Saturday, January 31, 2009

Do our internationally accessed government sites speak the right language?

Comscore's media release last week indicated that Global Internet Audience Surpasses 1 billion Visitors, According to comScore.

While this is probably an understatement, as it only accounts for those aged 15+, the release highlighted the increasing diversity of internet users, with China very clearly in the top spot with 179,100,000 users, compared to the 2nd placed US's 163,300,000 users.

Australia didn't even make the top 15 list, with the Netherlands scraping in at 15th spot with 11,812,000 users.

It is immediately clear than people with English as their first language are a minority on the internet.

Looking at the top 15 countries, the only ones with English as an official language were the US, UK and Canada (which has French as well). These countries only accounted for 221,173,000 of a total 711,488,000 internet users.

Extending this out to the full 1 billion internet users, only around 31% of internet users are likely to have English as their first language.

This means that for internationally focused government websites there is an enormous need to consider two options:

Rewriting websites to use extremely simple language and navigation for people who have English as a second language (or even as their first!) This is possibly the greatest need for most government websites - speaking to someone at a party last week, although they lecture at an Australian university, English is their second language and some government-speak in websites does not make sense to them.

The other, and harder, option is to co-publish in other languages, such as (written) Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, French, Hindi, Russian, Korean and Italian (by rough order of prominence).

Yes there's a cost to both of these approaches. However are you willing to tell your Minister that your internationally focused website is only accessible to 31% of its prospective audience in its current form - and you're OK with that?

Fortunately our tourism industry has gotten this message, Australia's official (government) tourist entry point is available in eight languages and with localised content for more than 18 countries.

But what about people seeking business ties in Australia, those wanting to register their IP, anyone with a need to understand local laws or to claim benefits?

Over in Europe it is common practice to publish government and commercial websites in multiple languages - they are part of a European community as well as a global one.

How connected is Australia to our global community? Perhaps the languages we use on our websites indicate that we're not as connected as we could be - and one can only wonder at the value of this lost economic activity to Australia.

This is a whole-of-government issue, so perhaps we need a whole-of-government solution. A central team that works with agencies on a prioritisation basis (by economic impact) to convert their material into other languages - centrally budgeted of course.

Or should we rely on the audience to seek their own translators - either machine-based online ones, their employees, friends and families (with potential limited english understanding) or even paid services?

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Friday, January 30, 2009

UK to guarantee broadband access to all households

The UK has become the first country to take the step of placing broadband internet access on the same level as sewage, running water, electricity and a phone line as an essential utility service.

Foreshadowed in the Financial Times on 14 January, the Promise of universal UK broadband is detailed in the Digital Britain report.

It was announced by the UK Communications Minister, Lord Carter, who has previously stated that broadband was no longer seen as a

“niche service for the technologically keen”. “It is an enabling and transformatory service and therefore we have to look at how we universalise it,” he added.
With details to be revealed later this year, the plan would involve both wired and wireless access and is designed to be completed by the 2012 London Olympics (about the same time as the UK will complete their switch to digital TV).

The 86 page interim Digital Britain report was released on 29 January, heralded with a media release

The report makes the case for universal broadband access in the first sentence of the foreword,
The digital information and communications sector is one of the sectors in the economy, alongside energy and financial services, upon which the whole of the economy rests.
Also in the words of the report,
A successful Britain must be a Digital Britain.

The SMH has also reported the story in an article entitled, UK government unveils broadband-for-everyone plan.

Australia's current tender process gets a small mention on page 17 of the report.

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Vision of the future - 35% of US Adults using online social networks - 75% of 18-24yr olds

The music industry has a maxim - most people prefer to buy and listen to the music they listened to in their late teens or early twenties.

Of course they still listen to, enjoy and buy other music, but at the end of the day the Beatles, BeeGees, ABBA, the Rolling Stones and other bands would not have the continuing strength of following they have today if those who were teens in the sixties and seventies didn't continue to love and pay for their music.

This imprinting also holds for internet usage. While people of all ages use the internet, commonly those over the age of 35 or 40 are termed 'digital immigrants', while younger people are termed 'digital natives'.

This reflects how the internet is placed in their world view. There's a simple way to check to see which of these groups you're likely to be,

When you need to find the phone number for a restauant do you first think of the yellow pages or Google?

When you are booking a holiday do you first think of a travel agent or an online booking site?

If the internet is central in your approach, you're likely a digital native (whatever your age).

This is very keenly visible in the ages of people using online social networks. PEW Research recently released a review of online Americans' use of social networks (PDF), which demonstrates the age differences discussed above.

Most importantly this provides Australian government with an early warning as to how it needs to change its engagement and communications to continue to be relevant.

So what is going on in the US?

PEW reports that,
Young people are much more likely than older adults to use social networks.
  • 75% of online adults 18-24 have a profile on a social network site
  • 57% of online adults 25-34 have a profile on a social network
  • 30% of online adults 35-44 have one
  • 19% of online 45 to 54 year olds have a profile
  • 10% of online 55 to 64 year olds have a profile
  • 7% of online adults 65 and older have a profile

Also very interesting was usage by income level. PEW reported that lower income earners were more likely to use these networks than higher income earners, as follows,
The percentage of Americans in each demographic category who have a profile on a social media network,
Earns less than $30,000 - 45%
Earns $30,000 - $49,999 - 38%
Earns $50,000 - $74,999 - 30%
Earns $75,000+ - 31%

Perhaps more telling for government is what people are using these networks to do. When PEW asked, Do you use your online profile for..., the below were the results for adults,
  • Stay in touch with friends - 89%
  • Make plans with friends - 57%
  • Make new friends - 49%
  • Organize with others for an event, issue or cause - 43%
  • Make new business or professional contacts - 28%
  • Promote yourself or your work - 28%
  • Flirt - 20%

So what does this mean for Australian government?
My research over the last twelve years of watching online trends closely indicates that Australians are much like Americans in their internet usage, but 18-24 months behind. Therefore if your agency needs to target people under the age of 35 then within the next 18 months it is likely that 60% or more of your customers/audience/clients/younger staff will be using social networks.

This gives Australian government 12-18 months to become proficient in effectively using these networks to engage with any and all of these audiences - for communication, consultation or employment.

That's a nice window to have - but it will pass quickly.

We need to begin now to align our communications and service delivery management with the mindset and skills required to deliver messages and engage audiences successfully through these channels.

We also need more agency experiments with social networks to build our practical expertise and IT skills.

The ATO seems to recognise this, with their e-Tax Facebook group.

While e-Tax isn't the most riveting subject for most of us, it's a tool with the potential to save both government and citizens significant time and money.

Facebook is the obvious place to find people who would choose to use an e-Tax package, and is full of people prepared to give their frank and fearless views on the current product, helping the ATO understand the improvements necessary to continue to broaden its appeal.

Canberra University is also actively using Facebook to seek new employees - quite a smart approach in my view, although I don't know how successful it has been.

So how is your agency planning to address the need to understand and adapt its communication and marketing to a mostly online audience?

What is it doing to build internal expertise in social networks and position itself to use these channels to reach audiences?

If instead you're waiting on the sidelines, what are you waiting for?

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

OpenAustralia becomes first to provide the Australian Federal register of Senators' Interests online

While on the topic of OpenAustralia, on 5 January the site became the first website to make the (Federal) Register of Senators' Interests available online.

Quoting from OpenAustralia's news item, Read the Register of Senators' Interests here,

Today is a big milestone. We are the first website to make the Register of Senators' Interests available online. This important public document until now has only been available to the small number of people who were able to visit the office in Canberra where the documents are held. In the Register each Senator declares information of financial interests, stocks and shares held, gifts received over a certain value, and memberships of Clubs and Associations.

The site is also seeking access to a bulk scanner to help them make the register for the House of Representatives' Members publicly available online.

Contact them if you can help.

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Gain an insight into the value of mash-ups - OpenAustralia podcast

Instantiate has posted an audio interview (MP3 podcast - 34Mb) with the founders of OpenAustralia, a non-partisan, website run by a group of volunteers site which aims to make it easy for people to keep tabs on their representatives in Australian Parliament.

The interview provides an insight into why volunteers establish this type of site, how Australians are using it and the value of supporting mash-ups of government data.

It also demonstrates how government departments (in this case the Department for Parliamentary Services) can positively and proactively work with community groups to support citizens (well done DPS!).

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Australia's 2008 eGovernment Survey results released

It has taken me a little while to post about this report, as when I first saw the media release in my webfeed I mistakenly thought this was news about the previous survey.

However having finally caught up, thanks to the eGovernment Resource Centre, I'm pleased to see that the 2008 eGovernment survey shows the same trends as previous years of increasing internet usage by Australians and increasing online engagement with government.

It also bursts a few of the prevalent myths about internet users, such as all internet users being young and hip (ok so they are all hip, but some of them are also older).

Some of the key findings included,

  • 79% of Australians use the internet, this decreases by age, with 94% of those 18-24 years old, 93% of those 25-34 years old, 90% of those 35-45 years old, 81% of those 45-54 years old, 74% of those 55-64 years old and only 44% of those over 65 years
  • Nearly two-thirds of people had contacted government by internet at least once in the previous twelve months
  • More than three in ten now use the internet for the majority (all or most) of their contact with government
  • The internet has replaced contact in person as the most common way people had last made contact with government
  • Those who use the internet to contact government have the highest levels of satisfaction followed closely by those who made contact in person. Those who used mail to contact government had the lowest levels of satisfaction.
  • Over two-thirds of people use broadband at home
  • More than four in five people use newer communication technologies at least monthly. The most common are email, SMS, news feeds, instant messaging, social networking sites and blogs
So, in short, 
  • most people can contact government online, 
  • more people are choosing online as their most preferred way to contact government, and
  • those that contact government using the internet are more satisfied.
That's a great story to sell to senior public servants!

The full report is available for download from the Department of Finance as, Interacting with Government - Australians' use and satisfaction with e-government services—2008

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Don't put the 'how' ahead of the 'why' for egovernment

I've been engaged in an interesting discussion in GovLoop regarding the definition of Government 2.0 and Web 2.0.

Initiated by Jeffrey Levy, who managed the official blog of the EPA, the discussion is around the proposition that Gov't 2.0 is a set of ideals. Web 2.0 is a set of tools.

Jeffrey contends that,

Gov't 2.0 means reaching out in new ways to engage people in helping lead, create policy, etc. It's not linked to a particular technology. It will usually be accomplished using technology, but at its best, I think it'll mix up good old-fashioned things like town meetings with stuff like blogs, wikis, and webinars.

Web 2.0 is a set of tools that can help us get to gov't 2.0. But you can't just throw up a blog and claim success.

I largely agree with this view. To quote my comment in the discussion,
I'm reading Groundswell at the moment and the book very clearly makes a point that I sometimes struggle to communicate well to my government colleagues. Government 2.0 is about a way of doing business which includes increased transparency, pro-active engagement and am innovation-based culture (rather than a risk-adverse/blame avoidance culture).

Web 2.0 are some of the technologies that can be used to support the transition, but are not the transition itself.

Leaders in the political and public sector space need to model Government 2.0 attitudes and behaviours, then allow their agencies to come up with innovative ways to realise these behaviours - whatever the channel or technology being used.

Often social media evangalists get too far ahead of the market, focusing on cutting edge technologies which frankly scare political leaders and agency heads. Instead they need to focus on the goals of the organisations and the benefits of Government 2.0 attitudes and behaviours in achieving these goals - the 'why'. Once there is agreement on these the approaches (the 'how') can become part of the discussion.

Essentially we need the agreement of senior public sector managers on the 'why' of Government 2.0 before we can achieve agreement on the 'how'.

Therefore as communications and internet professionals, we need to communicate to senior management the benefits to our agencies of greater transparency, active listening, greater engagement and greater consultation with our citizens, customers and stakeholders.

Only after this has been agreed (and in Australian government I feel there isn't yet total agreement at senior public service levels) can we tackle the 'how' questions,
  • How do we need to change our overall behaviours and processes?
  • How do we need to change our approach to communications?
  • How does the internet fit as a comms channel?
  • Do we need to use Web 2.0 tools?
  • Do we use open-source or publicly available software?
  • Do we build our own tools?

What do you think?

Come join the discussion!

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Share my story website sets a high standard for Australian egovernment offerings

I was recently alerted to the Queensland government's Share My Story website, which invites individuals to share their stories of road tragedies in order to help others rethink their conduct on the road and avoid future traffic injuries and deaths.

In my opinion Share My Story is an amazingly good website and a model for other egovernment initiatives by governments across Australia.

Developed using open source technologies, the site is simple to use, employs plain english, invites and supports participation and is cleanly and accessibly designed.

Launched this month (January), and already containing 35 real-life stories, the value and appeal of Share My Story to citizens is clear to me in the words of one of the authors, Bernadette Gilligan, when writing of the death of her first grandchild in a road tragedy,

Firstly, thank goodness for this website. I have been looking for something like this for 3 and a half years.

The site empowers citizens, giving them a way to share and reflect in a respectful and caring environment.

Stories are moderated, with clear guidelines on what can be submitted. The copyright arrangements are clear and stories can be simply 'rated' by clicking the 'saying thanks' button for stories that strike a chord in a reader, adding a star to a story.

It is easy to share stories across popular social networks such as Facebook and Myspace, bookmark them with, rank them in StumbleUpon or Digg, or simply forward them to friends.

There is also a mechanism to flag stories and ask for their removal in exceptional circumstances.

As the About Us page for the site states,
Sharing is a powerful phenomenon. When a community comes together for a common cause, it can achieve amazing things. We can actually reduce the road toll, and that means saving lives and reducing suffering.

This is the type of well-designed and meaningful service I think of when I think of egovernment.

I hope to see other government agencies across Australia work to empower and support our communities, citizens, customers and stakeholders in similarly appropriate ways.

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Winners of UK eGovernment awards 2008 announced

The UK has announced 11 winners and 10 highly commended initiatives in its annual eGovernment awards.

Selected from 68 finalists, there are many interesting initiatives that could be adapted and used by Australian governments to deliver better and more cost-effective services.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Democrats release 'bastardwatch' site in time for Australia Day

In possibly the most innovative use of the internet by an Australian political party (please tell me if you've seen better), the Australian Democrats have launched the site Bastardwatch, building on their motto, 'keeping the bastards honest'.

The site supports Web 2.0 features such as the ability to Nominate a prospective bastard, add comments to articles and even a game which you can virally forward to friends.

These sit alongside more common features such as a subscription tool and the ability to email several key politicians. The site also feeds into the Democrats online donations system.

Finally the site links to 'the new Democrat TV commercial' - which isn't really a new Democrats commercial, but is video of the fake commercials created for ABC's The Gruen Transfer - a great true-blue Australian self-critical moment.

Let's see more of this type of human face and Aussie humour from across all tiers of politics and government.

As we deal with deathly serious issues in government, and provide crucial services of one type or another to all Australians, it is critical that citizens are listened to and are part of decision making processes, and that the institutions they rely on aren't only represented or seen as faceless, uncaring bureaucracies.

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Law not keeping up with internet

In an example of how law isn't keeping pace with internet developments, last week The Age published an article, Problems with courts ordering service by Facebook, which considered the potential clash between an ACT Supreme court ruling and the terms of the US social network.

While the court ordered that a default judgement could be served on defendants by notification on Facebook, the terms of the social network state that "the Service and the Site are available for your personal non-commercial use only."

The Age article, by Nick Abrahams, a Sydney-based lawyer rapidly building his profile as an internet-age expert, stated that,

It seems unlikely that the service of default judgments in relation to a mortgage default could be regarded as "personal non-commercial use".

So we have a curious situation where on one view, an Australian court has given a judgment which may have the effect of causing an Australian entity to breach an agreement between the Australian entity and Facebook, Inc. To complicate matters further, the agreement is governed by the laws of the US State of Delaware.

It is possible that if it was put on notice of another such application, Facebook, Inc may seek leave to intervene in the proceedings and object to substituted service orders being made, on the basis that they would breach its terms of use.

On top of the issue above, I wonder if a defendant on whom a notice was served via Facebook could then appeal or counter-sue on the basis that the notice was served illegally, based on the terms of use of the site.

This raises a number of interesting questions around official commercial and government Web 2.0 services. Some allow commercial use, some only allow non-commercial use and some restrict usage to personal and non-commercia.

The ATO has a Facebook group for the e-Tax application. Does this fit within the 'personal non-commercial use' terms of use of the social network?

What about companies using Facebook groups to aid in selling product - commercial use?

How do laws in Australia and internationally need to change to better suit the realities of the modern world? (a question I am sure many lawyers, judges and policy makers contend with)

Or should we, as we do with most currencies, simply ignore the lack of legal underpinning?

National currencies began on the gold standard - where the government (or a bank) held $1 worth of gold for every dollar bill printed. Now these dollars 'float freely' against other currencies, supported only by a government promise.

Legal terms of use restrict how certain services are used, if these are ignored (or not tested legally), and other types of use is accepted, what underpins our legal system?

I am neither a lawyer nor a fish (read the article), but foresee interesting legal times ahead.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Anatomy of an online political (or program) campaign - social media lessons from Obama

Edelman Digital has published a paper that really drills into the strategy and tactics used by Barack Obama in his campaign to be nominated and then elected as US President.

Entitled, The Social Pulpit: Barack Obama’s Social Media Kit, the techniques used by Obama's online campaign staff, led by one of Facebook's founders, are useful in more than simply a political campaign.

The same techniques could be used by any organisation with an ongoing program or online communications need - ergo almost every public sector agency.

I've paraphrased some of the key strategies used below (the ones that stood out for me):

Provide multiple channels and depths of engagement
Allow individuals to select the channel and depth of their engagement with your organisation/program. As individuals become more confident over time, some will shift between channels to greater engagement levels.

Support super users
A one-size-fits-all approach to users (people!) doesn't take into account the natural propensity for some to become intensely involved. These high-involvement individuals are often key gatekeepers or community leaders and by supporting them in a leadership role they stimulate a lot of their followers to engage through generating trust and confidence.

This isn't new for the public sector - when government agencies meet with 'business leaders', 'community leaders', 'religious leaders' and so forth, these individuals are being given a level of engagement (and respect) by the agencies that reflects their influence in the community. Online is exactly the same - treat online community leaders (super users) with respect by empowering them with tools and channels that support them as leaders in their communities. Note this including listening to them!

Feed the online community
Give a person a fish and he'll eat for a day, give a person access to online content they can mash-up and republish and you'll feed a community for a lifetime.

User-generated content is at the heart of the internet. By supporting and feeding this with content that your users can reuse (in appropriate ways) your organisation will massively increase engagement and reach.

I know that government in Australia is often very cagey about appropriate use of data, and holds deep concerns over inappropriate misuse or material being taken out of context. However this still happens every single day in the media and in peoples' homes. In the US, where government data and photos is all copyright free there is enormous re-use and useful extensions to data through community engagement. in the UK the government is giving cash prizes to individuals and groups who can re-use government information to add value.

Even in Australia the most popular government site (roughly 1/3 of ALL traffic to government sites) is the Bureau of Meteorology - because people reuse the weather data in many different ways in many different websites and applications.

Liberating data builds engagement - appropriate usage can be addressed through existing copyright schemes (such as Creative Commons) and yes, the ABS releases data under this copyright already.

Go where the people are - use the tools they know
A large number of Australians use Google, Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, Wikipedia and a number of other sites on a daily basis. By comparison they rarely go to government sites.

Therefore to reach Australians, use the tools they already use in the places they already know.

It's not really difficult to understand. Federally we run 'community cabinets', government agencies run stands at public festivals and shows and police are told to get out into the community. To remain relevant and in touch, government must go to the people - both offline and online.

Plus this saves a lot of IT dollars by reusing existing infrastructure and tools. I've seen government websites go down regularly for maintenance. In comparison how often are Google, Facebook or Youtube offline?

Make it findable
If people cannot find you, they cannot engage with you. Ensure that you make the community (particularly community leaders) aware of what you're doing. Use simple web addresses and ensure you rank high in Google and other search engines (Yahoo and Microsoft Live). Search rankings may be rocket science, but getting listed isn't.

Right-size your infrastructure
Make sure that you put sufficient infrastructure in place to start with, and that it can scale upwards and downwards extremely rapidly. These days most major hosting companies allow very flexible bandwidth scaling, and if running virtual servers it can be very easy to scale the traffic limits of a site up and down quickly.

This helps both avoid messy and public timeouts, as well as minimising overspend when too much infrastructure is provisioned.

For the users it means they get rapid service when they need it - helping increase the stickiness and engagement of your program.

Put the right team on the job
Government has a habit of rating people by level rather than by skills. This means that often people are on steep learning curves or in roles they simply do not have the interest or disposition for.

It is critical to put together the right team, with the right skills and the right mindset to do the job right.

It's also useful to involve people with strong external networks, who can tap advisors that further extend the effectiveness of your online campaign.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Turning around undersupported intranets

Intranets have been around in various forms for around twenty years now. Many are firmly rooted as an essential tool in the operations of organisations.

However there are many organisations where intranets are still treated as costs or are not sponsored and supported at senior management levels.

In fact in last year's Global Intranet Trends report, 40% of respondents said that the lack of senior management ownership (stewardship or championing) of the intranet was a serious obstacle to intranet success. Only 33% of intranet steering committees had c-level executives on the steering committee (rising to 50% in the 2009 survey.

So how do intranet managers build acceptance and use of their intranets?

Prescient Digital Media
believes that one of the most important task for intranet managers is to be a salesperson for the intranet to senior management.

In their article, Selling an Intranet Redesign, they discuss different approaches to selling intranets to senior executives in order to gain appropriate sponsorship and resourcing.

However sometimes senior executive support isn’t available.

Where an organisation does not recognise the value of its intranet it’s likely that the intranet itself has suffered. There is limited investment, promotion or encouragement of intranet use. The intranet becomes a wasteland of outdated and useless content.

Many executives will have bought into the current situation and focus on adding value to the organisation via other avenues, essentially giving up on the intranet. Others will simply be unwilling to tarnish their reputations by taking on a losing intranet proposition.

So if you cannot find an executive sponsor willing to take a risk on an intranet 'nobody uses anyway', what are the alternatives?

Go elsewhere
Changing jobs is almost always an option. Find a different role in the organisation, or a different one (where the intranet is valued). This isn't a failure on your part, it's simply an acknowledgement that at the level you're at and for the money you're paid it's simply not worth mortgaging your own career, health, family and future to turn the situation around.

Make the intranet indispensable
This approach involves identifying information, tools or functions that are critical for the organisation and could be more easily managed or distributed via the intranet. You only need a few of these to start with - get them into the intranet and begin encouraging use, preferably with the support of the areas that need these tools used.

Over time, as intranet usage and value grows this can be sold to other areas to place their tools online. Eventually you’ll begin attracting high level attention as executives realise that they now have a stake in the success of the intranet as it is tied to the success of the organisation.

Build usage from the bottom up
Another approach is to add features useful to large numbers of staff, such as a tipping competition, classified and tools to support social clubs. While these are not work related the goal is to build usage and familiarity - creating a habit of using the intranet.

As more people use the intranet more frequently the growing usage can be promoted to management and the intranet sold as an effective mechanism to reach staff.

Note that this is a risky strategy - if the intranet becomes too socially orientated it can be devalued even further, seen simply as a staff timewaster than a productivity tool.

Show them the money
If you're numbers-orientated, calculate the relative cost of providing services via the intranet versus printing and distributing paper=based tools (such as staff directories, manuals, staff newsletters, presentations and forms).

Also look at the cost to the organisation of staff accidentally using old versions of material - because it was either emailed to them and they saved a copy locally, or they didn't get the latest printed version.

The overwhelming likelihood is that the cost of online distribution via your intranet is significantly less than that of other methods in common use.

This approach is particularly useful when organisations are cost-cutting. Demonstrating that the intranet can save your organisation money, rather than being a cost, shifts perceptions of your intranet. From being a weight around the organisation's budgetary neck it becomes a cost-saving tool, potentially even saving executive reputations.

Keeping up with the Joneses
Another tactic is to demonstrate how far behind your organisation is in terms of its intranet compared to similar organisations. Find examples where other intranets generated wins for organisations - such as cost savings, productivity improvements, staff retention, executive reputations. Even cases where intranets look better or do funky things can help.

Humans are trained to respond to the need to 'keep up with the Joneses', so showing these examples to the right groups can build the realisation that your organisation isn’t realising the value it could be and looks old-fashioned to outsiders.

This can help create some urgency to change and update your intranet to make it more useful and modern - though the process for achieving this has to be carefully managed to ensure that the outcome produces real organisational benefit and isn't simply lipstick on a pig.

Just start
Finally, sometimes you just have to just start improving the intranet.

If you don't start making improvements, achieving a few quick wins, you could be tarred with the do-nothing brush - making it less likely that you will get support (or promotions) in the future.

When you begin with an old, outdated intranet system there are more opportunities for improvement – including many that can be made quickly and cheaply. Use these to build momentum.

Even changes as simple as tweaking search, placing links to the most used tools on the homepage or changing the visual design can give you the wins needed to begin lobbying for resources and support for bigger changes that add even more value.

What strategies have you used?
There’s many other ways to turn around an intranet situation. What strategies have you used, or heard about?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How accountable, transparent, collaborative and consultative is government? Could do with improvement according to latest report

Accenture has released an international report, Leadership in Customer Service: Creating Shared Responsibility for Better Outcomes looking at the opinions of 8,600 citizens in 21 countries towards their governments.

Australia, one of the countries studied, performed moderately well. Australians were almost evenly split amongst those who felt that government was good at seeking their opinions, with 34% saying Australian government was good or very good and 38% stating bad or very bad.

The entire report, which is very comprehensive, suggested a range of options for government to improve their ability to collaborate between departments or with non-government and commercial organisations, as well as options to improve accountability, transparency and consultation.

Without going into detail, a number of these recommendations hinged on use of the internet and Web 2.0 technologies to enable faster and more comprehensive engagement.

The report is well worth a read - but prepare to spend a few hours absorbing it.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

A place to start for those totally new to Web 2.0

A great resource has been released via the Public Works Group to support people totally new to the concepts of Web 2.0 or social media.

Named, Your Social Media Journey Starts Here, the publication provides a basic guide to the latest online trends and how people are using the web to achieve their business and community goals.

Written by a public servant, it has very useful information for anyone in the public or private sector trying to get an understanding on online media.

The publication has been released under a Creative Commons copyright, meaning that you can modify it for use within your own workplace provided the author, Pam Broviak, is credited.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Benefits of universal broadband - "enormous" - UK Minister

I continue to be impressed by the UK government's approach to egovernance, and the understanding they have of the importance of broadband infrastructure to their nation's future.

Lord Stephen Carter, the minister for communications, technology and broadcasting in the UK, has discussed the importance of broadband access at a Westminster eForum and Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar on Digital Britain in London.

Reported by, the Minister made it clear that for him fixed wire broadband was only part of the mix, with mobile broadband also being a very important approach for the UK's future.

He also commented that,

"There is a convergence of need and opportunity that calls on government to make its contribution [to digital infrastructure]," Lord Carter said.

If the UK has an array of technologies delivering next-gen services, there is an opportunity for the government to change the way it delivers services to the public, he continued.

UK Telcos are already in the process of rolling out 50Mb internet connections (up from a slow 20Mb) and laying fibre to millions of homes to provide 100Mb access by 2012, and 1,000Mb access (or 1Gb) in the future.

I worry about Australia's ability to remain internationally competitive with our current broadband situation - or a future scenario when Australia proudly launches a 6-12Mb broadband network when other developed nations are already enjoying 50-100Mb speeds.

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Mosman council had launched online consultation site - Mosplan

Mosman Council is well known to online advocates in government as one of the leading public sector organisations in adopting online tools for consultation and engagement with their public.

As reported in the Online Community Consultation blog, Mosman has launched its 'Planning Mosman's Future' online consultation site with video and forums.

It's a great example of how a public sector organisation can use cheap or freely publicly available tools to begin a process of engagement with their constituents.

Sometimes I wonder if large government agencies, with correspondingly sized IT groups, overengineer expensive custom solutions when they could instead meet Ministerial, business and customer needs quickly and cheaply with currently available third-party online tools.

After all we are spending money from the public purse and it behooves us to spend it scrupulously.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

If you can't join them, at least counter them - US Airforce devises 'counter blogging' guide

Nextgov has reported in the article AF Counter-Blogs with Trolls that the US Air Force has developed a comprehensive 'counter-blogging model' to help Air Force blog commenters categorise the type of blogger and respond appropriately to negative feedback.

While I'd suggest that it's better to join the conversation, as a fallback strategy it's a good idea to have this type of framework to help agency staff understand the tone of the blogs they are reading and guide their responses. The Air Force model isn't a bad one to start with - and is available publicly online.

According to the Air Force's model,

if an Air Force member wants to respond, the model suggests he or she consider five things, which are always good advice to follow:

1. Be transparent. (Disclose that you are a member of the Air Force.)
2. Site sources. (Use links to video, documents and images.)
3. Take your time to create meaningful responses.
4. Be aware of your tone. (Respond in a way that "reflects the rich heritage of the Air Force.)
5. Influence. ("Focus on the most used sites related to the Air Force."

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It's time for government to consider the mobile internet

What do the Apple iPhone, Nokia N97, T-Mobile G1, Samsung Omnia, Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1, Blackberry Storm and Palm Pre have in common?


Yes they are all sleek, carefully-designed handheld gadgets with a focus on usability.

Yes they're also all 3G smartphones - meaning they provide mobile access to email, web and video as well as voice - most supporting free wi-fi as well as mobile telephone networks. 

They are also all relatively new - either released in the last two years, or in the process of release now (with Sony Ericsson investing in a very innovative campaign).

The Independent likes most of them too (Just how smart are smartphones).

However none of them can load a mobile friendly version of most Australian government websites.

Across, ATO, Centrelink, and more - most government departments simply haven't invested in creating a mobile version of their site. 

After a good look around, the most prominent government website I could find with a full mobile version was Multimedia Victoria - try it out on a mobile device.

Is mobile internet actually important?
I'll admit that for a very long time I was a mobile internet skeptic.

I was involved in developing a mobile platforms around the turn of the century, finding at the time we were too far ahead of the market (despite being showcased at several Olympics and winning international mobile awards).

I watched the WAP fiasco from the sidelines - predicting correctly that Australians would not be interested in taking up a service that provided slow and basic access to selected web content at a relatively high cost.

However since the release of the iPhone and others began scrambling to catch up with Apple inthe mobile phone market, I've become more optimistic about the future of the mobile internet.

It is still early days - only 7-16% of mobile phones in Australia were smartphones in October 2008 (depending on whether you believe Telesyte or Gartner). That's between 1.5 and 3 million  phones.

However with improving designs, usability and battery life and falling phone and data costs, Telesyte predicts that 30% of new phones sold in Australia in 2009 will be smartphones, as reported in The Courier-Mail article, Australia braces for the smartphone revolution.

For a country that buys 9 million mobile phones each year (and has more mobile phones than people), that means that another 3 million Australians will be using smartphones by the end of 2009. That's a total of around 6 million smartphone users - or 29% of the market.

Following the same trend, by 2012 the majority of Australians will be using smartphones with full internet connectivity.

Or maybe even sooner if you believe the more bullish figures from Gartner, as reported in the SMH article, Mobile Revolution: It's the year of the Smartphone.

What does this mean for government?
It's clearly still early days for the mobile internet market, however most major commercial news and portal sites already have a mobile version.

Why so? Not because they see a mass market ready to go. 

It's because they want to be prepared for the mass market when it arrives (in 12-24 months), having already established their position and gained the experience to avoid expensive mistakes.

It's also because most content management systems make it relatively easy to offer a mobile version. It's simply a matter of developing a few additional templates, tagging content and using simple scripts to detect they type of user device and serving up the right template and content. If you're more dedicated (or have deeper pockets), content and navigation can be custom-developed for mobile access.

Mobile versions of websites can also be created on-the-fly using services such as Mofuse (see my mobile blog here)

Now I'm not saying that now is the time to throw millions investing in a mobile version of your site. Just as mass market isn't there yet, neither is critical mass for most government departments.

However it's a great time to begin cheap experiments with the medium. Such as finding out how your website looks on mobile devices (ask friends with smartphones), and dipping in a toe by mobile-enabling part of your site - such as media releases.

You can also monitor smartphone use of your website via most website reporting systems - just in case your agency does have a large consistent group of mobile internet users that need special consideration.

This type of experimentation is good preparation for the day in the not-too-distant future when your Minister is asked, or asks, why your department isn't mobile ready.

It will ensure that at least you'll have an intelligent answer, the experience to back it up and the knowledge to implement a full mobile solution when needed.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Using teleworking to drive outcomes-based governance

I keep a watch on events in the teleworking world as an adjunct to egovernment - it is a move away from geographically restricted service provision and a strategy for betters managing recruitment and retention outcomes.

If much of a government's business is conducted online and by phone, and widespread broadband access allows teams to be in constant communication by video, voice and chat, the reasons for co-locating teams diminish.

This type of change requires leadership at the top to fully buy into the model and make it part of the organisational culture.

Over in Virginia in the US, led by the Governor, they've run the state since 2005 on an outcomes-focused model of governance, with the emphasis on results rather than traditional time-based measurement methods.

Reported in The Teleworker, one of the key initiatives Virginia has implemented was a teleworking program that is,

...enabling state agencies to improve productivity significantly, slash turnover rates and excessive leave time, and save money.

Quoting from The Teleworker,
"Governor Kaine immediately acknowledged that when it comes to managing by outcomes, the very natural question is: ‘Why do we care where you work?'" [Aneesh] Chopra [ecretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia] recalled, noting that one of the Governor's very first actions was to create an office to promote telework, managed by Karen Jackson, and he set an ambitious goal of enabling 20 percent of the Commonwealth's workforce to telework on a regular basis by 2010. "Telework became a very natural priority for us as we thought about outcomes-based government."

The outcomes have been amazing, from the article,
"This has rocked our culture," Chopra stated. "Prior to this, the attitude was, ‘Yeah, telework is important for the agencies because those people process paper, but we're really important people in the Cabinet. It's going to be hard for us to telework.' Gov. Kaine said, ‘Not in my administration.' Now, I must report weekly who teleworked and how many days, by name. That's leading by example."

The Tax Department, meanwhile, volunteered to conduct a telework pilot program, and the effort effectively illustrated telework's benefits - but with a few surprises, Chopra noted. Teleworkers who do mail processing achieved an 80 percent improvement in productivity when compared to the standard by which they're supposed to perform, while data-entry workers at home showed efficiency rates of 110 percent above the standard. In addition, employee turnover is considerably lower among full-time teleworkers at the Tax Department, just eight percent versus the overall agency average of 58 percent. This retention rate, coupled with productivity gains, translates into $141,000 in measurable decreases in retraining and job vacancy costs.

Today, the Virginia Tax Department's top executive teleworks, as do 62 percent of its eligible workers. All of this shows, Chopra told his audience, that telework "is not a nice-to-have but a need-to-have - especially in this budgetary environment. It's why more and more agencies are looking to telework as a strategy to meet the tough goals."

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Friday, January 09, 2009

How to save $2.6M in government by spending $50,000 - engage the community

I've been reading an interesting article about Vivek Kundra, the CIO for Washington District and an advocate for using new technology to cut government costs.

The Washington Post article, D.C.'s Kinetic Tech Czar, talks about how Kundra has re-energised Washington's government IT approach. As described in the article,

Kundra has introduced popular consumer tools to bureaucratic processes, runs his office like a tech start-up and works by the mantra that citizens are "co-creators rather than subjects."

Where in many governments around the world this would lead to him being shown the door, in the US it had led to him being invited to be one of President Obama's Technical Policy Advisors and his approach may be copied by the incoming US Chief Technology Officer.

Why has his approach been successful?

It's saved money and empowered both government employees and citizens.

One example illustrated in the article was his contest 'Apps for Democracy',

In October, he launched a contest called "Apps for Democracy" to encourage developers to create applications for the Web and cellphones to give District residents access to city data such as crime reports and pothole repair schedules.

"I expected to get maybe 10 entries, but we got 47 apps in 30 days," Kundra said. He said he spent $50,000 for the contest and prize money, and estimates he saved $2.6 million over what it would have cost to hire contract developers.

He also stays in close personal touch with what is happening across the commercial sector, regularly consulting venture capitalists and computer science professors, and spending time visiting the research labs of top companies such as Apple, Cisco and Google.

Kundra's approach is one I'd like to see adopted in Australia. An approach which aims to harness innovation and open the doors to government data. One that acknowledges that to maximise customer outcomes collaboration is at least as powerful a tool as control.

To give the final words to the article,
Arun Gupta, a partner at venture capital firm Columbia Capital who often joins Kundra's brainstorming sessions with District employees, said "there's normally a dividing line between the public and private sectors -- a different culture and mindset." A government agency could take years to make changes a start-up would do in weeks, Gupta said. "Vivek is someone who can bridge those sectors to really unleash innovation."

That strategy is likely what Obama is trying to replicate in the federal government, Gupta said. Giving citizens access to government data and letting entrepreneurs and other firms develop new technologies are considered cornerstones of Obama's agenda.

"You have to have the confidence to say, 'I don't need to control everything,' " Gupta said. "That's very much a Web 2.0 mentality. Is that the panacea to everything? Probably not. But it's a step in the right direction."

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How long does it take to adopt new ideas in government?

Often those of us within government, and those on the outside, can form an impression that the process of change, innovation and the adoption of new ideas in government can be very slow.

However sometimes it is worth a reality check - while the world appears to be moving extremely fast, in some ways really it isn't.

A great case in point is this article from Harvard Business publishing, The Greatest Product Demo Ever and What to Learn From It.

It talks about the first presentation of the mouse, hyperlink, hierarchical lists and other concepts that most of us now use regularly - 40 years later.

Most of these ideas, demonstrated by Douglas Engelbart, took at least a generation to become popular. Some, such as the chord keyboard (must faster and easier to use than the QWERY keyboards we use use from the earliest days of typewriters), have never become popular.

So when we look at the speed of internet development compared to the speed most of the world is moving, perhaps organisations aren't moving that slowly.

After all organisations are made up of people and people can be very slow to change.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Can virtual agents replace contact centre staff?

The US Defense department is currently investigating the development of virtual parents to allow children to communicate online with parents who are on active duty.

Reported by Nextgov in the article, Military hoping chat bots can comfort children when parents deployed, the article states that,

the military says it's seeking to "develop a highly interactive PC- or Web-based application to allow family members to verbally interact with 'virtual' renditions of deployed Service Members."

While the idea of faking out your children with a comforting AI may sound bizarre, other applications of this type of technology could save organisations significant costs, while maintaining or even improving service standards.

Rather than a virtual parent, consider a virtual contact centre staff, sophisticated enough to engage a human customer online via text chat and address their enquiry.

Termed a 'chatbot', 'online agent' or 'virtual assistant', these applications have been been in use for a number of years now to facilitate human interactions and perform basic administrative tasks.

The original concept comes from an application named 'ELIZA', developed in 1966. Quoting the Wikipedia entry,
[Eliza] parodied a Rogerian therapist, largely by rephrasing many of the patient's statements as questions and posing them to the patient. Thus, for example, the response to "My head hurts" might be "Why do you say your head hurts?" The response to "My mother hates me" might be "Who else in your family hates you?" ELIZA was named after Eliza Doolittle, a working-class character in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, who is taught to speak with an upper class accent.

While ELIZA was very basic, depending on the entries by the human in the conversation it could remarkably simulate a human for minutes at a time. You can give a copy of the original ELIZA a go online at Eliza test.

Over the last 40 years these types of applications have developed significantly, modern systems are very complex and able to learn how to mimic an individual by 'watching' how they engage online, such as MyCyberTwin.

They can also draw from a database or FAQ system to answer specific questions and learn how to become better at answering questions over time.

The ATO demonstrated a version last year at the ATO showcase and several companies now offer very mature and widely used chatbot technologies for supporting customer service initiatives.

These include eGain and Colloquis (owned by Microsoft).

A number of organisations already use chatbots for customer service in their sites. In the public sector this includes Almere City Council in Holland, Eurail and the US army. Commercially it includes organisations such as Ford and Ikea.

A list of some of the organisations currently using chatbots is hosted at

While no chatbots have successfully passed the Turing test to win the Loebner Prize, over a short specific conversation, such as an enquiry to a government office, modern chatbots may provide an effective first level of support, backed up by humans where necessary to address complex scenarios outside the chatbot's programming.

Is anyone in the Australian public sector currently looking at using chatbots to supplement their online (or phone) customer service?

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Does your department adequately manage your website?

As a former and current business owner I'm constantly considering and reflecting on our numbers regarding how well my agency's online channel is performing. My goal is to maintain an ongoing awareness of our performance and why we're performing in that manner.

To that end my agency has multiple web reporting systems in place and I use them regularly - given that I've been measuring websites now for over ten years and have a good feel for valid and invalid web metrics.

For me measurement leads to effective management. Without the information from measurement over time I cannot make good decisions regarding our online channel, provide expert advise to senior decision-makers, advocate for appropriate development of the channel or prioritise the content updates that are most importance to our audience.

However this doesn't appear to be the experience for all website managers across the Federal public service.

Per a report in the Canberra Times, the Commonwealth Auditor-General says many Federal Government agencies inadequately manage their websites, are unaware what they cost to run, and risk providing the public with outdated or inaccurate information.

The ANAO report, available as a PDF at Government Agencies' Management of their Websites was published on 16 December and involved a survey of 40 federal agencies, followed by an audit of five.

It found that agencies were increasingly relying on websites to provide information and services to the public and that,

This increased reliance by agencies on websites to provide information and services, brings with it a greater need for agencies to have sound approaches to manage their sites. Poorly managed websites not only increase the risk that information and services are not provided to website users at reasonable cost to government, but can have adverse impacts on other service channels such as extra work loads for call centres and inquiry outlets.
It also commented that,
All of the audited agencies monitored website user activity and satisfaction. However, none of the audited agencies reported specifically on how their websites were meeting their respective purposes and how they were contributing to agency business goals. Also, most agencies had little information on the costs of operating and maintaining their websites. Agencies with websites that pose significant risks to service delivery or that have multiple websites would benefit from an improved understanding of their website user activity, performance, and cost information.

In the forty agencies surveyed, only six maintained firm website cost data - meaning that the other 34 did not have a clear idea how much their online channel cost relative to other channels.

In another case the ANAO reported that one agency simply provided raw weekly hit data to management as a performance tracking tool, with no explanation of what 'hits' meant, nor what a good or bad outcome would be.

The ANAO followed up with four recommendations for agencies,
  • develop a clearly stated purpose for each website;
  • strengthen agency decision making through improved risk management;
  • review content management processes and practices; and
  • strengthen performance monitoring and reporting.

I agree with all of these recommendations. They're an important basis for the management of any type of channel, program, project or product - and a website is certainly no exception.

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2020: future of the internet

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has surveyed a group of internet leaders, activists and analysts on their predictions for the internet of 2020 - now only 11 years away.

Some of the predictions are very relevant to government and our role within society, such as views on organisational transparency, copyright and social justice.

In many cases the views of the experts were that while the internet would enable transparency and reduce the capacity for copyright to function under current models (with a constant arms struggle into the future), this would not necessarily lead to a fairer and more just society.

It's a very interesting and thought-provoking read, if not a particularly positive view.

It looks as if an internet-enabled utopian society may fall victim to the same human foibles, politics and power struggles as have all former utopian dreams - with a caveat that at least we'll be more transparent and open about it.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Vic government publishes intranet IA best practice analysis report

The Victorian government has published the Intranet Information Architecture Best Practice Analysis report, conducted by the IA Strategy project team in the Web Domain Group, Department of Human Services (DHS) Victoria.

The analysis is available in summary and in full from the eGovernment Resource centre.

One of the writers of the report, Suze Ingram, has also published comments on her blog as 10 Intranet Best Practice (and more...).

The best practices outlined in the report are supported by evidence statements from various intranet experts to help intranet teams support their case when arguing for improvements.

One of the most interesting sections for me is regarding adequate resourcing of intranets. To quote the report,

It is crucial to the ongoing success of an intranet, that intranet teams are treated and funded at the level of other vital business tools and projects. A successful intranet needs the appropriate staff and resources so they can research, develop and produce.

In his “Managing the Intranet and Teams” report, Jakob Nielsen’s research has calculated that the average size for a core intranet team is five people. As a percentage of an organisation’s total employees, the average proportion of people with responsibilities for the intranet is 0.27% (for an organisation the size of DHS - approximately 12,500 staff - this equates to 33 staff). Some of these team members had other job responsibilities as well; team members often worked only part-time on their intranet. Nielsen asserts that “this is a small number given that intranets are a majority productivity and communication tool for organisations”.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

TweetMinister launches in UK as central way to communicate with MPs

Co-incidental to my post about Twitter on Friday, in the UK the TweetMinister site has launched as a central way to track UK Members of Parliament using Twitter.

It's a very slick looking site, developed as a public service initiative by private organisations, designed to allow members of the public to view what MPs are saying on Twitter.

Currently it lists seven MPs, from all sides of UK politics, together with party Twitter streams for Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

It has received some attention in the UK already, with a mention in the House of Lords, which itself operates a blog site, Lords of the Blog.

TweetMinister has its own Twitter account (naturally), where the creators discuss the design and next steps for the site.

It wouldn't be hard for an organisation to set up a similar site in Australia - though it might still find it difficult to find many Australian MP Twitterers to follow. Perhaps a blog-based site would be more successful here to start with.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Twitter successes - case studies for government use

As the government is generally a monopoly provider of services it can at times seem less important to monitor customer sentiment on an ongoing basis or address customer service deficits...until an MP writes a letter to a Minister, traditional media picks up an issue, or the next election comes around.

Personally I see enormous advantage in monitoring public sentiment towards specific agencies and departments - particularly online sentiment (where journalists often get their stories).

This allows departments greater early warning of issues, with the ability to address them more quickly. It also provides a baseline of public perceptions that senior public servants can use when a Minister receives details of a specific incident, which might be able to be correctly positioned a complaint as isolated or used to support the case for wider reforms that an agency has already identified as necessary.

I've posted previously about the range of US government agencies and elected officials using Twitter, the most popular web-based 'micro-blogging' service, in various initiatives ranging from disaster recovery, through traffic management, policy development, customer service and monitoring public sentiment. You'll find my post at Twitter catching on in the public sector and List of US government Twitter users.

An upcoming book by Shel Israel will be recounting stories of how organisations have used Twitter to navigate public relations issues and deliver positive customer service experiences. It will also contain some of the examples where organisations ignored online conversations and lost business and public reputation.

Shel has begun publishing notes about some of the case studies he'll be using in his book in his blog, Global Neighbours. These include,

  • U-Haul - where a single bad experience has echoed to more than 10,000 people and taken up in broader media,
  • Zappo - a US-based online retailer founded in 1999, now selling more than US$1 billion per year, which uses Twitter as a tool to carry the corporate culture beyond the organisation's walls to establish credibility with customers,
  • HR Block - who uses Twitter to build bridges with Gen X and Y clients just entering the tax paying arena, in order to lock them in as customers for life, and
  • Ford - who used Twitter to minimise a major reputation issue which could have created national media headlines - but only because they had built online credibility over time prior to the issue.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Selecting the right online tools for community consultation

The International Association for Public Participation has developed a Community Engagement Spectrum (PDF) to assist public servants in selecting the right approaches to use in different forms of public engagement.

The Online Community Consultation blog has built on this, with a post, Which Online Tools are Right for your Project? detailing a chart of some of the online tools that can be used for different forms of community engagement.

While the post is slanted towards the features in 'Bang the table' it's still a useful guide as to which online tools are best used for particular engagement needs.

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