Friday, February 27, 2009

Hansard Society telling UK MPs to engage online

A report has been co-published by the Hansard society and Microsoft discussing how UK Members of Parliament are using the internet and providing strategies on how they can better use the internet to engage with their constituencies and with interest groups.

It's been highlighted already in the Victorian eGovernment Resource Centre, and discussed widely in UK government blogging circles.

Entitled MPs online: Connecting with Constituents, according to Kable, the report found that while 92% of MPs used email and 83% had a website, only 23% used social media and 11% blogged.

The report urged MPs to,

develop strategies for online media that include assessing the target audience, whether the site is interactive and what resources are needed. It also says they should develop a clear policy for the use of email, publicise it on their websites, and provide automatic responses to senders.

Among the other recommendations are that they
- create links from websites to social networking pages and vice versa;
- ensure people referencing material provide a link to the source;
- make better use of community created digital media, including websites;
- support third party projects that promote democratic engagement; and
- connect their online and offline communications strategies.

It also urges the parliamentary authorities to review the access to its digital archives and consider the licensing and re-use of the content.

All of these are good sense in my view and reflect the same approach that government needs to take in Australia.

The report also highlighted that the internet is still being considered a one-way broadcast medium by MPs rather than as a two-way channel,
Andy Williamson, director of the eDemocracy programme at the Hansard Society and author of the report, commented: "MPs are transmitting and not receiving. They use the internet as a tool for campaigning and for organising their supporters, rather than opening up two-way communication with constituents."
Essentially this report reflects the comments made by Joe Trippi at yesterday's Politics and Technology forum.

As both US and UK commentators are saying the same things about what government and MPs need to be doing online, perhaps we'll see more local movement towards embracing the online channel across government.

A PDF copy of the report is available at the Hansard Society's website.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Politics and Technology forum liveblog

This is my first go at liveblogging so bear with me.

A more professional liveblog of this event is on over at Stilgherrian's blog.

Here's a picture of the panel

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Government and the social life of brands - how to benefit from interacting with customers through social media

Everyone knows what brands are, 'products' that have been strongly linked to a specific (brand) name, lifestyle, belief or emotional attachment in order to establish their relative value to consumers.

As defined by David Ogilvy, a brand is:

The intangible sum of a product's attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it's advertised.
Brands can be established around tangible and intangible goods and services, organisations or people - think Aston Martin, Coca-cola, David Beckham and Kevin Rudd.

Kevin Rudd? Yes I believe that government also has brands. Organisations such as Centrelink, ATO and Medicare, products such as e-Tax and people such as the Prime Minister all exhibit the traits of brands and can be marketed and promoted in that manner.

This makes it relevant to consider the latest report on the social life of brands from Ogilvy International, Can brands have a social life? How brands in Asia can benefit from interacting with customers through social media (PDF).

This report, discussed through their Open Room blog, looks at how social media is being used across Asia to accelerate and reshape the dialogue between citizens and between citizens and brands (including government).

In each of the twelve countries featured (China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam) the experience is slightly different in flavour, however the overall them and trend is the same.

This theme reflects the same experience in western countries such as the US, UK and Australia.

To pull out a few important themes considered in the report,
  • Consumer opinion counts more than ever
  • Social media is a pivotal part of the consumer's digital ecosystem
  • The Y-Generation live their lives in social media and if you’re not talking to them,
  • someone else will
  • Social media is all about managing 'influencers', creating a dialogue with the most important influencers and having them spread the word for you
  • Letting go of the brand is a reality of social media and it’s critical that the brand’s senior management fully understand the implications, and are willing to take the risk as well as commit resource
  • Social media success has to be embedded in honesty and trust by playing to the brand’s core values and ideals. No falsifications
  • Brands that disclose conflicts of interest, are responsive to questions, and permit negative as well as positive discussion are most likely to get accepted.
  • Brands need to be willing to contribute to be accepted in social media. Even to go as far as contributing unconditionally.
It is interesting to watch organisations struggle to accept and adopt some of the mindset shifts embodied in the themes above as they take their first steps into online participation.

Truth, honesty, openness and collaboration are all values that are highly regarded but are often difficult for organisations to embody.

I think the real dilemma many organisations, particularly in the public sector, need to first address is how to reshape their own culture and values to allow them to fruitfully engage online.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NSW government launches Anzac Day blog

The NSW Board of Studies has launched the 2009 Premier's ANZAC Memorial Scholarship students blog.

The blog features personal accounts by senior high school students selected to go to Gallipoli to participate in ANZAC Day commemoration activities.

The blog is a very personal way of connecting students with Australia's past, supporting the scholarship goal of ensuring that the Gallipoli story remains a living part of Australian history.

Although the trip is not for a couple of months, the blog is already worth reading to understand how young people are using the online medium to connect with their peers and help define their own feelings and experiences.

More information on the initiative is available at

Speaking with the people who created the blog, it was set-up in around 5 minutes using the free Wordpress service - demonstrating that the challenges governments face around blogging are more tightly linked to policy and resourcing than to technology costs and timeframes.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Government-related initiative tops Fast Company's "The World's 50 Most Innovative Companies" list for 2009

It's uncommon (at least in Australia) to see a government-related initiative promoted as a leader in innovation.

It's even rarer to see publications such as Fast Company, with its focus on the most innovative companies in the world, feature government-related initiatives.

However this year Fast Company's profile of "The World's 50 Most Innovative Companies" is topped by a government-related initiative. One which,

took a skinny kid with a funny name and turned him into the most powerful new national brand in a generation.
This reflects my view that the government could be one of the largest beneficiaries of the online channel. The internet allows government to have real conversations with citizens on an unprecended scale - participatory democracy in a way that has not been possible since communities grew too large to fit within a single town hall meeting.

To quote Fast Company,
Barack Obama's presidential-campaign team relied on technology -- what was known internally as the "triple O," or Obama's online operation -- to connect with voters better, faster, and more cheaply than ever before. The team has become the envy of marketers both in and out of politics for proving, among other things, just how effective digital initiatives can be.

More information can be gleaned from Stilgherrian's live blog of the Media 09 event, which featured Ben Self (a founder of the company BlueStateDigital who provided Obama's online community infrastructure) providing insights into how it was done.

Digital initiatives tick many boxes for government - in my view even more boxes than they tick for commercial organisations.

There are the cost, speed and reach benefits - the ability to contact, engage and solicit views from more people than ever before in a matter of hours or days at very low cost.

There is also the benefit of being able to speak with your own voice, making statements and holding conversations outside the moderation, influence and slant of media gatekeepers.

These benefits reach across all organisations, politicians and other individuals using the internet.

For government there are additional benefits in understanding the ongoing mood of a community and proactively creating and amending legislation and policy to better meet current citizen needs.

It is also possible to receive feedback on existing initiatives and develop collaborative policy and programs to help the finetuning process often necessary after legislation is introduced.

Finally, the internet allows government to mobilise a population behind a given cause or initiative, such as has occurred around the Victorian bushfires. For this crisis, for the first time ever, I've seen people 'retweeting' (forwarding) messages sent out via the KevinRuddPM Twitter account.

Of course there are hurdles that need to be considered - the need to be transparent (to a point), and the need to engage in a human-centric manner, rather than as a media statement robot.

These last two factors can be stumbling blocks for government. Transparency involves willingly admitting mistakes and committing to doing better. Speaking with a human voice requires a willingness to allow government representatives to do more than copy and paste the words of existing media releases - to inject their own style into communications.

These are both possible and in many cases already supported in other channels, such as radio talkback and live television. However often the internet is treated more as a long lead time press channel than as a real-time multimedia one.

For Australia to remain a leading nation in the world, I believe our governments need to overcome these hurdles, demonstrating innovative approaches to engagement and governance as we're now seeing in nations from the US to Estonia.

Time and citizen feedback will tell if we manage to do so in a meaningful way.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

How can we do better? Mobile web is just like desktop web from 1998 - Nielsen

Jakob Nielsen, often considered one of the world's leading thinkers on usability, has discussed the mobile web in his latest Alertbox monthly update, equalling the state of mobile websites today as similar to the state of the desktop internet in 1998.

I tend to agree that for many organisations this is the case, with Nielsen's comments all hitting close to the mark - abysmal success rates in users achieving their goals, pages requiring too long to download and featuring too much bloat, code crashes and excessive scrolling.

I've blogged previously about the need for government to begin more seriously considering and positioning for the importance of mobile sites. The growth of larger screen (and touchscreen) smartphones has finally turned mobile devices into an acceptable platform for web browsing.

A major point Nielsen raised was that many mobile sites are still being designed like desktop sites, just as in 1998 when websites were being designed like print brochures (ala brochureware).

This is a trend I've discussed previously - each new medium is first defined in terms of the paradigm of the last.

For instance, when television was introduced, programs were first structured like radio shows, and further back when movies were introduced they were structured like stage shows. The initial radio programs often consisted of an announcer reading the local newspaper on air.

It takes some time for society to begin to understand the true value of a medium and look on it as a new and distinct form, rather than as an extension of an older form.

This causes me to reflect on what the mobile medium will eventually become. Defining it in terms of a 'mobile internet' may be too limiting, too caught in the desktop internet paradigm.

Mobile devices have their own characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. For a government organisation - or any organisation to use these to best advantage, they must look at the specifics of the platform, not simply port their website to mobile (as they ported their publications to online).

Some of the obvious strengths of mobile include;
geo-location - it knows where you are
interaction time - people interact with mobile devices 24/7, whereas desktops require a conscious action
voice integration - voice communications can be embedded easily into the platform
photo and video capture - people can take photos and video anywhere, all the time

Some of the obvious disadvantages include;
Small screen size - makes displaying complex information more difficult
Short interactions - people make many more interactions with mobile devices, but most are only a few minutes in duration. Try concentrating on a mobile screen for an hour
reception quality - can vary enormously, making some online-only applications less usable
small keyboards - makes sustained typing more difficult
Many different platforms - there's less uniformity of screen size and internet capability (including cost of access) than on desktops, where there are a few dominant players

When developing a mobile site taking these factors into consideration will help your organisation develop more than a simple mobile port of your website, but a custom experience that helps people complete the different types of tasks they wish to complete on a mobile device.

So when you get your senior management across the line on having a mobile version of your website, ensure you also take them on the journey to understand that a simple reformat of existing content, navigation and functionality probably will not deliver the best result for your customers and stakeholders.

There's an opportunity to step beyond the desktop paradigm and deliver a mobile experience with real value. I challenge you to take it!

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Moving government community engagement into the digital age

Crispin Butteriss from BangTheTable has released his presentation from the recent International Association for Public Participation Australasia (IAP2) event in South Australa.

It's well worth a review.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

ATO launches credit card payment trial

The ATO has begun a two month trial of allowing the use of credit cards to make payments of all tax liabilities (up to $10,000 in value) via the government easypay site.

Details of the trial are on the ATO website.

When looking at egovernment, supporting credit cards payments is one of the few ways in which the government can directly support online payments within its own websites. BPAY and other similar online financial transactions are generally facilitated through a bank's website as a direct transfer from a citizen's account.

I'm encouraged that this trial has begun as it supports the case for other agencies to use the same approach for payments of fees and dues to governments - other than purchases of goods and services.

Over in New Zealand it is already possible to pay child support via credit card.

Increasingly credit cards are seen as being a viable payment alternative for government with less of the social stigma initially attached to supporting a high interest cost financial tool. The introduction of debit credit cards has helped this along and I'd expect to see the growth in their use continue.

The use of credit cards has been on the radar for a long time. Searching the Tax Office website, the Ledlin report, conducted in 2003, recommended the consideration of credit card payments,

‘We recommend consideration be given to a survey of Taxpayers on possible use of Credit Cards to pay tax. It is our belief that Credit Card payment would be embraced by many Taxpayers – it also has the added advantage of the ATO being paid in a prompt manner and the taxpayer then having the option of paying a financial institution over a period of time (which is the function of a financial institution and not the ATO).’

ATO response: agreed in principle.

I reckon the ATO has picked a good time to begin its trial.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

US government uses online social media to manage salmonella outbreak

Online social media is becoming an important tool for governments to engage citizens during emergencies to rapidly disseminate information.

in fact it is even beginning to be credited with saving lives during health crises.

According to Nextgov,

Federal health agencies relied heavily on social media to inform the public about the recent outbreak of salmonella tainted peanut butter, possibly reducing the number of death and injuries caused by the illness, according to federal health officials.

Officials with Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said social media helped them spread the word that peanut butter recall. The agencies used widgets, blogs, Twitter, podcasts, mobile alerts and online videos to warn the public that peanut butter manufactured by Peanut Corp. of America for institutional use and for additives in other products such as snacks may be tainted with salmonella. Eight people died and 500 were sickened by the infected peanut butter.

"The response has been really amazing," said Janice Nall, director of the division of eHealth marketing at CDC, on the public's reaction to her agency's social media campaign. "We look at social media as additional channels to reach people where they are."

The article, Agencies used social media to manage salmonella outbreak, goes on to say that agencies were surprised with the response, with the widget, designed for use in websites, blogs, Facebooks and MySpace, was accessed 1.4 million times in nine days.

We've begun to see similar use of tools such as Twitter and widgets in Australia at state government level, and hopefully the success of these tools will see greater use across all Australian governments.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wellington city government begins online consultation for long-term plan

Wellington city in New Zealand is preparing for its next ten year plan (2009-2019) and has launched a website, Wellington long-term plan, to facilitate citizen involvement in the planning process.

The site features an ideas market-based discussion area allowing citizens to suggest ideas, then vote on different suggestions to provide their vision and priorities for the city's future, as well as a budget simulator where you can try your hand at balancing the trade-offs a city government needs to make when allocating funds.

There's also various documents and other information provided to inform citizens on different planning topics and a great introduction by the Mayor (below).

A side benefit, through the budget tool, is to better educate citizens in the hard choices necessary in government. After you've attempted to balance the budget and read about the consequences of the choices, it provides citizens with a clearer view of why the government makes certain decisions. This can help when selling a revised budget to citizens (they even make the budget comments by citizens available online).

Now if you consider that the main tools used to deliver this site are available online freely or at a very low cost (ideas market, budget simulator, youtube and poll tool), even factoring in overall website integration, moderation and the need to guide people to the site via other media and promotional channels, this is an extremely cost-effective form of consultation for government at any level.

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Integrating online media into a persistent channel

There's been a lot of 'bitsa' initiatives in Australia around the online channel as both the private and public sector come to terms with the new online options to support communication, collaboration, consultation and engagement.

However it's been rare to see effective integrated use of online channels in a co-ordinated fashion to support ongoing initiatives.

I'm not quite sure why this is so - perhaps the newness of the channels and relative inexperience of local online practitioners, the process of piloting new approaches in organisations (one step at a time) or the need to overcome resistance and achieve buy-in across various groups and management levels.

I think this change in thinking is just beginning to take root. Rather than simply posting a video, creating a short-term blog or taking steps into online conversations through forums, I am seeing more initiatives making use of a diverse set of online tools in a more consistently integrated fashion.

I have been doing a lot of thinking around how to implement an integrated department or agency level online channel, integrating various tools from blogs, forums, wikis, video and podcasts through to idea markets, social networks, virtual worlds and micro-blogs (plus new media as they become available and grow in usage - such as mobile platforms).

The aim is to create an ongoing conversational channel with citizens and stakeholders rather than a short-term promotional 'flash-in-the-pan'. This would become an established engagement channel for an agency, facilitating long-lasting customer relationships.

This channel would sit alongside and support existing channels such as face-to-face, other media avenues and various stakeholder and citizen groups to enable an agency or department to research, test, review and deliver initiatives and campaigns while receiving constant intelligence from the public to help it understand and maintain appropriate alignment with community values and needs.

This is the 'end-game', so to speak, that I've been interested in achieving since joining the public sector - making government agencies more accessible and responsive to the community they serve while ensuring appropriate transparency and accountability is maintained.

I'm interested in chatting with anyone who has been thinking in a similar vein, or has implemented such a system. Please drop me a line.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Vic government releases Facebook/Myspace widget for bushfire support

Capitalising on the huge Australian audience on Facebook (over 4 million people) and MySpace, the Victorian government has bolstered its online response to the Victorian bushfires by developing a widget that provides news and updates while encouraging donations.

The widget is available from the Premier's website and is also in Vic Premier's own Facebook profile. It is down the page in the left-hand column.

For those of you who use social media, you can install the Facebook application from and the MySpace application from

The widget was developed using SproutBuilder, a (currently free) tool for creating widgets.

Just in case you were wondering how long it takes or how hard it is to build these widgets, Dave Fletcher has posted in his Government and Technology Weblog, v. 2.0 that he built a widget as a practice for an eGovernment Product Management Council meeting. Using SproutBuilder for the first time, it took him about 15-20 minutes. These widgets can be embedded on any website or leading social media site, such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Friendster, Blogger and Typepad.

The Vic government is also using YouTube, Twitter and blog-like comments pages via the Vic Premier's site to help engage and communicate with people in relation to the bushfires.

I hope that other governments across Australia will learn from these examples and do more themselves to better engage people via their most preferred channel for interacting with government.

After all, in these cost-conscious times, it's also the most cost-effective channel for getting direct messages to the public.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Journalists leaping onto Twitter - should government?

The micro-blogging platform Twitter was the breakthrough social media tool for journalists in 2008. It became a pipeline for breaking news for both professional reporters and citizen journalists, with the massacre in Mumbai, the Hudson River plane crash and Obama's inauguration highlighting its effectiveness as a source of live, user-generated online content.
The statement above, from a recent article published in MediaShift, How Journalism Students Used Twitter to Report on Australian Elections, highlights how rapidly Twitter has become a relevant and important tool for media and citizens to tell stories and share news.

The story provides a good case study on how Twitter can be used by journalists (albeit from an educational standpoint) and leaves me with one main question.

If Twitter is increasingly important as a tool for news dissemination and citizen engagement, should government be making a solid commitment to the platform?

We do have government 'twitterers' in Australia already. On the political level Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd's office and the Greens are all twittering.

At a Department/Agency level, the project twitters, as does Mosman council and QLD government's SharemyStory.

It has also been used to share information during the Victorian bushfires by CFA - which I avidly followed during a trip back from Sydney where Twitter on my phone was my only media option.

However these initial toes dipped into Twitter pale alongside the uses the US and UK are now putting Twitter to in government circles.

So how should government determine if it should make greater use of Twitter (and in what ways?

I'm a fan of the hands-on approach. I recommend that you set yourself up with a Twitter account, find a few interesting people from one of the many top twitterers lists out there, then listen to them using the service.

Don't simply use it once then leave, that's like turning on a TV for five minutes, only catching ads and walking away with the impression that all television is advertising. Instead use it for several weeks, or even several months, particularly during a major news event. You will gain an appreciation for the benefits and downsides of Twitter - without having to necessarily start 'twittering' yourself.

What will it cost you? A bit of time and in return you'll be able to properly assess the value of the system and become the strategic expert on the topic for your agency.

Surely that's worth the investment of a few hours.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How well do Australian government sites meet WCAG 2.0? - still some way to go states new report

While I've not yet seen an official statement confirming whether Australian government will support the second version of the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), there has been a report released by UsabilityOne reviewing 12 Federal Government websites against the guidelines.

The Accessibility Industry Report found a number of issues across the sites that would need to be addressed for them to be WCAG 2.0 compatible.

To quote UsabilityOne,

None of the websites audited adhere to all criteria in the latest accessibility guidelines.

Have you looked into making your site compliance with WCAG 2.0?

Or are you waiting for the official government position?

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

UK government's HM Revenue & Customs service now collecting opinions online alongside tax

The UK government's HM Revenue & Customs service (roughly equivalent to the ATO) has launched an online consultation site seeking public input into its proposed charter.

Named Have your say the site asks citizens to answer questions around the proposed charter and provide their views of what it contains and should contain.

It's a fairly basic consultation process that could be supported through many survey tools, however it is equally very powerful in inviting citizens to directly comment on policy before it becomes enshrined in law.

Over in the US the new President has also instituted a mandatory public review stage for most legislation, making it available online for public scrutiny and comment before it is considered by the Senate.

These steps represent the scope of the shift the internet can provide democracies, taking representative democracy back to the people via direct policy consultation.

Naturally not all citizens choose to comment, however the process can add an additional level of realism to government legislation, ensuring a higher consultation bar than has been possible using paper-based communications tools.

I'm looking forward to posting about the first Australian initiative of this type - so if anyone know of one, please drop me a line.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

BarCamp Canberra coming up - 28 March

The second BarCamp Canberra has been confirmed for 28 March, to be held at the ANU.

In case you're not familiar with the concept (quoting from the official site),

A BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from participants. Here is a quote from the wikipedia description:
'BarCamp is an international network of unconferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants — focusing on early-stage web applications, and related open source technologies and social protocols.'
BarCamps are a global phenomenon, regularly held in at least a dozen countries, from the US to India to New Zealand.

The UK has previously held a very successful Government-only BarCamp and, due to the nature of Canberra, many attendees of the previous Canberra BarCamp last year worked within or in areas related to government.

BarCamps are not-for-profit and cost nothing to attend.

More information is available at the official BarCamp Canberra site or at the Facebook group.

Podcasts of previous presentations are available online at

Note that I am personally on the committee coordinating the event and will be presenting on the day.

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What would you do? Balancing intranet needs across corporate and local objectives

James Robertson of Step Two Designs has published an interesting scenario regarding how a mid-sized government agency can meet global needs (corporate communications, top-level strategy, culture), while also meeting varying local needs.

He's opened the floor for ideas on how to most effectively support the needs of both management and staff.

Judging by the comments so far, this isn't a unique challenge. A number of Departments and agencies are wrestling with similar scenarios and the tensions between top-down and bottom-up needs.

Take a look over at Tackling the global-local challenge?

Type rest of the post here

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Government 2.0: The Rise of the Goverati

The US has had a watershed year for government and political use of the internet.

The Obama campaign has triggered a series of initiatives both at public sector and political levels by demonstrating that millions of people are willing and able to engage and mobilise online.

Now the US is beginning to talk about the rise of the new breed of public servants and political players. Those that are web and social media savvy and looking to use the online channel for the benefit of citizens.

This is covered in a new post in ReadWriteWeb, Government 2.0: The Rise of the Goverati.

I'm keeping a close eye on this trend.

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US military launches website to cut software development time from years to weeks

The US's Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has launched the site supporting software developers to collaborate online in developing open-source software for engineering applications.

The goal is to cut software development cycles from years to weeks, saving costs and improving time to market enormously.

Reported in Nextgov in the article, Defense launches online software development site,

The collaborative open source software development site, called, is modeled on the widely used SourceForge open source Web site, which provides Defense software engineers with the environment and tools to create Defense software for engineering applications in weeks, rather than the years it usually takes, David Mihelcic, the agency's CTO, told the monthly meeting of the Washington Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

The site, launched on 23 January, has already delivered its first software package.

This type of approach and application to software development is not new. Linux and similar systems in widespread use were developed in this type of collaborative, fast iteration environment.

Any organisation or administration capable of stealing the jump on others by speeding their software development cycles by a factor of ten or more is likely to have a large competitive advantage into the future.

In fact I'd go so far to say that in the future those who do not adopt this more cost-effective method of software development are likely to find themselves losing ground to more highly evolved organisations and nations.

imagine the efficiencies of having a whole-of-government collaborative software development site where developers across agencies could share code and coding techniques, evolving whole-of-government standards and supporting each other in developing better software and systems for a variety of government departments.

Simply the ability to reuse code developed by other agencies would save government millions. The potential of incorporating major non-government partners into the mix on specific projects would add even more to the value.

Certainly security would be a consideration, however the systems exist to manage this effectively and policies and processes could be placed around such a vehicle to reduce risks of inappropriate code escaping into the wild.

Clearly, with the US Military leading the way, this isn't simply a pipedream, it's an important strategy for future survival.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Can Australian government become more playful?

I'm a keen PC and console gamer, as are many of my friends around the same age.

In fact I've been playing electronic games since about the age of 8 - which means I've been playing for about as long as the average Australian gamer is old (30 years old).

While my parents feel I am a bit strange to be playing games at my age, actually I am in the majority. 68% of Australians play PC and console games (and 88% of households had a device for playing PC or console games), based on the Interactive Australia 2009 report from Bond University, conducted on behalf of the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia (IEAA). Links to the report are below.

Now these are not people who simply pick up a game controller a few times a year. Half of all gamers play daily or every other day and another quarter play once a week, for an average game session of an hour.

Games are also not the teenage male preserve that some people appear to believe. 46% of gamers are female, with games such as The Sims, SingStar and Wii Fit doing a great deal to widen the demographics.

70% of parents play games - alongside 80% of their children (including mine).

About 84% of Australians aged 16-25 play computer and console games. That's almost as high as the number who watch TV or surf the internet. And 52% of those over 50 years classify themselves as gamers. That's more than use the internet!

In fact Australians paid twice as much on PC and console games as they did on movies in 2008 - $1.9 billion dollars, continuing a growth trend for games that has been reported over the last five or more years (incidentally music sales were much lower than movies).

Finally, 75% of gamers say interactivity in games makes them more educational
than other media.

So given the huge interest in gaming by the Australian public, shouldn't government be getting a little more playful in how it presents information?

Gaming in the public sector
We've already seen some successful gaming initiatives in Australian government, notably by the Department of Defence, who has developed a series of games to attract, interest and engage younger people to sign-up for a military career.

These mini-games have been quite successful, although they are not as large a production as America's Army - the US Army's game, which is as well-designed and polished as commercial game titles (and also quite fun).

There have been some other game-like entertainment activities produced by Australian agencies from time-to-time, particularly by Queensland Transport who has a kids' entry point similar to the US Federal government's

However there have been few attempts to provide solid entertainment-backed education or communications strategies for adults by the public sector. Maybe it's a dignity thing, but it seems that many Australian government agencies aren't yet ready to let down their bureaucratic hair and be playful.

I hope this changes in the future. In fact if gaming continues to grow I believe it is almost inevitable. I'd hazard a guess that the majority of public servants - like the majority of Australians, play games at least semi-regularly. As the average age of gamers increases (from 30 years old), so will the willingness of public sector organisations to experiment with more interactive and fun ways for citizens to engage with government.

Then again why wait?

I have been deeply involved with games throughout the last thirty years, so figured I should point out my bias here.

I am an avid player of games across online, PC, console and mobile platforms (often with my children), and a frequent visitor to the world of Azeroth (along with 10 million others).

I also have a background as an editor of an online gaming publication, in game review writing and in game design, both for commercial games (one as lead designer) and game-based activities for 'boring' companies (including many on this page - try out the rock concert!)

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Microsoft online campaign encouraging US government IT officials to post best practice videos

Over in the US Microsoft is running a major campaign targeting government which aims to collect best practice videos from senior IT leaders in the public sector.

Based on the premise that shrinking government budgets means that IT has to achieve more with less, the Bright side of Government site aims to,

spotlight the “bright side” of IT in the government sector with videos, by you and from you, that showcase how government IT pros are putting technology to use to help state and local government agencies do more with less.

Videos are viewable from the campaign's Youtube site - government star.

There are a number of videos already from CIOs and other senior public IT officials, however my favourite so far is the video below from the State of Missouri.

Are we ready for that kind of online knowledge sharing with the goal of reducing costs here in Australia?

And can Australia public sector IT professionals script and shoot better videos than their US counterparts?

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The reality of marketing and comms today

Marketing just isn't the same anymore - customers are harder to reach, they trust brands less and spend their time listening to each other rather than to media or to corporate or government marketers and communicators.

Yet many comms and marketing people are still stuck on the 'shout louder and longer' theory. If someone isn't listening, the theory goes, you keep shouting at them louder and louder until they MUST listen to you.

It's an interesting theory - one that I sometimes see English speakers use to attempt to reach those who speak other languages. The twin fallacies of the approach are that people can simply walk away (switch you off) or may not actually understand you in the first place. They may also find you obnoxious and rude and go tell all their friends that.

The other communications approach I see used a great deal is the 'love'em and leave'em' or 'big bang' approach. An organisation will go for saturation coverage, a big launch event and then - nothing. After launch they settle back to assess the numbers, maybe doing a mini-relaunch every now and then to attempt to regain interest. Big launches are good fun and I've participated in a number of them over the years, but they don't shape lasting impressions.

As most people have discovered, it is hard to build a long-term relationship with another person by leaping out of a box with a bunch of flowers while a plane skywrites their name in the sky and then ignoring them totally for the next year.

So what's another option?

How about starting with a conversation - simply talking to your customers without expectations or attempting to direct or control the conversation. Over time, as trust builds your relationship, you can inject ideas or build on suggestions and co-create a product, service, policy or program in collaboration with your audience.

Sounds crazy? It's been done - with everything from government policy (in New Zealand) to beer. In fact it even has a name - relationship marketing.

Even if you think this approach is too out there, or would take too long, it's clear that our audiences have changed their behaviours. Old marketing techniques are less effective and old marketers need to learn new tricks.

And if you believe that just because we're in government we're different in some way, sorry no. People are bombarded with advertising all the time. Putting an Australian crest into an ad doesn't mystically help it cut through the morass of messages. We have to do better than that.

Steve Collins from AcidLabs recently blogged about the video below in his post Engage them.

As a marketer I found this video tells a compelling story of how markets have changed.

The big question for me is - have government communicators?

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Social Media and the Federal Government - Perceived and Real Barriers and Potential Solutions

The name of this post is the title of a paper published by the US Federal Web Managers Council, the peak body for federal government web managers in the United States.

The US is facing similar policy, legal and privacy issues around the use of Web 2.0 tools and this paper is a step towards consistently addressing them across agencies.

The paper is almost as useful for Australian government web managers and senior public servants.

The full paper is available at in PDF format as, Social Media and the Federal Government: Perceived and Real Barriers and Potential Solutions

To help tempt you to read and circulate the paper, topics contained within it (each detailing the issue and potential solutions) include,

  • Cultural issues and lack of a strategy for using these new tools - Many [US] agencies view the use of social media as a technology issue, instead of a communications tool, and management decisions are often based solely on technology considerations. In many cases, the focus is more on what can’t be done rather than what can be done.

  • Employee access to online tools - Many [US] agencies block their employees from using sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia. They make one of three arguments, all of which can be addressed through effective policies and management controls.

  • Terms of service - Most online sites require account owners to agree to terms of service that [US] federal agencies can't agree to

  • Advertising - Many vendor sites place ads on all their pages; this is how they earn money from free accounts. For some [US] agencies, this raises ethical concerns when government content appears near inappropriate advertisements (pornography, hate, political, etc), because it can give the appearance that the government is endorsing the content. What constitutes “advertising” is interpreted differently across government.

  • Procurement - [US] Government procurement rules didn't anticipate the flood of companies offering free tools to anyone who wants to use them.

  • Privacy - There is no guarantee that social media sites will protect people's privacy to the same degree as [US] federal agencies.

  • Persistent Cookies - [US] Agencies are banned from using persistent cookies without approval from their agency head, which effectively means the [US] federal government isn't using them. This greatly limits our ability to serve customers' needs because our sites can't remember preferences or settings. It also means we can’t take advantage of sophisticated web services and analytic tools that rely on persistent cookies.

  • Access for people with disabilities - Many social media tools are automatically accessible because they are primarily text (e.g., blogs). However, some multimedia sites do not currently provide the opportunity to include transcripts or captioning, and many [US] agencies lack sufficient resources to provide these services on their own.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Does it take a command from the top to create greater egovernment activity?

Does it take a command from the top to kickstart egovernment activity?

It surely varies across agencies and jurisdictions, but in the US there's a clear view that a top-down approach will help unclog some of the channels and create high level attention to generating significant egovernment activity.

On January 21, the new US President Barack Obama released the following executive memorandum Transparency and Open Government. While it does not specifically mention the online area, it is a large shot in the arm for advocates of government transparency and web 2.0 use.

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.

Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.

I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

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