Monday, December 14, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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