Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Should Ministerial staff reveal their affiliations when commenting on political matters online?

Much of Australia's population doesn't realise there is a difference between Australia's public servants, who are employed and work for the state in an apolitical fashion, and Ministerial and other political advisers and staff, who are employed and work directly for politicians and political partie.

However there is a crucial difference at the moment as to how these two groups are expected to behave online.

Public servants work under a public servant code of conduct and, both federally and in most states and territories, there's also specific guidance for social media conduct. This generally includes the requirement to identify oneself appropriately when speaking officially (on behalf of an agency) or in a professional or personal context.

However the situation isn't the same for political staffers, who may not always operate under formal social media conduct guidance. This can lead to situations such as this one, Party trolls shall not pass, or be named, recently published in the Canberra Times.

Given the events on Australia Day, and much of human history, it's clear that a combination of passion, youth and ideology can lead to errors of judgement - some more serious, some more minor.

Now what may you get when you combine passionate young political party supporters with social media?

Clearly there's a lot of potential for risk, which could also affect other online engagement activities in government (by politicians or by agencies).

So how should this risk be managed?

Should there be a bi-partisan code of conduct for political staffers engaging on social media, perhaps even an independent watchdog to monitor activity?

Should individual parties 'manage their own backyards' - albeit in potentially different ways and with different tolerance levels?

Or is the current approach OK?

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Friday, January 27, 2012

When will we see gamification in government?

Gamification refers to the practice of making non-game activities more like games by incorporating achievement-based reward systems.

Under gamification, using government examples, when your project or mission is complete you might receive a 'completion badge' (such as a letter from the Secretary, an Australia Day Award, or a medal). Or when you attain a higher level of proficiency in a particular skill you'd receive an 'achievement' or rise on the 'leaderboard' (such as a bonus or a promotion).

From the examples above, there's clearly already aspects of gamification at work. Rewarding achievement, success and skills acquisition is a standard part of business and forms the basis of merit-based advancement systems - not just games.

However the gamification process involves a much greater level of achievement-based recognition, than has commonly been used in organisations.

Rather than six-monthly and annual reviews and awards, gamification is based on rapid, but less valuable rewards for achievements as they occur.

This is an effective behaviour modification approach, as both the gaming and game industries would testify to. Rapid gratification means that patterns of behaviour are reinforced at a deeper level, resulting in a greater likelihood of the desired behaviour being repeated.

Gamification has begun to have a significant impact on a number of businesses. Online badges and achievements are the basis for the success of services like FourSquare and contribute indirectly to the success of services such as Facebook and Twitter (through the size of your friends list and the frequency that people respond to your posts).

They are also widely used by airlines (frequent flier miles) and supermarkets (shopper dockets and petrol discounts) and have promotional uses in many other industries (scratch and win tickets and similar).

To-date these gamification tools have been primarily deliberately used for marketing purposes - to influence customer behaviour (although mostly for commercial purposes and extremely rarely in government communication campaigns).

However with the announcement of the addition of achievements, badges and a leaderboard to Microsoft's Visual Studio coding community, it is clear that the shift to using gamification for training and employee management is already beginning.

Where will this go in the future in government and in business I wonder.

Will employees begin receiving achievements for completing specific courses and mastering skills their employers wish them to master? Perhaps even one for joining the company, and one for each year's service?

Will there be leaderboards based on standardised performance on specific tasks (brief writing or timeliness of ministerial responses - using an algorithm that compensates for frequency and complexity of briefs)?

Will these achievements, badges and leaderboards begin to influence promotional prospects or pay rates - even holidays (turn in five badges for an extra week of leave)?

Will organisations take on the example of armed forces, who already issue achievements and badges to motivate and recognise achievements and where leaderboards do influence access into elite units and specific roles.

I guess we'll have to wait and see how far gamification will go in government, and in business. However the experimentation has already begun.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Don't forget the why of Gov 2.0

In any job it is easy to get caught up in the details - the what and how of what we need to do, day in and day out, to deliver the outputs demanded of us.

Whether it's writing a brief, building a website, managing a social media channel, responding to a crisis or some other activity driving our actions, the focus is on what we need to do and how we need to deliver.

However amongst all this activity it is important to take time out periodically to consider why we are doing what we do.

What is the purpose of our activities, what are the outcomes we want, not simply the outputs.

This is particularly important for Government 2.0, which is essentially a set of strategies, tools and techniques - not a goal in and of itself.

When, as an individual or an agency, we decide to use social media to communicate or collaborate with our stakeholders and citizens, or release data in machine-readable formats for reuse, we need to consider why we are taking these steps. What is the goal we're trying to accomplish, or the change we're trying to make.

We shouldn't be engaging in Gov 2.0 activities because of the 'bling' of working with cool technologies, the thrill of doing something new first or the kudos from peers, speaking engagements and awards.

The Gov 2.0 activities need to help us deliver on the why we are there. Helping the public to make better choices, helping government better understand its customers and what they need to live full and rich lives.

Government 2.0, just like government, is a tool to achieve a desired goal - a happy, healthy, fair society where everyone can live securely and with mutual respect and understanding under a transparent and accountable system.

So stop, take a breath and consider why you're doing what you're doing. Think about whether you've picked the right approach - the 'how'- and whether there's more, less, or different things which you could do to best achieve your why.

Put your why first - decide why you are going to do what you are going to do - before you decide what you will do and how.

Also consider the video below - the power of considering the why - it can do much more than assist aligning your Government 2.0 initiatives, it can reshape organisations or revolutionise the world.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

New Inside Story policy: provide your full name for publication or your comment won't be published

I have had a great deal of respect for the Australian Policy Online (APO), produced by the Australian National University and University of Swinburne.

For several years the site has been a fantastic venue for serious discussions of public policy options, and a very useful source for policy resources and research. The site also, without prompting from me, republished several posts from this blog.

However, after commenting on an article in the Inside Story section of APO late last week, I received an email from the editor pointing out a change in their commenting policy.

Now anyone who submits a comment to Inside Story, as part of APO, must provide, and be prepared to have published, their full name. This new policy is detailed following their full articles using the text as below (highlight is mine):

Send us a comment

We welcome contributions about the issues covered in articles in Inside Story. Well-argued and clearly written comments are more likely to be published, and we’re now asking all contributors to provide their full name for publication. Because all comments are moderated, they will not appear immediately. Your email address is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *.
Now while I appreciate the sentiment of an editor who wishes to avoid spurious comments from people using pseudonyms or commenting anonymously, I found myself uncomfortable with the prospect of a website that forces anyone who comments to publicly reveal their real name in full.

I wrote a piece about this very topic a few months ago for Mumbrella, Toughen up - we need online anonymity, which discussed the various pitfalls involved in forcing people to reveal their real identity.

While I am sure it isn't the intent of this policy, one major risk - particularly relevant to a policy discussion site - is that of excluding certain groups from the conversation.

This includes people who, if their identity is published, may face physical or financial risk, those in witness protection programs, people who fear online attack if their views are taken the wrong way, those involved with policy making who have suggestions or questions, those under the age of 18 and more.

In many policy areas there are people who need to be cautious about revealing their real names publicly for legitimate reasons - whether the topic be health, law and order, immigration, development, gambling, climate change or something else.

While it is the right of each publication or website to define its own moderation and publication policies, the effect of this policy may be to silence people who have valid and important contributions to make, reducing the richness, robustness and usefulness of discussions.

If the primary concerns of Inside Story's editor and publisher are inappropriate comments, defamation, personal attacks and the like, these can be handled through pre-moderation (which they do already), backed up by a public moderation policy and community guidelines (which I cannot find in their site).

Alternatively Inside Story could require people to register and provide their real name in their account details, then publish comments under a name or pseudonym that the user selects. This would ensure they had real names if needed and allows regular contributors to maintain a consistent identity while still providing them with sufficient room to make valuable comments that otherwise they may not feel comfortable doing.

When Inside Story's editor, Peter Browne, (also credited as the Commentary Editor of Australian Policy Online) emailed me last week to ask if I was happy to have my comment published under my full name I thought about it for a few minutes and then decided that while I didn't mind my name being connected to my comments, it was time to take a stand, the damage to the public conversation could be too great. So I said no.

I won't be commenting further on Inside Story or Australian Policy Online while their current policy is in force, nor will I spend as much time reading the site. They remain welcome to republish my blog posts (which are licensed under Creative Commons, so I can't really stop them even if I had wanted to).

This decision may make me slightly poorer, however I believe Inside Story's decision significantly weakens their effectiveness and inclusiveness. The unintended consequence of forcing people to have their full name published alongside their comments is to make all of Australia poorer by stifling public policy discussion, particularly amongst those whose views most need to be heard.

I hope government agencies do not follow the same course on fulll names. It would severely restrict the value of the online channel to collect input on policy consultations and thereby make good policy harder to develop.

For the record, I've included a copy of my email exchange with Peter Browne, Commentary Editor of Australian Policy Online and Editor of Inside Story:
From: Peter Browne
Dear Craig, 
I’m not sure whether you noticed, but we now ask people commenting on articles to provide their full name for publication. Are you happy for your full name to appear with this comment? 
Peter Browne
From: Craig Thomler

Hi Peter, 
I didn't notice this policy change. I have now looked through your 'about' pages and see no mention of this - nor of your moderation policy. 
I would normally be happy for my full name to appear on my comment, and all my comments online are made on the basis that people can track down and find out who I am if they wanted to. 
However I'm not comfortable with a site that forces people to provide their full name publicly. This requirement prevents many people from commenting - those in witness protection programs, minors (such as 17yr olds), those concerned about stalkers, bullying, identity theft, privacy and so on. 
I see your policy as reducing the potential for open public dialogue without providing any safeguards. A backward step that only damages your reputation. 
It is also impossible to enforce anyway - people can use fake names and email accounts, thereby making your policy useless.
If your concern is around identity, have people register and use a unique username (which may or may not be their full name) - you still have their full name in the background, however they are not exposed publicly. 
If your concern is around inappropriate content, this should be managed through anti-spam and moderation techniques, potentially using the registration process above to allow you to identify and manage persistent offenders (where IP address isn't enough). Your moderation policy should be published so that commenters understand the basis on which they will be assessed. This is simply a matter of respect and setting the context of a discussion - similar approaches are used in face-to-face meetings. 
So in this case, I decline the publication of my comment and will not comment further on APO until your policy is adjusted to not require the publication of full names and is made easily accessible in your site along with your moderation guidelines. 
I will also be publishing this email in my blog to show the perils of requiring full names and linking to my post for Mumbrella: Toughen up - we need online anonymity (http://mumbrella.com.au/toughen-up-we-need-online-anonymity-58441). 
From: Peter Browne

Dear Craig,
My view is that if writers use their own names then responders should too. The policy is at the bottom of each article, just above the comment field. 
Cheers, Peter

From: Craig Thomler
Hi Peter,
Thanks for pointing this out. I had looked for dedicated 'Community guidelines' 'Comments policy' or 'Moderation policy' pages and looked at your summary articles, where I can still register or log-in to comment, but do not see the same message.
I now have looked at a full article and can see the text. It remains unclear on what basis you moderate.
Here's an example of what I mean by a moderation policy: http://myregion.gov.au/moderation-policy
I appreciate you believe that writers and commenters should have the same rights - although writers are often contributing for different reasons and have different agendas for expressing their views, some are even paid to do so, directly or indirectly (aka not necessarily by you). 
It will certainly be interesting to see how you decide to represent the writer when you receive an article from someone in a witness protection program or a whistleblower, and how you will treat comments. 

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Should you design websites for the '1%'?

A concern I’ve had for the last ten years is how websites are designed and approved by organisations (both in government and the commercial sector).

In a better-than-average world, when asked to develop a new website or improve an existing one, the web team goes out to discover what users think of the site.

This involves identifying the site’s key audiences and using surveys, focus groups, other research and past feedback to identify good and bad design and usability features. After this the team come up with concepts, tests them on audiences and refines.

 (In a average or worse world the web team isn’t given the time or resourcing to do all this research, so short-cuts the process with their ‘best guess’ design improvements based on feedback and experience. This is far too common but can still deliver improvements.)

When the web team reach final agreement on a few design alternatives, they go to senior management for approval, often with a detailed case explaining all the design decisions.

And this is where the process breaks down.
  • “Can you make the website more blue? I want it to be bluer.”
  • “I like (pick a random site visited in the last day). Can you redesign it so that our website looks just like that one.” 
  • “I don’t use search, I use menus, so can you move the search to the bottom right of the page” 
  • “I don’t believe anyone wants three columns in a webpage, please restructure to two columns.” 
  • “It’s too hard for me to find anything, can you simply list all the main site categories and pages in the homepage.” 
  • “We’d prefer to organise information by our divisions rather than by subject, I’m sure that would be much easier to understand” 
  • “We actually wanted the website to look just like the printed brochure” 
  • “I like the shirt I am wearing today, make the website the same colour”

Suddenly web teams have to reassess what they are attempting to deliver and who they are delivering for.

Their collective expertise and research is no longer relevant.

The audience of the site is no longer relevant.

They are designing for one person, or a small group of people – decision-makers who are often not the target audience and possible don’t even use the website.

This is a source of great frustration for web teams. They are no longer designing for the 99% of their audience, they are designing for the 1%.

Now what if this process was turned on its head...

Rather than having an executive or Minister approve a website, we instead released several near final designs for A/B testing on online audiences (as organisations like Google, Amazon and Microsoft do), a proven and effective technique, or took the final couple of design alternatives and put them online for the public to vote on and thereby approve.

Of course there would still need to be some level of senior executive involvement in defining the organisation’s overall requirements for the website. The site does have to meet the organisation's goals.

However the actual approval would come from the audience, the 99%, people using the website, the people you wish to communicate with, support, engage or influence.

Radical? Maybe.

Effective. Certainly.


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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Is it time for government to take Google Plus seriously?

Often in government there's only two social media networks discussed and considered for community engagement and communications, Facebook and Twitter.

MySpace is a distant memory, LinkedIn is used just for resumes and services like FourSquare, Plurk, Ning and others are not well-known.

Also not that well known is Google Plus, and perhaps rightly so - it is very new and still quite small in social media terms, only around 62 million users, although it is predicted to grow to over 293 million by the end of 2012, or so Google believes.

However with the recent integration of Google Plus into Google search, it may be time for governments to consider establishing Google Plus channels alongside Facebook and Twitter, due to the impact on search results.

With Google's search tool holding close to 90% of Australia's search market, it is a more dominant 'publisher' than News Limited - and remains the number one website in Australia. Search engines are also the primary source of traffic for Australian government websites, with an average of over 40% of visitors reaching government sites from a search engine (according to Hitwise) - and therefore around 36% coming direct from Google.

So what has Google done? According to Gizmodo, they've integrated Google Plus into their search product in three ways,
First, it now provides "Personal Results" which include media—photos, blog posts, etc—that have been privately shared with you as well as your own stuff. Any images you've set to share using Picasa will also be displayed. Second, Google Search will now auto-complete queries to people in your circles and will display people who might also be interested in what you're searching for in the search results. Finally, it simplifies the process of finding other Google+ profiles for people or specific interest groups based on your query. So if you search for, say, NASA, it will display Google+ profile pages for NASA and space-related Google+ interest groups in addition to the normal results.
Whether you believe this is a good move, a legal move, or not, it does provide opportunities for organisations to leverage Google Plus to improve their overall presence in Google search by operating a Google Plus account.

It's certainly something to keep an eye on, if not actively consider. 

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Social media drives five times as much traffic to Australian government sites as online news media

A couple of years ago Hitwise, an internet measurement company that uses ISP logs to measure traffic to websites, reported that social media sites had become a larger source of traffic for Australian government websites than online news sites.

This was a seismic change in user behaviour. Suddenly people were more likely to reach a goverment site in Australia from Facebook, Twitter or another social media site than from news.com.au, smh.com.au, abc.net.au or another traditional news source.

Of course it may have also been a simple one month hiccup.

Therefore last week I asked Hitwise to provide a 'two years on' view at their blog to see if there was a trend.

And there was!

Social media referrals to government sites in Australia hadn't only remained above news and media sites, they'd skyrocketed.
Source: Hitwise Experian
As Tim Lovitt posted in Hitwise's blog, in a rather understated manner, Social Media important to Government, between December 2008 and December 2011 social media had doubled it's share while news and media had barely held it's own.

In fact, by December 2011 social media was sending 9.75% of the traffic to government sites while news and media sites were only sending 2.27% of the traffic.

So should agencies invest in producing more media releases or in developing their social media presence?

I know which I would choose.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

IT can drive big productivity gains in government

With the rise in the efficiency dividend and increasingly tight budgets across government, I keep wondering whether there are places where government can make real savings and raise productivity other than simply by cutting costs.

The crunch is often that one must invest money to save money - a position common in business but often a struggle in government, where the focus is so often on grants and programs.

However, having spoken to a fair few frustrated people lately from a range of agencies, there appears to be a significant source of productivity gains - and thereby cost savings - right under the noses of many departments. Their IT systems.

Over the last year more and more of my friends and peers changing departments have cited IT as one of their reasons for wanting to make a move. They all want to be productive, however grappling with slow and aging computers and software or restrictive internet access policies appears to be rising as a concern and even becoming a question to agencies in interviews.

This doesn't surprise me - in fact I noticed when I originally joined the public service that, through no fault of departments, the IT equipment and software wasn't up to the same standard as I'd experienced in the private sector. Over time people adapt and learn to work within the constraints of the system, however what productivity could be unlocked if these constraints were relaxed?

Today I'm aware of agencies where reportedly close to 50% of staff have their own computing devices at their desks. Personal ultra-light laptops, tablets and smartphones have become one route to employee productivity, overcoming desktop IT restrictions.

However since a friend of mine left an agency late last year frustrated that they lost over an hour a day of productive time in struggling with their desktop computer and that they couldn't access the forums and blogs written and frequented by their stakeholders due to access limits, I thought it was worth doing a calculation of the productivity losses that could be attributed to IT constraints.

Let's say that an agency's low bandwidth or older desktop PCs and software cost 2 hours of productive time per employee each week. This may sound like a lot, but if a PC takes 10 minutes to start up each morning you're halfway there already.

For a moderate sized agency of 4,000 staff the lost productive time would be 8,000 hours per week - the equivalent of employing another 200 staff.

At an average wage, including onboarding costs, of $70,000 per year (about $35 per hour), this lost time equates to $280,000. Each week.

Per year the cost of the IT productivity loss would be $14,560,000. Every year. Or, if you prefer, a productivity loss of $3,640 per person per year. Every year.

For an agency experiencing this type of productivity loss there's a few ways to offset it:

1) Reduce wages across the board by $3,640. This would be deeply unpopular.
2) Find efficiencies in other areas (reducing expenses) equivalent to the lost productivity. This may be difficult to do every year.
3) Reduce expenditure on programs and activities affecting citizens. This is politically dangerous.
4) Invest in IT improvements.

So how much would agencies have to invest to reclaim that 2 hours per worker per week? It would vary quite widely as it depends on what is causing the IT productivity drain.

However it is possible to model how much an agency should be willing to invest into improving their IT. This, of course, assumes that agencies can convince their Minister, the Department of Finance and Treasury that they should invest in IT systems - not an easy sell.

Assuming that an IT cycle is around five years (from a top-end PC becoming a low-end PC and corresponding software and network impacts), an agency should spend less than the cumulative five years of productivity loss in order to emerge ahead.

On that basis, a Department should spend less than $18,200 per staff member (the $3,640 productivity loss multipled by five years). Given wage rises, let's round this up to a maximum of $20,000 per staff member.

Therefore a Department with 4,000 staff should spend at most $80 million to rejuvenate its IT and remove the productivity shrinkage. If it spends less than this it is realising a productivity increase.

That's a fair chunk of cash - and far more than most agencies of that size would ever need to spend on IT equipment and software.

In fact, if you bought every staff member a $3,000 PC plus the same amount for support, equipped each staff member with $2,000 of software and $2,000 worth of broadband (coming to $10,000 per staff member), you'd only have spent $40 million for a 4,000 person agency.

Of course with bulk purchases agencies can get much better prices than these. Also I didn't include staff, training and overheads. Hopefully it would balance out.

If it did, that would leave you with $40 million dollars in productivity savings - $8 million per year.

Of course all these figures are 'finger in the air' rough and some of the productivity benefits can be realised quickly and cheaply by simply adjusting internet policies and filters or giving staff who need the best equipment the equipment they need.

However the basic premise holds, that IT isn't just a cost for agencies, it is a valid and important source of productivity gain for agencies. If an agency can equip their staff with the right tools and connectivity for their jobs they will be able to be more productive.

And if an agency can do so at less than the cost of their staff not having the right IT tools then the agency, the government, and Australia, are all ahead.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

New advice on publishing public sector information from AGIMO

Last week AGIMO released new advice on publishing public sector information, typing together the 2010 Declaration of Open Government, the Office of the Information Commissioner's Principles on open public sector information and introducing a five-step process for publishing and managing Australian Government public sector information.

The advice also provides information on how to publish, considering accessibility, discrimination, open standards, metadata and documentation.

The advice, available at the Webguide, is another plank supporting agencies to carry out the government's Government 2.0 agenda and has the endorsement of the Australian Government 2.0 Steering Group.

The test of it will be how agencies adopt the process over the next year.

I will be watching avidly.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why aren't Aussies using open government data to create value?

This post was inspired by a comment by John Sheridan on Twitter,
craigthomler what I'd like for  ? egs of use of  for service delivery innovation, value creation etc, not just curiosity
It's a good New Years wish and highlights two questions that I have been pondering for a long time.

1. Why aren't people making more use of publicly release government data?
2. Does making government data publicly available have any value if people aren't using it to value add?

Let's take them in order...

1. Why aren't people making more use of publicly release government data?
In Australia the data.gov.au catalogue contains 844 datasets (and growing). NSW (data.nsw.gov.au) and Victoria's (data.vic.gov.au) catalogues are also quite large. 

By comparison, the US data.gov catalogue contains over 390,000 datasets, Canada's data.gc.ca over 265,000, the UK's data.gov.uk around 7,700,  Singapore's data.gov.sg about 5,000 datasets and New Zealand's data.govt.nz over 1,600 datasets.

Across these six countries (I am excluding the two states), that is in excess of 670,000 datasets released publicly. However if you search around there's not that many apps listed using the data. The US site lists around 1,150 and Australia's site lists 16 - however that's not many compared to the number of datasets.

As Victoria's data blog asks, what has happened to all the apps produced in government-sponsored competitions? Are they actually worth holding?

OK, let's work through a few possibilities. 

Firstly it could be that these datasets are being widely used, but people simply aren't telling the catalogues. Data may be embedded in websites and apps without any communication back to the central catalogue, or it may be downloaded and used in internal spreadsheets and intranets. In this case there's no actual issue, just a perceived one due to lack of evidence.

Secondly, to face facts, the majority of people probably are still not aware of these data catalogues - they haven't really been widely promoted and aren't of much interest to the popular media. Therefore there may be hundreds of thousands of people wishing to access certain government information but unaware that it is readily available.

Thirdly, those people aware of these datasets may be daunted by the number released, unable to find the data they specifically want to use or simply aren't interested.

Finally, perhaps simply releasing a dataset isn't enough. Few people are data experts or know what to do with a list of values. Could it be that we need simple and free analysis tools as well as raw data?

There's steps governments can take to address all of these possibilities.

If people aren't telling the government about their apps, why not establish light 'registration' processes to use them which capture information on why they are being used? Or if this is too invasive, offer people appropriate incentives to tell the central catalogue about their uses of the data.

Secondly, there may be a need to promote these data catalogues more actively - to build awareness via appropriate promotion.

Thirdly, perhaps we need to do more user-testing of our data catalogues to better understand if they meet the audience's needs. Combined with excellent mechanisms for suggesting and rating datasets, this could greatly inform the future development and success of these catalogues.

And finally, governments need to consider the next step. Provide the raw data, but also provide sites and tools that can analyse them. Sure governments are hoping that the public will create these, and maybe they will, however that doesn't mean that agencies can't do so as well. There's also pre-existing tools, such as Yahoo Pipes, IBM's Manyeyes and analytics tools from Google which could be pre-populated with the government datasets, ready for users to play with.

Alongside all these specific solutions, maybe governments need to start using some of the tools at their disposal to ask why people aren't using their data. Is it the wrong data? Presented in the wrong way? Too hard to use? Market research might help answer these questions.

2. Does making government data publicly available have any value if people aren't using it to value add?

Now to take the second question - does it really matter whether people are using open government data anyway?

Are there other goals that releasing data addresses, such as transparency and accountability, intra-government sharing and culture change?

If the mandate to release data leads to government culture change it may drive other benefits - improved collaboration, improved policy outcomes, cost-savings through code and knowledge sharing.

Of course it is harder to provide a direct quantitative link between releasing data, changing culture and the benefits above. However maybe this is what we need to learn how to measure, rather than simply the direct correlation between 844 datasets released, 16 apps created.

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Monday, January 09, 2012

Should governments be using popular VOIP tools for customer enquiries?

In Australia about 10% of households don't have a landline phone any more.

In some other countries the figure is higher - and it is growing as people abandon the 'fixed to one location' phone for personal mobile phones.

When calling a government agency - even a 'free call' line - there's often additional charges for mobile phones, plus time-based charges that don't apply on landlines.

In other words, for 10% of households it has become more expensive to call government agencies, particularly if they get put on hold.

True, losing the landline is a choice, however there's a choice for government agencies as well which can cut the cost - using VOIP services.

VOIP stands for Voice Over IP. In essence it involves using the internet to make phone calls.

Many government agencies have already adopted VOIP or VOIP-like phone exchanges inside their workplaces. This means that while phone calls still arrive at an agency via a POTS (plain old telephone service) system, once they arrive at the agency's switch they are directed onto a digital network which is far more customisable, flexible and cost-effective.

This means that when agencies make internal calls between offices (often across the continent), their calls don't go via the POTS network - those wires we see hanging from the inappropriately named 'telegraph' poles. Instead they get sent via the internet or on dedicated digital cables at a much lower cost to the agency.

Citizens can also take advantage of VOIP - whether using dedicated services like Skype or Engin, or through ISPs who offer VOIP calls via landlines. This also helps them save significant money on long-distance calls.

However these agency VOIP systems and citizen VOIP systems rarely overlap. Many agencies can't call citizens via VOIP and while citizens might attempt to use VOIP to call agencies, few can take the call.

My question is why?

How difficult would it be for an agency to establish a Skype number, which would allow citizens to use their home Skype connection to call the agency for free?

How difficult would it be to establish agency VOIP numbers on major domestic VOIP services, which allowed free calls to the agency. TransACT, Canberra's fibre-optic network provider (now owned by Internode) has been offering free calls between its VOIP subscribers for years.

Sure there are likely to be a few technical issues to sort out. Resolving this one would re-establish a free call option for that 10% of Australian households without landlines. Surely that has significant value.

Given that it appears that even rural doctors, when receiving Commonwealth Government funds to implement costly VOIP services are often setting up a free Skype account instead, there's undoubtedly some appetite for being able to call the government via these VOIP tools.

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Friday, January 06, 2012

11 things to consider when using Facebook in government

When websites first starting to become popular it became common for Marketing and Communications teams in organisations to receive requests from various areas saying "we need a website".

Now that social media is firmly embedded in Australia, I'm seeing and hearing about the same type of requests - particularly for Facebook.

So, drawn from a response I provided to one agency who asked for my views, I've compiled a list of 11 things to consider when looking to use Facebook in your campaign, program, consultation, activity or otherwise for your agency.

This looks like a long list, but realistically is no more than should be considered for other channels (particularly online). Many of these areas can be addressed quickly through borrowing strategies and approaches from other agencies.
  1. Purpose Why the page is being created
    There are many different purposes for creating a Facebook page and before you take any steps to create one, you need to consider why you are doing it and what benefit the page will have to your campaign, program, consultation or agency.
    Some of these purposes may include; to build awareness, inform or educate users; to facilitate dialogue and discussion; to aggregate users for future campaigns; to engage key influencers and use them to build campaign awareness; to consult users; or to sell a message, service or product.

  2. Expectations – Targets for the page
    Next it is important to think about what you expect your page to achieve and set some targets to help guide resourcing and reporting on effectiveness.
    This may consider how many fans you expect and the level of activity in the page and, importantly, resulting from the page (through other Facebook pages and other online and offline channels).

  3. Entry Physical establishment of the page
    Next you need to consider how the page will be established. Will you do it in-house or via external parties? Will you develop custom welcome and other pages, what content and design work will be necessary when first putting the page in place?

  4. Promotion Building awareness of the channel
    You will also need to keep in mind that "build it and they will come" seldom works. Facebook is no exception, you need some kind of communication and promotional strategy to draw people to your page and convince them to fan it. Will you target key influencers, leverage existing agency channels or develop a communication strategy that directs people to your page? What benefits will people receive through using the page that will entice them to come and engage?

  5. Integration Cross-channel marketing
    You must also consider how your Facebook page interacts with your other communication channels.

    I call this "completing the loop" - you should encourage people from your website or advertisements to fan your Facebook page, then use your Facebook page to direct them back to relevant content in your website, advertisements or other channels.

    Map out the strategies and processes you'll use to get people back off your Facebook page (or their news feeds) back to your important announcements.

  6. Management and moderationChannel operation
    This is one of the biggest topics you need to consider. Here are some of the questions you need to ask and answer before you launch:
    Who will manage your Facebook page? What type and frequency of content will be provided? What is the approval workflow for content, and how do you ensure that this allows content to be published on a timely basis? How will user content be moderated? How will user content be responded to, including enquiries (which may be off topic)? How will users be able to view the moderation policy and guidelines?

  7. Exit Closing the page or transitioning to an ongoing vehicle
    So you've got your Facebook page up and running but what happens when the campaign or consultation ends?

    Before launching your page, spare some time to consider whether you will need to close it down after a defined period or whether it has an undefined or ongoing lifespan.

    If you know or suspect your Facebook page will end after a given period, consider developing an exit strategy to outline what happens to the page's content and how you manage the relationship with your fans when the page closes.

    You might wish to communicate the lifespan of the page upfront to fans as they visit, or develop a strategy to reuse the page periodically for further campaigns. If you have to close down the page you may want to consider a transition strategy to encourage fans to move to another agency Facebook page or channel to maintain at least some of the relationships - after all it would be wasteful to simply abandon your fans, both throwing away your investment and potentially damaging your future Facebook engagements.

  8. Archiving requirements
    Now we get into some of the more administrative areas you need to consider, starting with archiving. Every government agency has some need to archive material in the public interest and for internal knowledge management purposes.

    Make sure you know your obligations under the appropriate Archives Act and what you are required to store as records and what you are not required to store. This may mean you need an ongoing strategy to keep a copy of all posts (and everything you delete, for legal reasons), or need a tool that captures the RSS feed from your page into a document that you can file on paper or digitally.

  9. Privacy protecting users
    Privacy is a consideration whenever you capture user information. By default in Facebook you capture peoples' name and generally their image, plus whatever personal details they choose to share. Also as you're using a third party service (Facebook), the service has its own privacy policy which comes into play but is outside your direct control.

    You will need to consider whether the type of content that users might share with you in your page may pose a risk to their privacy online or offline and what you need to tell them to ensure they are posting as an informed choice.

    You also need to consider how your agency will capture and reuse any personal information you get from users via Facebook, and your obligations and responsibilities under Australian privacy law.

    Remember that you never know what personal stories users might choose to share in a Facebook comment. Make sure that you have provided enough information so that people can do so aware of the choice they are making.

  10. Reporting Measuring effectiveness and success
    It is very useful to be able to measure how effective and successful your Facebook page has been, relevant to your original purpose (or any channel for that matter).

    There are a number of ways to do this, from using the purely quantitative activity statistics from Insights, Facebook's analysis tool or using qualitative means through the tone of user comments and any perceptible changes in peoples' awareness and attitudes in-line with your campaign goals.

    It may, however, be more useful is to look at Facebook within a whole-of-campaign/consultation review, which looks at the effectiveness of all your channels in combination. Sometimes reporting on single channels can under-emphasise their overall influence on a campaign as these reports may only look at direct outcomes, not at the secondary effects that bolster other channels.

  11. Lessons learnt and sharing
    Finally, it is well worth producing a ‘lessons learnt’ report on operational learnings from your Facebook experience.

    This can provide vital insights to other teams in your agency and to other organisations on how to extract the maximum value from the channel and how to avoid any pitfalls or unnecessary risks.

    If you can, share this report through whole-of-government channels, such as AGIMO's Gov 2.0 group, cross-agency communications groups and even by holding an event for other agencies to discuss your experience.

    By sharing your experiences you are helping to make it easier for other agencies to use Facebook, and use it well. This reduces risk for agencies and helps build on good practice over time.

    It also helps meet one of the core goals of the public service, ensuring we can provide the best possible outcomes for government.

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