Friday, October 29, 2010

Australia loses top 10 position for national leader tweeters

At least 33 national leaders around the world are now tweeting through official accounts - that's 20% of the world community.

Under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Australia was fourth on a list of the top ten tweeting world leaders, however with the transition to Prime Minister Julia Gillard our position dropped to 14th.

A report from Digital Daya, World Leaders on Twitter: Updated Ranking Report - October 2010 (PDF 698kb), maps out the tweeting behaviour of 33 world leaders. It also makes it clear that tweeting is not only for English speaking democracies - a variety of nation states are represented including Turkey, Chile, Russia, the Philippines, Rwanda and France.

It's an interesting glimpse at how world leaders are bypass traditional media channels, using a direct way of speaking to their people to engage without message distortion.

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How can we be knowledge workers without knowledge?

In this post-industrial society many of us are knowledge workers, using information as a key input to create new products, services and ideas.

Particularly in government knowledge is critical. That's why government departments invest a great deal of resources into research, stakeholder engagement and community consultation.

Without a reliable and diverse flow of information government can be crippled. Public servants can become unable to provide the best possible advice, Ministers therefore can't always make the best decisions and departments cannot quickly and cost-effectively track policy impacts and adjust policy delivery over time to address citizen needs.

So what happens if you cut knowledge workers off from important sources of knowledge?

I'd suggest this leads to less considered advice, poorer decisions and therefore worse outcomes. Money is wasted, service recipients get frustrated, citizens end up changing their votes.

In other words, cutting knowledge workers off from important sources of knowledge risks damaging the survival odds of Ministers and the reputation of the public service.

When it comes to online knowledge, government departments are constantly striving to achieve a balance between access to knowledge and minimisation of risks such as hacking, viruses and theft of information.

This isn't an easy balance - and sometimes the approaches to filtering sites can end up with unexpected outcomes.

For example, one of OpenAustralia's founders has just blogged about a department that blocks access to Open Australia - as the outsourced filtering service the department uses mistakenly classifies the website as a 'blog' and the department isn't able to amend the categories (though can make specific exclusions).

There are staff at the department wishing to use the site for legitimate work purposes.

This specific issue (which I am sure the department is rectifying) aside, does it still make sense to block a category such as 'blogs'?

Maybe ten years ago when blogs were new, rare and very, very specialised, they didn't contain much in the way of knowledge that was important for government deliberations.

However this the situation has changed. Blog platforms such as wordpress are now used for websites as well as blog - including by government departments, not-for-profits, businesses, peak bodies, and even political parties.

Also I'd suggest that blogs now come in all shapes and sizes - some are written by teams of experts, others are personal. Many have information and ideas that could help public servants shape their thinking, influence policy deliberations and affect the way services are delivered.

If they can be accessed.

I know that my blog, eGovAU, has been inaccessible to at least two large departments. More importantly, the Gov 2.0 Taskforce's site was inaccessible to at least one department during its consultation phase - I know this because it was brought to the attention of the Taskforce during one of their public meetings.

The APSC is using a blog to consult on Australian Public Servant Values, a blog is driving the APS innovation agenda and AGIMO is making excellent use of their blog for web accessibility, communications and new developments. That's not to mention another 20 or so government blogs I can think of.

Surely just this internal government use of blogs makes it necessary for departments to reconsider the basis for blocking 'blogs' as a category.

And that's not to mention all those stakeholders, individual experts and service recipients whose blogs contain knowledge that may be useful to public servants.

Perhaps there's even a Catch-22 here. If public servants are blocked from accessing potentially useful blogs they can't even assess them for value or build a case for allowing access. The only way they can do this is by taking a personal risk - doing their work at home, outside their corporate network.

So far this has just been about blogs. I've not mentioned forums, social networks and services such as Twitter which can also be extremely rich sources of useful knowledge - so long as they are not blocked.

In the OpenAustralia case, the reason given for blocking 'blogs' was that they posed a security risk to the department's network.

I wonder if this security risk is regularly being weighed against the risk to Departments and Ministers of blocking access to important knowledge.

Do departments need to revisit how they measure security risks and how they protect against them?

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The internet isn't a tool for democracy - it's simply a tool

Over the weekend I read an insightful an well written paper by Rebecca McKinnon of Harvard University. Presented at the two day 'Liberation Technology in Authoritarian Regime' conference on 10-11 October, the paper provides some compelling evidence that the internet is not a tool for democracy, it is simply a tool and can be used to support authoritarian regimes just as it can be used to support democratic ones.

Named Networked Authoritarianism in China and Beyond: Implications for global Internet freedom, and sponsored the Hoover Institution & the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), Stanford University, the paper discusses the use of the internet by China. While external sources of political news and influence may be blocked, the Chinese government is making extensive use of the internet internally to empower citizens in support of the present regime - using legal means and extensive censorship controls to channel online discussions into politically acceptable thread.

It discusses the rise of 'networked authoritarianism' - where an authoritarian regime embraces and adjusts to the changes brought by digital communications technologies and co-opts the medium. Permitting citizens the illusion of freedom of speech, the ability to discuss social ills and influence some government policies, while retaining strict control over political expression.

I think it is important to bear in mind that by itself the internet will not necessarily lead to greater transparency, openness and democratic governance. It requires the efforts of individuals and organisations to unleash its potential.

To quote two of Rebecca's conclusions:

The business and regulatory environment for telecommunications and Internet services must become a new and important focus of human rights activism and policy. Free and democratic political discourse requires Internet and telecommunications regulation and policymaking that is transparent, accountable, and open to reform both through the courts and the political system. Without such baseline conditions, opposition, dissent, and reform movements will face an increasingly uphill battle against increasingly innovative forms of censorship and surveillance, assisted by companies that operate and shape activists’ digital environment.

Finally citizens and policymakers of democratic nations must not forget that global Internet freedom begins at home. One of the most urgent tasks of the world’s democracies is to develop best practices for openness, accountability, rule of law, and transparent governance of their own digital networks. That is the best possible long-term weapon against the spread of networked authoritarianism. It is also essential in order to ensure the long-term health of the world’s existing democracies.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

APSC consulting on improving Australian Public Service values via public blog

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has just launched a blog-based consultation on the Australian Public Service (APS) values. It will be open until 12 November for comments.

This is the second stage of the consultation, the first stage used a custom online engagement system.

If you'd like to contribute to the consultation - or simply look at how they're using the blog, go to Our Values.

The APSC has also revamped their Senior Executive Service site with a 'live update' - essentially a blog but without comments.

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World e.Gov Forum review Part 2: Gov 2.0 case studies

This is the second part of my series of posts on the World e.Gov forum I attended in early October 2010 in Paris, France. The previous part is World e.Gov Forum review Part 1: Gov 2.0 flavours.

In this part I'd like to share six case studies of Gov 2.0 and eGovernment activity from around the world that I was briefed on as part of the World e.Gov Forum.

The briefing was held at Cisco's Paris office using their telepresence system to speak with each of the countries in turn.

Any errors in the information are due to my understanding of the programs.

India - lifting people out of poverty through connectivity
We first spoke with India, where the challenges for internet use centred around their low literacy rate (64.8%) and access to high speed (or any speed) internet connections.

The internet is seen as a key development tool in India, critical to help lift people out of poverty through access to knowledge, markets and services. In a country where transportation and communication is a challenge, mobile devices and internet connectivity are the primary infrastructure necessary for modernisation and civic enablement.

The country is experiencing a huge boom in mobile connectivity at present, with 15 million new mobile connections each month - a huge number in Australian terms, and while only a fraction of India's 1.2 billion people, it still suggests that most of the country will have mobile phones within 5 years.

In 2008 the government initiated a 10 billion rupee programme to roll out eKiosks in 100,000 locations, in the largest public-private partnership in Indian history.

The kiosks form the central component of Common Service Centres (CSCs) in rural districts, which allows online bill payments, booking tickets, applying for jobs, searching for market information, selling of local produce and broader internet access services. In particular the kiosks provide access to eGovernment services - allowing the Indian government to better service remote locations. CSCs are managed by village level entrepreneurs, and are designed to be a central point for villagers to access services and government schemes.

The project is being coordinated through a set of government partners, such as Sahaj, which has won the tender to roll out 24,780 kiosks in six India states, servicing 150,000 villages.

Currently over 84,000 locations are in place and are being used for telemedicine (allowing remote villages to access doctors), provide educational courses for children and adults, support the social inclusion of women, improve agricultural efficiency and a variety of other purposes. They also serve as banking centres.

The public-private partnership is giving local entrepreneurs four years of revenue support to help them get on their feet. As part of the rollout around 10,000 WiMax towers have been put in place to provide connectivity.

Canada - improving government efficiency through collaboration
As a economically and politically developed and stable country with huge geographic distances and a relatively small population (33 million people), Canada's challenge was how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the public service through enhancing collaboration.

Therefore for Canada we looked at a very different government initiative, GCPedia, the government's internal knowledge sharing wiki.

Originally established and released by the Canadian Government CIO as a pilot in August 2008 (and he didn't wait for political approval), the wiki was designed as a cross-government platform that could be used however Canadian public servants saw fit - within their codes of conduct.

By not restricting the ways GCPedia could be used, providing a blank slate as it were, other than the need to access it from a government IP address, this has unleashed enormous innovation, with public servants using it to meet their needs - from managing cross-government taskforces to organising car pooling.

There are over 200 active communities of practice and over 18,000 users (out of a potential 250,000). As the Canadian government representative said, once people get in they don't leave.

Over the last two years the representative said that people had become bolder and less scared of being seen. With this confidence had come greater usage of the service, fresh waves of innovation and broader benefits such as a greater willingness to engage with risk when considering public-facing engagement initiatives.

The service has provided great knowledge sharing benefits and started to become a corporate history for the Canadian public service - capturing information that otherwise left when public servants retired or otherwise left the service.

As in October 2010 the service has over 9,000 articles (pages) and 4.6 million page views.

The Canadian government is also working on their Gov 2.0 strategy, including guidance on social media use - using GCPedia of course - with a big launch planned for (northern hemisphere) spring 2011.

Bahrain - enabling eGovernment
Bahrain already has 120% mobile phone penetration, however computer-based internet connectivity is still low in many areas. A key challenge the country faced was providing government services more efficiently to the public by improving access to the internet and mobile-enabling services.

Bahrain partnered on a kiosk model in April 2010, with the goal of rolling out an initial 35 kiosks in public areas such as shopping centres. The intention is to roll out the kiosks over time in strategic locations across the kingdom. The free kiosks provide access to a range of eGovernment services as well as broader internet access.

At the same time the government has worked to roll out many egovernment services for both computer and mobile device access and now has over 150 integrated e-services available from 26 government agencies.

So far these e-services have collected over $44 million, involving 240,000 payments and 24 million pageviews.

One notable initiative has been the 'eBirth' service from the Ministry of Health which allows the birth of babies to be registered and their ID card ordered and paid for online as soon as the baby is born. This replaces a paper-based process which required significantly more effort from parents.

US - adoption of cross-government cloud computing
Next we spoke with the US regarding their new service, designed to be a framework to improve the adoption of cloud computing across government.

Launched only recently, has been designed to provide US Federal government agencies with turnkey solutions for many common business IT needs. Rather than having individual agencies identify potential solutions, conduct tender and due diligence processes, address IT security issues and host or manage solutions, they are all able to access a central 'bank' of services that have been reviewed, tested and certified by the government as a whole.

This provides enormous cost and productivity benefits. Services can be put in place very quickly, with little or no ICT costs (similar to AGIMO's provision of GovDex and GovSpace).

This is part of the US government's strategy to only build software where it meets a unique need and otherwise source it from the market.

Also part of the cloud philosophy, the FedRAMP program, aims to identify around 10 private providers of cloud computing services and certify them for US Federal government use. Agencies would then be able to pick and choose the cloud provider from within that group without needing to undertake significant additional due diligence to verify their acceptability.

The goal is again to reduce the duplication of effort by individual agencies conducting their own tender and review processes by providing a 'panel' of pre-certified services. It also is designed to reduce government IT costs while improving scalability and agility as cloud services are designed to be ramped up and down very quickly - so you have the capacity you need when you need it, but don't pay for it when you don't.

As another example of a cross-government cloud-like service, the US representative discussed their service, which I've mentioned in an earlier post. As a platform for challenges and prizes the service is able to aggregate communities of interest around specific government problems and deliver innovative and cost-effective solutions.

Germany - a single phone number for all government services
Germany discussed a slightly different approach to digital government, the unification of government phone-based customer service into a single phone number (0115).

In Germany people prefer to visit government offices, then phone and then go online (the direct opposite of the Australian experience). To save money and improve efficiency Germany decided to offer a single phone number for all government information across local state and federal levels (as the representative said, people don't know which specific agency or government level provides particular services).

The service is a work in progress and it will be several years before it is fully in place. The biggest challenge has been working with the internal systems across government. Many agencies don't have knowledge management systems or professional service centres and often do not have a formal understanding or statistics on the most common enquiries made to them.

The service, by integrating government information, will also support a standard approach for collecting information from people and reduce the duplication of information collection. It also has benefits for online, providing a central knowledge database which can be used to enable a single online point of contact as well, in the future.

The approach was touted as a potential cross-European service over time, allowing people across the EU to call a single number for any government service. Several other European states are looking at the 'one number' approach and eventually it may be possible to integrate them into a single solution.

Scotland - national telehealth strategy
Scotland has a separate health system to England, managed through the Scottish government, and saw a key need to provide services to remote regions and support people in living in their homes rather than increase the burden on the health system, and reduce peoples' quality of life, by forcing them into hospitals for long-term and chronic conditions.

One of the challenges they faced wasn't a lack of interest, but the sheer number of telehealth pilots being run all over Scotland. There were hundreds of little local initiatives underway, funded in a variety of ways and, in many cases, not readily scalable.

Another issue - as yet unresolved - is the definition of telehealth. The term is being used to refer to a range of different types of health delivery and there are also a set of similar terms, such as eHealth, in use - often referring to the same type of services. Even the experts haven't been able to agree on a common definition as yet.

There is now a central group in place overseeing telehealth across Scotland.

They are focusing on four key areas to start with,

  • Telestroke - monitoring people in their homes to detect strokes before or as they occur and get them appropriate medical support.
  • Paediatrics - providing access to specialist services in remote and rural areas, and providing better monitoring of infants for home births and in clinics so that the stabilisation time for distressed infants is shortened, reducing infant mortality and permanent injury
  • Mental health support - moving towards online services to support people at risk of or experiencing mental health issues, particularly counselling services
  • Management of long term conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease through remote monitoring and online support
While the program is still in early stages, it aims to marshal the shared experience of local pilots and health experts to provide scalable telehealth solutions for Scotland.

In the next part of this review I'm going to look at the finalists for the e-Democracy Awards, though at this stage I don't expect to have this part ready until next week (though I have a few posts planned in the meantime).

So keep an eye out for World e.Gov Forum review Part 3: e-Democracy Award finalists.

Read full post...

Monday, October 25, 2010

World e.Gov Forum review Part 1: Gov 2.0 flavours

Due to jetlag, work and other activities (such as TEDxCanberra) it has taken me longer than I anticipated to get around to write my impressions and review of the World e.Gov Forum I attended from the 13-15 October in Paris.

I attended the event as one of Top 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics for 2010, along with Senator Kate Lundy and eight others from around the world. As 'Top 10' we were also nominees for the International eDemocracy Award.

Several Australians, Allison Hornery and John Wells (of CivicTec), flew in from London to support us on the second day of the conference, listening to the nomination speeches for the eDemocracy Awards, attending the prize giving, in which Senator Lundy won the International eDemocracy Award, and subsequent dinner cruise.

I self-funded my attendance (with support from the organisers), taking leave to do so - which is generally how I attend international, and some domestic Gov 2.0 events - and found it was an excellent opportunity to gain insights into how Government 2.0 is progressing in non-English speaking nations.

In Australia we have a tendency to pay most attention to the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand as they are all majority English speaking and have political systems with similar roots - making them more accessible to us.

I've consciously supported this tendency in this blog because it is easier to learn what is occurring in English speaking jurisdictions and easier to communicate it to Australians. However English speakers are not the leaders in many areas of eDemocracy, eGovernment or Gov 2.0.

This was demonstrated during my trip, which also reinforced for me that there are different 'flavours' of Government 2.0 thriving in different parts of the world.

English speaking countries are focusing on Government 2.0 initiatives, increasing the openness and transparency of governments and increasing the level of community and public sector engagement. These efforts are largely led by government itself, supported to varying degrees by information philanthropy through not-for-profits (almost none in Australia and New Zealand, quite a few in the US and UK), individual citizens and the media or independent entities (primarily in the US and UK again).

In Europe eDemocracy appears to be the leading area, aiming to deliver social goods, increase the accountability of politicians and the transparency of governance processes, but without a significant emphasis on public sector engagement. Not-for-profits lead the eDemocracy charge, largely funded through government grants, followed by governments themselves at political levels.

South America has made progress on collaborative eDemocratic approaches, with a number of governments providing direct avenues for the public to influence government spending decisions (collaborative budgeting). Due to greater digital divides in these nations, governments are investing in innovative ways to provide digital access to citizens - mobile kiosks, internet centres and similar public access facilities supported by training and education.

The Middle-East is concentrating on eGovernment, digital enablement of government services. The area hosts a number of specialised eGovernment conferences each year and is using mobile services to address otherwise unconnected constituents, some of whom still follow traditional nomadic lives.

Africa has a huge focus on mobile technologies, as fixed broadband is too expensive to roll out into many remote areas and can be difficult to defend in wartorn zones. Digital enablement through information, such as providing weather, market prices and efficient farming practices to farmers, is very important. Emergency and disaster management are also big topics, with two of the world's best emergency/disaster management internet platforms emerging from the continent. eDemocracy is also a major driver, largely enabled through not-for-profit civil right groups using SMS and, increasingly, mobile internet to allow individuals to report electorate fraud.

Asia is a very mixed bag. India and other relatively under-developed countries are focused on eGovernment, with an emphasis on increasing connectivity and citizen enablement through literacy and computer skills programs. More advanced economies such as Malaysia, Singapore, China/Hong Kong and Japan, are providing more direct routes for citizen engagement but in forms that are culturally relevant to the nation, quite different in detail from Gov 2.0 initiatives in English speaking nations.

Each of these different flavours has its own strengths and challenges - and we can learn from all of them.

Tomorrow I'll publish World e.Gov Forum review Part 2: Gov 2.0 case studies - detailing six case studies from Europe, the Americas, Middle-East and Asia that we explored in a Cisco telepresence session at the conference.

Read full post...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Liveblogging TEDxCanberra

What gets 280 attendees, 10 organisers and 14 presenters to the National Library of Australia at 8.30am on a Saturday morning on a beautiful spring day in Canberra?

The first TEDxCanberra, an independently organised TED event featuring sessions on knowledge, empowerment and change.

I'm liveblogging the event so keep an on this post and the links below.

Website: TEDxCanberra website
Twitter accounts: #TEDx and #TEDxCanberra
Flickr Account: TEDxCanberra

Twitterwall: Twitterfall

TEDx around the world: TEDx Events

The presenters from TEDxCanberra
The presenters at TEDxCanberra 2010

The organising committee:
The organising committee of TEDxCanberra

And the Twitter stats (timeshifted to US Pacific Coast time):

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Bringing AIMIA to the ACT - plus AIMIA awards now open for entry

There's been a recent effort begun to bring AIMIA (the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association) to the ACT.

Coordinated by Reading Room, this is quite important to help improve education and standards in the interactive services being developed by government agencies and their agencies.

To find out more, and to get involved, visit AIMIA in Canberra.

Also the 17th AIMIA awards are now open for entries - including a Government and not-for-profit category.

If you want to improve the recognition of your Gov 2.0 and other online interactive initiatives this is one of the best recognised awards in Australia.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Adapting to change isn't easy

I thought I'd share this quote. It was sent to me by a colleague who read it on a social networking site:

Isn't email, intranet databases/webs and phones enough? Sounds like bureaucracy to me. Or is it another step toward the "nanny state" - sorry but I don't agree with large organisations/governments using social networking to communicate with their employees where does it stop? Next they will want camera's in the homes of employees! (sounds like a novel we all read once).

I don't condemn or scorn this view. It reflects the mindset of those who are familiar and comfortable with existing paradigms and don't see the need, or value, in change.

Right now, across the world, we are seeing an unprecedentedly large and rapid shift in how people communicate, organise, create and disseminate information.

From a media landscape dominated by a few large content producers with a mass market of consumers, we have shifted to one that is increasingly dominated by a mass market of content producer/sharers/consumers (the people formerly known as the audience).

We are still only in the early stages of this shift. New industries are forming, old ones are being destroyed - new jobs are being created and old ones are being replaced. Today only 25% of the world's population has access to the internet on a regular basis - what happens when this reaches 80%?

This shift scares some people, seems unnecessary to others and empowers and excites many more.

Every change process in every organisation needs to address those who are not convinced that the changes will necessarily be for the better.

The 'internet revolution' is no different. We need to educate, demonstrate, encourage, train and support those who do not see the benefits. Bring them along wherever possible - and move them out whenever it is not.

However given that even the doubters, such as the author of this quote, use social media to share their views about the lack of value in social media, the change is probably already irreversible. All that will vary is the timing.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Australian Senator Kate Lundy wins the International eDemocracy award for 2010

In Paris, on Thursday 14 October 2010, Senator Kate Lundy became the first Australian and 10th annual winner of the World e.Gov Forum and PoliticsOnline's International eDemocracy award - the equivalent of the Academy awards for eGovernment and Gov 2.0 practitioners.

In an award ceremony at France's Department of Foreign Affairs, in front of more than 250 conference delegates and officials, Senator Lundy was presented with the judge's selection International eDemocracy award by Phil Noble of PoliticsOnline.

The peoples' choice International eDemocracy award, based on over 3,000 votes, was won by Ralph Benko, writer of the Webster Dictionary, a textbook for using the web to transform the world.

Senator Lundy was selected from a global field of 12 nominees including the Top 10 changing the world of internet and politics for 2010, as determined through an online nomination and election process managed by PoliticsOnline, and several French entrants into France's eDemocracy award.

The nominees included another Australian who was selected as one of the Top 10, Craig Thomler (me), for the eGovAU blog.

The judging panel included an international group of eDemocracy luminaries.

Final award selections were based on short presentations and question and answer sessions with the 12 nominees at Issy-les-Moulineaux's Town Hall just south of Paris.

Senator Lundy was nominated for the award based on her work convening three Public Sphere events.

UPDATE 18/10/10: Senator Lundy's media release: Senator Lundy wins International Top 10 People Changing the World of Internet and Politics

Post from the forum organisers: The winners of the e-Democracy Awards 2010


Here's a link to a set of photos from the event taken by CivicTec: WEGF 2010.

Below are photos of the event taken by Senator Lundy and me

Senator Kate Lundy and Craig Thomler at the award ceremony, with Senator Lundy holding her
International eDemocracy Award. Photo courtesy of Kate Lundy.

The below photos are taken on my iPhone - better quality ones should be available soon on the World e.Gov Forum site.
Senator Lundy being presented with the 2010 International eDemocracy award by Phil Noble
of PoliticsOnline in the reception hall of France's Department of Foreign Affairs in Paris.

All of the winners of the 2010 eDemocracy awards in the reception hall of France's
Department of Foreign Affairs in Paris.

Senator Lundy presenting to the judging panel and assorted guests in the  
council chamber of Issy-les-Moulineaux's Town Hall

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

World e.Gov Forum Day 1

I'm in Paris for the World e.Gov Forum due to my selection in PoliticsOnline's Top 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics for 2010.

Liveblogging hasn't been possible so far, so keep an eye out for my tweets under the hashtag #wegf

See a program of the forum.

I am recording notes and will publishing them as soon as I can.

Read full post...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mind the Gap - rebranding in the social media age

Last Monday (4 October) one of the US's most loved brands tried to introduce its new logo.

The company went about it in the traditional, time-honoured way.

Marketing staff had consulted internal stakeholders (who thought after twenty years the logo looked a little tired), considered the research and wrote a brief. Working with a creative agency they tested new concepts and finally publicly unveiled their new logo to the public in a soft launch via their website on 4 October.

This is about the time they realised that the world had changed.

The company had been very successful at marketing its brand online, using Facebook (721,000 fans), Twitter (35,000 fans) and other social media channels to engage customers and build their loyalty.

So naturally the company announced its brand online first to its fans - its most loyal and engaged customers.

Within hours of the announcement criticism began pouring in. Not from a few scattered individuals, but from a massive group of people.

Customers began rallying around the old logo, self-organising their own groups in protest to the new one. A website, Crap Logo Yourself was created to mock the brand (give it a try!)

The company did what any socially aware organisation would do. It listened to its most important stakeholders - its customers.

Within three days (on Thursday 7 October) the company's President blogged publicly about what they would do to address customer concerns.

"We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward.

Now, given the passionate outpouring from customers that followed, we've decided to engage in the dialogue, take their feedback on board and work together as we move ahead and evolve to the next phase..."
The company looked at ways to engage its customers - seeking their views and designs to help bring their customers with them on a new brand journey.

However it was too late in the process for this. Customers had rallied around the old brand and were not in the mood to consider a new look.

A few hours ago (on Monday 11 October), the company announced it would keep its old brand, stating in a media release that:

Last week, we moved to address the feedback and began exploring how we could tap into all of the passion. Ultimately, we’ve learned just how much energy there is around our brand...

... our customers have always come first. We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.

And on Twitter:

We’ve heard you. We only want what’s best for Gap. No crowd sourcing, but the Blue Box is back.

Yes, the company was the clothes brand, Gap.

An embarrassing backdown? No - it has been lauded as a social media success story for the company.

Executives put their egos in their pockets, listened to customer sentiment and gave customers what they wanted. They did this before the company suffered sales losses, downward profit corrections, shareholder anger and an expensive and time consuming process of rebuilding customer trust.

Of course if the company had embedded social media into its branding process - as it had its marketing - the story may have been different. By engaging customers in a dialogue about what the brand stood for, crowdsourcing branding concepts and taking customers on the journey throughout the creative processes it could have reimagined the brand successfully.

However regardless of this, the company has retained its customer loyalty, created enormous positive publicity about its existing brand and learn the valuable lesson that successful organisations are the custodians, not owners, of their brands. Their brands are owned by their customers.

And it has achieved this in a week, where before social media it would have taken months or even years for a company to recognise, accept and address mistakes (with corresponding greater damage).

How does this relate to the public sector?

We too have brands. We too have customers (also called clients and citizens). We too have processes for introducing new logos, services and products (and policies).

Our customers are as capable as those of Gap at using social media to organise and make their views known.

And we too can engage our customers online in ways which bring them with us - or in way which cut them out of decision loops, leaving them feeling betrayed and angry.

When attempting to design and then sell new policies, in areas including climate change, taxation, education and so on, are we really engaging our end  'customers' - citizens?

When we rebrand a Department, rethink a service or redesign a website, do we put our citizens at the middle of the design and decision making process?

Are we using cheap and fast engagement channels - such as social media - to engage, listen and bring our citizens with us?

Or are we falling back on traditional and time-honoured approaches, as Gap did?

Defending a 'traditional' approach as 'process-driven' and 'proven' may protect a few egos, but can fail to achieve public good, desired outcomes and even damage the reputation and credibility of agencies and governments.

No good public servant wants that.

Gap case study
Gap sources:

Read full post...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Mapping Australia's blogosphere - identifying key influencers for communicators

If you're seeking to communicate with Australians it is wise to step beyond traditional media channels and investigate how to engage through Australia's blossoming blogosphere.

The Australian blogosphere is the collective term for the entire ecosystem of Australian blogs - how they interconnect, how ideas (memes) spread and how links allow audiences to flow between them.

Dr Axel Bruns, an Associate Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology, is currently researching the extent of Australia's blogosphere and the connections between individual blogs.

To achieve this he is using a range of computer-assisted tracking and mapping tools to build a visual map of our national blogosphere, mapping close to 3.4 million links and 8,300 blogs (which he acknowledges is highly incomplete).

He has been using data collected during the Federal election campaign, allowing him to particularly observe the flow of ideas across politically-orientated blogs - allowing him to test some interesting hypotheses.

Alongside this he's mapped distinct clusters of blogs based on their topics - light green for politics, red for parenting, yellow for food blogs, green for arts and crafts and light blue for design and style.

Taking the colours and looking at the connections and relative sizes of the different blogs it becomes possible to identify the most important connectors and influencers - the blogs that a communicator would wish to build strong relationships with.

I've included an image of this work below (marking where my blog 'lives').

To learn more about Dr Brun's work, check out his blog, Mapping Online Publics and particularly the posts, First Steps in Mapping the Australian Blogosphere and Mapping the Australian Blogosphere Some More.

Map of the Australian Blogosphere - view a larger version in this PDF

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Australian Government sets default copyright to Creative Commons by Attribution

Yesterday was a historic day for Australian intellectual property rights.

Ann Steward, the Australian Government CIO, announced that the Australian Attorney-General's Department had released an amended Statement of Intellectual Property Principles for Australian Government Agencies.

The amended version endorsed one of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce's recommendations - that the default copyright position for public sector information be CC BY rather than the existing Crown Copyright, which has been in place for over a hundred years.

This change is likely to get little media attention or fanfare, however it denotes a seismic shift in Australian government. From now on almost all information that is released publicly by the government will be legally reusable, modifiable and mashup-able by citizens and corporations without the need to pay money or ask for legal permission.

This unlocks a potential enormous economic driver for Australia. In the UK the value of open data has been estimated at 6 billion pounds per year, although it might take some time to realise gains like this.

Also historic - though maybe less so - is that this major shift in government policy was announced on a blog.

So what is Creative Commons licensing?
It is a form of copyright that is more liberal and flexible than old-style copyright regimes, however still allows organisations and individuals to manage the reuse of their intellectual property.

Creative Commons is recognised in over thirty countries and has already become the default position for UK government data. The US, New Zealand and Canada have also made steps towards adopting Creative Commons as their default government copyright license and the OECD has recommended that public sector data be made public in a raw and reusable form, licensed under standard open content licenses and priced as close as possible to zero.

More information is at the Creative Commons Australia website.

And what does it mean for federal government agencies?
When releasing future public sector information into the public domain, federal government agencies must use a default position of a CC BY (Creative Commons By Attribution) license. They may only use a more restrictive license after a process of ‘due diligence and on a case-by-case basis’.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

The media140 #OzPolitics Tweetbook

I felt that it would be useful to compile the online discussions during media140 #OzPolitics into a single work, a permanent record that could be reread, referenced and reconsidered.

So over the long weekend, with assistance from PeopleBrowsr, the support of Julie Posetti and permission from FirstDogOnMoon and Mike Stuchbery to reuse some of their material, I compiled the following Tweetbook.

You are welcome to read, print, share and comment.

media140 #OzPolitics Tweetbook

By the way - as far as I know this is the first conference Tweetbook created in Australia. It is based on the very useful Open Government and Innovations Conference Tweetbook from their conference in Washington in July 2009.

I hope the media140 #OzPolitics Tweetbook will also serve as an inspirational model for future Australian conferences and events.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Stats on articles and posts for #Groggate

Some people know that I've been tracking the posts and articles published online discussing the outing of the author of the Grog's Gamut blog by The Australian.

EDIT - due to updates to the spreadsheet below the figures presented in this section of the post are only valid at the original time of publication. Please refer to the spreadsheet for the latest figures.

So far I have listed 112 posts and articles on the topic (including this one) - although a few only touch on it peripherally.

I have also been mapping these articles into a Google spreadsheet to look at some of the interesting statistics behind the debate.

For instance, News Limited is responsible for 12.5% of the articles on the topic, Crikey for 8.9%, the ABC for 5.4% and Fairfax for 3.6% (excluding any duplication across publications). In fact a total of 32.1% of the articles have been written by commercial news sources.

It also appears that very few authors were anonymous, despite certain claims in mainstream media articles about a prevailing culture of anonymous blogging online.

57.1% of authors were named outright in their articles and posts. Another 29.5% used partial names or pseudonyms, but provided various pieces of personal information. In most cases their names could be uncovered without much research or effort.

The remaining 13.4% were indeed anonymous - totally unnamed in their articles and posts.

However of this group 4 articles, or 3.6%, were in mainstream and online commercial media publications (such as The Australian and Crikey) where no author name was provided. These are sometimes termed 'editorials', but are anonymous all the same.

Here's a few examples:
Only the remaining 11 articles or 9.8%, were totally anonymous. This includes two articles from Mumbrella, which I only excluded from being a commercial publication as it is industry specific and doesn't charge subscribers as Crikey does (sorry Tim!)

On that basis,
  • Of the 36 commercial articles and posts, 4 were anonymous - 11% of the total
  • Of the 76 professional and personal articles and posts 11 were anonymous - 14.5% of the total.
That's a very small statistical difference in the scheme of things.

I recommend having a play with the data - any interesting insights please share via comments below.

The link to the public spreadsheet is here:

Use the tabs at top to navigate to the statistics and legend (explaining the terms I've used)

Or simply look at the figures below:

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GovHack returns - as part of Amped

Last year Australia's Gov 2.0 Taskforce initiated the GovHack event, produced by Web Directions, to showcase what could be done with open government data.

This year I'm glad to see that GovHack is returning - as part of Amped, a free 10 hour hack day, in Sydney's PowerHouse Museum on Sat 16th of October.

Whether you're a web designer or developer, interaction designer, graphic designer, project manager, writer, or just someone who has has an interesting idea, Amped is an opportunity to strut your stuff and create something of value.

Amped is fully catered, will have expert mentors on hand. The grand prize for the best hack is a trip for the winning team to Tokyo's Web Directions East.

RSVP at the Amped website.

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Heading to Paris - Top 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics

As some might already know, I was selected as one of 'Top 10 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics', in PoliticsOnline and the World eDemocracy Forum's 11th annual awards.

Senator Kate Lundy was also selected, and you can find her press release here.

It is rare to have two Australians receive such a prestigious international award - even more so as this award is barely known in Australia, but is globally held in high regard.

I was nominated and selected on the basis of this blog, eGovAU, not my work activities, however to my knowledge this is the first time an Australian public servant has received this award - and, for that matter, the first time an elected Australian representative has received it.

As a result I've decided to take next week off and attend the World eGov Forum in Paris as a guest.

It looks to be a fantastic event.

I'll try to liveblog, or at least tweet the event and share what I learn with as broad a base of Australian public servants as possible.

I'll also try to maintain my listing of Groggate articles.

So au revoir in advance!

(and to the burglars out there, yes I have a housesitter)

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

In the noise of #Groggate, don't forget those silenced

I've been tracking the discussion on the outing of Greg Jericho as author of the Grog's Gamut blog by The Australian journalist James Massola.

In the last seven days there have been over 100 posts, articles and interviews and nearly 2,000 tweets on the topic - discussing freedom of speech, anonymity, media power and public interest.

Few have mentioned one of the first claims made by The Australian;

"The prolific blogger shows a strong preference for the ALP, despite the Public Service code of conduct stating that "the APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner"."
Grog disputed this in Spartacus no more, his final post last Monday before falling silent.

Whether Grog's voice remains silent is up to him and his employer - his Department and behind that the Australian Public Service. It is not up to the media or bloggers.

Across the world many talented public servants operate blogs. There are firm roots in other western democracies such as Britain, Canada, the US and even New Zealand.

Groggate is a challenge not only to broad freedom of speech in Australia - potentially silencing anyone who believes their employers may have concerns over their words - but also challenges the public service to reconsider what Australian public servants may and may not do.

There are hundreds of thousands of intelligent and educated professionals who choose to work for Commonwealth, State and local governments across Australia. They serve the governments of the day diligently, as mature adults most are fully capable of separating their work performance from their personal views (and they all vote).

How many of these intelligent and potentially influential voices will now choose to remain silent rather than face the scrutiny - both public and internal - that Grog is facing?

If Grog continues writing, it will be at the permission of his employer, potentially under greater internal and external scrutiny.

If he stops writing - due to personal reasons or the level of controversy - a thousand other public servants may not develop the courage to start.

How much public sector experience and diversity has been lost to our public debates due to Grog's outing?

We'll never know.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

How to avoid turning Gov 2.0 initiatives into 'creepy treehouses'

I thought I'd share a post brought to my attention by Geoff Mason via the Online Communicators Forum group in LinkedIn

Written by Jared Stein at Flexknowlogy, Defining "Creepy Treehouse" explores the pitfalls when an organisation creates an online social environment.

The article defines the term "Creepy Treehouse" in several ways, including as the following:

n. Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards

Such institutional environments are often seen as more artificial in their construction and usage, and typically compete with pre-existing systems, environments, or applications. creepy treehouses also have an aspect of closed-ness, where activity within is hidden from the outside world, and may not be easily transferred from the environment by the participants.
In other words,  an artificial community may not be real enough to attract and maintain a community - it may have too many or arbitrary rules, expect and reward unrealistic behaviours or simply be designed to advertise (shout) at people rather than foster community engagement.

How can these types of issues be avoided - particularly given the governance required by the public sector?

One solution is to partner with robust existing online communities. This approach allows a government agency to participate without having to take on responsibilities such as developing the systems and the community, attracting and empowering participants or moderating and guiding behaviours. Certainly an agency needs to be careful about which existing communities it partners with, however there are many long-standing well managed communities that could be viable options.

A second approach is to partner on the creation of a community, funding an external organisation to develop a community that the agency can participate in. This also outsources much of the governance and control issues, reducing the agency's overheads in these areas. It is important to be very careful about the selection of the organisation that will create and manage the community as while many will claim they can achieve this, there are in reality very few organisations with the skills, experience, networks and capabilities to do so.

If, however, the agency has no choice but to create the community, it is important to be as transparency about governance and as even-handed, consistent and as hands-off as possible in its operation. While an agency can seed a community with content it needs to ensure that there are tools and incentives that encourage the community to generate the bulk of the content and interactions themselves. President Obama's MyBarackObama website is an excellent example of this, as the site allowed participants to form communities, create, share and distribute information and largely run their virtual lives within the community without seeing virtual police on every corner.

Perhaps that is the best analogy for an agency-run community - it needs to run like a western democracy without the elections. People are free to go about their business as they please, within the laws of their community. There are no bureaucrats and officials scrutinising their every move.

Surely a government agency can justify managing an online community in the same way our government manages our nation - treating the members as citizens, not serfs.

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