports

On Tuesday afternoon the Gov 2.0 Taskforce released its final report, Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0.

As stated in their blog post, the Taskforce handed the report to the responsible Ministers who immediately authorised its public release - a sign of great confidence in the report!

The report generally followed the recommendations and included the content from the draft, released for public comment two weeks ago, with some reorganisation and clarification to improve readability. If you read the draft there are no surprises, however it is worth re-reading for the tighter and clearer language and structure to ensure you understood the original context.

Alongside the report, the Taskforce has publicly released the reports for most of the 19 projects it has contracted out over the last 6 months. This adds up to a lot of reading, which I expect to be wading through over the next few weeks.

As currently the Taskforce site requires people to visit multiple web pages to individually download the project reports, I've provided quick links to download the RTFs and reports below. I also included links to the project pages as they all contain a brief on the project from the authors and allow public comments and feedback on the project reports.

I strongly recommend reading and commenting on the reports that resonate with you.

ProjectProject Brief RTFProject Report
Project 1: Enhancing the discoverability and accessibility of government informationProject 1 Brief RTF (43k)Project 1 Report DOC (643k)
Project 2 and 3: Identify key barriers within agencies to Government 2.0 and survey of Australian Government Web 2.0 practicesProject 2 Brief RTF (45k)
Project 3 Brief RTF (54k)
Project 2 and 3 Final Report DOC (1266k)
Project 4: Copyright Law and Intellectual PropertyProject 4 Brief RTF (55k)Project 4 Report (592k)
Project 5: Early Leadership in Semantic WebProject 5 Brief RTF (48k)Project 5 Final Report (3623k)
Project 6: The value of Public Sector Information for cultural institutionsProject 6 Brief RTF (56k)Project 6 Report DOC (116k)
Project 6 Additional Technical Paper (82k)
Project 7: Whole of Government Information Publication SchemeProject 7 Brief RTF (75k)
Project 7 Report DOC (563k)
Project 8: Online Engagement Guidance and Web 2.0 Toolkit for Australian Government AgenciesProject 8 Brief RTF (92k)Project 8 Guidelines (1726k)
Project 8 Toolkit Blueprint (1389k)
Project 9: Preservation of Web 2.0 ContentProject 9 Brief RTF (79k)Project 9 Report DOC (260k)
Project 10: Framework for Stimulating Information Philanthropy in AustraliaProject 10 Brief RTF (77k)Project 10 Report (743k)
Project 13: Government 2.0 Governance and Institutions: Embedding the 2.0 Agenda in the Australian Public ServiceProject 13 Brief RTF (75k)Project 13 Report DOC (451k)
Project 14: Social Media for Emergency ManagementUnavailableProject 14 Report (6217k)
Project 15: ALRC Family Violence Consultation ProjectUnavailableProject 15 Report (1769)
Project 16: OpinionWatch AnalysisUnavailableProject 16 Report DOC (2461k)
Project 18: Whole of government video service scoping studyUnavailableProject 18 Report (3707k)
Project 19: Online Engagement ReviewUnavailableProject 19 Report DOC (212k)
Project 19 Report PDF (5116k)

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Gov 2.0 in Australia podcast from Gov 2.0 radio now available

I've just finished chatting to Adriel Hampton & Steve Ressler on Gov 2.0 radio about some of the great Gov 2.0 initiatives in Australia.

You can now listen to the discussion online at or get it on iTunes.

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OpenAustralia team launches PlanningAlerts (with financial support from the Gov 2.0 Taskforce)

The team responsible for OpenAustralia has, with the financial assistance of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce (via a Microsoft-backed fund), launched PlanningAlerts.

This free new service allows Australians to sign up to email alerts for planning permission requests in their local area so that they can know what is being requested and lodge their views. It is based on the UK version,

PlanningAlerts relies on councils making their information available online - preferably in machine-readable format. Therefore it currently doesn't cover all Australian councils.

It's now up to the Australian councils who do not make this information available online to do so, and I hope we see a wave of them come online soon.

If your council doesn't make this public information available online, perhaps it's worth asking one of your councillors why...

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Telstra publishes staff social media training package

Telstra has publicly released its staff social media training package, making the comic-styled multimedia system available on the web at

The package recognises that social media is becoming embedded into normal Australian life - including the lives of Telstra's staff.

The training package reflects how social media management is not the province of an IT or Communications branch, but is an executive level consideration for the entire organisation. It also makes it clear that Telstra has made a top level commitment to supporting staff participation online.

I believe Telstra's package will be a very useful reference for government - and commercial - organisations who are grappling with the question of how to empower their staff to participate in social media within the APSC and appropriate organisational guidelines.

I recommend sharing it with your management and HR teams.

Here's a couple of references to the package.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Catch me on Gov 2.0 radio next week.

I'll be chatting with Adriel Hampton on Gov 2.0 radio early next week to give US Gov 2.0 people some operational insights into Gov 2.0 happenings in Australia.

Gov 2.0 radio is a weekly podcast on collaborative and transparent government hosted by Adriel, a noted US-based Gov 2.0 and new media strategist.

I expect the discussion will cover topics ranging from current Gov 2.0 initiatives in Australia, the Gov 2.0 Taskforce's report, National Broadband Network and mandatory internet filtering.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dealing with a social media backlash in government

In the last week there's been several Australian government activities or announcements which have lead to large community responses via social media - both good and bad.

Gov 2.0 Taskforce draft report
On 7 December the Gov 2.0 Taskforce released their draft report 'Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0' for public comment.

Over the course of the last week the blog post announcing the release has received 48 comments, including from Andrew McLaughlin the Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

There were at least several hundred tweets about the report, 12 other Australian blog posts about the release and five articles in major online sites. The report was also covered on several radio programs and extensively discussed overseas in the US, UK and New Zealand.

Overwhelmingly the view has been that it's a good report and the government (and the independent Taskforce) have received a great deal of positive social media feedback, largely through viral promotion of the report.

Realising our Broadband Future Forum
On the 10th and 11th December the Realising our Broadband Future Forum was held by the Department of Broadband Communication and the Digital Economy, hosted by the Prime Minister and Senator Conroy.

As I've discussed in a previous post, this involved roughly 300-350 physical participants, 120 taking part in remote locations ('nodes') and roughly 380 tweeters, plus other online participants.

The forum made extensive use of online video, twitter and wikis to distribute and collect information from participants in order to build the conversation.

There were over 3,800 tweets using the event's hashtag (#bbfuture) over the two day event and 10,000 words were added to the wiki during the event. A Google Wave was set up with over 20 participants and at least four blogs covered the event.

Internet filter
On Tuesday 15 December Senator Conroy stimulated even more social media discussion with a media announcement that the government intended to proceed to legislate for all ISPs to filter content on a ACMA blacklist (which is to remain secret). A mandatory filter on all Australian internet users, the release indicated that the enabling legislation would be introduced into the parliament before the next election.

Released to the media at approximately 5pm on Tuesday, within five hours there had been over 8,100 tweets on the topic by almost 3,000 people using the hashtag #nocleanfeed - used by those opposed to a mandatory filter based on a secret blacklist.

Image taken at 10PM AEDT from

The level of tweeting has led to it becoming an internationally trending twitter topic, further increasing the level of public and media interest and further increasing online discussion - generating a negative feedback loop.

Over two dozen blogs have posted about the topic (none that I've yet seen supportive of a mandatory internet filter) and several organisations have moved to re-invigorate or establish websites to form the basis of a movement to oppose the plan.

So how should government departments address these different online reactions?

Firstly it is critical to monitor the conversations going on online. If your organisation is unaware of views  expressed online you will be unprepared when they translate into other media and require a high level response. Many reactions now start online and tools like Twitter and Facebook have become effective early warning systems for potential media situations.

Secondly, whether the views being expressed are positive or negative, it is important to engage online through the appropriate channels (those through which the views are being expressed) to manage community sentiment.

As has been demonstrated through a series of corporate incidents in the US, UK and even in Australia, organisation who refuses to engage actively online in response to significant reactions or fast-spreading views are risking losing control of their message and brand. They also lose public credibility and trust in their senior management (or Minister in a public sector context). Essentially an organisation that refuses to engage online is actively 'disrespecting' its customers and the community will respond accordingly.

When an online reaction is positive and supportive, engaging online helps reinforce and build further positive perceptions, building up trust that can be drawn on should the organisation stumble in the future. it also allows an organisation to manage expectations and guard against incorrect perceptions that can lead to future issues.

When an online reaction is negative in tone it becomes even more important to engage to ensure the correct information is getting out to the community and counter any incorrect information with facts. Engagement also builds trust, so even when people agree to disagree, respectfully disagreeing with them online preserves reputations and can build a future positive relationship.

Finally, engaging online is important for building ongoing relationships with online communities. By cultivating working relationships with online 'stakeholder groups', just as they currently do with physical stakeholders, the department is better able to source quality feedback quickly on potential initiatives. This provides an ability to gauge public sentiment before a controversial decision is made and allows organisations to adjust their decisions or communications approach to help communicate the intent of the decision and cut-through any initial resistance.

Who is doing online engagement well?
In my view the Gov 2.0 Taskforce has gotten the online engagement approach right over the last six months and is a fantastic model for government departments to use.

Rather than shying away from conflict or falling back into bureaucratic heavy handiness the Taskforce has treated every comment - good or bad - with respect. They have empowered their community to self-manage while simultaneously stepping in when required to clarify, support or seek a deeper understanding of views expressed on their blog.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

A watershed in Australian Gov 2.0 - Realising our Broadband Future Forum

Last Thursday and Friday I was fortunate enough to be invited to (and have the leave available to attend) the Realising our Broadband Future Forum in Sydney on a personal basis (not representing my Department).

You can see my liveblogs of the forum in the two posts below this one.

The forum targeted senior decision-makers across government, corporate, not-for-profit and academic sectors, bringing them together to discuss the potential benefits and barriers to the National Broadband Network. Attendees attempted to map some of the future services and opportunities for a super-fast broadband network across five streams, Smart infrastructure, Digital education, e-Community, e-Health and e-Business.

Both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Senator Stephen Conroy spoke live at the forum, with Senator Conroy in particular spending a great deal of time interacting with attendees over the two days.

The event also featured a number of high profile local and international speakers including Vint Cerf, often called the "father of the internet"; Dr Nicholas Gruen, Chairman of the Australian Gov 2.0 Taskforce; Senator Kate Lundy, well known for her pioneering Gov 2.0 public sphere events; and Jeffrey Cole, one of the foremost global experts on media and communication technology policy issues.

At the close of the event Senator Conroy remarked how he had been uncertain whether they would attract sufficient interest in the forum to fill the 250 person venue at the John Niland Scientia Building, University of NSW.

However he said that it had attracted over 1,000 requests to attend, leading to a situation where they were unable to cater for the full demand, being forced to limit the main physical event to roughly 300-350 people (standing room only).

To support others who wished to participate, 'node' events were held simultaneously in Parramatta, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne (roughly another 120 attendees), connected to the main event via video, audio and web. These were organised with the support of Civictec and the office of Senator Lundy.

I regard the forum as a watershed for Gov 2.0 within Australia because it was the first senior leadership event that made extensive use of Web 2.0 tools to enable open and transparent community participation. Someone sitting in their home or office with a broadband connection was able to view, listen to and contribute to the forum and participate in discussions.

The forum was highly digitally enabled, with live streaming online video of the main auditorium and audio of the breakout rooms for the streams. A Google Moderator system was used to collect and vote on ideas before the event and screens at the event scrolled through live tweets from those participating online. Free wi-fi was available for delegates throughout the venue and, despite a few hiccups and outages, overall the network functioned well enough.

During the event wikis were in place to capture the views and opinions of participants- with Senator Conroy stating in his closing remarks that over 10,000 words had been added to the wiki during the event alone. The wikis remain open for a week for additional comments and scrutiny.

There were 395 Twitter participants over the two days - more than the number of people in the auditorium itself. Over the course of the forum 3,700 tweets (using #bbfuture) were sent, enough to see it trending as the top Australian topic on Twitter.

To get a taste of the forum and the approach it took, I commend to you this speech  by Senator Conroy, which provides both a view of how it reached beyond the physical attendees to engage hundreds (if not thousands) of people across Australia and why high speed broadband is being regarded as so important for Australia's future.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Realising our Broadband Future - Day 2

Hi, I was a little late in today, missing the introduction by Paul Twomey.

However I've taken up the Liveblog from Larry Smarr's presentation this morning.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Realising our Broadband Future - Day 1

I've taken a couple of days off work to attend the Realising our Broadband Future conference on a personal basis.

I am liveblogging it below, contingent on wi-fi availability.

Please feel free to ask questions and I'll try to relay them to speakers.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Managing the future adoption of Gov 2.0 in Australia

We're beginning to see significant activity in the Gov 2.0 space across Australia, and with the impending release of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce's report there's likely to be even more activity in the coming year.

This is definitely not a time for Gov 2.0 proponents to rest on their laurels as there are still many challenges to face before Government 2.0 is firmly embedded within the culture and practice of the public sector.

From discussions I continue to have across agencies and with the private sector there are still many people who aren't quite sure whether Gov 2.0 is simply the latest fad or a fundamental shift in the culture and operations of the public sector.

Last week I attended one external meeting where senior public sector managers were discussing how Web 2.0 worked perfectly well in the laissez-faire world of the internet, but was very difficult to implement successfully within a purposefully structured and highly governed organisation.

Some believed that public sector governance frameworks designed to increase public visibility could limit the use of Gov 2.0 in improving public visibility - making it a more expensive and slower option by requiring costly security and privacy hurdles.

From an ICT and security management perspective some considered Gov 2.0 a 'problem'. In many cases they felt that business teams were still treating Gov 2.0 as a shiny new toy. Experiments lasted only until the first big issue or the driving personality left the agency - at which point ICT had to 'clean up the mess'.

These are understandable viewpoints and reflect some of the issues that will need to be managed as we move to adopt Gov 2.0 approaches. Embedded knowledge and expertise for Gov 2.0 is still low in many agencies and may be confined to specific teams or individual 'experts', although enthusiasm for its use is often more widespread.

The level of buy-in at senior levels also varies. In many cases senior management simply has much bigger fish to fry in meeting the outlined policy goals of the government in an apolitical and diligent fashion with limited resources. Whether and how Gov 2.0 approaches may help them do their jobs more effectively isn't always clearly communicated.

While I know many of these executives would like to experiment with approaches that would improve the cost-effective delivery of their programs, they are limited in their tolerance for experimentation due to the potential social, financial and political consequences of failing to deliver key departmental services. They simply cannot afford the risk.

This discussion is also taking place elsewhere in the world. Federal Computer Week in the US recently wrote Is Gov 2.0 just another passing fad? ...Or do collaborative initiatives represent a true advance in the way government works?

This long and in-depth article considers the topic from a number of perspectives, asking the question,

But is Government 2.0 a true advance in the way government works, or it is just a passing fad? A year from now, will all these initiatives have matured to the point that a government agency could use them to generate useful ideas, streamline operations, improve accountability, deliver services and even save money? Or will agency leaders and their employees revert to the old ways of doing business, muttering the bureaucratic equivalent of, "Who was that masked man?"

The article draws the conclusion that Gov 2.0 may be more than a fad, but hedges its bet by suggesting that the change could be long and will require significant ongoing commitment from heads of state and other political and public sector leadership.

It also highlights the need to build the experience base and move from Gov 2.0 as a project tactic to 'how we do business around here' - a culture.

Whether Gov 2.0 is a fad or not, it is likely to be a bumpy journey. By its nature Gov 2.0 exposes more of the machinery and thinking processes of governance. For example, imagine stepping behind the beautiful vistas of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory where the Oompa Loompas sing as they work, to a 19th century sweatshop where the chocolates are really made.

While this is a deliberately strong contrast, the fact is that all organisations are 'messy' inside to some extent. Exposing how an organisation's actual processes work can shatter public myths and views. For the public sector this can mean damaging the public perceptions of government - previously (and currently) a hanging offense in some organisations.

Another way to consider managing the future adoption of Gov 2.0 in Australia is by using a modelling tool such as the hype cycle, originally developed by Gartner. This is is a technique used to attempt to outline and explain the adoption curve for new technologies, approaches and concepts.

While it is only a model, and there's no reason to assume it will apply for Government 2.0 in Australia, it is useful to reflect on where Gov 2.0 might be currently placed in order to avoid foreseeable pitfalls.

Drawing from the Wikipedia article,
A hype cycle in Gartner's interpretation comprises five phases:
  1. "Technology Trigger" — The first phase of a hype cycle is the "technology trigger" or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.
  2. "Peak of Inflated Expectations" — In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.
  3. "Trough of Disillusionment" — Technologies enter the "trough of disillusionment" because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.
  4. "Slope of Enlightenment" — Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the "slope of enlightenment" and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.
  5. "Plateau of Productivity" — A technology reaches the "plateau of productivity" as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.

Based on the hype cycle model, I believe Gov 2.0 is still on the initial incline, which means we do need to guard against overstating its importance until the capability is firmly in place across government.

Otherwise we run the risk of fulfilling the prophecies of those who believe it only a fad (whether it is or not), simply by building Gov 2.0 up too high and leaving ourselves open to a fall in confidence when it doesn't reach the stratospheric heights of cost-effectiveness expected.

So, in conclusion, I believe we're still in the very early stages for Gov 2.0 in Australia and it will take a number of years to embed it fully within government processes and build the experience required to manage its integration into agency cultures.

2010 will be a watershed year for Gov 2.0 where many of the first stumbling steps of the last few years will have to demonstrate their value and begin to integrate into normal business processes.

We will also see a great deal more experimentation and hype around Gov 2.0 - including criticism in the media when it doesn't fully live up to the espoused potential.

For everyone working in the Gov 2.0 area, use the holidays at the end of 2009 to regenerate your energy, rekindle your passion and growing a thicker skin.

Next year will require us to work twice as hard and communicate the benefits ten times as well in order to support the government in improving community engagement and agency effectiveness through Government 2.0.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Gov 2.0 Taskforce draft report out today

I'm reliably informed (via a public tweet and the Taskforce site) that the Gov 2.0 Taskforce draft report should be out at some point today.

The Taskforce Chairman, Dr Nicholas Gruen, says in the announcement linked above that it will be publicly available for comment until at least Wednesday 17 December.

Keep an eye on the Taskforce's website at for the draft report.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

What does it take a government agency to build a successful online community?

I regard creating a sustainable online community as very hard to do. It is almost always easier to join an existing community - although this presents its own challenges.

However at times it will be necessary for government agencies to consider creating their own communities online. This may be as reference groups for specific initiatives or campaigns, as peer communities on particular topics, or to fill a gap where existing online communities are not sustainable or have commercial interests which don't support the needs of everyone involved.

Below are some of my ideas on how to influence the successful development of an online community. Note I'm not an anthropologist or psychologist. However I have participated in the formation (and witnessed the destruction) of a number of online communities over the last 14 years, watching and testing what does and doesn't work. Anyone who has different views is welcome to provide their response in the comments below - or post their own blog post on the topic (and please add a comment linking to it).

The engineering side of building a community is relatively straightforward.

First you must determine the community's goals and how the community will want to interact. Next you need to establish an appropriate technical environment that supports these needs. This may be a forum, blog, social network (using a white label platform such as Ning or Elgg), chat channel or other mechanism.

After this it is important to put in place a framework for community engagement to guide the initial culture and place boundaries on behaviour.

This is essentially a moderation policy, although active moderation may not take place. It should defines what is acceptable behaviour and how transgressions will be treated. If possible the community should be involved in setting these boundaries, just as in society our legal boundaries often reflect the collective views of the community. If set well the community will help you in your role as 'enforcer'.

Finally you invite individuals in and allow them to begin playing and testing the space. Initially there is always some form of testing, with new communities pushing the boundaries to establish what is really acceptable (not simply what is written down).

Voila! Instant community!

Or maybe not.

Communities are not formed simply through infrastructure and boundaries. Nor even through common purpose. They also need a social hierarchy, shared experiences and social investment. Over time these form the social 'glue', the culture allowing communal bonds to form and welding a group of individuals into a community.

While these are 'soft' factors, almost impossible (and undesirable) to engineer, they can be influenced through shrewd planning and ongoing support.

Social hierarchy
In every community there are leaders and followers, talkers and listeners, jokers and admirers and similar groupings of people. Some provide content and advice, giving of themselves for the joy of sharing or for some form of social capital. Others are avid listeners, sucking in information but only participating to ask questions. Some people will want to break community rules, innovating or disrupting. Others will happily stay within the community guidelines at all times. Some people will network broadly, forming wide circles of peers, others communicate exclusively with only one or two others.

All of these types of people bring something to a community. They either provide content, an audience for content, force people to think outside the box and grow or bond people together and attract more people to the group.

When forming a community it is important to involve people of different types.

In particular you need to have several people willing to actively contribute and participate and a few who will network widely and draw in their colleagues from other communities. To support them you need an adequately sized audience. Just like regular speakers are stimulated and energised by their audience, to keep your content contributors feeling that they are adding value you must give them an audience who appreciates their contributions.

Finally, you will need a few rule breakers to 'keep the community honest' - to occasionally question some of the community's core values and make them rethink whether they are still valid. This is one of the hardest groups to 'manage' as they will follow their own thoughts. If there are too many, or individuals are too disruptive, they can blast apart a newly-forming community and destroy it before it gets its legs. However if you don't allow people to test and press the community 'rules', a community can stagnate and grow so boring and predictable that most of the participants leave for other groups.

If talking numbers, for every 50 participants I would suggest you need at least 5 people willing to contribute content and actively discuss topics (Leaders) and 1-2 disruptive people willing to question the status quo (Disrupters). Most of the rest can be passively involved (Audience), though having another 10 willing to contribute questions and comments (Commenters) will help lubricate the community and keep the most active members involved. You will also need at least 2-3 people involved who form wide circles of friends (Networkers), both bonding others together and attracting additional members.

The breakdown for a 50 person community is as follows:

Leaders: 5
Networkers: 2-3
Disrupters: 1-2
Commenters: 10
Audience: Everyone else

Note that people may perform multiple roles. Leaders are often Networkers and may be Disrupters. Commenters may also be Networkers or Disrupters and are also part of the Audience.

If when forming the initial community you're able to identify people who fill the top three roles and specifically invite and support them you will increase the chance of the community succeeding.

Shared experience
An online community will, over time, share certain online experiences which bond it more tightly together. These are often based around 'defending' the community from outside forces such as technical issues, roving spammers or other unwanted influences.

However when first forming a community any of these perils can be fatal. In any case they are 'natural events' and should not be deliberately engineered.

To create an initial shared experience the best approach, in my view, is to get as many of the group as possible together physically and share a common offline experience. This can be as simple as a launch party or casual drinks, or can be a more elaborate conversation starter related to the initial theme of the community. For example, if the community is about driving, take them out to a race track and give them a turn behind the wheel of a performance car.

This helps creates an initial bond, giving the participants a shared feeling of community. It also makes it clear that you want the community to succeed, overcoming any initial views that it may be only a fake community to meet a bureaucratic tick-box.

As the community begins to solidify online it is important to maintain infrequent physical contact or, at worst, live events via phone or chat, to keep the bonds alive. It is also important to not coddle the community too much. If you're in the role of an 'enforcer', ensuring that the community's rules are obeyed, it is important to step back occasionally and allow the community to itself deal with disruptive influences. These shared experiences bond the community together more tightly and give them a sense of self-reliance.

Social investment
This is the great 'secret' that makes services such as Facebook successful. As people spend more time in a community, building friendships and sharing experiences, they increase their social investment in it.

Past a certain point it becomes difficult for people to simply walk away from a community because it is where they connect with others. They have a significant investment in tje community's ongoing success.

When forming a new online community it is valuable to build an understanding of what people want to get out of it. Do they want to learn more, meet new friends and peers, be in the 'in' crowd or have a readily accessible network they can access to solve issues?

There are many other reasons people may have for joining and it is important to uncover them, where possible, and support the community in fulfilling these needs.

If you are able to reconfigure a community to better meet these individual needs it has a better chance of being 'sticky'. This helps ensure that people hang around long enough to build the lasting relationships that bond a community together.

This reconfiguration could be as simple as providing technical tools for certain purposes, such as sharing documents; or adjusting community guidelines, such as how moderation works. It can also involve more complex steps such as inviting 'guest presenters' into the community or providing exclusive content.

You must, of course, balance the level of effort required to fulfil individual needs against the level of need in the community. However it is particularly important to support the most active participants (Leaders), as they are providing a great deal of the content required to draw in broader audiences. It is also important to support people with broad networks (Networkers) as they are important influencers of whether people join or leave. However neither group should be coddled to the detriment of other community members.

Influence not control
As a final point, all of the above ideas can influence a new community towards success. None of them guarantee a community will work or that it will develop in a way you find acceptable.

You may find that your initial reason for the community is not strong enough, that there aren't enough potential participants to make a community viable or that external factors, competing communities or internal changes in your organisation stunt or prohibit growth.

However if you're serious about establishing and growing an online community I believe the suggestions above will help.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

New quick start beginners guide for government Twitter use released

Dave Briggs of Learning Pool in the UK has written a quick start guide to Twitter for those working in and around government (although it's equally applicable for other people as well).

The guide particularly targets Twitter newcomers and is written in a very readable and conversational style.

David spent more than five years working in government and has a good understanding of how to approach the topic in order to make this guide useful.

I see this guide as a companion guide to the UK Government's Template Twitter Strategy. Like the Template Strategy, just about all of this guide is immediately usable in an Australian context.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Getting serious about web analytics in Australian government - join the new group

Last week the Australian Bureau of Statistics ran a free event for government website managers to discuss web analytics - how different agencies were doing it and what, collectively, we would like to see happen in the area.

There were a number of excellent presentations and plenty of time for group discussion. In fact it's the best such event I've seen run to-date within government and was better than many of the (more costly) commercial conferences.

Some of the outcomes of the day included a recognition that while there are many different tools and reasons for measuring public websites, there are some standards we should have in place across government to define and agree on appropriate metrics - beginning with the basics like page-views, visits and unique visitors.

There was also a good discussion around the prospect of a whole-of-government web reporting system which would allow agencies to directly benchmark and compare against appropriate peers. The Victorian government has made great strides towards this already, as has the NSW government.

To continue the conversation, and begin to recommend some firm ideas for how to proceed in the web analytics space at all levels of Australian government, a Web Analytics For Australian Government group was established at Google at the end of last week, and is already beginning to see some discussion of the topic.

If you're involved or interested in website management and measurement - or simply wish to understand how to measure the effectiveness of websites alongside other communications channels - please join the Web Analytics For Australian Government group.

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Getting started in the social web - presentation from Canada's

I came across this presentation from Tamera Kremer while reviewing the outcomes of Canada's recent Government 2.0 conference in Ottawa.

Canadian governments - like others across the world - are addressing similar, if not identical, issues and dilemmas in implementing Government 2.0 and this presentation resonated with a number of the challenges we face in Australia.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Paper and internet petitions may soon be treated equally

Victoria's eGovernment Resource Centre's newsletter has alerted me to moves underway in the House of Representatives to treat electronic petitions in the same manner as paper petitions.

Covered in an article in the The Age, Paper and internet petitions may soon be treated equally, the approach being recommended is for the Federal government to adopt Queensland's system and operate an official government petitions site, similar to the UK approach with e-Petitions.

There is still some resistance to the idea, as documented in the The Age article. However my view is that the reduction in barriers to petition participation is a good move, particularly as we, as a society, are moving away from a letter-writing cultural tradition to a digital one.

Provided the government continues to support paper petitions alongside digital ones the community will be supported.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

State of the eUnion: Government 2.0 and onwards

You may have already seen notices about this book over at the eGovernment Resource Centre or other places but, in case you're not aware of it, this is a fantastic read on where Government 2.0 is right now and where it is going.

The book is available for free download from and you can get the PDF right here, State of the eUnion: Government 2.0 and Onwards.

Enjoy - and please tell me what you thought of it in comments below.

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Great read on Gov 2.0 in Australia - Upgrading Democracy (foreword by Minister Tanner)

The Centre for Policy Development, a non-partisan Australian think tank, has released the Upgrading Democracy Edition of Insight, their enewsletter.

With a foreword by Minister Lindsay Tanner and articles from Senator Kate Lundy and Gov 2.0 Taskforce member Martin Stewart-Weeks - amongst a set of other fantastic essays, I recommend reading this Insight to gain a clearer picture of the Australian Government's vision for Gov 2.0 and how it can be put into practice.

It is jam-packed with Gov 2.0 information that's both useful for experienced practitioners and for newcomers, as well as for senior agency leadership.

It is free to read and has been released under a Creative Commons license to make it easy to share.

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How much should a government website cost - are we over-engineering our websites?

These days when I personally need to set up a new website, I either hop onto Wordpress or download one of the free open-source content management systems, purchase space on a decent US server and follow the installation instructions.

I use a design template found online, customising it with some style tweaks where required, then spend a few days writing content.

It's not very hard and doesn't take very long (normally under a week).

However in government we have very strong governance structures around website creation - with good reason - to ensure that the platforms we use are secure, reliable and effective. We also have extensive content approval processes which can require a number of steps before words reach the screen.

This places a great deal of overhead on the process of creating and managing government websites, adding significantly to IT and resourcing costs.

I don't question the need for public organisations to guarantee the reliability and security of their websites. However I do wonder if we're placing a disproportionate level of cost onto this process - so much overhead on our websites that they may be slower to deliver and less cost-effective than other communications channels.

I also wonder if departments spend much time scrutinising their governance arrangements to see if they can reduce the burden, and therefore the cost and time to market, (without compromising the outcome) by either planing ahead or working together better.

If we are really one government shouldn't we be able to - as a group or via some central agency - security assess and review a group of web technologies then pick and choose between them as needed - depending on our internal platforms and needs?

Why not compare our departmental content management processes and learn from the organisations who are most effective and efficient?

Food for thought.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bringing government into the age of persistent communications

Many organisations use campaign-based communications models.

They develop their campaign strategy, identify and engage their audience, communicate a message, then wind down the campaign and allow the audience to disengage and disperse.

At a future time, when the audience no longer seems influenced by the previous message, they repeat this process - potentially reusing campaign materials, but having to locate and engage the audience all over again.

A cynic could call this communications amnesia - we deliberately forget all about our audiences as soon as we've finished shouting our message at them.

I prefer to call this episodic communications as it operates very similarly to episodic programming, at the end of each episode the set may remain in place, but the actors are returned to their starting points.

Social media, on the other hand, allows organisations to cost-effectively establish an ongoing relationship with their audiences.

By developing online spaces where their audience can gather and interact, seeding them with content and well-considered participation guidelines, organisations can encourage audience members to join and participate in a community around a given topic for an extended period of time.

Best of all the approach supports and improves the efficiency of episodic communications campaigns by providing a ready-made engaged audience who can be encouraged to pay attention to new messages at significantly less additional cost.

I call this approach persistent communications.

I'm starting to see governments use social media tools to build engaged audiences around specific topics - from the Digital Economy and National Culture Policy to yourHealth.

However so far I have seen limited appreciation of how these audiences can be leveraged as persistent communities of interest.

To me it makes sense that once you've invested money, resources and time into building one of these groups, it is worth continuing to invest a small amount to keep the group - a budding community - functioning and growing.

This turns it into an ongoing resource that can be leveraged in the future for additional input or directed into future campaign-based initiatives.

This can create a positive feedback loop - with campaigns becoming more cost-effective over time.

Campaign (used to build a) -> Persistent audience (leveraged into further) -> Campaigns (used to build a) -> (bigger) Persistent audience -> and so on.

This approach hasn't been totally ignored in government.

Future Melbourne has done a reasonable job of maintaining its momentum. It makes sense - Melbourne has a long future ahead of it, why not leverage the investment in the community by keeping them engaged and willing to participate. It saves money, time and effort.

Similarly Bang The Table has been peppering me with additional consultations being held by the ACT government, leveraging my participation in an earlier consultation as someone who is interested and willing to comment on further topics over time (although they've not yet taken the step to build a profile for me and invite me to consultations from other governments which fit my interest profile).

Most commercial organisations know that a relationship with a customer is worth its weight in gold. Once a customer is deeply engaged with one of your products you are able to leverage this into new areas at much lower cost than - take Apple's progression from computers to music players to phones or Sony's fiercely loyal Playstation audience.

Government also has this opportunity to use persistent communication centred on social media to build and sustain persistent relationships with our community.

We can leverage interest in one consultation via one department at one level of government into future interest in another engagement activity in a different agency in another government level through sustaining an persistent communications strategy.

This would save significant public money, however to get there we will need to rethink our departmental communications approaches - revisiting our systems for developing, governing, tracking and analysing communications.

From episodic communications tactics to a persistent communications strategy -should we call this Communications 2.0?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Could the government replace some advertising and communications contracts with crowdsourcing?

Many government initiatives need to be communicated to all or some of the community to increase awareness and, in some cases, encourage behavioural change.

Whether advising people of changes in tax laws, informing and influencing the community's health habits, or seeking public submissions in a consultation, there needs to be communications strategies in place to identify, reach and influence appropriate audiences.

Over the past forty years, like other large private sector organisations, government departments have worked with specialist advertising and communications agencies to provide the extra help required to craft messages and run communications campaigns.

This approach helps smooths out bumps in hiring (providing extra hands and minds for short periods), introduces fresh ideas from highly talented communications experts and provides a broader perspective through exposing government departments to people who continually work across the entire communications industry.

However new approaches to sourcing communications ideas are now emerging - thanks to digital communications.

Recently Unilever removed the advertising agency for its Peperami product and replaced it with - crowdsourcing.

Rather than using Lowes, the agency who had worked on the account for 16 years, Unilever put up a US$10,000 prize and, using a service called Ideabounty, opened up the account to anyone in the world with good ideas.

I won't go into the details of this example - there's more information in The Guardian's article, Unilever goes crowdsourcing to spice up Peperami's TV ads.

However what I will ask is this - should the Australian government look beyond advertising and communications agencies for good communications ideas?

Should we go directly to the communities impacted by our programs, invite them to provide ideas for communications campaigns and reward them appropriately?

Will this cost less than using professional agencies?

Will it deliver better or 'as good' outcomes?

Finally, if it does make sense, will our procurement and advertising guidelines allow us to use a crowdsourcing approach to deliver better outcomes at lower costs?

It's probably a good time for government agencies to think about these questions - I expect we'll begin being asked them in the next few years as more organisations visibly consider crowdsourcing.

Below are a few reference articles on the topic worth reading - I welcome your comments, particularly from  anyone who provides communications services to Australian governments.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dealing with video accessibility - automating captions and transcripts

I found out last week that Google had recently integrated YouTube with Google's speech-text technology, allowing videos displayed on YouTube to have their captions and transcripts automatically generated.

In addition, these captions and transcripts can then be translated, via Google's text translation system, and displayed on the video in any supported language.

The transcript can also be downloaded (and corrected if necessary) to be reused in other environments.

Whilst Google admits that neither the speech-to-text autocaptioning or the translation tool are perfect, these are measurable steps forward in using computing power to address accessibility in videos.

It also is a powerful tool for any organisation with video footage - even for internal use. They can simply upload video to YouTube in a private channel, have it auto-transcribed - correct this as required and then translate the material as necessary, then remove the video from YouTube and use the translated material internally.

More information on this tool is available at YouTube's blog in the post, Automatic captions in YouTube and I've embedded their demo video below.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

APSC releases Protocols for online media participation

The APSC has replaced its Interim protocols for online media participation (released December 2008) with Circular 2009/6: Protocols for online media participation.

The new Circular is briefer than its predecessor, going further than I had expected, making it clear in no uncertain tones that (my bold in the quote below),

Web 2.0 provides public servants with unprecedented opportunities to open up government decision making and implementation to contributions from the community. In a professional and respectful manner, APS employees should engage in robust policy conversations.

Equally, as citizens, APS employees should also embrace the opportunity to add to the mix of opinions contributing to sound, sustainable policies and service delivery approaches. Employees should also consider carefully whether they should identify themselves as either an APS employee or an employee of their agency.
This guidance is followed by a set of ground rules - which are consistent with the practice of many other organisations. You can read them in the Circular.

In case your agency need to consider the Circular within the APS code, the APSC says that,
The guidance has been incorporated into chapters 3 and 15 of APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice: A guide for APS employees and Agency Heads. This publication assists APS employees to understand the practical application of the APS Values and Code of Conduct in both common and unusual circumstances. It also provides advice for agency heads in establishing policies and procedures that promote the APS Values and ensure compliance with the Code. A revised edition of the publication is now available on the Commission’s website at

With the "can I/Can't I" of online participation now much clearer, the next step for agencies is to ensure they put the best possible social media participation guidance in place to address any grey areas.

If your agency wants to consider some examples of best practice social media policies, there are over a hundred examples at Social Media Governance.

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Australiam Gov 2.0 Taskforce announces winners for its brainstorming and innovation competitions

Australia's Government 2.0 Taskforce has announced the winners of its structured brainstorming competition, which was held in September - October this year.

The competition involved public submissions and voting via an ideas market system with the final decision on winners being made by the Taskforce.

In the structured brainstorming category there were two winning ideas, both nominated by Brad Peterson,

In the Government 2.0 Innovators category, the Taskforce announced three winners,

I'm honoured to both have been nominated and to have been selected amongst the winners and would like to commend the other winners for their efforts.

I'd love to see similar events run on a ongoing basis to help encourage the suggestion of good ideas, reward those innovating in government and inspire others to do likewise - similar to the US's SAVE award (introduced by President Obama in September).

Perhaps this would even inspire agencies to run similar awards/competitions internally to encourage innovation that improves their operations, as the US Transportation Security Administration does via its IdeaFactory tool.

It is very hard to manufacture innovation in a highly structured organisation, however it is relatively easy to recognise and reward it.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Last chance to vote on MashupAustralia's peoples' choice - 81 entries to choose from

MashUpAustralia had 81 entries into Australia's first competitive event for mashing up data from Australian governments.

Now that entries have closed, the public have until 4PM AEDT on 20 November to vote for a people's choice - that means you!

So if you've not yet had a look at the entries and voted, this is your LAST chance.

Go to MashUpAustralia to vote.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

US engaging in offensive as well as defensive cyberwar

Nextgov has published a very insightful piece on the US's cyberwar endeavours, including their use of it as an offensive tool to locate and knock out the organisational capabilities of their enemies and even kill foes.

The article, The cyberwar plan, not just a defensive game, also covers the Russian attacks on Estonia and Georgia and China's use of cyberwarfare techniques to gain economic advantage over foreigners (I also continue wondering about the attack on the Melbourne Film Festival earlier this year).

It's a very well-researched piece and provides a lot of food for thought.

Given that most wealth and knowledge is stored electronically and most organisation is done via digital channels, the impact of a successful attack on our communications systems or finance sector would be catastrophic to our economy and potentially to our ability to cope with a physical attack.

Australia's defense force has traditionally been very quiet about a domestic cyberwar capability and I wonder whether we are adequately defended and able to respond to attacks on Australia's digital sovereignty.

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Youtube offers free branded channels to government departments globally

Youtube recently announced that government departments using the service can get a free branded channel for their videos, saving a US$50,000 set-up fee.

The offer is apparently still making its way to the Youtube site, however the details of the offer are public and it is available now.

Below I've provided the content of an email sent to me by Geordie Hyland of Youtube regarding how to take up the offer and here is a link to a blog post by Mike Kujawski in his blog Public Sector Marketing 2.0 with details of what departments will get with a branded channel.

Note that departments do need to assess whether taking this up meets their needs - and whether there's any potential lock-in effect that may not be in their strategic interests in the future.

Youtube does have a dominant position in the online video distribution market at present - however it may not suit all departments' needs.

Please contact me by email directly for a Youtube contact if needed.


Thanks for your interest in starting a YouTube channel for your government, government department, or government agency. If you like, you can start a YouTube channel right away by creating an account and posting videos. One time at the end of every month, YouTube will transfer any new government channels to "branded" - thus allowing you to upload a branded banner to the top of your channel, and giving you the ability to upload longer videos to the site.

We do not have the capacity to do this more than one time per month, so please be patient if you don't hear back right away - and feel free to start posting videos to your account.

To enter your application for a branded channel, please send an email to with the following 5 pieces of information:

* The name of your government, government department, or agency.
* Your .gov website URL.
* The account name you've registered on YouTube (i.e., your YouTube username).
* The email address you are using to manage the account.
* Any other information you want to tell us about your plans to launch the channel, and what types of content you plan to post.

Please also be aware the YouTube will not negotiate any individual content licensing agreements with state or local governments - your contract with YouTube is our site-wide terms and conditions, which you agree to upon starting an account on YouTube. To see that policy, please go to:

Thanks, and good luck!

-The YouTube Team

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Knowledge Shared equals Power Squared

I've written this post based on my comments in response to the post at the Gov 2.0 Taskforce site, If I could start with a blank piece of paper… (part 2).

In that comment I made a point that it is relatively easy for government agencies to technically adopt Gov 2.0 approaches. The technology, legal framework and much of the legwork on identifying and mitigating risks has been completed here and overseas - if you know where to look.

However culturally the adoption of Gov 2.0 poses much greater challenges. There are paradigm shifts required in public sector thinking and behaviour. This takes time to work through the system.

One part of this shift is related to the belief that Knowledge equals Power.

While this belief is both long-standing and happens to have been true for much of human history it is no longer true, and a more accurate meme would be Knowledge Shared equals Power Squared.

In the past knowledge was expensive to store and distribute. Those who held knowledge on a particular topic were held in high regard and could exert considerable power - and command substantial fees - based on their expertise.

This fostered practices where professions erected barriers to control the flow of knowledge and keep price points high - similar to how deBeers has been accused (and several times found guilty and fined) of controlling the supply, and therefore maintaining a high price for diamonds.

Indeed Wikipedia's definition of profession includes a number of characteristics based on containing and controlling knowledge, including the statement,

Inaccessible body of knowledge: In some professions, the body of knowledge is relatively inaccessible to the uninitiated. Medicine and law are typically not school subjects and have separate faculties and even separate libraries at universities.
For public sectors around the world the same influences have been at play, as have additional factors; controlling knowledge for privacy reasons, national security, to avoid public unrest and even - in some jurisdictions - to protect political figures.

However the knowledge hoarding model begins to fail when it becomes cheap and easy to share and when the knowledge required to complete a task exceeds an individual's capability to learn in the time available.

This has been reflected in a longitudinal study of knowledge workers that Robert Kelley of Carnegie-Mellon University conducted over more than twenty years. He asked professionals "What percentage of the knowledge you need to do your job is stored in your own mind?"

In 1986 the answer was typically about 75%. By 1997 workers estimated that they had only about 15% to 20% of the knowledge needed in their own mind. Kelley estimated that by 2006 the answer was only 8% to 10%.

Given that professionals now need to draw 90% or more of the knowledge they need to do their jobs from others, in my view 'Knowledge equals Power' is no longer true.

I believe it is now more accurate to state Knowledge Shared equals Power Squared.

While 'squared' is not empirically true, the statement reflects that to gain and hold power individuals and organisations need to share knowledge and networking.

For the public sector this shift isn't simply about opening up access to existing knowledge resources, it requires rethinking attitudes, behaviours and policies.

For example, where hiring practices focus on hiring people with exceptional personal knowledge perhaps they need to be re-weighted. We still need people with enough knowledge to form good critical judgements, however they also need exceptional networking and information processing skills so they can locate and assess the additional knowledge needed.

Organisations that rely on long-time staff as their corporate memory need to review whether this is an effective long-term strategy. Should they future-proof themselves against inevitable retirements and resignations by taking all this knowledge, codifying and placing it in a central location for everyone to access? Should they then open up this location for editing by staff (as a wiki) so that it remains current, useful and relevant?

Thirdly, personal networks can become a source of considerable strength for both individuals and the organisations that employ them. They allow a staff member to quickly source valuable knowledge from their peers and accelerate an organisation's decision making and implementation processes. However to harness this power organisations need to allow their staff to access these networks from the office - the online communities and social networks where professionals meet and discuss.

All of these steps pale in comparison with one of the biggest areas of knowledge sharing - with the community. Organisations can derive enormous value from collaborating with their customers, constituents and stakeholders. However for this to work effectively the organisation must share their knowledge openly and allow the community to see and respond quickly to each others' comments.

I'll be posting more on this topic later this week.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

How should the public service engage with controversial topics online?

In my experience, where possible, Australian public servants avoid controversial topics when consulting with the public.

Controversial topics are messy, unpredictable, raise high emotions and draw out divergent viewpoints - making discussions difficult to manage and control. They also often edge into political matters which are outside the scope of the public service, who strive to remain professionally apolitical in their service to their political masters.

Of course, often active discussion thrives on controversy. Radically differing viewpoints and high emotional engagement leads to energetic and insightful debate. They can soar to great heights - and plummet to unspeakable depths.

On the other hand, discussions on topics where most people agree tend to be largely controllable - but also predictable, boring and repetitive. Why bother repeating a 'me too' point or stating something that seems self-evident?

People rapidly lose interest and drift away when there's no cut and thrust of debate and the conclusions are easily arrived at from the proposition.

For public servants striving to generate online discussion on blogs and forums there's a difficult line to walk between proposing topics that are controversial and those that are safe.

Instinct tends to draw public servants to safe topics, where we can predict the likely responses and avoid the risk of heated and uncivil discussion. It's easier (and more risk-adverse) to manage a discussion when the outcome is obvious, it requires less time, effort and critical judgement - and also requires less Ministerial correspondence, scrutiny from senior management and career risk.

However it is hard to get audiences to engage on many safe topics. The public is uninterested, has already agreed on an outcome or simply doesn't feel entertained and stimulated by many safe discussions. To be frank, they are boring and don't materially add to the policy or operational discussion.

So how can public servants engage with controversy online, without engaging too much?

Fortunately there are a number of models on how to do this. People have been stepping through this minefield for thousands of years in physical discussions and many of the same tools work online.

The first approach is to structure the debate where you cannot structure the content. Find a topic and choose two positions. Form 'teams' to argue each of the positions in sequential order. Have an audience able to make side comments and vote on which team did a better job of building a compelling case.

Those of you familiar with formal debating will recognise this approach. It still allows passionate discussion but within a straight-jacket of format and set positions, which avoids a free-for-all. There is a beginning, a middle and an end - which prevents it dragging for an unknown period and usually there are only two 'sides' - positions - which an audience can take.

A second approach is an expert panel, where each expert provides their own position and the audience can comment or vote on the position they most ascribe to. This is more flexible than a debate, however still largely restricts discussion to positions set by 'authorities'. While it provides greater flexibility for diverse views it can also limit discussion and debate between the distinct expert positions as the experts may not be as willing to debate each other or have their supporters do so.

A third option, which I term rotating perspectives, also supports multiple positions, but each is examined sequentially over time by an audience. This focuses discussion on the pros and cons of each particular position over time and allows the community managers to introduce new perspectives based on the direction of the discussion. While more flexible and responsive to audience feedback than an expert panel, and encouraging online audience participation, this approach can lead to uneven analysis of ideas. Early positions may receive more discussion (based on a big promotional launch) and greater critical thought - as they are visible longer for reflection and responses can be made later in the process. This also risks having members of the audience pre-empting certain positions ahead of time - though this isn't necessarily a bad outcome as it increases the sense of active discussion.

My fourth, and final - for now - option is to provide separate groups for discussion of each different position. These can be linked or merged where positions converge or separated out where a single position diverges into several. Audience members can suggest and create their own positions, which then become new groups for discussion. Towards the end of the discussion many positions may merge towards a common core thread - or they may diverge, identifying the most intractable issues that need resolution. Similar to workshopping, this approach is complex, requiring additional moderation and an appropriate technology platform - such as a Nationbuilder (used for Australia2) or Ideascale which allows ideas to be separately discussed, merged as required and with a degree of automated nouse that can merge similar positions.

There are other approaches as well - breaking down a topic into individual issues and discussing each separately, or having the community rate contributions with the aim of self-moderation (which works quite well in some online communities).

What other approaches can you suggest that would allow the public service to engage with controversial topic online while remaining comfortable about the risks?

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Waiting for social media to stop being the story and start being the medium

I'm beginning to get annoyed with the attitudes I'm seeing both in the mainstream press and at many conferences discussing social media.

The discussion is still about how important social media is becoming, how if you don't get on now you'll be left behind and about the antics of celebrity and sports tweeters.

To me these are all signs of how early we still are in the process of adopting social media as one of the many tools in our toolkits - quite a versatile and flexible tool, but still simply a tool amongst others.

It's reminiscent of the coverage and conferences about the internet around ten years ago - where the internet was seen as a bright new toy that people had to use, even if they were not sure why.

To my recollection it took a dotcom bust and about three years of solid achievement in the online space before internet moved from a buzzword to a toolset - when people noticed that after all the hype there was a solid core of value in using the internet channel alongside, or replacing, existing communications, marketing and fulfilment channels.

Social media has been around as a term for around five years now - however for most of that time it was below the notice of the popular media and organisations were a little shy of the concept of 'social' being more than after work drinks.

I think we are seeing some solid achievements now in the area and hope that soon legacy (traditional) media, conference organisers and management will begin treating social media with no less AND no more respect than it deserves.

It's a tool - a good one for some purposes and a poor one for others - no more.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Collaboration within organisations increases productivity - new report

When I stepped into the public sector just over three years ago, in terms of workplace collaboration it was like stepping back twenty years.

I found that staff directories were merely lists of names, titles and phone numbers - without listing people's expertise, qualifications, experience, current projects and interests.

The only way to get to know and understand the skills of staff in most other areas was to discover them by word of mouth or meet them at work functions.

Collaboration was limited to face-to-face working groups, flying people around the country to attend meetings, or sending draft documents to others by email or on paper and asking for feedback. Sometime comments were returned written on document print-outs, in long-hand reminiscent of a doctor's prescriptions.

Even when document edits were tracked changes, compiling and reconciling the edits from different people in such a process could take days, if not weeks, before the document was ready to be recirculated for re-review.

While these collaboration systems were slow and clumsy, people - public servants - made them work. I worry about whether it also made best use of peoples' skills, departmental time and public money.

Recently Frost and Sullivan released a report which defined the productivity gains both public and commercial sector organisations can gain from more advanced collaboration techniques.

Reported in NextGov and titled Meetings Around the World II: Charting the Course of Advanced Collaboration (PDF), the report

surveyed 3,662 professionals in businesses and government agencies about their use of advanced collaboration tools such as voice-over-Internet Protocol, instant messaging or meeting via high-definition video to get their work done.
The report found that these collaborative tools delivered a return of 4.2x the organisation's investment and that 60% of workers felt that the tools increased their performance.

Is a 4x ROI sufficient to encourage government departments to invest in better collaboration tools? I hope so - and look forward to more productive collaboration with my colleagues in the years to come.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Embracing serendipity in government - we now serve citizens best by collaborating with them

Government runs on rules. Policies, processes and procedures designed to address every contingency and plan for every possible risk in order to provide equity, stability and certainty.

However, as experience has shown time and time again, we cannot predict the future.

While we continually attempt to plan ahead, largely these plans are based on extrapolating past trends and experiences.

This has served us well in times of relatively stable and slow-changing societies and provides enormous capability to mobilise and focus resources towards a few large and separate goals.

However it doesn't work as effectively during rapidly changing conditions where there are a myriad of interlocking issues. The approach can also neglect large and important changes, which are often discontinuous and almost totally unpredictable.

History is littered with enormous societal, economic and cultural shifts brought on by unpredictable innovations; gunpowder, the printing press, steam-power, radio, television and, most recently, the internet.

Each of these - and other - innovations profoundly changed how societies operated, destroying industries and creating a stream of new inventions, professions and both political and cultural challenges in their wake.

In hindsight we can often see very clearly how these changes unfolded and they can appear historically as an evolutionary process. However when living just before or during these enormous shifts it is virtually impossible for most individuals or organisations to predict outcomes ten, five, two or even a single year ahead.

I believe we are living in this type of time right now. The invention of the internet, progress in nano and bio technologies and in alternative - hopefully sustainable - sources of energy is in the process of increasingly rapidly reshaping our world. At the same time we are facing the consequences of previous disruptive innovations - most notably climate change, fuelled by enormous levels of fossil fuel use over two hundred years and population growth, fuelled by improvements in food technology and medicine.

This becomes a time of enormous challenge for governments. How do we extrapolate trends, develop policies, acknowledge and address risks which didn't exist a few years ago?

How do we continue to serve the public appropriately when the time required to plan, develop and implement national infrastructure is greater than the effective lifespan of that infrastructure?

How do we let go of faltering systems to embrace new ways of developing and implementing policy without losing continuity of governance?

And how long can we continue to govern incrementally when living in an exponential world?

We're in a place where there are many more questions than answers. Issues are ever more complex and multi-faceted and can no longer be in silos. Our organisations need to be more flexible and adaptive in response to an increasingly assertive community who often have better tools and information than the government departments servicing them.

Fortunately the disruptive technologies we are developing also allow us to approach many of these challenges collectively on a national and international scale.

We have the means to mobilise the brainpower of a nation - or many nations - using the internet and simple crowdsourcing tools.

We've already seen communities emerge online where companies ask their insolvable questions publicly, allowing scientists, academics and the general public to discuss and provide suggestions.

We've also seen governments willing to ask questions of their constituents, rather than rely on traditional stakeholders, academics and bureaucrats to have all the answers.

I hope over the coming years we see Australian governments embrace serendipity rather than attempt unsuccessfully to chain it. I hope we see bureaucrats and citizens working collaboratively to address major issues, working in adaptive and flexible configurations rather than rigid silos, stepping beyond 'consultation' towards participatory policy development and evolution.

This will require courage on the part of elected officials and senior public servants alike. It will require different types of leadership and thinking, better communications and a broader focus on connecting people over managing fixed resources.

Can we achieve this step from where we are today?

I'm optimistic that we can, but it will take significant work and pain to achieve.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Positive and practical examples of online government engagement initiatives

I was chatting with friends on Twitter the other day regarding how useful it would be for Australian government to see positive and practical examples of online government engagement initiatives.

With fortunately timing, Crispin of Bang the Table recently posted about a new report from the US based Public Agenda's Centre for Advancement in Public Engagement which provides a number of examples of effective public sector online engagement initiatives from around the world.

The report also has some practical principles for constructing an online engagement strategy.

View the post, and the report, at Promising Practices in Online Engagement.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

NSW government launches with over 400 datasets

The NSW government has released a catalogue of over 400 datasets at, making it probably the second largest government data catalogue in the world (after in the US).

From the discussions I've seen and taken part in, this is far beyond what was expected.

Many of the datasets are only available as PDFs or as tables in webpages and the copyright terms, however this is only to be expected in a first release of this type.

Overall it's a tremendous resource and will hopefully encourage other Australian governments to take similar steps.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

And the GovHack winner is...

GovHack wrapped up tonight with drinks at CSIRO's Discovery centre.

Although many of the Govhackers had already departed for their drives and flights back to Sydney, Melbourne and other parts of Australia, around 30 people remained for the award ceremony.

At the awards, Tom Coates spoke about how only 20 years ago Tim Berners-Lee had written the document that laid out the core concept for the internet. He said that today we are seeing a whole new revolution based on the opening up of data and that this enables the community to help governments work - a transformational shift.

After deliberation, the judges gave honourable mentions to the teams
- What The Federal Government Does
- Project TeaLady
- It's Buggered, Mate

The Lonely Planet Award went to Rate My Loo for embodying the spirit of the day.

Second place went to Know where you live.

And the winning mashup was LobbyClue.

Well done to everyone involved!

Below are a few photos from the award ceremony - taken with iPhone so excuse the low resolution.

Tom Coates speaking at the GovHack award ceremony.

John Allsop (the main organiser) speaking at the GovHack award ceremony.

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A couple more great Govhacks

Here's some of the other mashups created at GovHack...

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Govhacking in Canberra

This afternoon I've been able to spend a few hours hanging out with a group of talented web developers, designers and programmers at Canberra Uni.

They've gathered for the Gov 2.0 Taskforce sponsored GovHack event, to develop new mashup applications and services using government data released at and

There's been a great deal of creative work done, from exposing the PowerHouse's data as a service, to an application for rating ACT toilets called Rate-a-Loo to mapping government agencies by function - such as this image of Transport-related agencies, to the creation of a 'lite' Australian version of FixMyStreet, appropriately named It's Buggered, Mate.

So far around 20 mashups have been submitted - based on 24 hours work.

I'll report on the winners later today.

Here's a few photos of the day...

What some of the developers looked like after hacking through the night.

John Allsop speaking to govhackers shortly before the presentation of the mashups created over the last day.

Senator Lundy saying a few words at the GovHack event.

Tom Coates from San Francisco, who was an international guest at the Govhack event. Tom has been involved with around 12 GovHack events around the world.

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