Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Where's the carrot for accessibility?

Possibly the hottest topic for Australian government web managers this year is 'accessibility', following on from the release of the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy by AGIMO (the Australian Government Information Management Office).

The strategy confirmed the Australian Government's adoption of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2 (WCAG 2.0) from the World-Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the premier global standards setting organisation for the Internet, as well as the mandatory timeframe for accessibility compliance by government agencies.

In speaking to people within agencies who are not directly in web areas, but who are commissioning, funding and filling websites with content, for the most part I have found they were unaware of the government's accessibility requirements. A regular question was, "is this a new requirement?" and when told that accessibility requirements had been around for more than ten years and the Disability Discrimination Act since 1992, the reactions varied from surprise to anger - that they'd never been told before.

There's also uncertainty and some anxiety about meeting the requirements, which still look like black magic to those new to the topic. Is an accessible PDF good enough? How do we know if it is a decorative or meaningful image? Can we use Facebook if it isn't accessible? How do we add closed captions or transcripts to unscripted user-generated videos? Do we have to convert all PDF submissions to consultations into HTML? Are we funded for accessibility?

Agencies are coming to understand the need for accessibility, and the risks. However where's the carrots?

At the moment there's no real kudos for agencies that meet accessibility requirements. No recognition for complying, public mention of best practice examples or awards for high achievement.

Of course it could be argued that meeting the accessibility requirements is a given and no-one should be rewarded for complying with legal requirements they need to meet.

However humans are complex creatures and respond both to punishments and rewards. Public servants need acknowledgement for good work as much, if not more, than they require chastisement for bad.

I would like to see more opportunities to recognize the agencies who are best at meeting their accessibility obligations as well as mechanisms to identify and name the worst.

Do you agree - should there be acknowledgements for good accessibility practice?

Or is it a given that all agencies should meet without reward?

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Crowdsourcing serious government policy - now not only thinkable, but desirable

Crowdsourcing is often used in government for 'light' topics, such as selecting a logo or sourcing audience-created videos or photos.

However it also offers enormous potential for informing and developing government policy in areas that are considered both sensitive and serious - such as security.

About a year ago the Atlantic Council released its recommendations report from the 2010 Security Jam.

Unlike previous closed-room security discussions, the Security Jam ran on an open basis, bringing 4,000 military, diplomatic and civilian experts from 124 countries together online to thrash out the challenges facing global security.

Held from 4-9 February, the Jam, run by Security and Defense Agenda in partnership with the Atlantic Council and with support from IBM, was supported by both the European Commission and NATO.

The thousands of participant included defense and security specialists and non-specialists in order to broaden the security debate beyond purely military matters.

According to Robert Hunter, former US Ambassador to NATO, "The Security Jam has done something that NATO's Group of Experts has not - to reach out beyond the ‘usual suspects’, to people who have truly original ideas and a range of analysis that goes to the heart of today's and tomorrow's security issues."

Imagine applying the principles of the Security Jam to Australia's Commonwealth and state policy issues.

With the comments in Terry Moran's speech last week it is clear that this type of approach is not only becoming thinkable, but desirable.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Defence's social media review

A few weeks ago the Department of Defence announced it had selected the advertising agency, George Patterson Y&R to conduct a review of social media risks.

This followed the Skype scandal in April this year where several male Defense Force cadets conspired to broadcast a female cadet having consensual sex without her knowledge to half a dozen other (male) cadets. The female cadet reportedly went to the media after being told that there was no possibility of police action.

On some exploration I found a reason why George Patterson Y&R was selected - their long association via the Defence Force recruitment advertising contract. A trusted working relationship and a 'known quantity' would have decreased the review's risks from Defence's perspective. The existing contract may even have simplified and expedited the procurement process whilst remaining within government guidelines.

However I still found this choice surprising. In my view traditional advertising agencies in Australia haven't demonstrated a sound understanding of how to use social media effectively, particularly for government purposes.

I'm not the only one who thinks this. Laurel Papworth, a social media specialist, also had doubts about the choice, summed up in her post, Australia Defence Force ADF and social media. This included comments made to Crikey, reported in the article, ‘No conflict’ over Defence Force social media probe.

My concerns about the choice were heightened by the coverage this weekend over the personal comments by senior George Patterson Y&R staff,

Alongside this, there are a growing number of people within Australian government with a sound understanding and experience of using social media effectively for their agencies. This is evidenced by the rising number of social media policies and channels in use by many agencies. There's even a few staff in Defence who are very experienced social media practitioners.

Externally there's a growing number of specialist digital agencies and social media specialists in Australia who are able to provide effective risk assessment, support and training.

There is also quite a lot of experience in Departments similar to Defence in other countries, such as the US Defense forces.

The US has provided a great deal of effective and well-structured guidance for US sailors, soldiers and air force personnel, from the Navy Command Social Media Handbook, Social Media and the Air Force guidebook (2nd Edition) and the 2011 US Army Social Media Handbook (a follow-up from their 2010 handbook).

There's also the fantastic Web Posting Response Assessment flowchart from the USAF and even the Marines have embraced social media use.

They've even indexed their official social media channels to make them easier to discover. US's Defense forces have social media directories, the US Navy's social media directory, the US Army's directory and a similar directory for the US Air Force.

The social media report is due in July - I look forward to seeing it released publicly.

I hope that George Patterson Y&R are able to provide useful findings and actionable recommendations - and that they particularly consider the social media expertise and experience of the groups above.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

1,000th post at eGovAU - looking backwards and forwards

It is hard for me to believe that I've reached 1,000 posts on eGovAU - all talking about Government 2.0 and related topics.

That's well over half a million words I've written on the topic in around three years - around 5 decent-sized novels.

Now I'm here I'm indulging in the opportunity to look back and forward.

Think on the world a decade ago, in early 2001.

The twin towers still stood, Australia had just celebrated 100 years of Federation and John Howard was soon to be re-elected.

The Internet bubble had collapsed a year earlier, leaving people deeply suspicious of investing in dotcoms and creating a global tech depression. There was no Google, YouTube, Facebook, Myspace or Twitter.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 web browser (still used 10 years later by some government agencies) ruled the web with around 90% market share. The web was dominated by brochureware and surviving ecommerce start-ups like Amazon and eBay.

There was no such concepts as social media, Web 2.0 or Government 2.0 (only eGovernment) and the Australian government had only recently mandated accessibility standards for government websites. Some Departments didn't have websites yet.

There were about 458 million internet users globally (in March 2001) - compared to today's 477 million internet users in China alone, or over 500 million active Facebook users.

The world has changed a great deal since 2001, geographically, politically and socially. Every living individual in the world has changed - some more than others.

Governments have also changed - however much has remained the same.

The next ten years promises to only bring more change, at a faster pace, than the last ten.

The challenge for all of us is to consider these changes strategically, their opportunities and consequences, whilst still living through them. The future has always belonged to those who can anticipate, act, react and adapt - and the future of government will equally belong to those who embrace and drive positive change, not to those who let it happen to them, or despite them.

We live in a singular moment in human history, a moment ripe with potential for humanity and the planet.

We've thrown off the shackles of distance with cheap communications technologies and given more than 2 billion humans access to a global mind - a database filled with much of the world's knowledge and thoughts, a conduit to discover, create, share and collaborate to build empowered, engaged and effective societies and institutions.

How should we use this moment in time?

How will YOU use this moment?

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

21st Century society vs 19th Century laws and policing

Laws have always struggled to keep up with society, however rarely in such a vivid and public way as in Wednesday's arrest of Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Ben Grubb, and the confiscation of his iPad.

The incident, well reported in the SMH, occurred when Queensland Police responded to a complaint regarding a photo hacked from one security expert's private Facebook page and displayed in a presentation at the AusCERT conference in Brisbane as an example of a major security hole in Facebook's system.

Grubb was attending the conference and received a briefing about the security hole. Seeing the public interest in telling the community that their supposedly private Facebook photos could be easily accessed, Grubb reported the matter in an article featuring the image, which I can no longer find on the SMH site.

The following day police questioned Grubb about the matter and then demanded he hand over his iPad on the basis that police wanted to 'search' it for evidence of a crime. When he was unwilling to do so, he was arrested and his iPad confiscated for a complete image of its content to be taken and analysed by police (let's not even explore the potential conflict with Australia's Shield laws, which incidentally also cover bloggers and tweeters).

The basis of police concern was that the image retrieved by the security expert and used in the SMH article was 'tainted material', stolen from a Facebook account and then passed on to others.

What is more worrying is that the Queensland police, in a press conference, then equated receiving an email containing a stolen image as 'like taking stolen TVs'. To quote:

Detective Superintendent Hay used an analogy to describe why Grubb was targeted.

"Someone breaks into your house and they steal a TV and they give that TV to you and you know that TV is stolen," he said.

"The reality is the online environment is now an extension of our real community and if we go into that environment we have responsibilities to behave in a certain way."

Let's think about this for a moment.

Firstly, when someone 'steals' an image - or music, movies, books or other online content - it isn't stealing if the content remains at the point of origin for the original owner to continue using. It may be a copyright infringement or privacy breach, but unlike stealing a television, where the owner of the television is left without it, there is no theft, simply replication.

On that basis any laws around theft simply don't apply online. You can copy my idea, my words, my images. However unless if you somehow delete the originals, you are not stealing them, you are breaching my copyright.

Secondly, when an email is sent to our email address it gets delivered regardless of the legality of its contents. We have no say in whether we receive legal or illegal messages and images. Sure there's spam blockers and the like, however these automated tools can't tell if content is legal or not, only if it violates certain rules, such as containing certain four letter words or phrases.

However, according to the QLD Police, if someone sends you an email containing a 'stolen' image, you are breaking the law. This is even though there is no way possible for you to refrain from receiving the email in the first place. You don't even have to open the email. If it has been stored on your device, based on the QLD Police's interpretation of Commonwealth law, you are a potential criminal.

This has enormous ramifications for society. Anyone can frame someone else by sending them an email. As it is relatively easy to set up a disposal email account, you can do so anonymously. This could be used against business rivals, political opponents, or even against the police themselves simply by sending them an anonymous email and then making an anonymous complaint.

Equally, if the person receiving the email is a potential criminal, then what about all the organisations whose mail servers were used to transmit the message?

When an email is sent from one person to another it can pass through a number of different systems on its journey. At each stop, a mail server copies and saves the email, checks the route then sends the email on.

In most cases these mail servers delete these emails again for storage reasons, however at a point in time each of them has received the email, making the organisations and individuals who own them liable, again, under the QLD Police's interpretation of the law.

Given the number of emails sent each day in Australia it's clear from the QLD Police's legal interpretation that most ISPs must be operated by criminals, receiving, storing and transmitting illegal content all day and night.

Applying this type of 19th Century policing and legal approach clearly isn't going to work in the 21st Century.

When everyone can publish and illegal content can be received without your consent or knowledge, laws need to change, as does police training and practice.

Without these changes government bodies will become more removed from the society they are meant to serve, unable to function effectively and efficiently in today's world.

By the way, the security analyst who originally 'stole' the Facebook images hasn't been questioned, arrested or charged. And Ben Grubb still hasn't received his iPad back.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gov 2.0 Canberra lunch with Allison Hornery on Gov 2.0 around the world - 27 May 2011

For May's Gov 2.0 Canberra lunch we're joined by Allison Hornery, co-founder of CivicTEC and co-host of Gov 2.0 radio

Allison will be speaking about the Government 2.0 trends and activities that she's observed around the world in recent travels and projects.

Note that due to issues caused by no-shows at previous lunches, I am now charging for Gov 2.0 lunches on registration.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How much do your agency websites cost - and are they cost-effective?

I have long struggled with techniques for costing websites in Government. Due to how resources and budgets are allocated - with program areas funding and conducting some content work, corporate areas other and infrastructure and network costs often rolled into a central budget in IT teams (which provides excellent economies of scale, but makes costing individual web properties harder) - it can be very hard to come to a complete and accurate figure on what any government website costs to launch or maintain.

Regardless, we are all driven by budgets and must determine ways to estimate costs for planning new websites and set management, improvement and maintenance budgets for existing ones.

A step further than costs is value, a necessary part of any cost-benefit equation. In order to assess whether a website is cost-effective - or at least more cost-effective than alternative tools - it is vital to be able to demonstrate how websites add value to an agency's operations.

Unfortunately value is an even more nebulous figure than cost as it often has to measure qualitative rather than quantitative benefits.

Sure you can count the number of website visits, visitors or pageviews, or in social media terms, fans and followers, however this is much like judging a meeting's success by the number of people who show up - the more people, the more successful the meeting.

This metric works when you can place a commercial value on a visit - so this may work effectively for ecommerce sites, but not for most government sites.

Another approach is to look at the cost per visit, with a presumption that a lower cost is better. However this relies on fully understanding the cost of websites in the first place, and also assumes that a cost/value ratio has meaning. For some websites a high cost might be appropriate (such as a suicide prevention site), whereas for other sites a lower ratio might be appropriate (such as a corporate informational site).

Perhaps the key is related to that ecommerce site example, where the sales of goods is an outcome of a visit, therefore the commercial value of a visit is effectively a site outcome measure.

The next challenge is assessing the outcomes agencies desire from their websites and giving them some form of quantitative value. Completing an online form, rather than an offline form might be worth $5 to an agency, reading an FAQ and therefore not calling or emailing an agency might be worth $30, reading FOI information online rather than making an FOI request might be worth $500, whereas reading emergency news, versus having to rescue someone might be worth $5,000.

Of course this quantitative measure of values for outcomes is relative and has very large assumptions - however it does provide a model that can be tweaked and adjusted to provide a fair value of a site.

It also has a far more valuable purpose - it forces agencies to consider the primary objectives of their website and how well their most important outcomes are satisfied by site design, content and navigation.

If the main purpose of a site is to provide information on a program such that program staff aren't responding to calls from media and public all day, then the appropriate information needs to be front and centre, not hidden three levels deep in a menu. If the main purpose is to have people complete a process online, then the forms must be fillable online and back-end systems support the entire process without having gaps that force people to phone.

Are there other more effective ways of measuring cost and value of websites? I'd love to hear from you.

And for further reading, the posts from Diane Railton at drcc about UK government website costs are excellent reading, How much does your website cost?

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Omega to Alpha - a new start for UK government online

The UK government last week launched, an experimental site that explores different ways of presenting government information online to better support citizens.

Designed based on recommendations from the 2010 Review Report led by Martha Lane Fox, which was intended to revolutionise the UK Government’s online services, the site provides a glimpse into a citizen-centric future that takes a very different direction to Directgov.

The site is designed to seek comment and feedback from citizens and public servants. As the site's about page states,

What does do is trial a selection of new, simple, reusable tools aimed at meeting some of the most prevalent needs people have from government online. The aim is to gather feedback on these new approaches from real people early in the process of building a new single website for central government.

The site does away with the crowded index-based navigation approach of Directgov (which is internally the more common approach for central government sites) and instead focuses on a search-based mechanism for most enquiries, with top enquiries listed below the main search window.

Search results are formatted in more useful ways, such as calendars (which you can add to your own), such as this one for a search on "Holidays" and instant forms - such as this result for "Lost passport".

Note that many searches will not currently provide relevant results as the site is a prototype, however there's already an impressive range of 'top of mind' searches supported.

Below the fold is a set of 'latest news from government', however laid out with lots of white space and with a simple, well-structured side menu.

The note stating 'EXPERIMENTAL PROTOTYPE - This section will almost certainly not be up to date after 10th May, it is for illustrative purposes only' demonstrates how experimental the site truly is.

The site blog talks about the aims of the site and allows comment and discussion and there's a tool for providing feedback enabled through the GetSatisfaction service.

All in all this site is an excellent research tool and it will be very interesting for governments around the world to view the public comments and criticisms of the site to inform the future development of their own central government and departmental sites.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Harper Collins limits library eBook use to 26 lends before repurchase

There's lots of interesting debates going on about ownership at the moment.

Are the products and content you buy and enjoy owned by you? Do you have the right to switch formats, modify hardware, install software or make a personal copy?

Sony has been fighting for years to prevent customers from modding their Playstations, arguing that customers do not have the right to install unauthorised hardware or software (even accepting you void the warranty).

Movie and music distributors have long held the position that if you bought a cassette tape or video you have no right to the DVD version of the movie or song at simply the cost of the medium. You must buy the content again. Equally, in moving from DVDs to online, people in Australia do not have a legal right to download a movie or music they have already bought.

As more content is digitalised, this ownership debate is spreading, with the latest areas of contention being ebooks. It seems that at least one book publisher is arguing similarly that libraries may not enjoy unlimited lending rights to ebooks they purchase, despite being allowed to lend out a paper copy as many times as they like.

In response to fears that people will simply borrow these ebooks online, thereby cutting into book sales (which are already heavily moving online), Harper Collins has locked ebooks sold (via the OverDrive service) to libraries in the US and Canada. After 26 lends each ebook becomes unusable and the library must repurchase it to keep lending it out.

This move has prompted outrage amongst librarians across North America, and a number of libraries have already boycotted Harper Collins, refusing to buy any further books they publish, in any format, until the policy is changed.

If Harper Collins' decision is upheld, it may have major cost implications for public libraries in the future - as well as for organisations that maintain their own libraries, that buy business books for staff training purposes or even for citizens.

Imagine only being able to read a book, watch a movie or listen to music you'd purchased a publisher-designated number of times before being forced to re-buy it.

Oh - and I didn't mention that Harper Collins also wants to collect information on all readers borrowing ebooks from public libraries, so it can better understand and market to them.

That's not a particularly open or transparent world.

Here's some further articles discussing Harper Collins' decision:
And there's also now a petition with over 60,000 signatures opposing the plan.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Public Service 2.0 - reflections on Terry Moran's latest speech

The Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Terry Moran, gave a speech last week to the Graduate School of Government, University of Sydney. Titled Surfing the next wave of reform, his speech discussed the public service's critical role in supporting and enabling government reform and good governance, and what would be expected of the APS into the future.

Without mentioning Government 2.0, Moran's speech touched on many of its elements. He argued that the public service needed to improve how it engaged with citizens - particularly through the use of new tools enabled by technological improvements in IT and communications,

The bedrock of government engagement with citizens is through the institutions of our representative democracy. At its simplest, citizens vote every three years or so to elect Members of Parliament who choose a government to make laws and decisions.

But that alone is far from the extent of the links between citizens and government. Governments will achieve their goals better if they also use other ways to engage with citizens to complement and reinforce our fundamental democratic institutions.

The remarkable advances in information technology and communications over recent decades have changed and expanded citizens’ expectations, but have also given governments much better tools for engaging with citizens.

We need to do much better at this task.

Moran said that the public service had to improve its use of technology in policy and program delivery to service citizen needs,
Second, in implementing and delivering the decisions of Cabinet, we need to do better at designing policies and programs in ways that take full advantage of modern technology and that are designed with flexibility and creativity, to meet citizens’ needs. The NBN will permit a step forward in this area.

And he said that the APS needed to become better at listening to citizens, particularly through the use of modern technology,
Government needs to empower individuals and communities in ways that allow it and public servants to have effective exchanges with citizens.

Perhaps most telling - and most personally exciting to me - Moran said that,
Our processes should allow the community to provide input throughout the policy and service delivery process. Information technology can play a crucial role facilitating communication between citizens and governments.

I understand this as Moran saying that to meet the challenges in the APS's future, the Australian Public Service needs to use appropriate tools and techniques to collaborate with the community throughout the policy and service delivery process, not just consult them at the beginning and deliver to them at the end.

Moran finished with the statement that,
To be successful, the reform agenda will need to embrace the best, frank and honest strategic advice, and it will have been based on the fullest engagement with citizens. I am confident we can meet the challenge.

The proposal put forward by Moran is a vision of a Public Service 2.0, one trained and equipped to embed a citizen-focus into their work, to be strategic (as well as frank and fearless) in their advice to government, to design policies and services that take full advantage of the technology at our disposal, making appropriate use of Government 2.0 tools and techniques to achieve the goals of the duly-elected government.

I believe it is a vision that will serve Australia well.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Does the personalisation of the internet threaten citizen participation in democracy?

Yesterday evening I watched an interesting TED talk by Eli Pariser, Beware online "filter bubbles".

The talk discussed the increasing personalisation of search engines, news sites and social networks, using algorithms to selectively present or hide search results, content and comments based on a user's actions.

Pariser raised the importance of the flow of information and news in enabling democracies and questioned whether the fragmentation of the internet into individual views would likewise erode democratic society.

I share his concerns over this trend. When our major news sources only show us the news we wish to see and our social networks only highlight comments from people who share our views it becomes much harder to have inclusive discussions, debates and decisions.

I'd be interested in your thoughts. Are these concerns misplaced? If not, what can or should we be doing individually or collectively to defend our right to be presented with information and news which makes us a little uncomfortable, but well-rounded and able to participate effectively in our democracy.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Is this the first eGovernment research paper? Published 1954

I've been reading the excellent blog post by Richard Heeks in ICTs for Development on The First e-Government Research Paper.

He discusses a research paper by W. Howard Gammon on "The Automatic Handling of Office Paper Work" published in 1954 that looks that the impact of ICT on government - noting at the time that there were approximately 40 computers in use by the US Federal public service.

What I find very interesting is that many of the points raised in Gammon's article - and highlighted by Heeks - reflect the situation we are in today with eGovernment and Government 2.0.

In a most insightful paper, Hammon identified the importance of understanding how and when to employ technology over understanding how to create or maintain technology, the need to re-engineer business processes rather than simply automate existing processes, the importance of 'hybrid' skills that combine an understanding of the ‘business’ of government with knowledge about the application of technology and the need for top management support, particularly to resist the politics of entrenched interests.

These factors remain of overwhelming importance today in government. We still have to contend with individuals and groups who struggle to effectively employ technology in the service of organisations, siloed business units who seek to protect their current practices out of fear of the consequences of change and there is an ongoing need to expand the ranks of strategic thinkers who can use their combined understanding of government business and technology to create positive change.

It is worth reflecting on why, after more than 50 years, we're still dealing with the same people issues despite having completely changed our environments.

Perhaps we need to collectively spend more time focusing on how we educate and empower our people to bring them along with us into the future.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Dumbing down or lifting up - writing in plain English respects your readers

It makes me really upset when I visit a government website and find it written in dense technical or bureaucratic language.

I can appreciate the desire of public servants to be precise and accurate in their choice of words, but often the language chosen is incomprehensible to people without two degrees and ten years experience in government.

I've heard about - and witnessed - instances when experienced writers or communication professionals have translated complex text into plain English and been told 'you're dumbing it down'.

No they're not. They're lifting the language up.

Writing in plain English is about respecting your readers - writing for them, not for yourself or your boss.

When writing complex multi-syllabic diatribes, the writer is not demonstrating their intellectual superiority or eloquent grasp of sophisticated phraseology.

The writer is showing they don't have the writing skill and experience to lift their language out of government-speak to a level used by society, by their audience - a level used every day to share and explain some of the most complicated concepts and thoughts imaginable.

The writer is hiding behind their words, using them to conceal a lack of appreciation and respect for their audience and a lack of understanding of their topic. They are revealing their limits and fears - and they are not getting their message across.

One of the core capabilities for the Australian Public Service is to 'Communicate with Influence'.

'Influence' doesn't mean using big words, it means using effective words - words that can overcome the gaps in communication between writers and readers to convey meaning and understanding.

So when writing your websites and developing your documents, think about the invisible people in the room - your readers. Is your choice of words appropriate for their experience and education?

Will they be uplifted by your simple and clear language or left feeling 'dumbed down', lost and frustrated by your turgid turns of phrase?

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

AGIMO announces finalists for 2011 Gov 2.0 individual innovator award

On Monday AGIMO announced the finalists for the 2011 Gov 2.0 individual innovator award, building on the award originally issued by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce last year.

I'm very proud to see the three finalists have all made significant contributions to Government 2.0 practice in Australia.

It is interesting to note that all three finalists are from state governments (not having seen the full list of entrants), however two have had roles which took on significant national interest - both through disaster management (Victorian bushfires and QLD floods and cyclones).

I feel that in the last year there hasn't been the same stand-out performance from individuals at a Federal level. While there are some fantastic Gov 2.0 projects and innovators in Canberra, often projects are quite large, requiring teams all doing their part, have long timeframes, or can face significant approval and scrutiny hurdles that may dilute of defy individual innovative activities.

Local government also struggles with scale, being smaller and more resource limited innovators often have a broader range of duties and may struggle to find the time to innovate, plus many innovations impact on a local level and, while often very significant, often don't attract a broader level of attention.

In my view state government in Australia is in a 'sweet spot' for many innovative Government 2.0 activities - large enough to be resourced and focused on direct citizen engagement to a greater extent than Federal - though, as always, time will tell.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Australian internet users more social, connected and politically aware than non-users

As reported by ARN in the article It's official - the Internet is good for you: ANU poll, the eighth ANUpoll, The Internet and Civil Society (PDF), shows increased use of the Net is leading to a more politically engaged and socially inclusive Australian society.

The report asked whether virtual contacts (made over the internet) are less important than personal ones in building a strong society, and whether a reliance on virtual over personal contact had implications for the quality of citizenship.

In his foreword to the report, ANU vice-chancellor, Professor Ian Young, stated that,
“The results from ANUpoll are largely positive, and counter the pessimistic view that the Internet is undermining effective social relations and good citizenship.

Frequent Internet users are not more socially disengaged than their counterparts who rely on personal interaction. They are at least as good citizens, and report similar or higher levels of social capital."

Some of the key findings from the report included:

Household Internet use
  • A total of 82 per cent of respondents reported having broadband access with only two per cent saying that they have dial-up access (2 per cent did not know and 12 per cent did not have internet access at home)
  • Around two-thirds of respondents said they use the Internet at least once a day.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Australians reported knowing how to use the Internet to download audio,
    video and image files.
  • 21 per cent of respondents indicated they had used the Internet to design a webpage or a blog.
Internet use and social capital
  • 35 per cent of respondents said that the Internet helped them interact with people of a different race from their own.
  • Just over half (54 per cent) of respondents said that the Internet helped them interact with people from other countries.
  • A relatively small percentage of respondents (15 per cent) felt the Internet helped them interact with people who share the same political views.
  • 59 per cent of respondents felt the Internet helped them interact with people who they shared hobbies with.
Internet use and good citizenship
  • The report concluded that frequent Internet use does not necessarily lead to a more atomised and individualistic society.
  • 70 per cent of frequent Internet users felt that to be a good citizen it was very important to support people who are worse off than themselves.
  • 86 per cent of frequent Internet users felt that to be a good citizen it was very important to report a crime if they witnessed one.
  • Only 15 per cent of frequent Internet users felt that to be a good citizen it was extremely important to be active in politics, compared to 25 per cent of infrequent users and 21 per cent of rare users.

  • Frequent Internet users were less willing than infrequent Internet users to accept that traditional norms of citizenship such as obeying laws and regulations, serving on a jury if called and being active in voluntary organisations are very important in order to be a good citizen.

    For example, only 38 per cent of frequent Internet users believe that to be a good citizen it was important to always obey laws and regulations, compared with 51 per cent of infrequent Internet users.
Internet use and political involvement
  • Those who use the Internet more frequently are more likely to be involved in offline political activity such as contacting a local politician, signing a petition or buying products for a political reason. The findings showed that Internet use was linked with promoting offline and online political engagement.

    On that basis the report drew the general conclusion that online political activity complements, rather than replaces, traditional forms of political activity.
  • Around one in four (27 per cent) respondents said they had visited the websites of political organisations or candidates and one in five said that they had forwarded electronic messages with political content (28 per cent of frequent Internet users).
  • Those who use the Internet frequently are significantly more likely than those who use the Internet sparingly to be involved in political activity through virtual interactions.

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