Friday, December 21, 2012

How good have government agencies in Australia become at social record keeping?

An interesting study has come across my desk from Rebecca Stoks, who is working on a Master of Information Management at Victoria University in New Zealand.

She sought in the report to answer the following question:
Recordkeeping is essential to the democratic process, but how can governments maintain public records when they are being created outside their realm of control? 
To answer this, earlier in 2012 she conducted a study of government agencies in Australia to discover the extent to which they were capturing public records created on third party social media sites.

She approached agencies at local, state/territory and federal level, receiving 63 responses, about half from state government agencies and about 25% from local and federal.

Of these respondents 54 used social media, with 41 having used it for a year or more. However only 26 had a social media policy in place, with another 23 in the process of developing social media policies.

Of the 26 with a social media policy in place, only 13 of these policies mentioned the recordkeeping implications of using social media.

At the same time, 32 of the 63 respondents had been approached internally for advice on social media recordkeeping. As a result 11 had developed a procedure on social media recordkeeping, while another 19 were in the process of developing a procedure.

Rebecca found that of the 54 respondents using social media, most did not feel confident they were meeting their legal obligations to keep records, only 18 were capturing records.

Of these 18, some captured everything while others only capturing selected records - with most capturing records created and received by their agency as well as basic metadata associated with social media records, however only a few captured social media interactions such as ratings, tags and re-postings.

The agencies capturing social media records mostly used more than one method, with the most popular being taking screenshots, subscribing to syndication feeds or using a third party archiving service.

Only half of those agencies capturing social media records thought their methods were sustainable, with most who felt they were using more automated capture methods such as archiving services and syndication feeds.

Rebecca's study also found that most respondents to the survey had consulted their local public records office about social media recordkeeping and found their advice useful. However, she says,
when asked what gaps existed in the current guidance on social media records, several respondents expressed a desire for practical and sustainable solutions for what to capture and how to capture.
In a review of Public Record Offices in May 2012, Rebecca found that six of the nine Australian Public Record Offices had published guidance, however most had only been first published in the last year and the depth and approach of the guidance varied enormously across jurisdiction, despite the goals being very similar.

To illustrate this, I've included a table from Rebecca's report below

11.3 Common themes in the guidance on Social Media Recordkeeping

Practical and Procedural Advice
Public Record Office
Consider and mitigate the risks of using a cloud service


Create policies and procedures for social media that detail recordkeeping requirements


Conduct a risk assessment of social media records


Identify which records need to be captured and create a strategy for how and when they will be captured

Collaborate with the business


Make a file note


Only capture/retain original records

Export data/Take screenshots

Create a “bridge” to internal systems



Use in-house solutions where possible



Attach minimum metadata to records


Use automated solutions where possible


Promote awareness/provide training



If you're interested in more information or a copy of Rebecca's study - which is packed full of more juicy information (90 pages long), email me and I can put you in touch with her.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

AGIMO restructure offers promise of improved whole-of-government IT efficiency

Yesterday AGIMO announced that the Australian Government Information Management Office was adopting a number of the recommendations of the Williams review.

In particular the Williams review identified that AGIMO had moved away from the IT policy and analysis role recommended by the 2008 Gershon review to take on a range of whole-of-government IT implementation functions.

These didn't necessarily always fit together well, with cultural differences (which Williams termed a 'schism') between policy and implementation Divisions and a split focus for AGIMO which diluted its effectiveness in driving government IT reforms.

In the new reform, taken following the departure of Ann Steward, AGIMO will be splitting into the AGCIO (Australian Government Chief Information Office), providing ICT Governance and policy investment advice around information and ICT for whole of government; and the AGCTO (Australian Government Chief Technology Office), providing whole of government service delivery and support including networks, online services and ICT procurement.

The current AGIMO First Assistant Secretaries will be taking on the leadership of these new offices. Glenn Archer as CIO and John Sheridan at CTO - though it is unclear if either or both of them are being promoted in level.

Both have sound track records in AGIMO and, while government employs merit-based promotion, it is no surprise that they've both been awarded these new roles ahead of any external candidates.

So what does this practically mean for AGIMO, the government and Australia?

Firstly, it is unclear whether AGIMO itself will continue to exist as a single entity, or as two separate offices who must work in close collaboration. This will require some short-term adaptation for AGIMO staff as they come to terms with the changes and how these offices work individually and together in practice.

Given than Glenn and John have a history of working together this, at least, bodes well for continued cooperation - though it is unlikely that the separation of the offices is likely to resolve the cultural 'schism' that Williams identified.

I expect the change process will see the AGCIO and AGCTO engage in navel-gazing for a few months as they develop their internal plans and come to grips with the new arrangements.

Both offices will then need to make it clear to the government and external stakeholders which is responsible for what areas. While one Office will be policy-focused and one implementation, in practice there are likely to be gray areas for which responsibility may not be clear to external observers.

This could create confusion as to which Office an agency, media representative, external stakeholder or supplier should speak to on given topics, which in turn could lead to misunderstandings and mistakes.

More critically is how the government will view and use the office to pursue whole-of-government IT reform and policy outcomes.

This reform is administrative - designed to make the machinery run better. There's been no public leadership from our elected government on what the new AGCIO and AGCTO are there to achieve.

This means that even if the AGCIO and AGCTO are doing their jobs - developing IT policies and implementing whole-of-government solutions around web hosting, IT procurement and governance - it remains unclear how this tactical work is being used strategically to bring the government's infrastructure and engagement into the 21st Century.

This is a major concern for me, per my last blog post on this subject. IT needs to be employed within a strategic framework, rather than treated as just one of the cogs in an agency's gears.

When agencies are unable to carry out policy goals for the government of the day due to their IT configuration, or when agencies are unable to effectively engage the community because their IT is substandard, there is a major issue that affects how Australia's elected representatives meet the needs of the community.

The new AGIMO structure doesn't appear to come with any additional mandate or resources (though more might be revealed next year) and this, in my opinion, will limit the ability of both AGCIO and AGCTO to be successful.

The new structure may even be counterproductive. If the AGCIO and AGCTO need to compete against each other for sufficient people and funds to achieve their goals, or a change in leadership sees the two offices less cooperative this will only weaken their effectiveness.

It is early days yet, and it takes time for this type of change to be fully communicated, considered, implemented and embedded.

I do believe that the restructure will provide a solid administrative base to continue to improve centralised strategic IT thinking, leadership and delivery.

I hope that, over the next few months, it will also become clear that there is the right political support and resourcing to use this base effectively - that it won't be starved to the point of irrelevance.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Social media 2013 - the new socialnomics video

Erik Qualman of Socialnomics has released the 2013 annual Social Media video, chock full of awe-inspiring statistics on the continuing rise of social media and its increasing influence on the world today.

In a new twist, it's available with two different music tracks (for those of you tired of an annual dose of FatBoy Slim). I've embedded both versions for your viewing pleasure below.

Keep in mind that while in Australia we appear to have quite a mature social media market, with year on year change more being a factor of population ageing than increasing widespread adoption, we are only at around 50% smartphone penetration - where desktop connections to the internet sat back in 2006 - allowing for much further growth in the mobile social media market.

We also have the NBN on the way, which presents entirely new opportunities for integrated digital services, for example having ongoing real-time online conversations integrated with TV and radio experiences - an extension of the Twitter hashtags and forums used to support popular programs today.

Around the world there is much 'blue sky' growth remaining for social media, with over 50% of the world's population under the age of 30, the rapid rate of mobile adoption in countries across asia and africa and the fact that even the largest social network in the world (Facebook) only has 14% of the world's population as members.

Continued rising social media use around the world will trigger the development of new services which, in turn, will further drive adoption in countries like Australia - such as how the emergence of platforms like Ushahidi from Kenya have led to global adoption of new tools for public engagement.

Socialnomics' Social Media Video 2013 with FatBoy Slim music:

Socialnomics' Social Media Video 2013 with new music:

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Solving the problems of cities via crowdsourcing - LLGA Cities pilot the future program

As cities are become more complex, so are their strategic challenges and the need to find innovative solutions to best serve their citizens.

With governments tightening their budgets at the same time, the challenges of modern cities are beginning to slip beyond the ability of city councils, or even national governments, to solve alone.

As a result many are now looking beyond their bureaucrats for support and solutions, using crowd sourcing to drive innovation and broaden their policy and service options.

A key example of this is the LLGA's Cities Pilot the Future program, now entering its fourth year.

The premise is simple. Cities publish details of a strategic challenge they need help solving and the public, social enterprises, research centres, not-for-profit and for-profit organisations are invited to contribute their solutions. Jurors shortlist and select winning solutions, which are then implemented.

Over the past three years 42 global cities from Europe, North, Central and South America, Africa and Asia have taken part in the annual programs - in fact the only populated continent not to have taken part in the program is Australia.

The last three programs received in more than 1,197 entries, leading to over 30 pilot programs, affecting 285 million citizens across 38 cities.

The 2013 program, which opened last week for entries, features an enormous range of different strategic challenges from 21 cities including:

  • Aalborg, Denmark: Traffic congestion early-warning system
  • Barcelona, Spain: Regenerate neighbourhoods using vacant space
  • Boston, USA: Rethinking road castings
  • Christchurch, NZ: Transformational lighting system
  • Eindhoven, The Netherlands: Data exchange on public facilities and activities
  • Fukuka, Japan: Smart international conference destination
  • Lagos, Nigeria: Networked standalone content hotspots
  • Lavasa, India: Social uplift and empowerment
  • London, UK: Energy and greenhouse gas measurement
  • Mexico City, Mexico: Digital tools for better, healthier ageing
  • Oulu, Finland: Encourage visitor engagement through technology
  • Paris, France: Making outside seating more resilient
  • Rio De Janeiro, Brazil: Accessible healthcare in intelligent cities
  • Rosario, Argentina: Network of green homes
  • San Francisco, USA: Storm response coordination tool
  • Sant Cugat, Spain: Smart Cityscape - maximising existing resources
  • Sheffield, UK: Capturing and distributing industrial heat
  • Tacoma, USA: Sustainable return on investment tool
  • Terrassa, Spain: Connecting people to progress
  • York, UK: Reducing health inequality in York

I think the list above, together with the diverse range of strategic issues cities identified in past years, demonstrates the potential range of challenges that crowdsourcing can be used to help cities solve.

Given the global range of participating cities in the LLGA program, my question is - where are the Aussies? 

Is it that our governments have single-handedly solved every strategic challenge in our cities?
(I don't believe this is true)

Or is it that Australian governments are dropping behind the rest of the world in adopting innovative approaches to solving challenges - afraid of involving citizens more broadly in finding solutions?
(I hope this isn't true!)

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Should politicians tweet (and how should they if they do)?

Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Liberal Party had 'slapped a social media gag on MPs'. While the article didn't live up to the sensation of the headline, it did touch on an area I had provided a media comment on last week.

As such I thought I would publish my full notes, edited and updated with a view to the content of this article.

Firstly, I think social media has become an important 'toolkit' of channels for politicians to use to engage constituents, stakeholders and the media.

While politicians may personally choose whether or not they wish to use social media, based on their available time, need for the reach and comfort with the technology, when parties actively or passively gag politicians on social media it sends a dangerous message - the party can't trust its own electoral candidates to behave appropriately in public discourse, so why should the public trust these candidates in public office?

I think that if a party can't trust its candidates to behave properly online or provide clear guidance to candidates on how to use social media effectively, the issue is with the candidate selection, not the channels (social media).

Effectively if a politician isn't able to present themselves appropriately through social media channels, perhaps they need to consider a different career (and political parties should not pre-select them).

In my view, in modern societies the majority of politicians at all levels of government should engage through appropriate social media channels.

These channels help amplify their direct public voice (uninterpreted by traditional media) and allow politicians to interact more broadly and deeply with constituents and interest groups than is possible through time constrained face-to-face events and meetings or traditional media channels.

Also, many of the constituents politicians can reach through social media are far harder to reach through other approaches and so the service allows them, as it allows brands and government agencies, to reach people who otherwise would not engage with them through other channels.

Looking specifically at Twitter as a channel for politicians (already used by a majority of Federal politicians in Australia), too many politicians are still using the service purely as a one-way tool for linking to media releases or 'vanity posts' they've made in traditional media outlets or in their own sites.

This is a valuable use of Twitter and, where politicians are Ministers or act in an official or honorary capacity for a particular movement or cause, they definitely should retweet tweets by the agencies and organisations they are responsible for. However if news announcements and retweets are the main or sole use of a Twitter account, followers will quickly switch off and ignore the politician as they're not adding value.

Politicians also should avoid using Twitter mainly or only for political positional and ideological statements such as "The Liberal party is committed to doing X - read about it in our site". These are commonly one-way closed statements and generally don't provide the space for politicians to engage in active conversations with the public. While important for positioning individuals and parties politically, when tweeted too often they can damage the credibility of politicians - making them appear interested only in making motherhood statements rather than engaging communities in real conversation.

I believe politicians need to consider Twitter as an engagement tool - like a meeting in their electorate or in-promptu drop-in at a shopping centre. It should be used by politicians and parties to engage actively with citizens and with groups discussing particular issues or topics.

They definitely should use Twitter's service to announce news and ideological positions, but also should use it to engage in discussions around the edges, and on topics where their party or themselves personally are still building an understanding of an issue and are willing to listen to and test ideas.

This use of Twitter for engaging in conversations can be conducted in a more structured manner than simply randomly responding to user tweets at different times when the politician is online. I recommend that politicians consider scheduled 'tweet-ups' with their constituents where they invite people to have an hour or two hour long conversation on a given topic. This has been successfully executed by the ACT Labor party through their Twitter cabinets, and can similarly work for individual politicians as it can for parties or cabinets.

To use this approach effectively, the politician or party should define a scope or topic for each conversation - this allows them to refrain from responding to hecklers who wish to go off topic.

It is important to set a hashtag for these events (in aggregate rather than individually) and promote them before the event to inform potential participants.

Politicians should to be prepared to respond quickly to comments - even having an aide or two involved to answer side questions and allow the politician to focus on the 'meat' of the conversation. If they are engaging in a conversation about their portfolio as a Minister, they should involve their agencies as well - if they have Twitter accounts (and if they don't, they should be asking why!)

Finally, the use of Twitter to talk about what someone had for breakfast or their daily activities is often maligned ('who cares what I had for breakfast'), however it is important part of establishing a human connection between the tweeting politician and their constituents.

In face-to-face conversation it is normal to engage in pleasantries and small talk, comments about the weather, asking how people are. This is a conversational tool for establishing a connection and building an initial trust relationship.

In social media there is a similar, if not greater, need to establish a connection and, when tweeting, politicians who talk about what they are doing and engage in conversation about it (such as asking for movie suggestions - as Kevin Rudd has done) help build trust and active engagement with constituents - so long as they are genuine and not forced or exaggerated.

To break tweeting down in percentage terms, I'd say politicians should tweet in roughly the following proportions (though each should adjust this to suit their particular positioning and strategy):
  • Announcements (media releases/decisions/actions): 10%
  • News (tweet headlines and link to statements/articles/posts): 10%
  • Retweets (of agencies/causes/related parties): 10-20%
  • Inpromptu engagement (responding to interesting tweets/correcting misinformation): 20-30%
  • Scheduled engagement (organised tweet-ups/twitter chats): 10%
  • Activities (where they are/what they are doing): 20-30%
Are Australian politicians using Twitter effectively?
A few are with, federally, Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd and Kate Lundy standing-out, through the entire Greens team have been growing their effectiveness, as has the Prime Minister who, after a shaky start, has found her own social media rhythm.

At state/territory levels Katy Gallagher and her cabinet are very good at using Twitter - possibly because they've had so much practice and have considered it a useful and effective way to engage with the ACT community for some time through their Twitter cabinets. Kristina Kenneally was also quite effective, as are several current State Premiers, Ministers and a few back benchers.

I'm not aware of any stand-out local councillors tweeting, although as this is more localised and fragmented due to the number of councils, there may be many great councillors out there.

Overall our politicians primarily appear to follow other politicians and traditional media representatives, shaping their tweets to these audiences.

The public remain more spoken at than too by most politicians - an issue that appears linked to political parties seeing the public as a passive group, rather than an active and involved audience.

In conclusion, few politicians use Twitter effectively - but they should. Twitter, and other social media channels, shouldn't be seen solely as a way to broadcast political positions and decisions, but as a channel to tap the wisdom of the crowd - sourcing ideas and perspectives that rarely filter their way to Ministers through public sector or political machinery.

This does involve a level of judgement and skill on behalf of politicians to be able to identify good ideas, test them and debate them in a public way, which few of our politicians appear to have really learnt, and poses one of the biggest challenges for the future of Australia.

Measuring Twitter's effectiveness for politicians
While many organisations do look to Klout or Kred scores, follower numbers or even semantic-type analysis through services such as Brandtology as a way to measure their effectiveness, it is important to keep in mind that these don't measure actual engagement or influence and simply reflect interactions.

While they are useful metrics to track, they don't accurately quantify whether politicians are building trust and respect online, getting their messages across or actively engaging the community to help foster deeper political engagement and inject new (and sometimes better) ideas into the political process.

To assess effectiveness for politicians using Twitter it is important to consider the level of retweeting and sharing - including how broadly politicians retweet community members, not just their own parties or media. Other factors should also be considered, such as the community's level of @ responses (in Twitter terms) to community members, as well as participation in hashtag (#) based discussions on topics related to the politician's portfolio areas and political interests.

Another measure of effectiveness - or at least notoriety - is the number and sophistication of the parody accounts for a politician. If I were a senior Minister or Shadow Minister and didn't have someone parodying me on Twitter in a humorous and subtle manner, then I would be worried that I wasn't really cutting through to my constituency and having an impact. Boring and unengaging politicians are less likely to achieve a long future on the government's front-bench.

Finally, politicians and the media should judge the effectiveness of politicians' engagement on Twitter through actual engagement - looking at the relationships they are building and the engagements they are having. This tells a story beyond the statistics - just as OpenAustralia's statistics on how often politicians speak in parliament only tell part of the story as to how effective those politicians are at getting things done in their electorates.

Politicians are already being judged on social media - but verdicts are not necessarily in
Politicians are already being judged on Twitter and other social media channels by their acts and words - how often, broadly and deeply they engage. Those who primarily make announcements, or selectively follow and retweet their political colleagues and the press gallery, are being judged harshly - even if this isn't necessarily obvious to them.

Politicians who are actively engaging, building trust relationships, debating politely with those who hold opposing views, use linking, retweets and hashtags wisely and are otherwise acting as good Twitter 'citizens' will reap the benefits through trust and respect over time. They are also exercising their social media muscles and building skills that will help them in their future careers as other social media channels emerge and become important for engagement with the public.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Australian government's opportunity to rethink the role of Government CIO

A few weeks ago Ann Steward, the Australian Government Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Deputy Secretary leading AGIMO (the Australian Government Information Management Office) announced she was retiring from the public service after seven years in her current role.

Her announcement was widely covered in the media, and there's been a number of public and, I am sure, private thanks and congratulations to her from her (soon to be) former colleagues across the Australian Public Service, from the present and from former Australian Governments for her work in the service of Australia.

I'm not going to add to this chorus, other than to say that I believe Ann performed admirably, given the opportunities and constraints of her roles and duties.

Instead I want to look forward - to consider how this is an opportunity for the Australian Government.

When Ann took up her role in 2005 as Government CIO, about 67% of Australian households had a computer and only 56% had internet access. The majority accessed the internet via dial-up (67%), with only 28% using broadband (with most broadband 2Mbps or less in speed) (ABS Household use of Information Technology 2004-2005 - PDF).

YouTube and Google Maps were new, both launched in February 2005, while Facebook was over a year away from extending beyond universities to the public (in September 2006). Geocities and MySpace ruled the roost.

Government's online IT efforts were focused on eGovernment - streamlining the speed and cost of services through online forms and reports. Government 2.0 had only just been coined as a term and the use of social media for government engagement was barely on the radar of the most progressive public servants.

The role of Australian Government CIO was defined in the context of these times. AGIMO was focused on providing IT leadership to agencies around egovernment, but had a weak mandate when it came to doing more than advising or suggesting and had no mandate at all for supporting and encouraging other forms of online engagement by agencies.

We now live in a different world. Close to 100% of Australians use the internet for an average of over 48 hours per month online. The overwhelming majority of Australians use broadband (96%) and it is their most popular way of engaging with governments.

Social media rules the roost online, with Social Media News reporting that over 11.5 million Australians are using Facebook, 11 million use YouTube and 3.7 million use Blogspot - each month.

Internationally we've seen many governments introduce strong central mandates for the use of the internet in service provision, public engagement, policy development, accountability and transparency.

The US and UK have introduced strong central government CIO roles, who were not only first amongst equals, but who were mandated and empowered to proactively lead whole-of-government agendas for IT, particularly online.

Australia's government has an opportunity to similarly rethink the role of Government CIO - whether the current role definition, whole-of-government responsibilities, placement (currently in the Department of Finance and Deregulation), funding and objectives.

There is an opportunity for Australia to follow the bold leadership of other nations to mandate a more powerful and central role for the Government CIO than was previously the case. A role that allows the CIO to mandate and enforce standards on agencies, rather than simply providing advise and support which can be ignored.

The main risks that I see right now are that Ann Steward's replacement is appointed as a matter of procedure - selecting the best person for the currently defined role, rather than reconsidering how the role should be defined. This will send a critical message to agencies, the media and the public that the Australian Government is still living in 2005, seeing the internet as a 'nice-to-have' cost-efficiency channel alongside their other one-way engagement channels, rather than as a paradigm shift in how societies interact with each other and with governments.

The second risk is that the role is redefined behind closed doors, not secretly, but through old practices, where a small group of people decide what is appropriate without consultation with the broader engaged community. This would send a message that, while government recognises the challenges brought on by the digitalisation of engagement, it is not yet ready to embrace the opportunities - to bring a larger set of voices into the conversation and pursue more transparent and accountable governance.

I've heard nothing about the process for replacing Ann as yet, and the government and Department are likely still coming to terms with her decision and the ramifications. There's still opportunity to consider taking a different approach to what is becoming an increasingly important central role for spearheading the necessary cultural and IT changes in government to help Australia's government remain fit and competitive for the 21st century.

The process and the new appointment could have a large impact on how Australian Government employs IT and engages online to meet the needs of society, the type of level of impact that could see individual governments rise or fall based on how well they meet community needs.

I hope that the Australian Government takes up this opportunity, providing strategic leadership by reconsidering the role of Government CIO and opening the doors to hear the views of the many engaged stakeholders who have thoughts as to what the role could be and how it could support the government in achieving its broader policy and service delivery goals - all of which now rely on IT and the internet for public engagement, promotion and delivery.

This would send a strong positive message to current and prospective public servants, to the community, industry, the media and to other nations - that Australia is one of the powers to watch in the 21st century.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Is social media blurring the non-partisan status of appointed public servants?

A separation that is widely understood within governments, but often less well understood in the rest of the community, is the separation between politics and public service.

Elected public servants, politicians, ascribe to specific political ideologies and policy positions which form the basis of how people select which politicians and parties to support and cast their votes for.

Unelected public servants, the appointed public service, strive to remain politically unaligned and non-partisan, neutral advisors and implementers of the ideological and political wishes of elected politicians.

This system is designed to balance the instability of democracy with the continuity, stability and certainty of continued governance and public service delivery, allowing appointed public servants to continue on an ongoing basis while elected politicians of various political stripes come and go.

Shifting the balance to largely political - where the majority of the public service is replaced at each change of government - would make governance unstable, with nations unable to rely on the continuity of contracts, laws, support or services they need to conduct their lives and businesses.

Whereas shifting the balance to largely apolitical - where elections are rare or of figurehead positions only - would remove the democratic option for nations to change their minds as to how they prefer to be governed, effectively dictatorships in all but name.

Therefore preserving the separation between politicians and public servants is a primary consideration of Australia's system of governance - as it is in most democratic states - while a delicate balance needs to be maintained where public services willingly and proactively carry out the will of the elected (political) government, however unelected career public servants retain the independence to provide frank and fearless non-partisan advice in their professional lives and the ability to participate as full citizens (with their own political views) in their private lives.

Australia has legislation, codes and policies to maintain this separation, which have largely worked well over the last century, although I - and most current or former public servants - have seen cases where the lines can get quite blurry between serving the government of the day and 'signing on' to the government's political position and cases where individuals have let their personal views overwhelm their professional need to remain non-partisan.

Social media is adding complexity to this mix, providing channels for government agencies and appointed public servants to have a louder and more direct public voice whereas previously government communications was limited to traditional media channels - radio, television and newsprint - where comments could be tightly filtered through communications teams, media specialists and Ministerial offices.

Today's media landscape allows every government agency and appointed public servant to be a participant, informer or influencer, in public debate. They can establish their own communications channels at little or no cost and distribute messages with, potentially, little or no central oversight (or as many approval processes as they like, but at the cost of speed and relevancy).

While for the most part agencies and public servants have been guarded and cautious in the use of these new channels - ensuring they have sound guidance and principles in place to preserve their non-partisan position - a few channels have become more blurry, presented as government channels but presenting political views.

These channels - and their proliferation as precedents are established - could easily confuse the lines between partisan and non-partisan, politicians and the professional appointed public service. This risks politicising the public service, confusing the public and damaging democracy.

Let me offer a few examples.

Firstly, in the Australian Government's list of official government social media accounts, (managed and administered by AGIMO in the Department of Finance and Administration) lists the Twitter account of Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard), Australia's Prime Minister, alongside the accounts of departments, agencies and government programs.

Unlike all of the other accounts listed by, Julia Gillard's account is operated by a politician (Julia Gillard herself) and her Ministerial staff - who are largely political appointments with strong links to the Australian Labor Party.

While Julia Gillard fills an official government role, that of Prime Minister, she is a politician, elected to this public office by her party, who happens to hold enough votes in the House of Representatives to be able to form government.

While her Twitter account (@JuliaGillard) does include apolitical tweets about the Australian Government, it is also used for her personal and party political purposes and cannot be considered apolitical or part of the professional and apolitical machinery of government.

Her account regularly tweets messages that slip into politically partisan territory, such as:
"As a government of purpose and strong policy commitments, we won’t be distracted by their weakness and negativity."

5 years of Labor. A lot done, a lot left to do. TeamJG

RT @AustralianLabor: Greg Combet today gave a great run down of how the is going and the Spring Racing form of the Liberals: 
Source: (Original tweet)

It is perfectly legitimate for our Prime Minister to have this account and to use it as she sees fit. However, on the basis of tweets such as those above, her account shouldn't be included in a list of official government Twitter accounts where it could be confused as the standard approach for all government departments and create a perception that the Australian Public Service is partisan towards the Labor party, rather than a non-partisan body that advises and implements the Australian Government's (who happens to be the Labor party) dictates.

A second example is from QLD, the @QLDStateBudget twitter account, owned and managed by the QLD Department of Treasury and Trade (see it linked from the bottom right of their page).

This account, which has provided good news and updates regarding the QLD government budget in a largely non-partisan way, has also (disconcertedly), published tweets like:
TOUGH CUTS: Wayne Swan should take a leaf out of Campbell Newman's book: 

Which is a very political tweet indeed.

This account, as a purported departmental account, shouldn't stray into this type of political commentary and is clearly being influenced by a Ministerial office.

While this Twitter account hasn't been tweeted from for over 80 days, and may no longer be active, the tweets remain public and therefore the perception remains plausible.

Perception is reality
In both examples above the lines between elected and appointed public servants are blurred - which can create confusion and a perception that Australia's professional public service is no longer operating in a non-partisan and independent fashion.

While I don't believe this is the case, as for many things in government perceptions are reality. In a situation where the public and the media are often already confused about the separation between elected and appointed public servants, it is critical for agencies and governments to ensure that the separation remains distinct and clear in perception, as well as reality.

If social media makes this harder, due to the ease of posting publicly and the difficulty in removing material from the public domain, then it becomes even more necessary for senior public servants and politicians to understand social mediums, be aware of the risks, sponsor the creation of appropriate guidance and training for their staff and apply appropriate discretion at all times to minimise and resist any tendency to blur the lines.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Come along to the Gov 2.0 Canberra picnic (with fantastic speakers)

It is approaching the end of the year, so for the final formal Gov 2.0 event in Canberra, there's a picnic being held on Saturday 8 December from midday.

There will be a couple of speakers - starting with Julian Carver from New Zealand, who has had a long involvement with the open government movement, including working on NZ's Declaration on Open and Transparent Government.

The other speaker and the venue will be confirmed shortly.

For more information and to RSVP visit:

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Open Australia launches 'Right to Know' FOI request site

The process of requesting documents from the government, though enshrined in Australian law, can be difficult for many people - taking significant time, causing significant frustration and resulting in inconsistent and substandard outcomes - as I found when asking government agencies some simple question about which public social media channels they operated and which web browsers they used.

My experience saw 25% of agencies requested never respond to the request, several more withhold information on the web browsers they used as 'commercial in confidence' (although this information is automatically transmitted to every website visited by their staff) and several others ask for up to $800 for finding the documents that provided the answer.

In many cases there was little or no information on the FOI process on agency websites and in many cases agency FOI staff contacted me to explain their FOI processes (which differed substantially amongst agencies) - adding significant cost to a process where this information could be more clearly publicly explained through agency websites.

This is, of course, a single example and doesn't represent the bulk of FOI requests - for which there's no consolidated statistical data on whether the system works well and the satisfaction of people making requests (as agencies don't assess this or aggregate this information - as they do for most other customer service processes), making it very hard to quantify how effectively the FOI system is performing other than via anecdotal views, such as mine above.

OpenAustralia has now launched a website designed to simplify the FOI process for ordinary people, making it easier for Australians to understand what they request from which government agencies and the process of making and completing these requests, as well as collecting information on the complexities and difficulties of these processes.

The website, Right to Know, is based on a UK model which has been in operation for a number of years and offers both better transparency in the FOI process as well as potentially streamlining the process for government agencies, where they will have to spend less of their valuable FOI officer time on explaining how to make valid FOI requests.

The site will also help capture released documents and collect data on the complexity and issues with FOI processes, helping the government to improve them in the future.

The site is launching at a time when the government is reviewing the operations of the revised FOI Act, and it will also be interesting to see what this review recommends - and what is ultimately done with these recommendations.

I'm hopeful that the government and public service will look on the launch of Right to Know as a positive step that supports the goals of FOI, rather than considering it as yet another impost on their operations, even if long-term FOI stalwards such as Allan Rose believe that the culture change necessary in the public service to support FOI are yet to occur.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

The latest infographic about Twitter - Australians the third most active users

The Twitter infographic below has been brought to my attention by The Wall and I thought it worth reflecting here.

As you'll see below, Australia is rated the third most active nation on Twitter, behind the US and UK and just ahead of Brazil, Canada and India.

There's some useful general demographics on Twitter's global audience, though I'm still waiting for the time when Twitter releases country-based demographics before it becomes possible to really assess Twitter's value as a promotional medium.

Right now for I'm tracking 633 government accounts in Australia (excluding politicians), including the latest addition, @ACTGIO.

The infographic was compiled by

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hindsight: Government by the people, for the people but not yet OF the people -

This is a great video regarding innovations in participation, citizen engagement and deliberative democracy, with a panel discussion involving,

  • Professor Archon Fung, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Mr. Richard Dobson, Founder of Asiye Etafuleni, South Africa
  • Mr. Robert Miller, Director of the Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program, USA
  • Dr. Henry Tam, Deputy Director of Community Empowerment Delivery, UK
It took place back in 2008, but remains extremely relevant and current to the trends of today.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Having a website crash due to high traffic is a failure of management, not load

Today has provided an interesting lesson for several organisations, with the crash of both the David Jones and ClickFrenzy websites in Australia.

But first, some background.

ClickFrenzy is a new 24-hour sale for Australian online retailers starting from 7pm on Tuesday 20 November.

Based on the US 'Cyber Monday' sale, which now attracts over 10 million buyers, ClickFrenzy was designed to entice Australian online shoppers to buy from local online retailers by offering massive discounts on product prices for a short period of time.

The event was announced over a month before it was due to start and has been promoted through newspapers, online and in some retail stores, with the ClickFrenzy team expecting thousands of shoppers to log on, likening it to a "digital boxing day sale".

I've kept an eye on the ClickFrenzy site and signed up to receive an email alert when the sale began.

Just before the sale started I hopped back onto the ClickFrenzy site to see how it was going, and only saw a basic page of text, with no graphics or formatting. Puzzled I tried reloading - and the site wouldn't load at all.

That's when I hopped onto Twitter and learnt from the #clickfrenzy hashtag that the ClickFrenzy site had already crashed from the load and no-one had any idea when it would be back online.

This meant that the list of participating retailers (many of whom had been kept secret) was inaccessible. No shopper knew who had the specials, meaning few sales could occur. Of the retailers that were known to be participating, two-thirds of their sites crashed too (such as Priceline and Myers).

In competition with ClickFrenzy, David Jones had decided to run its own independent 24-hour sale over a similar time period. Their sale, named 'Christmas Frenzy', was to be run from their main website.

How did their launch go? Their site also crashed, and was down for several hours, taking down not only the shopping site but all their corporate information.

So we had two major online sales on the same day from Australian retails, and both experienced crashes due to the volume of traffic.

What was to blame? Both claimed the failure was due to unprecedented demand. So many people tried to get onto both sites that their servers could not cope (the same reason given for the mySchools website issues at launch in 2010 and the CFA website issues during the Victorian fires in 2009).

Let's unpick that reasoning.

The world wide web is twenty years old. is 18 years old. The US 'Cyber Monday' sale is six years old.

David Jones is an experienced retailer, with significant IT resources and has been operating an online store for some time. Their Christmas Frenzy sale was planned and well promoted.

Click Frenzy is being run by experienced retailers as well. They built an emailing list of people interested in the event and also widely promoted the sale. The retailers supporting them are large names and operate established online shopping sites as well.

In both cases the organisers had a wealth of experience to draw on. The growth of Amazon, the US Cyber Monday sales, their own website traffic figures and email list sign-ups, not to mention a host of public examples of how to manage web server load well, and badly, from media sites, social networks and even government sites (such as mySchools and CFA examples above).

There are many IT professionals with experience on how to manage rapid load changes on web servers.

There's scalable hosting solutions which respond almost instantly to fast-increasing loads, such as during an emergency or with breaking news, and 'scale up' the site to support much larger numbers of simultaneous users. (Though in the case of Christmas Frenzy and Click Frenzy a large increase in load was expected, rather than unexpected.)

There's even automated processes for testing how much load a website will be able to bear by simulating the impact of thousands or millions of visitors.

In other words, there's no longer any technical reason why any organisation should have their website fail due to expected or anticipated load.

Load is not a reason, it is a justification.

We have the experience, knowledge and technology to manage load changes.

What the Click Frenzy and Christmas Frenzy failures illustrate is that some organisations fail to plan for load. They haven't learnt from the experience of others, don't invest in the right infrastructure and may not even test their sites.

They are literally crossing their fingers and praying that their website won't crash.

A website crashing when it receives a high level of load that could be expected or planned for is crashing due to a failure of management.

The next time your agency's management asks you to build a website which is expected to have a big launch or large traffic spikes, ask them if they're prepared to invest the funds necessary for a scalable and tested website, built on the appropriate infrastructure to mitigate the risk of sudden large increases in traffic.

If they aren't then let them know to cross their fingers and pray - and that a website crash due to high traffic is a failure of management, not load.

You might even get a Downfall parody video to memorialise the failure - as Click Frenzy received within two hours of their launch crash.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

But we're the experts! Why the 'internal expert' democratic governance model is gradually failing and what can be done about it.

Most public sector agencies are designed as centres of expertise on policy and service delivery.

By gathering, or training, experts in a given topical area and marshalling and directing this expertise to resolve specific issues and goals, agencies have been designed to design and deliver effective and sound policy and service delivery solutions to governments for communities.

Sure these powerhouses of expertise consult a little on the fringes. They access academia and business to provide 'fringe' expertise that they cannot attract into their agencies and engage with NGOs, community groups and individual citizens to check that service delivery solutions meet the 'on-the-ground' needs of specific communities.

This is necessary for fine-tuning any policy or service solutions to meet specific needs, where cost-effective to do so.

However the main game, the real policy powerhouse, are the government agencies themselves, who take on the roles of researcher, think tank, gatekeeper, designer and deliverer through their central pool of expertise.

This is a longstanding - even 'traditional' approach to governance. It was designed and adopted in an era where geography, communication and education limited the extent and access to expertise in a nation or community. Where, often, many people were disempowered politically and economically through limited access to information and knowledge.

Consider Australia at Federation in 1901. 

The new Commonwealth Government, in addressing national issues, had to serve a population of 3.7 million people (smaller than Victoria's population today), with an average age of 22 years old, dispersed over 7.7 million square kilometres.

There was no telephone, radio, television or internet, however the overland telegraph, which gave Australia high-speed communication with the world, was 30 years old, having been completed in 1872 and extended to Perth in 1877. While most communication travelled at the speed of a fast horse, train or ship, it was possible to share information across Australia the speed of light, though at the rate of only a few messages at once. This telegraphic networked served as Australia's communication backbone for almost another fifty years, until telephones became popular after World War II from 1945.

In 1901 Australia had one of the highest literacy rates in the world (80%) with school compulsory to 13 years old, though attendance was not enforced, many remote communities didn't have access to schools and Indigenous Australians were excluded. Literacy meant basic reading and writing, with the ability to add and subtract - the books issued to 13yr olds today would have been far beyond the ability of the majority of students in 1901.

The majority of Australia's 22,000 teachers hadn't attended a teacher's college, generally serving an apprenticeship as 'pupil teachers' and few 'technical colleges' existed to teach advanced students.

In 1901 there were only 2,600 students at Australia's four universities (0.1% of our population) and CSIRO wasn't even an idea (formed 1926). There wasn't a record of how many Australians had received a university education until the 1911 Commonwealth census, which reported 2,400 students at university and 21,000 'scholars' (with their level of education undefined).

In this environment, expertise was rare and treasured. Governments employed the cream of Australia's graduates and were almost the sole source of expertise and thinking on policy issues that the new nation had to address.

The 'government as centre of expertise' model made sense, in fact it was the only viable way to develop a system capable of administering the world's smallest continent and one of the largest, and most sparsely populated, nations.

Jump forward a hundred and ten years, and Australia is one of the most connected nations on the planet, with 98% of our 22 million citizens having instant access to the world through the internet and virtually every Australian having access to telephones, radio and television.

Education is compulsory to 15 or 17, with the majority of teachers tertiary educated and school attendance strictly enforced - including for Indigenous Austalians. We have about 41 universities, ten times as many as in 1901, as well as over 150 other tertiary institutions, with over 21% of Australians having received tertiary education.

As a result, the 'government agency as expert' model is failing.

Across our population there's far more expertise outside of government than within. Governments struggle to attract and retain talent in a global market, hamstringing themselves by restricting employment to Australian citizens, while the commercial sector internationally will happily take Australia's best trained minds and put them to use elsewhere in the world.

Despite this, government's basic model has barely changed. Agencies are structured and act as 'centres of expertise' on policy and service delivery topics.

True, there's a little more interaction with academia, with business and even with citizens. However agencies remain structured as 'centres of expertise' for policy design and service delivery, designed to serve communities with limited communication or education - limited capability to do for themselves.

This model may remain effective in certain parts of the world, in nations where literacy is low, geography remains a barrier and communication infrastructure is weak - like Papua New Guinea, regions in the Amazon and some other remote areas and developing nations.

However in developed nations, with high literacy, substantial tertiary education, where geography is no limit to communication and access to media and internet are almost universal, does the approach retain the same merit?

A 'centre of expertise' approach also has many downside risks which are necessary features of the system, providing the separation and public trust required by governments to operate in this way.

For example, when government agencies structure themselves as the experts, they need to maintain a level of mystique and authority to justify public trust that they are providing the best advice and solutions. 

Just like a religion has special rituals, and restaurants rarely let you see how their kitchens operate in order to preserve the trust of their worshippers and customers, government agencies conceal their day-to-day operations from scrutiny to maintain a mystique of expertise and create a clear separation between the 'agency business' of government and the external workings of society. 

This often involves keeping policy development processes hidden behind a wall of secrecy, bureaucratic language and bizarre semi-ritualistic procedures. 

This is also why, despite FOI and other approaches, governments largely remain secretive about their processes for designing policy. They can be messy, which may reduce trust and call into question the expertise of the agency or government.

As a result, if you're not a policy expert, in most countries it is unlikely that ordinary citizens have much knowledge of how an agency has developed a given policy, who was involved (formally or informally) or why certain decisions were reached. These activities are done behind closed doors - in the confessional, behind the kitchen wall, backstage - with all their inherent messiness, testing of 'dangerous' ideas and economic modelling of who wins and who loses with any specific decision treated as confidential and secret knowledge.

This leads to a second issue and a rationalisation. As the public isn't aware of how a specific policy or service was developed, generally seeing only the final 'packaged' solution, agencies can reasonably and logically argue that the majority of the public have little to add to the policy process. 

'Expert' policy officers can argue that; the public doesn't have sufficient context, doesn't have all the facts, doesn't understand the consequences of decisions or the trade-offs that had to be made.

And of course this is true. Because the public were not part of the process, they did not go on the same journey that the public sector 'experts' went on to reach a particular policy conclusion.

The public is told 'trust us, we're the experts', and again this is indeed true. Only the policy insiders had the opportunity to become the experts, all others were kept outside the process and therefore can never fully understand the outcome. 

Success in implementing policies and services relies on the public trusting agencies and governments to be the experts. To trust them to do their jobs as the 'experts' who 'know better' than the community. However the 'secret agency business' of policy and service design can feed on itself. Government may attempt to keep more and more from their citizens as, from their perspective, the more they reveal the less the public trust agencies. 

This is a tenuous approach to trust in modern society, where scrutiny is intense and every individual has a public voice.

If the agency policy experts, in their rush to meet a government timetable, overlooked one factor, or misunderstood community needs, a policy can quickly unravel and, like an emperor with no clothes, the public can rapidly lose faith and trust in government to deliver appropriate solutions.

In this situation it is rare that an expertise-based agency or government will be willing to publicly admit that they misunderstood the issue, convenes the people affected and expertise in the community and discusses it until they have a workable solution. It does happen, but it is the exception not the rule.

Instead, the first reaction to external scrutiny is often to protect their position and justify why the public should trust them. They may draw the wagons round, either seeking to bluff their way through ('you don't understand why we made these decisions, but trust us'), 'hide' the failure under a barrel (it was a draft, here's the real policy), or to tell the public that the agency will fix the issue ('trust us this second time'). 

In some extreme examples, governments may even cross lines to protect their perceived trust and reputation - concealing information or discrediting external expertise in order to justify the expertise inside their walls and try to regain public trust.

There are other risks as well to the government as expert model. Policy experts, who have worked in the field a long time, may not accept the expertise of 'outsiders' who appear to be interloping on their territory ' who are they to tell us what we should do'. Agency experts may become out-of-date due to not working in a field practically for a long time, they may hire the wrong experts, or simply not hire experts at all and attempt to create them. 

In all these cases, agencies have a strong structural need to preserve public trust and their integrity - which may often exhibit itself as 'protecting' their internal experts from external scrutiny, or otherwise attempting to prevent any loss of reputation through being exposed as providing less than good advice.

These risks mean that the government as expert model is under increasing pressure.

A more educated and informed citizenry, with high levels of access to publication tools means that every public agency mistake and misstep can be identified, scrutinised, analysed and shared widely.

Each policy failure and example of a government agency protecting itself at the expense of the community. Each allegation of corruption, fraud or negligent practice - whether at local, state or national level - contributes to a reduction in trust and respect that affects most, if not all, of government. 

Of course this government as expert model hasn't completely failed. There are areas that the community isn't interested in, where the government is indeed the expert or where it would be dangerous to release information into the public eye - where we do have to trust the governments we elect to act in our best interests without the ability to scrutinise their decisions. These areas are shrinking, but some are likely to always remain.

However the model started fraying around the edges some time ago and we see it represented today in the increasing lack of respect or trust in government. 

Citizens don't compartmentalise these failures in ways that governments hope they will, often seeing them as systemic failures rather than individual issues.

As a result citizens trust governments less, have less faith that governments can develop appropriate policies and services and turn even more scrutiny onto agencies - even when unwarranted.

The failures of the government as expert model are only likely to grow and extend, with greater scrutiny and greater pressure on agencies to perform. This, unfortunately, is likely to lead to more errors, not less, as governments seek to make faster decisions with fewer internal resources, less experts, less time.

So how does this failing model get resolved? What are the alternatives approach that governments can adopt to remain effective, relevant and functional in a society with high literacy, education, access to information and almost universal capability to publicly analyse government performance?

In my view the main solution is for governments, except in specific secure topics, to turn themselves inside out - changing their approach from being policy and service deliver 'centres of expertise' to being policy and service delivery 'convenors and implementors'.

Rather than seeking to hire experts and design policy and services internally, agencies need to hire people who can convene expertise within communities and from stakeholders, marshalling it to design policy and codesign service and focus on supporting this process with their expertise in structuring these approaches to fit the realities of government and implementing the necessary solutions.

This approach involves an entirely transparent design process (for both policies and services), making it possible to inform and engage the community at every step.

Within this approach, government agencies gain the trust of the community through managing the process and outcomes, not through being the expert holding the wisdom. The community doesn't need to trust a black box process, it comes on the journey alongside the agency, developing a deeper and richer trust and support for the outcomes. As a result, the energy of the community is aligned to support the agency in making the policy succeed, rather than being disengaged, or actively opposing the policy and leading to failure.

Government becomes an active participant and enabler of the community, reducing the cost of communicating information and influencing citizen ideas as citizens are influenced through their participation or observation of the proces.

This approach does require substantial education - both within government and within the community - to ensure that all participants are aware and actively engaged in their new roles. It can't, and shouldn't, be introduced into all agencies overnight and there are some policy requirements where security should take precedence and processes cannot be as fully revealed.

However the approach could be introduced relatively easily (and some governments around the world have done this already). For instance, a government could select three to five issues and put together taskforces responsible for taking a collaborative approach to deliver specific policy or service solutions. 

These taskforces provide a 'public secretariat' for managing community and stakeholder involvement, acting as facilitators, not operators, to marshal community engagement in the design process.

This could even be done at arms length from a government, with taskforces drawing on expertise from outside public sector culture to avoid accidental imposition of elements of a central command and control model, provided they include core skills from the public sector necessary to ensure the policies or services developed can be effectively and practically implemented by government.

This process would test the public policy design model, capturing learnings and experiences - not from a single process run once, but from an parallel process, with multiple taskforces running at the same time to test the real-world impact in a reduced timeframe. Learnings from the taskforces would be aggregated and used to build a more complete understanding of how to adopt the approach more widely within agencies.

Provided governments committed to the outcomes of these processes, and selected issues of interest to the community, this approach would provide solid evidence for the effectiveness (or otherwise) of a facilitation/implementation, rather than an internal expertise, approach to governance.

Alongside this moderated approach to public policy development, a complementary citizen-led policy engagement approach could be introduced using an ePetition or ePolicy methodology.

Mirroring the approach taken in other jurisdictions, where the community is given a method to propose, develop and have debated in parliament, citizen policy and legislation, this would provide another route for citizens to engage with and understand the complexity of policy development and build an alternative route for high-attention issues for which governments are not prepared to take immediate action.

This approach has been adopted in several forms overseas, such as the ePetition approaches in the US and UK, where any petition with sufficient votes receives the attention of the government and, in the case of the UK, is debated in Parliament.

more rigorous model is used in Latvia, where citizens are supported to design actual legislation online and, if they can marshall sufficient support, their bills go to parliament, they get to speak on them and the parliament votes them up or down.

This last model is beginning to be introduced in Scandinavian countries and Switzerland has long had a similar process, pre-dating the internet, which allows greater participation by citizens in decisions.

So, in summary, the 'internal expert' model designed for use in nations with limited literacy and education and poor communication, is failing to serve the needs of highly educated and connected nations, such as Australia, leading to increasing citizen concern and plummeting trust in governments.

To address this, governments need to adapt their approaches to suit the new realities - environments where there are more experts outside of government than inside and where citizens can universally scrutinise governments and publish facts, analysis and opinions which serve to increasingly force governments into difficult and untenable positions.

The key changes governments need to make is to turn themselves 'inside out' - exposing their policy and service delivery design and development processes to public scrutiny and engagement and becoming facilitators and implementors of public policy, rather than the expert creators of it.

While some areas of governance need to remain 'black boxes', many can be opened up to public participation, building trust with communities by bringing citizens on the journey with agencies to reach the most practical and appropriate solutions.

This will rebuild trust in governance and allow governments to improve their productivity and performance by tapping a greater range of expertise and building an easier path to implementation, where citizens support agencies, rather than oppose them.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Are organisations failing in their use of social media and apps as customer service channels?

Guy Cranswick of IBRS has brought my attention to a media release about a new report from Fifth Quadrant, a leading Australian customer experience strategy and research consultancy, on social media and smartphone app customer service enquiries.

The report looked at how many Australian consumers had used these channels for customer service enquiries and why they'd used, or not used, them.

The figures are quite dim reading...

The study (of 520 participants) indicated that only 16% of Australian consumers have ever used social media for a customer service enquiry and less than one in 10 Australians had used this channel for customer service in the last three months. Gen Y ran 'hotter', with 29% having ever used social media for a customer service enquiry.

Why didn't people use social media for these enquiries? The survey broke down the reasons as follows (multiple reasons allowed):
  • 32% said it isn't personal, 
  • 30% said they did not know that they could,
  • 30% said they were concerned with security issues,
  • 22% said they thought it would take longer than a phone call, and
  • 20% said they did not think it would be a good experience. 
The research also looked at smartphone apps and their use in customer enquiries. Here the figures were even lower. Only 15% of Australian consumers had ever used a smartphone application for a customer enquiry (20% amongst Gen Y), and only 8% of consumers had used this channel in the last three months.

The reasons for not using apps were similar to social media:
  • 41% said they did not know they could,
  • 21% said they thought it would take longer than a phone call,
  • 16% said they thought it would make the process slower to talk to a customer service representative,
  • 15% said they did not think it would be a good experience, and 
  • 13% said that they did not think it would be easy to use.
My immediate reaction was to say that, well, social media and smartphone apps are still very young and immature, both effectively five or less years old as mass communication and engagement channels. It takes time for organisations and customers to adopt their use for customer service.

However, other research suggests that this may not exactly be the case.

Fifth Quadrant’s 2012 Customer Service Industry Market Report (with 120 business participants) found that 69% of Australian based organisations had implemented social media and 23% had implemented smartphone apps for customer service. This is a small sample, but still statistically significant.

In other words, while 69% of organisations will accept customer service enquiries via social media, only 16% of Australians have used this approach and while 23% accept these enquiries via smartphone apps, only 15% of Australians have used these channels.

So if organisations are offering these channels, why do so few Australians use them?

More of Fifth Quadrant's research offers a clue...

How many times should a customer have to contact an organisation to resolve a customer service issue?

Fifth Quadrant reports that the level of 'first contact resolution' (where a customer only needs to contact an organisation once to have their query resolved) is much lower for social media or smartphone app than for phone contacts.
  • Phone: 78% of queries handled in one contact
  • Social media: 59%
  • Smartphone app: 51%
In other words, 41% of people attempting to use social media and 49% of those using smartphone apps will have to contact the organisation multiple times (often resorting to phone) to resolve their query.

This significantly increases the cost of the interaction to the organisation and the customer and reduces customer satisfaction.

So what's the issue? Poor organisational implementation of social media and app channels.

Fifth Quadrant's Director, Dr Wallace said,
“There is no question that social media and mobile channels will be important in the next few years as the percentage of consumers who use these channels for customer service doubles year on year. Rather, it is a question of how effectively organisations address the supporting business processes and skill levels of social media customer service representatives.

The challenge for Australian business is that they typically do not consider Multi-channel Customer Experience as a strategy, hence these new channels lack integration, they do not have accurate revenue and cost models and there is poor data analytics. This has resulted in a sub-optimal channel deployment and as the research shows, ultimately, a sub-optimal customer experience.”

So let's go back to the reasons again...
  • There was an awareness issue (social media: 30%; apps: 41%).
    Organisations need to integrate information about the ability to engage them through social media and apps in their promotion, packaging and engagement.
  • There was a speed/perceived speed issue (social media: 22% (take longer); apps: 21% (take longer) and 16% (slower)).
    Organisations need to integrate these channels with their other customer contact points, building the protocols and processes to make it faster and easier to engage online than by phone.
  • There was an experience/usability issue (social media: 30% (not personal), 20% (experience); apps: 15% (experience) and 13% (easy to use)).
    Organisations need to codesign their channels with customers, putting extensive work into the upfront experiential design to make them an easy to use service with a great user experience. The investment in design is more than offset by the long-term cost savings in moving people from high-cost phone to low cost online service channels.
  • There was a security issue (social media 30%).
    Organisations need to take the same actions as ecommerce companies did to reduce this to a minimum, providing context, clear security measures and escalation and rectification mechanisms that assure users that they won't be disadvantaged by any security problems.
Overall, organisations need to run these channels as part of their customer service framework, not remotely via communication, marketing or IT teams.

Want to learn more about the research and report?

See Dr Wallace's blog, Your call.

And here are some of the key findings from Fifth Quadrant’s 2012 Customer Service Industry Market Report (n=120):

Social Media:
  1. In Australia, the predominant share of the 22 million daily customer interactions handled by contact centres is still handled by live agents (52%). Despite industry increasing the implementation of social media as a customer service channel, Share of Contact Handling by Social Media channels is 0.2%
  2. Amongst organisations that offer social media as a channel for customer service, 67% report that the marketing department is responsible for managing it.
  3. 63% of organisations in the study have only had social media as a channel for customer service implemented for 1 to 2 years.
  4. Amongst organisations that currently have social media as a customer service channel only 29% reported their contact centre has the ability to escalate a social media query through to a customer support application that links through to an agent.
  5. Past three months usage of social media as a customer service channel has doubled in the past 12 months (4% 2011; 8% 2012).
  6. The proportion of consumers who believe they will be using social media more often in the future has also nearly doubled from 4% in 2011 to 7% in 2012. 
  7. When asked whether they had received a response from an organisation via a Social Media network to comments they had made through Social Media, only 7% of consumers reported that they had. About 5% of consumers claim to have received essential information posted via a Social Media network. 14% of consumers report they have received information from an organisation via social media about new products and services. 
Smartphone Apps:
  1. Amongst organisations that offer smartphone apps as a channel for customer service 50% report that the marketing department is responsible for managing it, with a further 33% reporting that IT is responsible.
  2. 50% have only had smartphone apps as a channel for customer service implemented for one to two years, with 33% reporting smartphone app has been available for less than 12 months. 
  3. Amongst organisations that do not currently offer smartphone app as a channel for customer service, 25% report they have no plans to. 
  4. Further to the existing 8% of consumers who have used a smartphone app for customer service, a further 33% of consumers report that they are likely to use a smartphone app for a customer service enquiry in the next 12 months. 
  5. Amongst Gen Y consumers, 29% report that they will be using smartphone apps for customer service issues more often in the next 1-2 years. This is significantly higher compared to Baby Boomer (8%) and Silent (4%) generations.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How will augmented reality shape society's future and the expectations of government?

Augmented Reality, or AR, involves the projection of information onto our physical landscape through some form of assistive device, such as the heads-up displays (HUDs) used in many aircraft, the use of a mobile device with a camera to photograph a location and add information or the upcoming Google Goggles, which promise a wearable AR experience.

There's many, many potential uses for this approach.

Doctors could monitor a patient's vitals and view an x-ray or CAT image over the area they are operating on, emergency workers could see a map of a building's interior, which tells them where to go to get around obstacles or even where people are trapped, business people and politicians could access public details of individuals they meet so they're never short of a name or small talk, street workers could view all the conduits under a road, or builders the wires and pipes in walls and floors in order to guide their activities.

Even tourists could use AR productively, viewing historical information on landmarks and tour routes as they travel around a city or country.

The potential for global information at one's eyeballs may even be a more profound leap forward than the internet's now established concept of global information at one's fingertips.

This isn't even new technology. Our grandparents were the first to have access to augmented reality devices, before computers, microwave ovens or mobile phones, albeit in a limited way.

The first HUD was invented in 1937, when the German air force developing the reflector sight, an approach that used mirrors to reflect a gunsight modified by airspeed and turn rate onto the glass in front of a fighter pilot's eyes. This improved their accuracy and effectiveness in air combat and began a race by other nations to develop similar approaches.

However the first electronic HUD wasn't created until the mid 1950s, when the British introduced the Blackburn Buccaneer, a low-flying bomber with the world's first inbuilt HUD. While the prototype flew in 1958, the production aircraft didn't enter service until 1968 and served until 1994, used as late as in the Gulf War.

It was noticed that the HUD improved the general abilities of pilots, despite being originally for targeting purposes only, and it was expanded to provide a range of additional information to help pilots.

The modern HUD was developed by 1975, by a French test pilot, featuring a standard interface to aid pilots switching between planes. Around the same time HUDs were first expanded into use on civilian planes and in 1988 the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme became the production car to feature a HUD, followed around ten years later by the first motorcycle helmet offering a heads-up display.

Experimental HUDs have been developed for ski goggles, scuba divers, personal battle armour and for fire fighter goggles as well as many other applications, with some of these very close to production ready.

Augmented reality is being integrated into computer, console or mobile games, many of which feature some form of virtual HUD. Our televisions display information on the screen about programs and channels and our mobile devices, with the right apps, can use their cameras to place additional information on real-time video.

With the range of uses for the augmented reality supported by these devices and the widespread exposure society has now had to the concept, the next step will be very interesting.

Once appropriate mobile augmented reality devices comes onto the market, such as the product Google is working on, there will be a market ready to adopt them. 

How will they be used in society? What policy challenges will they create?

A group of Israeli film makers has produced a seven-minute long short-film, Sight, which showcases some of the potential uses of augmented reality and some of the challenges and risks that societies may have to face.

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