Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Canberra Gov 2.0 lunch - 8 December

It has been a big year for Government 2.0 in Australia, both at the federal and state levels. The Victorian Government in particular has committed to releasing the majority of public sector information under an open copyright license, continued to improve its whole-of-government intranet and released the Government 2.0 Action plan: a comprehensive strategy for guiding Victoria's government 2.0 efforts.

To celebrate the close of the Gov 2.0 year, and to discuss the initiatives in Victoria, we're lucky to have Maria Katsonis, from the Victorian Government's Department of Premier and Cabinet, in Canberra.

Maria is currently the Principal Adviser, Public Administration in the Department of Premier and Cabinet, leading projects that examine issues that shape and influence the Victorian public sector. This has included the development and implementation of the Government 2.0 Action Plan released earlier this year and the VPS Innovation Action Plan released in 2009.

Previously Maria was Executive Director of Public Policy and Organisation Reviews at the State Services Authority where she led reviews at the request of the Premier, Ministers and Secretaries. She has also held the role of Assistant Director, Social Policy in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Maria has a Master of Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is a Fellow of Leadership Victoria.

I know this is short notice, however if you are able to join us at Café in the House in the Old Parliament House for lunch Maria will be providing an interesting and insightful glimpse into how one goes about establishing and executing a whole-of-government Gov 2.0 program.

Register here

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Why are many Australian government blogs failing?

I've just updated my list of Australian government blogs, checking the list I had is still valid, looking for others (frankly they're not that easy to find, you need to promote them and link to them from your sites guys) and checking the post frequency and level of comments.

My assessment is that Australian public sector organisations are backing away from blogging. Many are blogging less frequently. Some are shutting down their blogs altogether.

Compared to the growth of government blogs in the US, UK, parts of Asia and Europe, my conclusion, very reluctantly arrived at, is that many Australian government blogs are failing - with a few notable exceptions.

This really disappoints me. Blogging offers government a direct channel to citizens and stakeholders. It allows organisations to bypass traditional media gatekeepers, to present the fact, to dispel myths, to state their positions in their own words, humanise bureaucracies and directly source feedback and views from the community.

However I can understand why this might be the case.

In my experience there appears to be less support and greater barriers to blogging in Australian government than in some other western jurisdictions.

We don't have a Cabinet Director of Digital Engagement or a Memorandum from our executive Head of State that directs public sector organisations to engage online and holds senior management accountable when they don't.

There's a current culture of adversion to risk (as stated in the Ahead of the Game report) with very deep roots throughout the public sector. This leads to an unwillingness to say anything which might be considered the slightest bit controversial.

It is simply safer to not blog - there's no official kudos or reward for publishing.

What do we do to change this?

First we must directly confront the question of whether we need to change. Explain why using only the tools that worked in the 1980s simply doesn't cut it 30 years on.

We must skill, support and reward those who engage. Give them a more comprehensive framework of what is and isn't appropriate, how to moderate, how to handle dissenting views in a positive and productive manner.

We must ensure our managers remain willing to engage with appropriate risks, remaining frank and fearless, a culture that some have stated is no longer as evident in the public service. Our managers must be prepared, supported and equipped to engage with risk, not merely shut down engagement and hope to avoid it.

We must accept that often it creates greater risks when we don't engage than when we do. There have been many examples of how the lack of active engagement has increased the risks to government and the public sector.

Most of all we need to employ and empower motivated and skilled individuals - then get out of their way. Hire people with experience in online engagement and trust them to safeguard the interests of government, just as we hire experienced media people and trust them to speak to journalists.

We need to have these social media practitioners advise senior management on the right ways to engage on given issues and through which mediums and channels. To advise senior management of the demographics of social media - who uses it, how and why.

I am hopeful that Australia is just going through a short dip at the moment, that we'll see a reversal as more guidance is provided and the commitment of the public sector to digital engagement grows. After all, the public is not reducing its use of social media channels, it is newspapers and television channels seeing shrinking audiences as social media continues to grow.

However this dip might be elongated - negatively affecting government's ability to communicate - if we don't see a willingness to actively address the challenges and step beyond comfort zones.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

What's the digital IQ of public sector organisations?

If organizations that used Facebook to disseminate their message were actual people, NASA would be the captain of the football team and the class president, the White House would be his cheerleader girlfriend and the the Department of Commerce would be the nerd they both pushed into a locker...
Technews Daily 
Digital IQ Index: Public Sector cover
Source: George Washington University
The George Washington University in the United States has released a report ranking the 'Digital IQ' of 100 government agencies, political and nonprofit organizations.

Based on the effectiveness of their websites, use of social media and other online tools, the ranking shows some stark differences in the performance of public sector groups seeking to understand, participate in and influence public discussions.

More than 80 percent of the organizations in the study had a presence on at least one social media platform, 63 percent hosted a blog and 20 percent had some presence on mobile platforms.

The report states that social media use is already demonstrably bearing fruit in politics, with 74 per cent of the US House of Representatives and 81 per cent of the US Senate candidates elected in November's midterm elections having more Facebook likes than their rivals.

The report also suggested that most public sector organisations have yet to unlock the power of digital platforms, with over 50 per cent of the organisations indexed registering Digital IQs in the 'Challenged' and 'Feeble' ranks.

Despite these low rankings, 85 per cent already had a Facebook presence, 87 per cent were on YouTube and 83 per cent used Twitter, with 73 per cent on all three. However many had not focused on building large audiences - with 46 per cent of public sector organisations having fewer than 10,000 Facebook 'Likes' (previously Fans) and the median Twitter audience being 5,000.

Only 25 per cent of organisations engaged in two-way dialogue on Facebook and only 35 per cent on Twitter.

President Obama's weekly YouTube videos have apparently 'taken off', with the White House YouTube channel having been viewed over 34 million times. The report states that,
Analysis of views of Obama’s speeches and public events reveals that the public is increasingly turning to the White House channel rather than to traditional news outlets, suggesting a key transformation in the media ecosystem.
Eight of the President's top officials have taken to the social media sphere as a channel to engage with citizens and amplify their message. In particular,
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu gets kudos from his fans for his personal approach on Facebook. In the midst of the obligatory energy-related news, Chu posted his review of the latest blockbuster, “The Social Network.” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs answers questions from his Twitter followers on the YouTube Series “First Question with Robert Gibbs.”
Mobile use still appears to be lagging, with only 28 per cent of the public sector organisations evaluated having a mobile site, smartphone app or iPad platform. The US Military led in all of these categories, with each of its six branches present on mobile.

The report showcases a number of US public sector social media successes, from NASA's 'golden ticket' lotteries, through the National Guard's 'show us your arms' recruiting strategy to the General Service Administration's real-time dashboard of all executive branch and Federal agency notifications, which citizens can sign-up to to receive alerts across a range of categories.

The report can be downloaded as a PDF from www.l2thinktank.com/publicsectordigitaliq/

I wonder how Australia's public sector would rank.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

How do public sector organisations hire for social media talent?

Most organisations wouldn't hire unskilled people to manage their financial accounts.

They wouldn't (normally) allow untrained staff to respond to customer phone calls or be interviewed on a television chat program.

However how much experience and training do they expect their social media leads to have before they begin commenting online publicly?


That is - if they allow them to comment online at all. Whether they hire social media leads with experience or not, do they give them the tools to succeed?


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Thursday, November 25, 2010

The ongoing struggles to balance IT security and staff empowerment

Governments around the world are struggling to manage the dual challenges of maintaining IT security while also enabling their staff to do their jobs in a digital world.

The Australian government has endorsed social media engagement by staff in its Open Government Declaration, stating that;

Agencies are to reduce barriers to online engagement, undertake social networking, crowd sourcing and online collaboration projects and support online engagement by employees, in accordance with the Australian Public Service Commission Guidelines.
Meeting this remains a challenge in many agencies. It takes time to assess services, mitigate risks, adjust processes and policies and train staff.

This week we've seen just how hard this balance can be - with one large Australian Government department cutting about 700 staff off from an online service experiencing very rapid growth.

The service was Yammer, a social media network designed to be used within enterprises.

Yammer allows organisations to establish an internal network allowing micro-blogging (like Twitter, but for staff only), file sharing, direct messaging and communities - with every message stored and searchable for knowledge management and security purposes. It supports tagging, integration with third-party applications and has a strong security focus - if Yammer's messages were not secure it would not have a business.

Over 100,000 organisations use Yammer, including large internationals such as Deloittes and Cisco. At least 39 US government agencies are signed up to use the service via Apps.gov and the Flemish government in Belgium uses it as well.

Closer to home the service is in use, to my knowledge, in QLD, NSW and Victorian governments as well as at Federal levels.

Examples include the Victorian Department of Justice, with over 550 members on Yammer as of May 2010. The NSW Department of Education and Training uses Yammer and established a community for teachers to provide feedback on the Australian Curriculum. Queensland Transport has apparently been astounded at the rapid growth of the service amongst staff.

Federally, I'm aware of use of the service in at least six agencies on a trial or active basis.

However Yammer, and other social media services, still face enormous challenges gaining IT acceptance.

In the federal department mentioned above (with 700 or more users, including senior managers), the growth of the service was extremely rapid. Presumably this is because it provided functionality that staff could productively use in their jobs.

However, after a short consideration, the service was banned and blocked from the department. I've heard several versions of why this occurred, with the most common view being that introduction had not followed the correct process and usage was growing too fast to be manageable.

The use of social media in a number of other agencies remains strictly controlled or blocked altogether. I am aware of several other agencies who have been threatened with or had to shut down trials of services such as Yammer due to ICT security concerns.

Security concerns are real. So is the value of online services to government employees.

Where an online service is adopted very quickly it has clearly met a staff need that existing ICT services do not.

However it also poses a fast growing challenge for security people, who must ensure that an agency's network remains secure.

How do we balance these needs to secure organisational networks while empowering staff?

This quandary places senior management in a difficult position. If they take a straight 'block' approach to online services they could face employee dissatisfaction and diminished productivity. If they take an 'allow' approach, they could see networks compromised, data lost or stolen.

With new highly useful online services emerging almost every month, senior management need to educate themselves on the potential risks and benefits and make the most appropriate decisions quickly.

Staff need to be supported with appropriate guidance on how and where to use online collaboration tools.

Sharing information between agencies more actively would also help build a base of experience in the secure management and effective use of online services.

It would also be very beneficial to have centrally secured and approved services through a platform such as apps.gov to help mitigate individual agency risks.

However ultimately ICT security and business areas need to work very closely together, having open and frank discussions to build a mutual understanding of the concerns and benefits surrounding online tools.

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Storming the gates of the policy makers

On a recent visit to Melbourne (for pleasure) my partner and I stayed in a hotel near the curious sculpture pictured below.

Great Petition by Susan Hewitt and Penelope Lee. Burston Reserve, Melbourne.
Reading the plaque, we learnt the sculpture was a representation of the "the great petition", a document signed by 30,000 Victorian women and presented to the Victorian government in support of allowing women to vote in the state.

The petition was presented in 1891. However Victoria didn't grant women the vote until 17 years later in 1908.

Following this, while we were attending TedxMelbourne on Saturday, one of the speakers used a slide depicting Rosa Parks who was arrested, tried, and convicted for disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance after refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger on 1 December 1955.

Rosa Parks sits in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 after the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled segregation illegal on the city's bus system.
Behind Parks is Nicholas C. Chriss, a UPI reporter covering the event.
Source: United Press photo. Location of Original: New York World-Telegram &
Sun Collection.

This event was a trigger for the African American Civil Rights movement. Rosa's act and the subsequent Montgomery Bus Boycott led to a change in the local ordinance within 381 days (by cutting bus revenues by 80%).

However this was a local change only. The Civil Rights movement is not considered to have ended until 13 years later, with the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (excluding the Black Power Movement which lasted until 1975).

Another TEDxMelbourne speaker, Tania Major, mentioned the long struggle of Indigenous Australians to be fully recognised as Australian citizens. From Federation to full voting rights in 1965 took 64 years, with full recognition in the Constitution occurring only after the referendum of 1967.

Source: New Matilda, The Myth of Aboriginal Voting Rights

In these and other cases of major social change, while some individual members of established authorities were sympathetic, institutions were bound by precedents and processes which made change slow and, in some cases, torturous.

On Wednesday evening (24 November), there was an event at the University of Canberra about Employee 2.0, featuring a panel of speakers including Mike Higginbotham, the Senior Social Media Advisor for Telstra (via Skype), Simon Edwards, Microsoft, Director Corporate Affairs, John Sheridan, First Assistant Secretary, Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) and chaired by Michael de Percy, Lecturer, Faculty of Business & Government, University of Canberra.

Panel at Employee 2.0 event (#emp2au)
Photo: Leigh Blackall

Following the twitter feed for the event, several of the comments struck me:

Web 2.0 as a social movement?

In many respects I can see this being a fair view. To quote the wikipedia definition,
Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals and/or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change.
In this case the social issue might be the equitable access to information and to the capability to create and share content fairly in support of social (and organisational) goals. Gov 2.0 could be looked at as the right to increased participation in government processes (engagement and collaboration), an improved understanding of how governments operate (transparency and openness) and greater capability for individuals and communities to choose self-determination (government as a platform - empowering, but not controlling citizens).

When thinking about Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 as a social movement, it is useful to reflect on how long it took for other major social movements to effect real change.

The examples I've given above took, respectively, 17, 13 and 64 years to reach a, more or less, final resolution.

Given that the term Web 2.0 was coined in 2004, and Government 2.0 in 2005, the fact that these terms are already on the lips (and in some cases in the hearts) of our politicians and senior public servants is a sign of how far the 'Web 2.0 social movement' has already come.

To speak emotively, the 'Web 2.0 movement' has stormed the gates of policy makers. The rising tide of internet users have already had a profound impact on how businesses operate and how nations are governed.

For everyone already engaged with this 'movement', you can be proud of the degree of change that has taken place in such a short period of time, effectively 5-6 years.

However storming the gates is only the first step. We need to work together to define a long-term vision of what the world beyond the gates should look like.
  • What should a 'Net-empowered society' look like? 
  • How do individuals and businesses operate successfully within it? 
  • How do we govern ourselves effectively, adapting digital tools to best serve the needs of citizens?
This need to 'image the future' is, in my view, a pressing and necessary step if we wish to collectively choose a path towards a future that we collectively want, rather than stumble blindly into a future which marginalises or limits our choices.

That's one of the main reasons why I'm involved with the Australia's Government 2.0 Futures project, collecting and collating the views of a desired future from a broad international group of thinkers and practitioners to provide input into the most important debate the internet faces:

Now that we've stormed the gates of policy-makers, what do we tell them we want for a collective future? 

What do you imagine the future should look like?

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What is Australia's Government 2.0 future? Contribute to the website & book

What do you think Australia's Government 2.0 future will look like?

Today Kate Carruthers and I have launched a new project; one we'd like you to be part of.

Government 2.0 is gaining momentum around the world. Not a fad management approach or minor adjustment to policy and processes, Government 2.0 is underpinned by one of the most fundamental changes in communications technologies since the introduction of the printing press: the internet.

The pressure for change is coming at all levels. More than 90 per cent of Australia's adult population access the internet on a regular basis. More than 50 per cent of all Australians now use social networks to share their ideas, build their knowledge, collaborate on causes and comment on policy debates.

In the words of Clay Shirky, we are living through the greatest outpouring of community creativity in history. Every individual who joins the internet gets a free printing press, television channel and radio station. Individuals have the opportunity to influence governments on a greater scale, with fewer barriers to participation, than ever before.

Many of Australia's governments are already actively introducing Government 2.0 tools and practices into their policy, operational and service delivery processes. While there are many successful examples, most have been the efforts of small teams executing good ideas without an overall vision of what Government 2.0 will mean for Australian governance in the future.

Looking around the world, there are as yet limited sources of strategic thinking or research into how Government 2.0 will shape governance over the next 10, 20 or 50 years.

Therefore Kate and I have launched the Government 2.0 Futures project to provide public sector policy-makers, practitioners and academics with a collection of views on Australia's Government 2.0 future.

Through Gov2au.net we are asking Australian and international Gov 2.0 experts, commentators and practitioners - and the Australian community - to reflect and contribute their views on three questions:

  • What does Government 2.0 mean for Australia’s governance?
  • How will Government 2.0 change the culture and practice of Australia’s public servants and governments?
  • What will Australia’s Government 2.0 future look like?

We hope to release a selection of these contributions under Creative Commons next year as a free ebook. We also hope to release a paper version to sell in bookstores and online. Any profits from the sale of this book will go to support Government 2.0 initiatives from not-for-profit organisations in Australia.

We invite you to be part of Australia's Government 2.0 future by contributing your views, ideas and suggestions via the website.

You may also follow the progress of this project on Twitter at @gov20futuresau.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The danger of permanent internet exclusion to egovernment and Gov 2.0

The internet is increasingly defining the 21st century.

It has become the primary medium used to find and share information, the most commonly used news and entertainment medium and has unleashed an outpouring of creativity which commentators, such as Clay Shirky have described as "the greatest in human history".

Equally there have been pressures to constrain aspects of the internet. Around the world a number of nations are blocking access to certain pages, websites and services - sometimes based on concerns on the appropriateness of content, sometimes due to economic or political pressure.

There have even been attempts, spearheaded by significant copyright holders, to block internet access for significant periods of time - or even permanently - from households or individuals accused of repeated copyright violations.

This last topic is worth debate in a eGovernment and Gov 2.0 context.

As governments shift information, services and engagement activities online there is greater expectation - and hope - that citizens will use the internet to interact with agencies.

By shifting services online governments can cut offices and employ less phone staff.

In a country where all citizens have the right to access the internet this is not an issue. Anyone who can engage online is encouraged to do so and offline government services can be reconfigured to suit audiences who are unable or unwilling to use the internet. Everyone wins.

However what happens in a nation where internet access can be denied to otherwise capable citizens, either for long periods of time or permanently?

What is the commercial impact after television and telephony have migrated to a (for instance) national broadband network? How would this distort these peoples' access to government services? What additional costs (at taxpayer expense) would government be forced to incur to service these people effectively? Does it exclude them from democratic participation or from vital health and welfare information?

I can't see any nation deciding to permanently cut access to an individual or household's telephony services because they used it to make a few abusive calls. Neither can I see any state denying a household access to electricity or water because one resident was convicted several times for growing illicit drugs via a hydroponic system in their bedroom.

However there are real threats emerging around the world that some individuals or households may be permanently excluded from online participation based on accusations, or convictions, for a few minor offenses.

An example is France, which enacted a 'three strikes' law in 2009. Reportedly record companies are now sending 25,000 complaints per day via ISPs to French citizens they are accusing of flouting copyright laws.

Under the law French citizens receive two warnings and can then be disconnected from their ISP and placed on a 'no internet' blacklist - denying them access to the online world, potentially permanently.

While this approach was designed to discourage illegal activity, early indications are that this doesn't appear to have succeeded as piracy may have risen. It also, apparently, has annoyed US law enforcement agencies as it may encourage greater use of freely available, industrial strength, encryption technologies, thereby making it much harder to distinguish between major criminal organisations and file downloaders and hurting law enforcement activities.

This is similar to an often-repeated storyline in Superman comics, when Superman can identify criminals as they are the only ones using lead shielding on their homes to block his X-Ray vision. If everyone used lead shielding, Superman couldn't tell the bad guys from the good guys (there's a future storyline for DC).

Most importantly a 'three strikes and you're off' approach - or equivalent law - risks permanently excluding people from the most important 21st century medium, simply for being accused three times of copyright violation. Arguably, in today's world, that's a much more severe judgement than people receive for multiple murders, rapes or armed robbery.

I don't see the Australian government rushing to embrace a similar approach, however it still raises the question of whether we need to consider internet access as a right at the same level as access to electricity or telephones.

Other nations are considering this as well. Several European countries have already declared internet access a fundamental human right, including France, which places the country in an interesting position.

The European Union (of which France is a member) has rejected a 3-strike law and, as Boing Boing reported, progressive MEPs wrote a set of "Citizens Rights" amendments that established that internet access was a fundamental right that cannot be taken away without judicial review and actual findings of wrongdoing.

As the internet has now moved from a 'nice-to-have' service to a 'must-have' utility for many people, even actual findings of wrongdoing may no longer be sufficient reason to permanently exclude people. In fact this may be legally impossible to enforce anyway, due to public access and mobile services.

Given the potential negative impacts on democratic participation, the ongoing cost to government and the potential commercial and social impacts - should it be possible for a government to legislate, a court to dictate or for ISPs to refuse to connect some citizens to the internet permanently?

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Allow other public servants their own Gov 2.0 and social media journeys

At an event with colleagues last week, I overheard several talking about their surprise at the levels of caution and fear they still encountered amongst various professionals regarding Gov 2.0 and social media.

"It's as if they were still living in the early 1990s," said one. "Some people just don't seem to understand how far technology has advanced, nor the level of work and learning that has gone into social media strategies in the last five years or Gov 2.0 in the last year."

I strongly sympathised with this view. As I have spent a significant share of my waking time in the last fifteen years learning, developing and testing new media strategies and solutions, it can be hard at times to realise that others don't have the same level of experience as me.

One of my most valuable learnings has been that not everyone is at the same point in their Gov 2.0 and social media journey.

Many have been busy 'looking' in one of many different directions - finding them so interesting and fulfilling that they may simply not have noticed what has been going on in other directions - such as in social media or Government 2.0.

Now they have turned their gaze to Gov 2.0 for the first time. They are starting at the beginning and haven't had the same learnings or experience yet.

While it is tempting to try to pour my own experience into these people to help them get up to speed, this is rarely a workable approach. Nor is providing them with a full map of the social media landscape, this can simply scare them into inaction.

Instead they need to travel on their own journey to Gov 2.0 understanding.

The best way those of us with more experience can help is to scout just a little way ahead. Help them see the pitfalls (that they can recognise) and assist them to overcome obstacles they encounter in their path. Occasionally point out branching tracks they may not have the experience to notice but they might like to consider, and allow them to come to you when they have new questions and insights.

Is this a fast way to get people up to speed on Gov 2.0? Not really, but it works. And sometimes they will surprise you with insights far beyond your own ideas or experiences, helping you on your own Gov 2.0 journey.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gov 2.0 views from Gartner's Government day

I attended Gartner's Government Day on Monday for their ITXPO Symposium (I was on a panel), and it was very interesting to hear the views expressed about social media.

Below are some of the quotes I recorded from Gartner analysts and senior IT leaders. They are not all verbatim and have been reordered to flow more logically.

  • Social media is not about technology, it's about collaboration - the only risk is in ignoring it.
  • There are 20 exabytes of social media information available online today - it is real, it is not a fad.  It doesn't matter whether you are using social media - you cannot ignore it because your customers use it.
  • In a world where people can talk to people, as an organisation you had better be believable - traditional PR no longer works.  If you wish to be credible in social media, you have to tell the truth. Black box organisations will not survive.
  • The public will judge organisations not on whether they make mistakes, they all do, but on how they visibly recover.
  • Google's PR strategy made mistakes OK, so that customers don't mind. Organisations that try to pretend they don't make mistakes and then attempt to hide their mistakes create huge media attention and serious reputation damage. It is better to be honest and truthful and not create those types of unrealistic expectations.
  • Bloggers are hugely important public influencers. Organisations no longer control the message, they must influence the influencers. This is an entirely new approach to public relations.
  • You could allow marketing to lead social media initiatives - but there's a risk it will disappear down a black hole. Organisations need a broader strategic approach. BHP tried all traditional communications approaches with the Gulf oil spill and they didn't work.
  • If staff want to discuss confidential matters they will  - banning them from Facebook at work doesn't make a different, they will use other channels, like a phone, or their own devices. Secure their communications through training and support, not their technology.
  • It isn't the right of ICT security to control social media issues - privacy and record-keeping are corporate governance issues.
  • IT is shirking its responsibility by not providing organisational platforms for online monitoring and engagement. IT needs to be a source of data, information and strategic advice to marketing for social media as it changes.
  • IT must support and facilitate business to realise social media opportunities. If it doesn't, its role will get smaller and less significant. Twenty years ago ICT stepped back and allowed marketing to run websites, we can't afford to step back to that again.
  • You should own your own '[organisation] sucks' domain and site. Use it to listen and respond to customer complaints.
  • Organisations struggle with how to engage via social media - the answer is to listen, rectify issues, contact and invite comment. Imagine a customised 'Tripadvisor.com.au' service where the public could comment on your service and rate you. It may not be far away.
  • The more layers of management, the more barriers to collaboration and transparency.
  • If you want to change culture, budget one year per layer of management, for example if you have eight layers of management a single culture change can take eight years (requoted from an ex-Senior Officer).
You may agree with a number of these statements.

However, the comments were not from any 'Social media in Government' workshop.

They were from a 'Social media in the Banking industry' workshop that I attended after my panel to see how the financial industry was addressing Web 2.0 opportunities.

After the workshop I've formed the view that banking is about two to three years behind government in Australia in engaging with social media effectively.

I can see some real shake-up coming to the industry based on several other statements by Gartner analysts:
  • Financial services companies are inherently conservative and don't attract innovative people.
  • The reality is that banking industry runs on opaqueness - it is the only way it can keep the prices high and profits substantial.
The banking sector is facing significant challenges. Regardless of whether its senior leadership wishes to engage via social media or not, their customers, stakeholders and even their staff are using these channels more and more.

Increasingly, banks are seeing the rise of services like Paypal, which the panel said that banks laughed off only a few years ago but now see as a genuine threat to their business.

They are concerned about the risk of Google starting a banking business, as they believe Google has a better reputation and greater capability to be agile.

They are worried about online comparison services, which make it easy for the public to compare banking and insurance rates; and about online services, which offer substitute banking services more conveniently.

In other words, the banks are facing reputation, transparency and agility crises, brought on by a culture that resists change and innovation, at the hands of social media empowered individuals and small, agile, innovative organisations.

Government isn't always slow, conservative or inflexible, particularly compared to large institutional banks.

Maybe, in the public sector, we're doing much better than some people might appreciate.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

We don't need more Gov 2.0 initiatives in Australian government

I'm speaking this afternoon at the Garner Symposium ITXPO 2010 on a panel discussing the spread and success of Government 2.0 initiatives in Australia and a couple of other related topics.

Thinking about it this morning I don't think government in Australia needs more Government 2.0 initiatives.

In fact I don't think we need any at all.

What we actually need is to integrate the use of Government 2.0 tools and techniques in existing government activities to improve their cost-effectiveness over time.

When researching policy or service offerings, public servants should listen to social media channels and engage, where relevant, in robust policy discussions through existing forums, blogs and networks.

When consulting an audience, agencies need to collect views by online form - not email - backed by a moderation process and database which allows the agency to rapidly screen and publish submissions. This allows others to reflect on published submissions before submitting their own.

With this information stored in an appropriately tagged database, it then becomes very easy and fast to extract particular themes and ideas, processing the submissions and integrating them into policy documents.

Government can also run, or tap into existing, interest groups via appropriate forums, blogs or even micro-blogs such as twitter to gain insights into a policy proposal.

When prioritising issues and outcomes, rather than just asking a couple of focus groups for their views, government can run an ideas market, allowing the community to broadly prioritise and comment on issues or goals - providing broader input into the process.

Communication, data services and service development
Rather than relying on outsourced specialist agencies to come up with ideas and executions for communications campaigns or new services, government can ask the community to develop strategies, graphics treatments, applications and other services - or at least submit ideas. Using this approach an enormous number of ideas can be collected in a short time at a relatively low cost (rather than paying an agency for three treatments).

Ongoing communications
Rather than regularly paying large sums of money to access the audiences of traditional media outlets, government can use social media to build its own audiences on key themes and topics. With appropriate community management (yes hire this talent INTO government), agencies can rapidly share information with key groups, ask for feedback and carry on an ongoing relationship - building trust and reducing future costs.

Freeing up data
Government is being increasingly mandated through FOI legislation and the need to get wider scrutiny on data for policy and service delivery purposes to open up its data. Gov 2.0 tools improve this opening up, making data more widely usable and accessible, magnifying the effective benefits.

Internal collaboration and communication
Through introducing social media tools within the firewall, agencies can empower staff to better find others with relevant expertise, collaborate on policies and operational matters, improve internal communication across existing silos (helping to chip at their walls) and provide better outcomes for the Department.

None of these standard government activities - communication, policy development, collaboration, service development and delivery - mystically become 'Gov 2.0 initiatives' if you simply begin applying Gov 2.0 tools and techniques.

However they can become cheaper and faster to deliver, engaging greater numbers of people and delivering better outcomes for the agency, the government and, most importantly, for citizens.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Getting creative with visualisations in Government sites and documents

Government is the master of the written word. Across Australian governments we probably produce billions of them each year, carefully organised into documents designed to impart knowledge and influence decisions.

If you were to consider a medium-size agency producing, let's estimate, twenty 100 page reports each year, fifty 2-page media releases and 200 4-page minutes, with 200 words per page, that's 580,000 words already - not to mention emails, websites, internal documents, procurements, recruitment processes, forms presentations and all the draft versions produced.

Many of these words are important and necessary - however some might be better communicated graphically. Do we use visualisations as much as we could to represent choices and data?

I have rarely seen information presented in a visually exciting and impactful way in government documents or website.

Why? It can't be due to accessibility - it is simple to display the same information in text or tabular form and to provide alt text.

This is where the web can provide support.

I'm a big fan of infographics and the Information is beautiful and Cool Infographics blogs are two of my favourite sites. They provides some stunning examples of how information can be presented pictorially to convey meaning.

They can be as simple as this comparison of the amount of time US citizens spend each year sitting in front of the idiot box television passively watching, versus the estimated amount of time it took to create all of Wikipedia - over 1 billion english words alone (begging the question, what would happen if we could redirect all that wasted energy).

Or as complex as this explanation of the Left vs Right US political world (click to view it larger).

Thanks to the growth of Web 2.0, there are now an array of online services and tools designed to assist you visualise data in creative and useful ways.

These can help agencies revitalise their data, see it in new ways and generate new realisations and understandings.

It is even possible, with open data approaches, to integrate data from other agencies with your own information and present it in visually effective ways, updating it live.

To help you get started, here's a set of online services that can be used to generate interesting visualisations. Most are free.

Online tools

Particularly useful for flow diagrams, Creately is a highly collaborative and flexible tool, allowing the creation of very professional infographics solo or in a collaborative way. The tool is also useful for project planning and other visually focused activities.

As used by Hans Rosling in brilliant TED talks, GapMinder provides the ability to automate time series to look at data changes over time. You can choose from existing data or add your own to create brilliant mash-ups.

Google Public Data
Google Public Data is more of a simple charting tool that you can use to display your information as bar, line and pie charts, however it also allows you to add bubbles over Google Maps and provide time series data, where you can map one or two variables and manually jump around in time, or hit a play button to watch changes unfold step by step.

Hohli Charts
A simple, yet elegant tool for creating simple charts, scatter plots, radar charts and venn diagrams based on Google's charting tools, Hohli makes it very easy to make distinctive graphs.

Many Eyes
This is a beta service provided by IBM,  but don't let that scare you - the tool works fines. Many Eyes lets you upload your own data or use data in the site to generate a wide range of visualisations including a good range of world maps, word clouds bubble charts, scattergrams and treemaps. There's a good chance you'll find some of your publicly released data already visualised here.

New York Times Viz Lab
This can be used to visualise New York Times data using an embedded version of IBM's ManyEyes technology. You can also look through visualisations created by others. While not a separate service, it should make you consider whether you could integrate a visualisation tool into your own website to allow your own visitors to visualise your data and create their own views.

Visualise the planet using existing data, or create your own charts, scatter plots and world maps by adding your own. StatPlanet's flash-based mapping tool is used by a number of public sector organisations at a global scale to plot development data across the world.

A functional word mapping tool, TagCrowd isn't as versatile as Wordle (below), however is very good for some uses, such as creating an even block of text, mapping frequency by size - such as for the backdrop of a document cover.

If you need word maps, Wordle creates the most elegant and flexible ones on the web. Use it to look at your documents or speeches in a visual form (you might be surprised at which words occur most frequently) and tweak settings such as font, direction and colours. It can also be useful for mapping open answers in survey data to visually represent the top concerns.

Other tools
Here's some web-based visualisation tools that use existing online data to present it in visual ways. They provide inspiration and new approaches for viewing internet information, 16 Awesome Data Visualization Tools and The Best Tools for Vizualisation.

And here's 28 tools you can use to add visualisations to your own website.

Know of any other great visualisation tools? Add then in the comments below.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whether to reuse or build - government choices in a connected world

There's been discussion on Twitter over the last day about whether Australian government should be building online platforms, such as a video aggregation and distribution service, URL shortcut tools (which Victoria have done) or collective infrastructure for hosting and developing all government websites.

This has been an area of on-and-off discussion for over a year in the Government 2.0 context, with several Gov 2.0 Taskforce projects exploring potential opportunities for Australian governments to build systems such as these.

I expect this to continue to be a debate for many years. Choosing whether to build a service, or tap into a commercial one, can be a tough decision - even tougher online than it is in the physical world.

Why so tough a decision?

For starters, many of the services which government could use are hosted overseas, therefore posing some level of sovereign risk - whether that be,

  • a concern over whether the service will continue to provide what Australia needs (when foreign laws and business policies may change),
  • that personal or secure data might be accessed and misused by another jurisdiction (especially all those people who only use one password), or
  • that it might provide an entry point for hackers seeking confidential and secret government information.
On the other hand, existing online services are frequently cheap and fast to implement, plus several are the 'norm' that people use around the world (such as Google, YouTube and eBay).

In many cases government created systems could have to be developed to the extent where they are commercially competitive in order to attract the level of user traffic needed to justify their continued existence.

So how to reconcile these differing perspectives... There's no single answer in my view. Decisions need to be made case by case. What makes sense for some jurisdictions won't for others and decisions that are right for one type of service won't be for another.

In lieu of an easy answer, I offer up four tests that I believe these types of reuse or build choices need to consider.
  1. Will it reduce private sector competition?
    In other words, is the government competing directly against enterprise. If so there may be job and tax implications. Generally Australian governments shy away from entering commercial markets except when private enterprise is unwilling or unable to deliver the services to the entire population at a fair price.
  2. Will government deliver a superior outcome?
    This tests whether a government-run enterprise will provide a better outcome than a private sector organisation. Strange as it may seem, governments are better at providing some services and outcomes than private industry - particularly where equity or public value is an issue. If the government can deliver a superior outcome there is a strong case for stepping in - if private sector companies miss out then they need to look at whether they should have restructured.
  3. Will it attract a significantly large and appropriate audience?
    It is very important to consider whether a government-run service will attract enough users to make it worthwhile. For example, Facebook has build its audience over a number of years, holding on to them through being so useful that people cannot abandon it without damaging their social networks. If the bulk of the audience use Facebook, would they use 'Govbook' - a government equivalent service, even if it is a superior product? The answer may not always be yes - and without audience a government service may not achieve its goals.
  4. Is it sustainable?
    In asking this I mean will a government continue to support and run the service over an extended period of time - perhaps even transitioning it to a private concern. Or is it possible that funds will be cut to a level where the service is unable to continue to innovate and improve, thereby seeing the service slip into irrelevance. Funding maintenance alone is no longer sufficient to address the rate of development online.
Of course these tests are merely suggestions. As pointed out on Twitter they are more guidelines than rules.

However I think that applying these tests will support more effective, evidence-based decisions - particularly in light of the large number of demands on government resources and time.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Participatory budgeting - big in Europe and South America, but not in Australia - why?

One of the more curious things about Government 2.0 is how differently it is interpreted and delivered around the world.

For example the map below (clickthrough to more information at Google Maps) illustrates how widespread Participatory Budgeting (PB) is - an approach whereby a government allocates some or all of its budget based on direct citizen participation.

The practice has become extremely popular in Europe and in South America, however has not thrived in North America or Australia.

Is this due to different political conditions, cultural factors or Gov 2.0 maturity?

I'm not sure - I would welcome your thoughts.

However the differences do emphasise the breadth of Government 2.0 and the many uses it can be put to in a nation.

If you are interested in participatory budgeting, also see the Facebook group at: http://groups.to/pb/ and the post from Bang the Table exploring at 10 Ways Participatory Budgeting has been used Around the World.

Participatory Budgeting  Google map (click for more information)

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Friday, November 05, 2010

It's now so easy to establish a social network - is this a good thing?

I've recently been looking around some at some of the 'white-label' social network services.

They allow anyone to establish their own branded social network at little or no cost. Most include features such as personal profiles, blogs, forums, newsfeeds, photo and video libraries, live chat, email lists, calendars as well as widget markets (with custom features you can add) and more - much more.

These services have made it incredibly easy to set-up and manage social networks. In fact you can have one branded and live within five minutes for less than it costs for a coffee per day.

But is this a good thing?

I wonder sometimes if it has simply become too easy.

Successful social networks need a purpose and regular nurturing (particularly in their infancy). Given how easy it is to now set them up, are there many that were established without a clear purpose or need?

And do organisations have the skills and experience to manage successful social networks. Sure everyone HAS personal experience through a social network of their own but, as anyone moving to a new city appreciates, it takes time and effort to turn strangers into friends - even virtual ones.

I'd like to think that organisations largely follow a strategic approach. In this case they'd start by defining their goals, identifying their audience and seeking existing communities to engage with before considering establishing a new one.

They would then employ the right tools and tactics, deploying the correct functionality and nurturing their social network until it was capable of standing on its own feet.

If you are going about community building - social network building - in this way, let me know.

If you are new to the area and want to know what's out there, I've included a list of some of the white label social network providers below. I haven't provided a review of the services, as I've not used all of them however I have seen good executions of Elgg, Ning, Groupsite and SocialText.

Finally, here's a summary of Forrester's report on Community sites which provides more details on white label social network providers; Forrester Wave™: Community Platforms, Q1 ’09

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

CEBIT Gov 2.0 conference Twitter stream

As a record of the event, below is a link to the Twitter stream, for the CEBIT Gov 2.0 Conference (#gov2cebit) from the record at wthashtag.

In all there were 1,416 tweets by 231 participants during the two days.

Note that the times are US Pacific Time. Add 18 hours for the correct tweeting time.

View twitter stream.

Photos of the event are also available at the CEBIT Flickr group.

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Citizen 2.0 - future projects (Workshop 2 CEBIT Gov 2.0 Conference)

We've finished up Pat's workshop with a discussion of potential future projects, working on a Citizen 2.0 basis.

Three we discussed are listed below...

Future project ideas
Save me
Personal safety initiative – a smartphone application with a single red button 'save me'.

If you believe you are in danger you press the button. It is linked to your friends (via Facebook, etc) and sends an alert out to all your friends via Facebook or SMS so they can come and help you, providing mapped GPS coordinates.

Also allow people to opt-in to receive nearby 'Save me' alerts – to become a 'saver'.

When the button is pressed it should also makes a really loud noise.

Rate my employer
Website people can go to to rate their employer, report bad experiences and talk about good ones.

Personal transport tracker
Mobile app that people can click when boarding a bus, train or tram, to let people know it has come. So that people know if they've missed it or not, like a mobile 4Square.

(Apparently one of the originators of this last idea is Mark Pesce, who is not in the room.)

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Citizen 2.0 - what does social media mean for government? (Workshop 2 CEBIT Gov 2.0 Conference)

In Pat's Citizen 2.0 workshop we've been discussing how citizens have changed - their expectations and behaviours.

Below is the list we came up with, and a video from William Perrin (given for Public Sphere) on how these changes are affecting government.

Changes in citizen expectations and behaviours

  • Instant access to information - instant response
  • Ease of reporting problems
  • Ease of finding like-minded people
  • More informed consumers/citizens
  • Access to info/mis-info online
  • Expectation to communicate solutions
  • Willing to share personal information
  • Willingness to pitch in and improve public sector information
  • Expectation privacy is being eroded
  • People expect to be heard in multiple ways
  • Viral expectation of spreading news
  • Increase importance on peer to peer
  • Expectation to be known by how you interact (portable identity)
  • Ability to communicate in multiple ways
  • Expectation that knowledge of data is free (accessible and costwise)

We've also looked at a video of Park(ing) day - an example of how people are taking action to change their civic environment outside of government.

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Citizen 2.0 - fostering collaboration (Workshop 2 CEBIT Gov 2.0 Conference)

We have bid farewell to Andrew Stott and welcomed Patrick McCormick to lead the second workshop at the CEBIT Gov 2.0 conference.

One of the first things we've done is an exercise in information overload that is easy to replicate in your own office.

Get a group of four people, nominate one as the subject. Each of the others is responsible for a particular activity that the subject must respond to as follows:

  • Person 1: Ask quantitative questions (how much, how long, maths questions, etc) the subject must answer.
  • Person 2: Ask qualitative questions (what, why, how, etc) the subject must answer.
  • Person 3: Perform physical movements the subject must copy.
For one minute, the participants must, without interrupting each other, question and make physical moves that the subject must answer/copy.

Next rotate the roles to the left and repeat for a minute, and so on until everyone has experienced information overload as the subject.

Pat has also shown great videos on collaboration (below - Jeff Howe) and Ushahidi (also below - Erik Hersman) and Open Street Maps, examples of public collaboration in action.

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Benefits and risks of online collaboration with citizens (Workshop 1 CEBIT Gov 2.0 Conference)

Following on from our last exercise, Reasons for not releasing data in government, we've been discussing the benefits and risks of increasing (online) collaboration and consultation with citizens.

Below is what the room came up with (and discussed). Please add your own in the comments.

Note this is a raw dump - I've not sorted or categorised them.


  • Good source of expertise
  • More engaged audience
  • Better market research
  • Target tools and services better by understanding clients better
  • Meets desire of Ministers and top executives to get ideas from outside traditional channels/sources
  • Increasing interest, access and understanding of information
  • Provide a public face for agencies
  • More effective way to get real-time information and warnings to communities
  • Able to centralise queries – mitigate email traffic and reduce resourcing
  • Increase public understanding of what agency does
  • Find out ways and means different to those we use to get information out there
  • Increasing transparency and accountability
  • Providing a fair and reasonable process
  • Ongoing 'focus' group
  • Low cost engagement
  • Allows agencies to understand how community wants information presented / services designed
  • Allows 'completing the circle' engagement through a process (policy development/service design/etc) as there's an ongoing relationship with participants
  • Reach more audiences than by traditional communications
  • Helps attract high-performing staff (as agency is seen as proactive, forward-looking, collaborative and open)
  • Can use a pre-registration process to determine potential response rate and demographics of interested parties, thereby allowing provisioning of right level of resources for management and analysis of collaboration outcomes
  • Can provide context and explain complex issues in depth
  • Can moderate responses – before or after publication (not possible in a face-to-face consultation)
  • Can identify critical flaws in legislation/policy before becomes a major issue

  • Muddied by media involvement
  • Uninformed people commenting
  • Administrative issues
  • Generate too much work (too much work)
  • Too few responses – embarrassment
  • Security and privacy of participants' details (if agency runs collaboration)
  • Afraid that people will be rude or abusive
  • Lobby groups will dominate
  • We won't do what some people say they want
  • Public don't understand the context
  • Content is not easy to absorb
  • It will be hijacked by a particular issue in the consultation and other issues don't get enough time
  • It will be hijacked by an unrelated issue (one that doesn't align with our policy framework)
  • Slow and highly involved approval processes (both speed of response and cost of senior time)
  • What if staff contribute as individuals
  • Our staff won't be able to see the consultation (due to our internal security framework)
  • Staff don't have experience in managing an online consultation
  • Equity issues
  • Accessibility issues
  • Media might get hold of it
  • Belief that any content on the web can be changed
  • Could be hacked
  • Can identify critical flaws in legislation/policy which become major issues
  • Agency responses could be construed as providing advice which has legal implications
  • Timing issues (election cycle and alignment with other consultation activities)
  • Too many people involved and they don't agree with what an agency believes
  • Too short a time allowed to build audience and discussion
  • People will criticise the Department
  • People will criticise the Minister
  • May expose the lack of consultation
  • The risk of NOT doing it (won't reach enough/right people, creating issues in the future, government looks like it is not consulting
  • Accidental release of confidential information by agency
  • Technology failure (Hardware/software issues and loss of information)
  • Lack of staff social media guidelines
  • Incorrect data
  • Data breaching copyright (not our data)
  • Differences in view on which agency/area is responsible and should manage the consultation

Any more that should be added?

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Reasons for not releasing data in government (Workshop 1 CEBIT Gov 2.0 Conference)

We're in the first workshop of the day at the CEBIT Gov 2.0 conference.

It is led by Andrew Stott, the Director for Digital Engagement for the UK government.

The first exercise of the day has been to come up with reasons that government may give for not releasing data online. I don't know if I'm happy or disappointed that our table did the best - coming up with 36 reasons (second was a table with 27).

I've listed them below - and added an additional set that Andrew says that he has also encountered in his role.

Note there are no value-judgements implied as to the validity of these reasons in specific cases.

Reasons for not releasing government data

  1. Costs too much
  2. No business case
  3. Has commercial value
  4. It could breach privacy
  5. It's classified
  6. It's not ours and we don't know whose it is
  7. Unsure about quality
  8. We don't know where it is
  9. It's not our job
  10. It's not in a useful format
  11. I'm not authorised
  12. People will misuse it
  13. The minister will lose reputation
  14. It's not ready yet
  15. The department will lose reputation
  16. Files are too large
  17. We don't have enough bandwidth
  18. Thin edge of the wedge
  19. Can find it but cannot access it
  20. It is out of date / too old
  21. We only have it on paper
  22. We don't know if we're allowed to do it legally
  23. Our Secretary says no
  24. We've never done it before
  25. We don't know why anyone would want it
  26. Don't see the value
  27. Don't have time / resources
  28. They can FOI it
  29. We'll release it (but 90% redact it)
  30. It is incomplete
  31. It is incorrect
  32. Commercially sensitive
  33. Mosaic theory – could put it together with other data
  34. People would focus on the wrong things
  35. It may cause unnecessary public discussion
  36. We can't confirm or deny we collect it
Here's Andrew's additional reasons:

  • We know the data is wrong, and people will tell us where it is wrong, then we'd waste resources inputting the corrections people send us
  • Our IT suppliers will charge us a fortune to do an ad hoc data extract
  • Our website cannot hold files this large
  • it's not ours and we don't have authorisation from the data owner
  • We've already published the data (but it's unfindable/unusable)
  • People may download and cache the data and it will be out of date when they reuse it
  • We don't collect it regularly
  • Too many people will want to download it, which will cause our servers to fail
  • People would get upset

 Please add your own in comments...

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft...

It used to be said that no-one ever got fired for buying IBM products.

More recently much the same sentiment has been expressed about Microsoft.

However that perception now appears to be under challenge.

ReadWriteWeb reports in its article Google Sues US Government Agency Over Using Microsoft Only that,

Google has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior for requiring that messaging technologies must be part of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite in order to be considered for procurement.

Apparently the case has some merit (the article goes on to say). While the Department had justified a Microsoft preference due to 'enhanced security', Google Apps were recently the first cloud service certified by the US Federal government's Federal Information Security Management Act certification.

This case, if successful, might see other software makers challenging US government requirements for vendor-specific solutions. Internationally it could even, over time, help open source and cloud application developers gain greater consideration in government procurement processes.

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Why use social media tactics in public sector communications

Madeleine Clifford, a communications and stakeholder engagement director in the APS, has posted some advice on her blog for public sector communicators who don't yet see reasons for using social media in their campaigns.

It could be useful for you, or for someone you work with - check it out at Implementing social media tactics into public sector communications.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Short takes for public sector management Part II

Almost exactly a year ago (on 28 October 2009) I posted a set of four videos from the 'Shift happens' and 'Did you know?' series, mapping the changes in society and growth of the internet through a range of statistics.

It is time to update this - with the latest videos on the same topic - looking at the changes just over the last twelve months.

They're a wake up call. Share them around.

BTW - here's 12 things you need to know about Facebook (Australia) from Hitwise's Alan Long.

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